What Does the Bible Say About the Human Tongue?

In the Bible, the tongue often stands in for the words a person says. The tongue has incredible power and is incredibly difficult to master. The Holy Spirit helps believers control their tongues.


The Bible has a lot to say about the human tongue. There can be found verse after verse of biblical wisdom regarding the impact of the tongue, and commands to keep careful control and guard of the tongue. The Bible even goes as far as to say the tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:22). The things we say can have enormous impacts on those to whom we speak. God tells his people to use our words to build others up, rather than to tear them down.

What Does the Bible Say About the Tongue (KJV)?

“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.”James 1:26

The tongue is one of the hardest things to control.  Scripture tells us that if we haven’t mastered the art of speaking carefully, with wisdom and love, we are not as spiritually mature as we like to think.

“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”James 3:8-12

The Bible speaks of the tongue as being quite the conundrum. It can be used to praise God, and the very next minute it can be found cursing our brothers and sisters. The tongue reveals the two-sided nature of our hearts. But God calls out our flawed double standard in order to point us to himself. He desires for his children to strive to have a single-minded heart, one that praises him, fights against their sinful desires, and loves others. Taming the tongue, controlling natural impulses to speak evil and hurtful things, is absolutely necessary.

What Does the Tongue Represent in the Bible?

The Tongue Represents a Person’s Speech

“Is there iniquity in my tongue? cannot my taste discern perverse things?”Job 6:30
“Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit”Jeremiah 9:8

The tongue is often used to represent speech itself. As representative of speech, the tongue can be used to speak justly and truthfully, or as a destructive force like that of a weapon of war. Thus, ​​in the Bible, the tongue, or a person’s speech, is often used to illustrate the condition of the heart (Matthew 15:18). The thoughts we allow our minds to dwell on and the things we love, these will often overflow into our words. The way we speak to others and the words we speak with are a good indicator of our spiritual health.

The Tongue as Representing Languages

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.”Mark 16:17

A common use of the word for tongue is to speak of languages, especially in the New Testament.

The Tongue as Representing People

“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”Romans 14:11

In this verse, Paul seems to be using the picture of the tongue in two ways. On the first, the “tongue” represents the languages people speak. Together, however, “every knee” and “every tongue” represents or stands in for all people.

What Does the Bible Say About the Tongue Being a Weapon?

The tongue is described as having the power to bring death. Words can be used as spiritual weapons against other people, penetrating the soul and leaving scars that can hinder their ability to believe in a loving God.

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”James 3:14

In these verses, the tongue is described as having the power to set an entire forest on fire. A small lie can quickly grow into massive lies and coverups. A little gossip can quickly spread far and wide, causing immense pain to those involved. A misquotation of the Bible, twisted ever so slightly to fit an agenda, can set a trajectory for someone to believe false doctrine. The tongue is a weapon that must be wielded carefully.

“By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.”Proverbs 25:15

The tongue can also have the great power of persuasion. Speaking without self-control generally does not produce desired results (Proverbs 15:1). However, speaking gently (using a “soft tongue”) has the power of a weapon used for good, able to subdue the arguments of opponents, causing conviction and ultimately lead to repentance.

What Does the Bible Say About Taming/Controlling the Tongue?

“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”James 3:8

Although pessimistic on the surface (“It’s impossible!”), the rhetorical force is to prove to the readers that, by human strength alone, controlling speech is near to impossible. Someone may be able to speak kind words to others and refrain from gossip or outbursts of anger; but until our words speak of the glories of God, until our idolatrous speech is replaced with worship, our words are imperfect and in need of being redeemed.

The true taming of the tongue—the means by which one may actually see redemptive change in their speech—seems to come later in James’ epistle. In the chapter that follows, James calls his readers to submit to God, resist the devil, draw near to God, cleanse their hands (a picture of removing sin or guilt), and purify their hearts (James 4:7-8). He tells his readers:

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”James 4:10

Bible Verses About the Tongue and Words

“Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.”Psalm 34:13

Here “tongue” and “lips” together represent the words which a person speaks. As the author of the Psalm, David exhorts the people of God to keep themselves from speaking evil, deceitful words against others.

“The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.”Psalm 37:30

Words that are full of wisdom and justice are those that the Lord loves (Psalm 37:28). This kind of speech reveals that God’s law of love is written on a person’s heart, though often those who are wicked will seek to defame such a person (Psalm 37:32).

Sins of the Tongue in the Bible


“Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.”Psalms 52:2


“For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.”Psalm 5:9

Here the psalmist equates flattery with a rotting corpse, indicative of the faithlessness and wickedness of those who use flattery.

Lack of Self-Control

Psalm 39:3: “My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue.”

Only a few verses prior, the psalmist declares his desire to guard his speech, to keep himself from speaking out in sin (Psalm 39:1). But the battle was too great; the psalmist declares that his anger would not allow him to keep silent, and so his tongue led him to sin through the things he said.

Types of Tongues in the Bible

  • Lying/Deceitful Tongues (Psalm 5:9; 10:7; 109:2; Proverbs 6:24)
  • Flattering Tongues (Psalm 5:9; 12:3)
  • Praising Tongues (Psalm 35:28; 51:14; 66:17)
  • Wise Tongues (Psalm 37:30; Proverbs 31:26)
  • Destructive Tongues (Psalm 52:2; 57:4; Isaiah 5:24)
  • Healing Tongues (Proverbs 15:4)
  • Powerful Tongues (Proverbs 18:21)

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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