What does Proverbs 18:21 mean?
ESV: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
NIV: The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
NASB: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.
CSB: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
NLT: The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.
KJV: Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
Verse Commentary:
This proverb notes the often-ignored fact that words are powerful. Verbal attacks, themselves, cannot break bones. However, speech can inspire positive or negative responses. It can build up, or it can tear apart. This follows other Scriptures which note the immense power of our words (Proverbs 10:19; 15:1–4; James 3:5–8).

Solomon also notes that speech comes with consequences for the speaker (Matthew 12:36; Proverbs 18:20). A common English proverb says, "those who live by the sword will die by the sword," adapting one of Jesus' comments (Matthew 26:52). In this statement from the book of Proverbs, one might say a person who "lives by their words" will "die by their words." Life-giving, healthy, considered words can bring someone success and safety (Proverbs 15:23). Poisonous, deceptive, or hurtful words can bring disaster (Proverbs 18:6).

The prophet Isaiah predicted that at some point, the Messiah would be oppressed and afflicted yet choose not to speak in His own defense. Old Testament prophecy compared Jesus to a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). When Jesus was on trial, He was completely innocent of any crime, but He did not return insults for insults. Even so, the Sanhedrin, the court that tried Him, hired false witnesses and subsequently condemned Jesus to die on a cross.

Believers' words may result in eternal life for those who believe the message of the gospel (Acts 5:20). However, those who refuse to believe will suffer eternal death.
Verse Context:
Proverbs 18:16–24 provides practical advice on a variety of matters. Other proverbs in this chapter are echoed in statements about objectivity and unity. Solomon addresses areas such as bribery, quarrels, reconciliation, the power of speech, marriage, and an unfortunate difference between the poor and the rich. The last remark in the section notes the difference between quality and quantity in friendships.
Chapter Summary:
This segment of Solomon's wise sayings includes several well-known and often-repeated remarks. Among these are references to God's "name" as a place of safety, the connection between pride and catastrophe, the value of a godly spouse, and the intimate loyalty of a good friend. As in other parts of the book of Proverbs, these teachings are tied to warnings about the consequences of poor decisions.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 18 continues a long string of wise sayings attributed to Solomon. These began in chapter 10 and will continue through chapter 22. This section contains numerous references to fair-mindedness and seeking out truth from multiple sources. Diligent responsibility—in words, actions, and beliefs—is a notable emphasis in this segment.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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