What Does the Bible Say About Verbal Abuse?

The Bible does not use the term “verbal abuse,” but it has much to say about the power of our words. Succinctly stated, “The tongue has the power of life and death” ([Proverbs 18:21]

Verbal abuse is one weapon in the arsenal of emotional abuse. While the tactics of abuse are many, the ultimate goal is to gain control over someone in order to establish dominance in a relationship. Verbal abuse is not the occasional flare after a bad day or temporary lack of verbal self-control in the midst of a tense moment. It constitutes psychological violence. Verbal abuse is a habitual sin that seldom goes away on its own and can potentially escalate into physical abuse.

Overt verbal abuse could include angry outbursts, screaming, swearing, ridicule, name calling, blaming, accusation, criticism, threats, orders, mockery, manipulation, coercion, put-downs, shaming, word twisting, rewriting history, and attacking personal character. Covert verbal abuse is more subtle and cloaks hidden aggression. It feigns concern and has the effect of brainwashing, leaving the victim confused, off balance, and questioning his or her value and abilities.

Over the long term, any kind of abuse can leave the victim feeling uncertain, unable to make decisions, and drained of any sense of personhood or value. The victim begins to accept the blame and believe the crushing words that are convincingly and repeatedly thrown at him.

The old adage “Sticks and stones can break a bone, but words can never hurt me” is not true. Abusive language has a deep, long lasting effect that can “pierce like swords” ([Proverbs 12:18]

The Bible contrasts healthy and unhealthy verbal communication. God knows our weaknesses, and has given us His Word to teach us how to use ours in a life giving way.

The words we speak reflect what is going on inside of us. [Luke 6:45] says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Words affect the speaker as well as the receiver. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. . . . With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” ([James 3:6]

[Matthew 5:21–22] categorizes verbal abuse as a serious offense with eternal consequences: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [an Aramaic term of contempt meaning “worthless, empty”] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

God’s heart on the subject of how we use our words is evident in Scripture. There is no question about the seriousness of the effects on the hearer or the speaker of violent, abusive words. When the words of others have hurt us, we can find healing in the true words of God. When we have hurt others with our words, we can find forgiveness in God and should also seek it from those we have harmed. Those who have been victims of serious verbal abuse may need the help of a counselor or pastor in the healing process.

God’s desire is that we “encourage one another and build each other up” ([1 Thessalonians 5:11] and that we “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” ([Ephesians 4:29] God intends that our words and our relationships be healthy and life giving. Keep in mind, God created the universe with His Word ([Genesis 1:3] and Jesus Himself is called the Word of God ([John 1:1] His desire is that we recognize the power our words carry and use them as He would.


Great post. Emotional abuse and psychological abuse is a very serious thing indeed. It can definitely often lead to physical abuse. Although I don’t view cussing as a particularly good or bad thing and I swear fairly often, even when I’m happy and just joking around and so on. But it can be used for evil just like any word or tone. I’m actually less likely to cuss when I’m really mad versus when I’m just having a normal conversation.

I typically don’t read got questions posts but I’ll try to look at this one. More attention to abuse is really needed. In the wake of the me 2 movement it seems like often only certain cases gets really highlighted while other issues are mostly glossed ofer like verbal abuse. It’s one of the few forms of abuse people can get away with in public if a man was to say “ stupid B” to some woman that bumped into him with a cart it may get ignored versus if he hit her it would probably draw attention. Now I know that’s possibly falling into the random flare up issue but it still showcases that verbal abuse is often overlooked more so than physical ir sexual abuse despite it still causing a bunch of drama ad well. It may not inflict as much pain per action but it’s not healthy and over time it can really undermine a persons confidence.

I knew of a guy who was insecure over gaining weight because his ex use to call him fat constantly and she would embarrass him in public by ordering for him when in the company of others. They would get burgers and she would just “ oh he will have a salad” and it was often dresssd up as concern but it was meant to harm him. She would mention other men and how attractive they were and how he, his name was Christ, could be attractive if he lost weight. It was bizarre and I wa s younger and not as out spoken then. But he stopped going to church , even after she divorced him, and one time he told me it’s because he hates how fat he is and so he does not like going to church where everyone can see hims he even stopped going to a restaurant he liked because he gained weight and was embarrassed to be seen by a waitress that worked there and ect… I shared the story before actually I think. But it shows just how damaging verbal abuse can be.

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Thanks for this :pray:. This is something as a babe I need to work on. Along these lines, I thought this was helpful:

Then Jesus called the crowd, and said to them, ‘Listen and understand.What makes someone unclean isn’t what goes into the mouth. It’s what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean.’Then the disciples came to Jesus. ‘Do you know’, they said, ‘that the Pharisees were horrified when they heard what you said?’‘Every plant that my heavenly father hasn’t planted’, replied Jesus, ‘will be plucked up by the roots.Let them be. They are blind guides. But if one blind person guides another, both of them will fall into a pit.’Peter spoke up. ‘Explain the riddle to us,’ he said.‘Are you still slow on the uptake as well?’ replied Jesus.‘Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth travels on into the stomach and goes out into the toilet?But what comes out of the mouth begins in the heart, and that’s what makes someone unclean.Out of the heart, you see, come evil plots, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and blasphemy.These are the things that make someone unclean. But eating with unwashed hands doesn’t make a person unclean.’ - Matthew 15:10-20 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew15:10-20&version=NTE

Amen. What is worse is when a national leader habitually uses verbal abuse against his political opponents and is supported by so called religious leaders.

Matthew 5:22 (NIV2011)
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court**. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.**

Judge not lest you be judged also.


It’s something I often wonder about. We see phrases like the one you shared “ how even calling someone stupid places you in danger “ but then we see the word fool and foolish used throughout both testaments. We see don’t judge but we also see judge righteously. We also see speak with kindness but then we see Pharisees called a brood of vipers and so on. It’s something I need to work back through myself. Especially concerning some groups. Like YECist. I’m quick to just write them off as stupid and struggle with honestly just hating them. When someone introduces to me part of their belief as YECism my initial response internally is “ oh my gosh just bug off I’m not even remotely interested in you or your beliefs” about anything. Even if they are a known expert in a u related issue I just want them out. Some I have learned to love in my congregation but even with them I Know i really limit the amount of time I’m around them even if they hardly bring it up.

Dear Mi,

I think that you are very clear about why Jesus told us not to judge or condemn others for superficial and often self-serving reasons. Jesus told the Pharisees to their face that they were hypocrites, and they were wrong in rejecting Him as the Messiah, because He cared about them. The Bible tells those who are in the wrong what they are doing wrong

We reject YEC-ism, because it is wrong on many levels, but we do not reject people because they believe YEC. It would seem that the best way to get away from this is to try to find some common ground. On the other hand, we are not called to be friends with everyone. Just to love everyone.

Building God’s Kingdom is not making everyone TE, just building loving relationships with others. We are not called to try to make others agree with us, just to help them the best we can.

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Yes. Now, those who try to promote YEC by pronouncing everyone who disagrees with them on any issue a brainwashed heretical/atheist idiot, perhaps could use rejecting, in the “keep away from those who stir up contention” sense.


OK, you have got part of the message. We do not reject people because of their beliefs, but because of their actions. However, it goes deeper than this. Let us say that the issue behind these actions is spiritual pride. Then the question is, “Is God calling me to minister to this person to help him overcome a sense of spiritual insecurity that often results in spiritual pride?”

God calls us not to judge others by what they believe, or say they believe, but by what they do. Then Jesus says to forgive others and not carry a grudge. Through forgiveness and love we can understand why others do what they do and determine if God is calling us to help them to overcome whatever sins they might have. God always tells us not to reject others, but to keep an open mind as to how God might be working through them. We need to put God’s Will first, not our convenience.

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Yes, I was specifically thinking of 2 Timothy 2:23 and Titus 3:10, and how they would apply to the “anyone who disagrees with anything I say is an idiotic embodiment of evil” type of claim.

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Have you got any personal examples, particularly of where you’ve failed and how you struggled to do better?

2 Timothy 2:23 (NIV2011)
23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

This sounds like good advice. What is your problem with it?

I do have an issue with the way that BioLogos approaches YEC and ID, however.

YEC is not a scientific worldview, but a theological one. To oppose it you need to use theological arguments, not scientific ones, but BioLogos does not like to use theological arguments against YEC and ID.

ID is basically a philosophical argument, not a scientific argument against evolution. Again, one cannot disprove philosophy with science.

BioLogos would seem to be in an excellent position to point out the theological weaknesses of YEC and ID, but it does not do so because usually it treats them as scientific points of view.

My advice to you is not to oppose YEC and ID with basically science arguments, but with good theology/philosophy based on the Logos, John 1:1-3, 14, et al. You have to beat them at their own game to win.

There is that diatribe about the tongue in 1st John. I recall something about the topic of “Love” somewhere in scripture…

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