A rumor is an unconfirmed, widely spread story or statement. Rumors may or may not contain elements of truth, but their veracity is anyone’s guess—rumors carry no factual certainty. Rumors are also known as gossip, and the Bible has a lot to say about that.
Scripture warns against spreading rumors and those who engage in gossip. Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Words are powerful. They can build up or destroy (Proverbs 18:21). James 3:2–12 instructs us to control our words, stating in verse 5: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Spreading “harmless” rumors, then, can cause great destruction. God desires that we use our words to praise Him (Psalm 34:1), to speak wisdom (Proverbs 10:13), and to encourage and edify each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Ephesians 4:29).
The Bible often includes gossip in lists of specific evils (e.g., 2 Corinthians 12:20; Romans 1:29). Spreading rumors is so repulsive in the Lord’s sight that He made a prohibition against it in the Law He gave to the Israelites (Leviticus 19:16). First Timothy 5:13 sternly warns against using idle time to spread slander. And Proverbs 17:4 implies that those who eagerly listen to gossip have low character.
So why do we enjoy the rumor mill? Proverbs 26:22 gives one reason: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” There is a delicious thrill in hearing scandalous information about someone we know or wish we knew. Jealousy is often the root of spreading rumors. When we learn “the real reason” someone did something, we can alter our opinion of him or her and make ourselves feel better by comparison. We rarely hear rumors that exalt someone’s reputation. We don’t hear rumors that someone’s son worked hard to make the honor roll again, a friend’s spouse is kind and devoted, or that the Joneses saved for ten years to take that luxury cruise. That kind of information is not a “choice morsel.” Instead, we perk up when we hear that someone’s son cheated his way onto the honor roll, that a friend’s spouse only pretends to be kind and devoted because he is having an affair, or that the Joneses blew their retirement to take that luxury cruise. Those kinds of tidbits let us compare ourselves favorably with the ones gossiped about, and we feel more satisfied with our own lives.
In Christian circles, spreading rumors has an ally in the guise of the “prayer chain.” Prayer chains are ways that local churches inform other members of prayer needs within that body. They can be useful if the information shared is general knowledge and those informed will truly pray. However, many times prayer chains become excuses for speculation and rumor as the story grows with each telling. A prayer chain can become a real-life example of the party game “Telephone,” with the last person on the prayer chain receiving information that bears little resemblance to the original request. When this happens, it is nothing more than spreading rumors and can be destructive to individuals and churches.
Proverbs 26:20 gives us the antidote for spreading rumors: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” We cannot stop all rumors, but we can refuse to participate in them. We can break the “telephone” chain and refuse to pass it on. When we hear slanderous news, we should go to the source and check it out. If we are not part of the solution, and the person we are telling is not part of the solution, then the news is not ours to propagate. Our sinful natures enjoy possessing a juicy morsel of information that would gain us attention in the telling. But when we are willing to recognize the selfishness of that desire, we can repent of it and dedicate our mouths to the glory of God (Psalm 19:14).
Prophet Nathan Emol