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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: Appropriate or inappropriate words, that is the question (Proverbs 15:23)

Proverbs 15:23, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (ESV) or “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!” (NIV) or, and somewhat strangely, “A bad man will by no means obey counsel; neither will he say anything seasonable, or good for the common weal.” (Greek Septuagint)

“Apt answer” or “right answer,” or “proper answer,” or “good answer” is the translation for the Hebrew word maaneh, and  is translated “fit reply” in Job 33:3, 5 and “appropriate answer” in Proverbs 16:1 and 15:28. It is the Hebrew word for “answer” but always the “suitable answer.” Clearly, the word in used in the context of a dialogue when someone is responding to another. However, it should be applied to general communication when a writer feels the need to report on a given event or person and discretion, felicitousness and respect are required.

“Season” or “timely” is the translation for the Hebrew word et, and has the Biblical sense of “timeliness” or the “right moment.” Martin Luther translates it “in its time” or “right opportunity.”  But even more precise, it is an “appointed, proper timeliness” (Jer. 3:17; Dan. 12:9). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes the three main uses of this common word: the usual, regular event; the appropriate time for unrecurring events; the fixed, set time or period for something. The better known Greek equivalent is kairos meaning “due measure or proportion,” “a fixed or definite period,” “just the right time” (Rom. 5:6).

This Proverb teaches that to write appropriate words are not only good for the receiver, it is good for the writer: “a joy to a man.” A well crafted sentence is pleasing to the writer. There is also the thought that good words can be seasonable: “a word in season.” That is, what is appropriate at one time may not be as appropriate in another time.  Words are contextual. The Christian writer needs to be sensitive to the timeliness of the words used. Finally, this proverb emphasizes the beneficial effects of well chosen words. Everybody is glad for appropriate language: “how good it is.”

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