Proverbs 16:27

ESV A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.
NIV A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire.
NASB A worthless person digs up evil, While his words are like scorching fire.
CSB A worthless person digs up evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.
NLT Scoundrels create trouble; their words are a destructive blaze.
KJV An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.

What does Proverbs 16:27 mean?

This proverb includes the Hebrew term beliy'ya'al, used elsewhere in much the same way as the English words "rascal," "scoundrel," or "villain" (Deuteronomy 13:13; Proverbs 6:12). The Hebrew word combines the terms for "without" and "use," which is why it's often translated as "worthless." This was carried forward into languages such as Greek and Latin, in forms such as Belial, and used as another name for Satan (2 Corinthians 6:15). Solomon's depiction is of someone who does more than succumb to temptation in a moment of weakness. The Hebrew phrasing implies one who "digs up" evil. This is a person acting with deliberate intent.

Other proverbs in this section noted the benefit of carefully-chosen words (Proverbs 16:21, 23–24). In contrast, words intended to harm are especially damaging. Those who deliberately speak evil use profane, blasphemous, and hurtful words. Solomon compares such speech to "scorching fire." The words create pain and destruction. This powerful imagery is echoed by James, who also compares the tongue's power to that of fire (James 3:5–6). Spiteful words intended to hurt are deeply wounding and can leave lasting emotional scars.

In modern English, "arson" is used to describe the crime of deliberately setting a destructive fire; it's considered a serious offense. Evil people often commit spiritual and social forms of arson through gossiping or lies (Proverbs 6:16–19). It's appropriate that this sin is mentioned in the same proverb as a word later used to refer to Satan. Those who breathe hate resemble the Devil, who Jesus said "was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).
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