The Bible

Words, Wind and Import: Speech in the Book of Job

An emphasis on the relationship between speech and sin is present from the inception of the test of Job's virtue. Satan challenges God that, if misfortune befell Job, he would "curse [him] to [his] face," making Job's sin not a psychological or physical one, but rather verbal in nature (1:11). This equation of sin with discourse is fleshed out by the remainder of the text. By general consensus, the mouth is a den of iniquity; Job's friend Zophar explicates this idea through metaphor over four verses, saying that the godless "hold [wickedness] in their mouths . . . It is the venom of asps within them" (20:13-14). These verses are full of imagery which construes wicked mouths as roiling with this venom and a perverse enjoyment. They seem intended to connote decadence, as though the godless relish, however briefly, the spoils of sin, misperceiving poison to be pleasurable. Their mouths are presented as the location and crux of their sin.

Job, in pleading the case for his righteousness, says, "I have not let my mouth sin by asking for their lives with a curse" (31:30). Here as elsewhere, it is clear that the act of speech itself is not sinful, but that sin instead resides in the meaning of...

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