Proverbs 26:20

ESV For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
NIV Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
NASB For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no gossiper, quarreling quiets down.
CSB Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.
NLT Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.
KJV Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.
NKJV Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.

What does Proverbs 26:20 mean?

A fire must be fueled; in the ancient world, this almost always required wood. When no more wood is added, the fire does not immediately die. However, without wood, the fire fades and burns itself out. Take away fuel, and nothing sustains the flames. In a parallel way, hearsay, bickering, slander, and other hostile speech fuel disagreements and arguments. When gossiping stops, much of the fuel for conflict is gone. Being argumentative, in general, is another way to prolong disputes (Proverbs 26:21).

The Hebrew word for someone who grumbles, gossips, or criticizes behind others' backs is nirgān. The term is similarly used elsewhere in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 1:27; Psalm 106:25; Proverbs 16:28). One of these uses is Proverbs 18:8, which warns about the enticing words of a "whisperer." The same phrasing is used later in this passage (Proverbs 26:22).

The contagious nature of gossip and hurtful speech is echoed in the New Testament. James, as well, relates it to fire: damaging, scarring, able to spread quickly, and hard to control. James writes: "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell" (James 3:5–6). Paul warns about the evil caused by the wrong use of the tongue. He writes in Galatians 5:14–15: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."
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