World Scripture


A malicious or loose tongue is the cause of much evil in the world. Since talk can cause damage to others and to oneself, one's words should be weighed carefully.

The crime of bearing false witness in a court of law is singled out in the Ten Commandments as a specially grievous sin, since its consequences for the unjustly accused are so dire. In the ancient Mesopotamian law code of Hammurabi, a witness who falsely accused another of a crime was liable, if his perjury were uncovered, to a punishment identical to that for the crime which he laid upon the innocent party. Beyond the court of law, there are many other situations where a person is asked about some event or about the behavior of others. These are opportunities either to be truthful, or to bear false witness and cause others injury by damaging their reputations, sowing discord and mistrust between husband and wife or between friends, or even falsely implicating them in crimes.

Furthermore, much damage can come from words said without careful deliberation and from tales repeated to others without first ascertaining whether they are true. One should be aware of the character and mind of the person to whom the words are said. Also, harsh and foul speech, cursing and reviling others, can lead to fighting and violence.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

1. Judaism and Christianity. Exodus 20.16

One giving false evidence or uttering falsehood goes to Raurava hell.

2. Hinduism. Markandeya Puranao

Whoever commits a delinquency or crime, then throws it upon the innocent, has burdened himself with falsehood and a flagrant crime.

3. Islam. Qur'an 4.112

When he is cited and questioned as a witness before a council or a company or amid his relations or amid a guild or a royal family, and is told, "Now, my good man, say what you know," although he does not know, he says, "I know," and although he knows, he says, "I do not know"; although he has not seen, he says, "I saw," and although he has seen, he says, "I did not see." Thus his speech becomes intentional lying either for his own sake or for that of another or for the sake of some material gain or other. And he is a slanderer; having heard something at one place, he makes it known elsewhere for causing variance among those people... In this way he sows discord among those who were in harmony or foments those who were at variance. Discord is his pleasure, his delight, his joy, the motive of his speech.... If this kind of vocal conduct is followed, unskilled states of mind grow much, skilled states of mind decrease.

4. Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya iii.47-48, Sevitabbaasevitabba Sutta

You who believe, if some perverse man should come up to you with some piece of news, clear up the facts lest you afflict some folk out of ignorance and some morning feel regretful for what you may have done....

You who believe, do not let one folk ridicule another folk. Perhaps they are better than they are. Nor let women mistreat other women; perhaps they are better than themselves. Nor should you find fault with one another nor shout at one another using nicknames; it is bad to use a dirty name instead of one you can believe in. Those who do not turn away from it are wrongdoers.

You who believe, refrain from being overly suspicious: some suspicion is a crime. Do not spy on one another, nor yet any of you slander others. Would one of you like to eat his dead brother's flesh? You would loathe it! Heed God, for God is Relenting, Merciful.

5. Islam. Qur'an 49.6-12

Qur'an 4.112: Cf. Qur'an 4.135, p. 1019. Qur'an 49.6-12: Vv. 6, 11-12.

There are eight faults that men may possess... you must not fail to examine these carefully. To do what is not your business to do is called officiousness. To rush forward when no one has nodded in your direction is called obsequiousness. To echo a man's opinions and try to draw him out in speech is called sycophancy. To speak without regard for what is right and wrong is called flattery. To delight in talking about other men's failings is called calumny. To break up friendships and set kinfolk at odds is called maliciousness. To praise falsely and hypocritically so as to cause injury and evil to others is called wickedness. Without thought for right and wrong, to try to face in two directions at once so as to steal a glimpse of the other party's wishes is called treachery. These eight faults inflict chaos on others and injury on the possessor. A gentleman will not befriend the man who possesses them, an enlightened ruler with not have him for a minister.

6. Taoism. Chuang Tzu 31

You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people.

7. Judaism and Christianity. Leviticus 19.16

If the ear does not hear malicious gossip, the heart is not grieved.

8. African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

They [young widows] learn to be idlers, gadding about from house to house, and not only idlers but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

9. Christianity. 1 Timothy 5.13

The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue--a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God.

10. Christianity. James 3.6-9

A person is born with an axe in his mouth. He whose speech is unwholesome cuts himself with his axe.

When a person praises someone who should be blamed, or attacks someone worthy of praise, then this man is accumulating evil with his mouth and this evil will not lead to happiness.

It is little harm if one loses money in gambling with dice, even losing everything, including oneself; but if one bears ill-will towards well-conducted ones it is greater harm indeed. Insulting men of real worth, bearing ill-will in thought and speech, leads to eons upon eons in the states of misery.

11. Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 657-60

Leviticus 19.16: Cf. Abot 3.17, p. 920.

A noisy bird builds a bad nest.

12. African Traditional Religions. Kanufi Proverb (Nigeria)

The origin of all trouble
Within this world
Is a single word
Spoken in haste.

13. Shinto. Moritake Arakida, One Hundred Poems About The World

Speak not harshly to anyone. Those thus addressed will retort. Painful, indeed, is vindictive speech. Blows in exchange may bruise you.

14. Buddhism. Dhammapada 133

The Master said, "Where disorder develops, words are the first steps. If the prince is not discreet, he loses his servant. If the servant is not discreet, he loses his life. If germinating things are not handled with discretion, the perfecting of them is impeded."

15. Confucianism. I Ching, Great Commentary 1.8.10

To be always talking is against nature. For the same reason a hurricane never lasts a whole morning, nor a rain storm all day. Who is it that makes the wind and rain? It is Heaven and earth. And if even Heaven and earth cannot blow or pour for long, how much less in his utterances should man?

16. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 23

The Messenger of God... took hold of his tongue and said, "Restrain this." I said, "O Prophet of God, will what we say be held against us?" He said, "May your mother be bereaved of you, Mu`adah! Is there anything that topples people on their faces into hell-fire other than the harvests of their tongues?"

17. Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 29

I Ching, Great Commentary 1.8.10: Cf. Micah 7.5-7, p. 953; Yoruba Song, pp. 953f. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 29: Cf. Hadith of Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, p. 465.