Is Freedom of Speech A Biblical Principle?
Freedom of speech is defined as the right to express any opinions without censorship, restraint or fear of retaliation.
Freedom of speech – also known as “freedom of expression” or “free speech” involves the act of seeking, receiving or sharing information through the use of different mediums.
Freedom of speech is internationally recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states the following: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
However, what does the Bible say about freedom of speech? Can a person really say whatever they wish to express without any form of censorship or restraint? Should people be free to express anything they want including obscenities, slander or deception and all in the name of freedom of expression?
It is interesting to note that in both the secular worldview and the Biblical worldview of freedom of speech there is the common view that having freedom of speech should not become the freedom to abuse.
The Bible does not specifically prohibit or teach against the principle of freedom of speech. Instead, God’s word gives us principles and guidelines of how we ought to express ourselves and how we should communicate our beliefs and opinions.
Whilst God has given mankind freewill, it is important to note that our freewill must function within the confines and guidelines of God’s word. Therefore in God’s eyes, man does not have the authority to abuse his freewill nor to abuse his freedom of expression.
For example, Galatians 5:13 says: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
The Bible also tells us that we must be “slow to speak” (James 1:19) and that we must control or tame our tongue (James 3:3-12).
Proverbs 18:21 says: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Therefore whilst God has given man freewill and freedom of expression, our speech must always be governed by God’s Biblical principles and guidelines, such as the following:
1. We Must Avoid Malicious & Obscene Talk or Expressions
Colossians 3:8-9 says: But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
Therefore Biblically our freedom of expression must not include lies, deception, malice, anger or obscenities in language
2. Our Speech Must Seek to Build and Not Destroy
Ephesians 4:29 says: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Speaking the right words can build and encourage others. However speaking lies or any kind of deceptive talk can eventually corrupt or destroy people.
Therefore our speech must always have the intention or motive of edifying and helping others rather than destroying them.
3. We Must Speak The Truth In Love
God desires that we speak the truth and that we express the truth with a loving attitude or motive.
Ephesians 4:15 says: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ
It’s important to note that speaking the truth is not always welcomed with open arms especially by people who are living in deception or by anyone who has something to gain through the deception of others.
2 Timothy 3:7-8 speaks of men who “oppose the truth” or of people who are “always learning but never able to arrive to a knowledge of the truth”
Therefore speaking the truth in love does not always mean that one will not face opposition to the truth. In fact, many people in the Bible, including Jesus, were persecuted for speaking the truth or for defending truthful principles. The same situations occur in Christianity today.
4. Our Freedom of Expression Must Glorify Jesus Christ
Our speech and our deeds must glorify God or bring people to the knowledge of the nature and character of Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:17 says the following: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. [Emphasis Added]
People must know more about the nature of God by the way we speak and interact with others. Ultimately the way we conduct ourselves in word or deed must become a testimony that points others to seeing the nature and character of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Even when we pray – the Lord does not prohibit us from freely expressing ourselves in relation to our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Prayer is communication with God. Through prayer, God allows us to freely express our thoughts, ideas, opinions, desires and issues to Him.
God also already knows what is in our hearts and He knows what we need even before we speak it (Matthew 6:8).
However, even as we pray, our freedom of expression towards God must be honest, sincere and respectful. Our communication with God must reflect and express humility and reverence towards God.
Therefore the Bible does not prohibit people from expressing themselves. Biblically our freedom of speech requires a form of godly wisdom and and at times there must be godly restraint. Therefore our freedom of expression must be governed by Biblical guidelines and principles.