Is Name-Calling Ever Appropriate?
What does the Bible say about name-calling, especially the New Testament? Is it ever appropriate? And, if so, what are the wise guidelines.
While some believers think that name-calling is inherently mean-spirited and never appropriate, there are examples of righteous name-calling in the Scriptures. For instance, notice what John the Baptist called the corrupt religious leaders of Judea when he was baptizing at the Jordan River:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
As you can see, John called these Pharisees and Sadducees “brood of vipers,” which means offspring of snakes! Keep in mind that the Lord later praised John’s greatness with no criticism of his righteous name-calling (Luke 7:28).
Jesus Righteously Called People Names on Appropriate Occasions
If you think what John said was radical notice what Christ called similar religious leaders in a single rant:
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
This is a scathing rebuke filled with righteous name-calling, like “hypocrite,” “child of hell,” “blind fools,” “blind men,” “blind guides,” “whitewashed tombs… full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” “snakes” and “brood of vipers.” In a similar rant Jesus calls them “unmarked graves” (Luke 11:44). His favorite name is “hypocrites,” which he used six times on this occasion in Matthew 23. The word ‘hypocrite’ literally means “actor” and thus Jesus was calling these people “fakes.”
Was Christ out of line? Was he “not walking in love”? Was he being mean-spirited? NO, because “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and Jesus was/is God (John 1:1) and he never sinned (Hebrews 4:14-15). This is an example of tough love: The Lord was fed-up with the gross corruption of these arrogant religious leaders – after much patience & prayer, I might add – and so he boldly told them the truth. As the proverb says: “Open rebuke is better than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). Simply put, sometimes a frank ‘wake-up call’ or ‘pattern interruption’ is in order.
Elsewhere Jesus called Peter “Satan” for being an inadvertent mouthpiece for the devil (Matthew 16:22-23). Let’s keep in mind, however, that he also highly commended Peter in the very same chapter just a handful of verses earlier (17-19). This shows balance – Christ didn’t hesitate to commend people’s positive qualities, yet had no qualms about correcting folly or evil either. This is the equilibrium of gentle love and tough love.
Now, someone might claim that these examples are “technically Old Testament” since they involve John the Baptist and Christ before the latter’s death & resurrection and the subsequent birth of the Church. But this argument is bogus because the Lord verified in Luke 16:16 that the Old Testament ended with John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah via a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:2-19). With the ministries of John and Jesus the kingdom of God was preached, not the Law and the Prophets. This explains why Christ spoke as if the Church was already in existence even though he didn’t die for our sins yet (Matthew 18:17). You could say that the Church was already alive but not birthed, like a baby in a mother’s womb. You can read more about this here.
Rare-but-Righteous Name-Calling by Paul
Let’s consider an example where Paul was compelled to righteous name-calling, as led of the Holy Spirit. This occasion occurred on the island of Cyprus when Paul & Barnabas were sharing the Word of God with proconsul Sergius Paulus. Notice what happens:
But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Paul doesn’t just call this deceitful trickster a “child of the devil” and “enemy of everything that is right,” but he also curses him with temporary blindness. Verse 9 shows that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he did this, so we know he wasn’t out of line or walking out of love.
Righteous Name-Calling should always be TRUE, even if it’s Figurative
One thing we can get from these accounts is that righteous name-calling must be accurate. What I mean is that Paul called Elymas (el-OO-mass) a “child of the devil” and an “enemy of all that is right” because that is what Elymas was.
This, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative and apply metaphors, like John the Baptist and Christ did when they referred to the corrupt religious leaders as “brood of vipers” and “snakes,” not to mention “whitewashed tombs” and “unmarked graves.” These names are appropriate because they’re figuratively true. The Messiah did the same with the devil & his filthy angels by referring to them as “snakes and scorpions” (Luke 10:19). Are Satan & his demons literally snakes and scorpions? No, but it’s a fitting figurative comparison.
Another thing we can get from Paul’s account is that he wasn’t rash with his radical actions. It’s implied that Paul simply got fed-up with Elymas’ devilish interference before resorting to name-calling and cursing. Keep in mind that Paul & his ministry team no doubt bathed the inhabitants of Cyprus in prayer before & after arriving to the island, with particular focus on political leaders, like the proconsul, à la 1 Timothy 2:1-4. When Elymas’ devious opposition was hindering their mission Paul could take no more and – filled with the Spirit – resorted to extreme tough love mode.
Needless to say, it’s always best to give grace & mercy a healthy chance before employing tough love measures. Not always, though, seeing as how John the Baptist implemented tough love on his initial meeting with the hypocritical religious leaders of Judea, as shown earlier (Matthew 3:7). Keep in mind, however, that John did this after years of intercession without seeing positive results. While this may not be stated, we know that righteous people of God are prone to pray for those in the area to which they are assigned (again, 1 Timothy 2:1-4). In any event, you have to be led of the Spirit. What do you feel within? Do you feel outrage in your spirit? Are you honestly fed-up with hypocrisy or corruption? Then do & say what you have to, by the Spirit. Speaking of which…
“Do Everything in Love,” including Righteous Name-Calling
Someone might understandably ask: Isn’t calling people names – even if the names are accurate and fitting – automatically mean-spirited and walking out of love? Obviously not since we have these clear examples of godly New Testament characters doing so with the understanding that it’s the exception, not the rule. Let me rephrase that: It must be the exception, not the rule. After all, it was the exception and not the rule with Jesus and Paul, as well as other biblical characters. And they are our examples.
Also, it’s important to stress that everything we do must be done in love:
Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:14
But how can name-calling be an act of love? Because it’s tough love with a righteous purpose. Observe the biblical definition of agape love, which means practical love or love-in-practice; in other words, it’s not a feeling:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
As with any biblical topic, we need to be balanced with love. This passage shows the full definition of agape love. As you can see, agape love is kind and is not rude, but it also doesn’t delight in evil; it rejoices with the truth, not lies; and it always protects. So when it says love is kind and love is not rude, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t boldly confront evil when necessary as moved by the Spirit. This explains Christ’s “rude” actions when a Pharisee invited him to dine: When Jesus reclined at the table, the Pharisee observed that he failed to practice a traditional ritual (not commanded in the Law). This troubled the religious leader and the Messiah noticed:
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people!”
You can read the rest of the passage in your own study time, but Christ goes on to frankly call the Pharisees “unmarked graves” (verse 44).
What we have to understand in this situation is that Jesus didn’t follow their washing ritual intentionally. Why? Because he wanted to set the stage for a necessary open rebuke. But how is this walking in love? Because love does not delight in evil but celebrates truth. As such, love boldly confronts evil when appropriate. And the Lord was led to do so on this occasion, which included calling the Pharisees an offensive name. This is an example for us (Ephesians 5:1 & 1 Peter 4:11).
Of course Spirit-led confrontation doesn’t always mean the person or persons will receive the correction. In this case, the Pharisees & Teachers of the Law responded by opposing Christ fiercely (verse 53), but the Messiah did what he was led to do regardless.
While ‘kindness’ can mean “niceness,” we have to understand that this is not all it means. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a person is to make a righteous judgment of his/her bad fruit and offer a much-needed wake-up call. Goodness is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) but sometimes doing what is good for a person or situation may not be very nice or lovey-dovey. For instance, when Peter sharply corrected Simon the sorcerer he wasn’t being nice, but he was definitely producing the fruits of love, kindness and goodness (Acts 8:9-24).
Similarly, Paul’s open reprimand of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8-12, cited above) may not seem very loving to modern Westernized readers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Paul did this deceitful trickster the kindest thing possible – he told him the awful truth in order to spur repentance. It can’t be argued that Paul wasn’t producing fruit of the spirit because the text plainly states that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he judged and reprimanded the magician (verse 9). Righteousness is also a fruit of the spirit (Ephesians 5:9 & Philippians 1:11). You see, sometimes doing the right thing may not necessarily be the culturally polite thing.
Christ’s radical cleansing of the Temple is Exhibit A, which he did twice, once at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13-17) and 3.5 years later near the end (Mark 11:15-18). The ‘snakes’ who were driven out on the earlier occasion obviously slithered their way back into the Temple area in the ensuing years and so it was necessary for Jesus to cleanse the Temple a second time. You might have noticed that I just used appropriate name-calling.
On that note, let’s consider these two conflicting proverbs:
4Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
5Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
The fact that these two contrasting statements lay side-by-side shows that the contradiction was intended. Some fools should be ignored while others should be answered in like manner. It depends on the type of fool with whom you’re dealing, the situation and other things, like how much grace you’ve already applied and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The Rightwing Fascism of the 1st Century and the Leftwing Fascism of Today
Legalism and libertinism are two sides of the same bad coin. We observe this in this passage by Solomon, the wisest man of his day:
Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overwicked and do not be a fool—why die before your time? 18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.
To be “overrighteous” or “overwise” refers to legalism whereas being “overwicked” or a “fool” refers to libertinism. Both are equally corrupt conditions and should be avoided at all costs. Solomon says “it is good to grasp one and not let go of the other,” which indicates that the truth lies somewhere in between the two. This can also be observed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son with the prodigal representing libertinism and the older son representing legalism. For biblical insights see this article.
The Pharisees, Teachers of the Law & Sadducees that conflicted with Christ during his earthly ministry were legalists and were basically what we would now call rightwing fascists. In America Today (and Western civilization in general) the problem isn’t rightwing fascism, but rather leftwing fascism. You can observe this in many ways: Conservatives afraid to openly support Christianity or a conservative politician due to the threat of violent persecution; afraid to say such-and-such is a sin because they might lose their job; taxpayers forced to fund baby-killing & the sales of body parts; wise voices being prohibited at universities and on social media; shoving sexual perversion down our throats as legitimate lifestyles; etc. In summer 2016 when Obama gave his executive order to legally permit mentally ill men to use the women’s restroom it was the last straw. Conservatives in American finally had it with liberal fascism, which paved the way for the Trump/Pence election.
My point is that the rightwing corruption of the religious leaders of Judea provoked John the Baptist & the Messiah to righteous name-calling. In the same way, the outrageous Leftwing wickedness in modern America provokes a similar response in disciples of Christ.
That’s why I don’t have a problem with President Trump amusingly mocking Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” She has no one to blame but herself since she used trace amounts of AmerIndian DNA to claim minority status and boost her career at Harvard and in politics (she’s 1/1024 Cherokee, by the way, less than the average American).
(Please no comments on Trump because it’s irrelevant whether you like him or not. I’m politically Independent, à la Joshua 5:13-15, and just citing a modern example of justified name-calling. Warren desperately needed someone to call her out on her self-benefitting falsehood. It was a humbling wake-up call, like when John the Baptist & Christ confronted the corrupt religious leaders of Judea, not to mention humorous).
Due to liberal fascism and their constant lies & slander, I sometimes amusingly refer to liberals as LIEberals. One glaring example of their fallacious ideology is their insistence that Bruce Jenner – now known as Caitlyn Jenner – is a woman, even though he still has male DNA. Anyone who disagrees with their absurd claims, like this one, and simply shares the truth is persecuted and branded a “bigot,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “xenophobe,” “transphobe,” “Islamophobe” and similar clichéd terms.
I also occasionally refer to the Democrat Party as the Demonic-rats (or Demoncraps), obviously with a wink of amusement. Why? Because they’re clearly Satan’s favorite political party in America in light of the fact that they’re anti-Christ, anti-Christian, pro-thug, anti-cop, pro-lawless, pro-strife, pro-perversion, pro-deviance, pro-baby killing (including letting abortion survivors die on the table), pro-silencing conservative voices and more.
Is occasionally calling liberals ‘LIEberals’ and Democrats ‘Demonic-rats’ mean-spirited or simply stating the obvious truth in a frank and amusing manner? As long as it’s the exception and not the rule I don’t see a problem with name-calling like this in view of how bad libertinism (i.e. lawlessness or hedonism) and liberal fascism have become in the USA and other Western countries. Again, this is opposite to the way it was at the time of Christ in Israel. Back then the problem was legalistic fascism; today its libertine fascism. John the Baptist and the Messiah were justified in their rare name-calling and so are disciples of Christ today in confronting liberal fascists.
Just keep in mind that righteous name-calling is the exception and not rule; and everything must be done in love as led of the Spirit – including what we do in the name of tough love. But please don’t mistake occasional righteous name-calling with cuss-oriented mudslinging or out-of-control brouhahas, which are carnal and unwise. Discord (strife) and fits of rage are decidedly of the flesh, as detailed in Galatians 5:19-21. See also 2 Corinthians 12:20, 2 Timothy 2:24, Titus 3:9-11, Proverbs 17:19, Proverbs 20:3 and similar passages.
Lastly, if you’re debating someone, focus on logical reasons that support your argument and not ad hominem tactics. Let the other side be guilty of the opposite. Remember, people resort to ad hominem antics when they’re losing the debate. That said, there’s a time & place for righteous name-calling, albeit rare. Sometimes a ‘pattern interruption’ is precisely what’s necessary and (hopefully) effective in a situation.
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