Libel is published slander. A libelous accusation is a printed statement or image that is false and misleading and has the potential to damage a person’s reputation, business, or profession. Libel differs from slander only in form. Slander is verbal, whereas libel is printed. The libelous statement is one that is presented as fact, rather than opinion, and is subject to legal action if it can be proven false and damaging to the intended target. The legal term libel is not found in the Bible, but Scripture has plenty to say about defamatory speech and character assassination.
Since the only difference between slander and libel is the form they take, we can assume that the Bible’s many prohibitions against lying, slander, and false testimony apply to libel as well. Often, the motive for libelous statements is jealousy, another sin that God detests (Galatians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 12:20). When we seek to publicly defame the character of another in order to build ourselves up, we are working at cross-purposes with God. Galatians 5:15 warns that “if you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Many who have sought to get ahead by libel later find themselves fighting libelous statements against themselves. Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Evil breeds evil. We never accomplish God’s best by using Satan’s tactics.
A believer in Christ should never be guilty of libel. Instead, we should aim to be people of our word, letting our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” (James 5:12). It can be tempting to state as fact an opinion about someone we dislike or mistrust, justifying our libel because of the person’s past actions. However, instead of spreading libelous statements, we must strive to live by Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28). The Lord has told us to let Him take care of vengeance (Hebrews 10:30). When we refuse to slander or make libelous claims, we stay out of God’s way so that He can bring truth to light in His way and in His time.
There is no sure-fire defense against libel. The letter that the Jews’ enemies sent to King Artaxerxes was full of libel against Zerubbabel (see Ezra 4), as wicked men tried everything they could to derail the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. It has been said that we should strive to live in such a way that if a lie (or libel) was publicized against us, no one would believe it. This is good advice, as we are to be “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (Philippians 2:15).