Wisdom of Sirach on speech: This is the trial of men



Belgic Confession Article 6 addresses the difference between the canonical and apocryphal books:

We distinguish between these holy books and the apocryphal ones, which are the third and fourth books of Esdras; the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch; what was added to the Story of Esther; the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace; the Story of Susannah; the Story of Bell and the Dragon; the Prayer of Manasseh; and the two books of Maccabees.

The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.


Therefore we see that, though not canonical, the apocryphal books may be read for our edification in as far as they agree with the canonical Holy Scriptures. The Wisdom of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, offers some valuable insights regarding our speech:


“Honour and shame is in talk: and the tongue of man is his fall.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 5:13


“Learn before thou speak.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 18:19b


“He that can rule his tongue shall live without strife; and he that hateth babbling shall have less evil.

Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men’s lives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not.

For he heard and observed thee, and when time cometh he will hate thee.

If thou hast heard a word, let it die with thee; and be bold, it will not burst thee.

There is one that slippeth in his speech, but not from his heart; and who is he that hath not offended with his tongue?”

– Wisdom of Sirach 19:6, 8-10, 16


“There is one that keepeth silence, and is found wise: and another by much babbling becometh hateful.

Some man holdeth his tongue, because he hath not to answer: and some keepeth silence, knowing his time.

A wise man will hold his tongue till he see opportunity: but a babbler and a fool will regard no time.

He that useth many words shall be abhorred; and he that taketh to himself authority therein shall be hated.

A wise man by his words maketh him beloved: but the graces of fools shall be poured out.

To slip upon a pavement is better than to slip with the tongue: so the fall of the wicked shall come speedily.

An unseasonable tale will always be in the mouth of the unwise.

A wise sentence shall be rejected when it cometh out of a fool’s mouth; for he will not speak it in due season.

A lie is a foul blot in a man, yet it is continually in the mouth of the untaught.

A wise man shall promote himself to honour with his words: and he that hath understanding will please great men.

Wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is hoarded up, what profit is in them both?

Better is he that hideth his folly than a man that hideth his wisdom.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 20:5-8, 13, 18-20, 24, 27, 30-31


“Hear, O ye children, the discipline of the mouth: he that keepeth it shall never be taken in his lips.

The sinner shall be left in his foolishness: both the evil speaker and the proud shall fall thereby.

Accustom not thy mouth to swearing; neither use thyself to the naming of the Holy One.

For as a servant that is continually beaten shall not be without a blue mark: so he that sweareth and nameth God continually shall not be faultless.

A man that useth much swearing shall be filled with iniquity, and the plague shall never depart from his house: if he shall offend, his sin shall be upon him: and if he acknowledge not his sin, he maketh a double offence: and if he swear in vain, he shall not be innocent, but his house shall be full of calamities.

There is a word that is clothed about with death: God grant that it be not found in the heritage of Jacob; for all such things shall be far from the godly, and they shall not wallow in their sins.

Use not thy mouth to intemperate swearing, for therein is the word of sin.

Remember thy father and thy mother, when thou sittest among great men. Be not forgetful before them, and so thou by thy custom become a fool, and wish that thou hadst not been born, and curse the day of thy nativity.

The man that is accustomed to opprobrious words will never be reformed all the days of his life.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 23:7-15


“As when one sifteth with a sieve, the refuse remaineth; so the filth of man in his talk.

The furnace proveth the potter’s vessels; so the trial of man is in his reasoning.

The fruit declareth if the tree have been dressed; so is the utterance of a conceit in the heart of man.

Praise no man before thou hearest him speak; for this is the trial of men.

The discourse of a godly man is always with wisdom; but a fool changeth as the moon.

If thou be among the indiscreet, observe the time; but be continually among men of understanding.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 27:4-7, 11-12


“Abstain from strife, and thou shalt diminish thy sins: for a furious man will kindle strife,

A sinful man disquieteth friends, and maketh debate among them that be at peace.

As the matter of the fire is, so it burneth: and as a man’s strength is, so is his wrath; and according to his riches his anger riseth; and the stronger they are which contend, the more they will be inflamed.

An hasty contention kindleth a fire: and an hasty fighting sheddeth blood.

If thou blow the spark, it shall burn: if thou spit upon it, it shall be quenched: and both these come out of thy mouth.

Curse the whisperer and doubletongued: for such have destroyed many that were at peace.

A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many, and driven them from nation to nation: strong cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men.

A backbiting tongue hath cast out virtuous women, and deprived them of their labours.

Whoso hearkeneth unto it shall never find rest, and never dwell quietly.

The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.

Many have fallen by the edge of the sword: but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.

Weigh thy words in a balance, and make a door and bar for thy mouth.”

– Wisdom of Sirach 28:9-18, 25

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