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IV. SLANDER EXAMINED

GCI teaching on slander is laid out for us, in part, in an article entitled "Slander", written by Herschel Martindale. Martindale has been a long time member of GCI, going back to the earliest roots of the organization in the early 1970's. He probably has a broader base of biblical training, including Greek, than any other member of GCI, particularly among the national leadership. Before his joining with McCotter and GCI (at that time referred to as the "blitz"), he was widely respected as a bible teacher among the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies throughout the mid-west and beyond.

Martindale's article, "Slander", is intended as a synopsis of the biblical teaching of what slander is, and why it is wrong. This author has had a high degree of respect in the past for Martindale's teaching of the scriptures, and he has enjoyed a solid reputation in that regard. However, I fear that his article on slander will do little to enhance his reputation. 

A Study of Words

Before proceeding into a direct discussion of Martindale's article, it would be helpful to first do a brief word study on slander and the related words and phrases in the Bible. To facilitate this study, I have compiled two charts which can be found on pages 18 and 19.

By examining the Word Study Chart on page 18, we find that there are a number of words, both in the Hebrew (Old Testament) and in the Greek (New Testament), which are either translated as "slander" or as "gossip" by two or more of the four leading translations of the Bible in use today.

By consulting the "Definitions" chart on English terms found on page 19, we can learn the meaning of the English word "slander". There we find that it has the clear meaning of speaking false charges or misrepresentations, which defame or damage a person's reputation. In addition to the dictionary cited in that chart, the American College Dictionary, Webster's Legal Dictionary, and the World Book Encyclopedia all also include falsehood as a primary aspect of their definitions of the English term. Hench, the word "slander" always indicates an untrue statement or charge about a person, which, by its false nature defames or injures his reputation unjustly.

Referring back again to the Word Study Chart, we can find that with only one exception, which we will discuss momentarily, each of the more than a dozen Hebrew and Greek words listed in the chart carries the idea of falsehood, false accusations, deluding, and the like. 

Therefore, whether we are discussing slander, gossip, talebearer, whisperer, evil speaker, or any other of the many words or phrases used to translate the Hebrew and Greek words in our list, we should not that the biblical meaning of the word always has the connotations of a false accuser or speaker. The significance of this will become more apparent as we proceed.

Slandered with the Truth? 

Unfortunately for the reader of "Slander", Martindale fails to make a thorough study of the very word he attempts to define. He compounds this error by confusing two very similar Greek words, which have two very different meanings. To define our English word slander, he says:

"...when we look up the world 'slanderer' in a lexicon and find the Greek word 'diabolos,' or 'devil'. The word 'diaballo' (dia - through, ballo, throw or thrust) means to 'throw or thrust through' or 'to defame'. Another lexicon says, 'to bring charges with hostile intent, either falsely and slanderously, or justly.' ... A definition I like is this: Slander: 'One who seeks to destroy another's respect, credibility, or reputation by wrong communication of facts, distortion of facts, or creating evil suspictions.'"1
First, he makes the statement that the Greek work diabolos is the word we find when we look up the word slanderer in a lexicon. As we have already seen from our word chart on page 18, he is only partly correct in this. We actually can find several words from which we get either slanderer or slanderers. Nearly half of them are from the Hebrew, and would not appear in a lexicon of the Greek language. 

However, to define our word for us, he gives us the definition of another, very similar word, diaballo. While diaballo is apparently the origin of our word diabolos, it has a very different meaning and usage. The problem is this: While the word diabolos is, on three occasions, translated as slanderers (see chart), the word diaballo, for which he gives us the definition, is never translated as slanderer by any translation in the only instance where it is used in the New Testament (Luke 16:1) (See Chart). Martindale points out that the word diaballo does not necessarily imply false charges. What he fails to note, however is that the word diaballo is not the word from which our translators have given us the word slanderer.

WORD STUDY CHART




 

The only instance in the New Testament where diaballo is used, the actual charge was true, and it was properly acted upon by the master. The same word is used twice in the Septuagint (Greek) version of the book of Daniel (see chart). Here, again, the charges were true, though they were part of a conspiratorial plot. In this case, the conspirators were not guilty of slander, but rather of treachery. The true charges were merely part of the overall plot to destroy men who were otherwise totally blameless and righteous. They had, however, violated the laws of an evil and totalitarian power, which had exceeded the limits of its God given authority. Hench, even here, our English translators do not use the word slanderer, nor did the Hellenistic Jewish scholars use the word diabolos, but rather diaballo.

Therefore, we can see, there is no correlation between the Greek word diaballo and the English word slander or slanderer. In giving us the definition of diaballo for slanderer, Martindale has made a serious error. He should have given us the definition for the word diabolos. He correctly points out that diabolos is the word for devil, and it is most often translated as such. However, it is pertinent to our interests to note that on three occasions in the New Testament, it is translated as slanderers or with related phrases (see chart).

It seems significant that the word diabolos, which is the most frequently translated as devil, should also be rendered as slanderers. We can recall how Jesus speaks of the devil in John 8:44:

"You are of your father the devil (diabolo)...he...does not stand in the truth, because there is not truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies."
Hench, it is appropriate, when the Apostle Paul used this word to describe human beings, that our translators should choose words or phrases that imply lying or falsehood. Sadly, Martindale excludes falsehood as a requisite part of his definition of slander, making it appear that it is actually possible to slander someone with the truth!

Had he been more thorough in his handling of the word slanderer, he might have avoided this error. The fact is, as we demonstrated in the Word Study Chart, there are a number of words in both the Greek and Hebrew which our various translations render as slander. He makes no reference to these many other words, nor, of course, does he point out that falsehood is a key element in the definition of each one of them (see chart).

Martindale's carelessness in the handling of his subject is further demonstrated by the verses he chooses to cite. Although he refers to only two of the Greek words related to the subject, for some incomprehensible reason he does not cite a single passage where either of those words is used. This seems, at best, to be carelessness, if not exegetical dishonesty.

On the "Horns of a Dilemma"  

One major difficulty with Martindale's definition is that it is unworkable; it also requires unrighteousness to apply. If falsehood is not a criteria to determine if someone has slandered, how are we to detect it? Martindale leaves us quite perplexed on this point. If we accept the definition he cites from the lexicon, which we have shown to be misapplied, then we must detect "hostile intent". Intent involves purpose of motive. These are secret matters, matters of the heart. The secrets of the heart are not in our purview to judge.

"For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him..." I Corinthians 2:10

"Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness, and disclose the motives of men's hearts..." I Corinthians 4:5
The Holy Spirit forbids us from infringing on God's prerogatives of judgment, specifically because we cannot know the heart of a man. Yet, it is this very thing which Martindale's definition forces us to do. He forces us to discern "hostile intent".

If, however, we choose to use Martindale's private definition, which he says he "likes", we find ourselves equally frustrated. We must judge if the potential slanderer is "one who seeks", which is also a judgment of the heart. But further, does this one who is "seeking", seek to destroy by "wrong communication of facts, distortion of facts, or creating evil suspicions?" He does not bother to tell us what constitutes "wrong communication" or what it means to create "evil suspicions", or even what "evil suspicions" are. Is it an "evil suspicion" to feel, on the basis of an apparently reliable source, that someone has sinned? Martindale leaves us groping in a quagmire of confusion. By abandoning the falsehood criteria as the primary determinator of whether a report is slander, or a person is a slanderer, we are left hanging on the horns of a dilemma. Trying not to judge the heart of another, but having no other understandable means of judging, we must wander in confusion.

This dilemma is a troublesome thing to GCI, as it should be. Unfortunately, they fail to see that the problem lies with their definition. In order to control slander as they have defined it, they have had to work up an unbiblical system of detection, which is laid out for us in another article, and which we shall examine later. As we shall also see later, not all GCI leaders are fully comfortable with this definition.

The Basis of Reputation

An equally problematic aspect of Martindale’s definition is the implication that it would always be wrong to say anything which would reflect poorly on another person. Or in his words: “destroy another’s respect, credibility, or reputation…” As we have already observed, Martindale believes that it is possible to do this with the truth, and that to do it with the truth constitutes slander just as much as if it were done with lies. What he fails to do, however, is to give us one clear example from the Scriptures where someone was said to have slandered another with the truth. Of course, he cannot do so, for there is no such example.

A person’s reputation must be built upon the truth about his character, not on someone’s misconception of his character. When Paul discussed Peter’s sin with the Galatians (Galatians 2:11-14), it did not reflect very positively on Peter. Nevertheless, we benefit by knowing what God thought of Peter’s actions, not by thinking that he was never hypocritical, or that he had never denied his Lord.

It should be noted as well, that Paul wrote these things during Peter’s life-time, and that he did not include in his letter anything about Peter’s repentance. Apparently Paul himself had fallen for Satan’s “number one tool!” (As I mentioned earlier, it does appear that Peter repented.)

We have a number of other biblical examples of speaking truthfully while reflecting poorly on another’s reputation. Among many others are included: John, of Diotrephes (III John 9,10); Paul, of Hymenaeus and Philetus (II Timothy 2:17,19); Paul, of Demes (II Timothy 4:10); Paul, of Alexander (II Timothy 4:14,15); Luke, of John Mark (Acts 15:38); etc., etc. In none of these cases is there any indication that church disciple had been administered, yet the writer freely mentions the character flaws of these men.

In addition to the many, many examples in the Word of someone revealing the unpleasant realities about someone else’s character, we also have specific instructions to do so. Take, for example, the elder who continues in sin, refusing to turn. Paul says:

“Those (elders) who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest may be fearful of sinning.” I Timothy 5:20
In this passage we are commanded to expose the truth about someone’s character, and in this case, it could certainly destroy or seriously damage the elder’s reputation. Does this constitute slander? According to GCI it might.  

Technique or Truth, Which Will It Be?

We have seen Martindale has constructed a definition of slander that is not in agreement with either biblical definitions, or those of common English usage. To Martindale, slander is any communication, false or true, which is wrongly communicated. As we noted, he does not elaborate on what is “wrong communication”, but it seems to imply either a wrong motive, or a wrong “way”, method, or technique.

Motive, as we have observed, is a moot point, as it cannot be judged by man, and therefore the church cannot act upon it. That leaves us with methodology or technique. If, however, we are dealing with method or technique, or the “way” a communication is made, we have another set of troubling circumstances. 

GCI has a set methodology for communicating the truth about someone’s sin. We examined part of that methodology when we studied John Hopler’s article on church disciple. We will examine it closer in chapter ten. What we did see in Hopler’s piece, and we will see even more clearly later, is that GCI’s methodology is excessively and unbiblically rigid and restrictive.

It should be pointed out that a person could bring a true charge of immorality, or deceitfulness, or oppression, or drunkenness against another in the church. However, if the person bringing the charge failed to follow the excessively rigid and restrictive procedures laid out by GCI, or if he was unable to follow those restrictive guidelines, then he would be judged guilty of slander, according to their definition! Not only this, but the charges he brought against the other party would be dismissed because they were judged to be slanderous.

Even if GCI methodology were biblical, which we have shown, and will show again, that it is not, would it not be more just to correct the brother for following the wrong procedure, yet still hear and deal with his charge? Is not immorality or oppression in the church at least as series and as devastating as wrong methodology? But Martindale’s definition leads us to judge the charges as slander because they were “wrongly communicated”.

This matter of methodology or technique (an unbiblical one at that) taking a higher place than truth will surface again in our considerations. However, our problems with Martindale’s view of slander do not end here.

The Number One Tool?

Having constructed a distorted concept of what “slander” is, Martindale also places an importance on it which is all out of proportion to any other sin. As he introduces the subject, he makes the following statement: 

“Is it any wonder that the devil’s number one attack-point against believers is to try to get them disunited, divided, and fighting against each other. And he has one major tool to do it – slander.”2 (All emphases mine.)
We find here in Martindale’s remarks a tendency that we will find throughout the magazine, to place an inordinate emphasis on the sins of slander and divisiveness. These are indeed serious sins, and common tools of Satan, as can be seen from even a cursory reading of the New Testament. But Martindale has no biblical grounds to list slander as the devil’s “one major tool” to create division, or to call division his “number one attack-point”. We must remember that questioning the Word of God, greed, immorality, and pride are but a few of his favorite weapons, which Satan uses against believers. If we place too much emphasis on one single area, we are likely to leave ourselves exposed in other equally dangerous areas.

Martindale further reinforces his error in his next paragraph when he says:

“In II Corinthians 2:11 the apostle Paul says that we must not be unaware of Satan’s schemes. Yet surprisingly few Christians understand very much about his number one scheme: slander.”3 (Emphasis mine.)
First, we should note that the scheme Paul is alluding to in this passage is not slander, but rather Satan’s scheme of causing us to lose sight of the grace and forgiveness that is ours in Christ. Interestingly, the reason there was a danger of this in Corinth at the time was due to overzealous church discipline.

Second, we should also note that nothing at all is mentioned about slander in the verse or passage Martindale cites. There is no basis here, or anywhere else in Scripture, to give slander such an “exalted” position over other sins. Such a distortion can make believers paranoid regarding slander, while at the same time lulling them to sleep in other areas of grave danger.

Beware

There are grave dangers lurking in Martindale’s view of slander, and those who read his article without a discerning eye may be in for serious trouble. In the first place, he gives the reader a definition of slander which is unbiblical, unworkable, and leads to unrighteousness. It is an understanding of slander which includes many things as slander which are not slander. Hence, many very innocent individuals can be marked as slanderous who are only voicing valid and true criticisms or charges about another, which need to be addressed. Instead of being addressed, however, the charges are dismissed as slander (more on this in later chapters), and the one bringing the charges is labeled as a slanderer. 

In the second place, Martindale places an emphasis on slander which is all out of proportion to other vital issues in the Word of God. Hench, the hapless individual in our last paragraph, who brings criticisms or charges regarding another finds himself being considered the most dangerous person to the body of Christ. There is much room for grave injustice here. Let the reader of Martindale’s article beware! 

1 Martindale, Herschel, “Slander”, The Cause, p 15, June/July 1985.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.

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