Word of the Week
November 11, 2023
Diabolos: The Sin that Gave the Devil His Name
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers . . .
Titus 2:3 NIV
We all know the List of Serious Sins. Murder is near the top. Mass killings are worse, and genocide plumbs the depths of depravity.
Abortion is a form of murder, though many people consider it a less serious offense.
Adultery, homosexuality and other forms of immorality have traditionally been the main sins serious enough to lead to church discipline.
Robbing a bank, mugging a jogger or burglarizing a home – we recognize that those are serious sins.
But what about spreading negative rumors about someone?
The national scene is a maelstrom of fake news, flimsy accusations, and flimsy innuendo. The voices we hear specialize in ad hominem attacks on the character of the other side, rather than reasoned discussion of the issues.
But before we get too pleased with ourselves, let’s remember that most of us find it hard to resist saying something critical behind a person’s back.
The New Testament uses the Greek word diabolos to describe a person who speaks maliciously about a person, verbalizing charges designed to sour their reputation. Diabolos is usually translated as “slanderer,” because such a person paints a negative picture, whether or not it is true.
In Paul’s epistle to Titus, he lays out some instructions targeted specifically at older women.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, . . . (Titus 2:3 NASB).
We would never put gossip on the same level as murder, but it can certainly be a form of character assassination!
Paul uses the word again in 1 Timothy 3:11 in a list of requirements for church leaders:
Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips . . .
Lest you get the idea that Paul has fallen for the stereotype that women are the worst gossips, he lists diabolos as one of the characteristic sins of the last days:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, . . . unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, . . . (2 Timothy 3:1-3 NASB).
Many translations use the word slanderer in all three of these verses. The key elements in each are (1) making false or slanted statements (2) designed to present people in a negative light (3) as a way to harm their reputation.
In the American legal system, you can sue a person for slander. However, only movie stars, politicians and big corporations usually go to court. Most of us can only try to ignore unfair attacks on our character. It’s not serious enough to warrant the expense.
Or is it?
We have looked at three verses that clearly show that being a diabolos is a sin. But we have bypassed at least 34 other verses where the same word is used as a proper name: the Devil!
You see, diabolos is where we get the English name for the Devil. He is the great accuser of the brethren. He showed up on God’s doorstep in the book of Job slandering that holy man’s character. He is the father of lies, and his lifelong ambition is to tear down God’s beloved children. When you call him the Devil, you are really calling him the Slanderer.
When I spread juicy rumors about a coworker or a fellow church member, I am doing the work that gave the Devil his name.
It’s not a trivial offense. Perhaps we should push it higher on the List of Serious Sins!
You can see one other aspect of this word in John 6:70, where Jesus uses diabolos to describe Judas: “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” In this case, the Lord is not talking about what Judas says about Him, but rather the traitor’s choice to become a tool of Satan. This is another sample of the fact that we must be alert for the variations in meaning in each verse where a word is used.
Q – I notice that the King James version sometimes talks about “devils” in the plural. Is this the same word in Greek that was described in the article above?
A – No, these verses use the Greek word daimonian, which is the source for our word “demon.” In verses like Matthew 7:22, which says, “Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils,” it is more accurate to translate it as “demons.” It is not talking about Satan, but about the evil spirits under his control who oppose God.
Next week we will take a look at another Greek word in the same passage in Titus, one that gives a fresh slant on what it means to walk through the day in way that pleases our Father.
©Ezra Project 2023