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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Proverbs: Write for the right reader (Proverbs 10:32)

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that Christian journalists should “know the proper times and procedure because there is a proper time and procedure for every matter” including writing (8:5-6), to “find just the right words” (12:10), and that good words are “like rain upon the mown grass” (Ps. 72:6). We tend to read this primarily in a counseling situation, but it has also a journalistic application.

I want to look at several Solomonic Proverbs which instruct us to “find the right words” in any given context. These proverbs teach us to be time and circumstantially sensitive.

Proverbs 10:32, “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.” (ESV) or “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.” (NIV) or “The lips of just men drop grace; but the mouth of the ungodly is perverse.” (Greek Septuagint)

The contrast here is between words which are gracefully acceptable and fitting and words which are perverse and destructive.
The word translated “acceptable” or “fitting” in the Hebrew (rotson) has several meaning, depending on its context: “delight,” “pleasure,” “approbation,” “favor,” and “to be delighted with.” Interestingly, the meaning of the base word is found in the reaction of the distribution of plunder apportioned to a person. The person receiving the plunder was “pleased” or “found favor” with the distribution. It was “good” booty. Rotson can also have a more theological meaning, as in “grace” (thus the Septuagint translation). The word is used many times to describe the “pleasure” that God the Father has with His Son and with His people. So clearly the word has the meaning of a “deep sense of appreciation” and “edifying pleasure.” Thus the appropriate purpose of language is as a loving, gracious act.

Conversely, the word translated “perverse” in the Hebrew (tahpuka) can mean “fraud.” The root of this word means “turn,” or “overthrow” or “contrary” or “to be upside down” (hapak). The same word used in Proverbs 10:32 is used only nine times in the Old Testament and eight of those times in Proverbs with the context usually a being a “perverse” mouth, mind or heart. In Proverbs the root word indicates “a sudden overthrow or a process that leads to an abrupt change of the straight paths into the crooked paths of a morally topsy-turvy lifestyle” (Bruce Waltke). What Solomon is saying with the use of this word is that speech is designed for edification and blessing and not for destruction and curses. Such an inappropriate use is contrary or a twisting of the created purpose of language.

This Proverb teaches that the Christian journalist should have insight into reader sensitivity that escapes the proud and haughty. It is good and valuable to the reader to have useful and truthful words to instruct, educate and encourage. It is likewise, harmful and destructive to the reader to have words that are lies or inappropriately written. The “wicked” can be an unbeliever, but he can also be a believer who acts wickedly, that is, without regard or love for his neighbor. What this Proverb teaches is that good writing is a sacred calling and a duty of utmost importance for the follower of Jesus.

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