What does it mean to be "slow to speak"? (James 1:19)


Salvete, omnes!

Just curious as to what being “slow to speak” means in James 1:19. Some have taken this to refer to keeping your tongue from too quickly lashing out in anger. However, the very next phrase says “slow to anger”, so, it would seem, the “slow to speak” may actually be referring to something other than anger.

Does it mean to consider every word you say before you say it? I mean, if you take this to an extreme, you would have to pause unnaturally before you said anything! Is this truly what is meant or is something else meant? I mean, I agree that it is sometimes prudent to be s"slow to speak" in this manner, especially when you’re in any “sticky situation” wherein emotions can run high, but it is hard for me to see us doing this at all occasions at all times. At other times, though, shouldn’t our speech proceed very naturally from us according to what we believe without us necessarily having to think on every little thing we say before we say it. Even if we do slip up in these situations, isn’t it sufficient simply to apologize for the slip-up?

Does the being slow to speak rather mean that we are slow, in a sense, to judge what other people are saying, i.e., we jump in before they have a chance to get their words out?

Or, perhaps, does it mean that we shouldn’t be so self-focused that we’re always doing the talking while others can’t, as it were, get a proverbial word in edgewise?

Again, what does this particular part of the passage mean for us? Does it refer to anger, to careful consideration of every word no matter what the situation or even our emotional state, or does it mean something else entirely? Is this about personal judgement? Is it about pride?

Any help would be much appreciated.

Also, any good commentaries on this particular aspect of the verse?




You’ve pretty much hit on what it means to be slow to speak. It means to consider what you say before you say it, try not to say hurtful things, be edifying to your christian brothers instead of tearing them down, etc. You say something important:

“shouldn’t our speech proceed very naturally from us…etc”

Of course! That’s the whole point. As you live your christian faith it becomes a natural part of your life so that you don’t have to stop and think about everything you say, but it will come naturally to you.

It’s a general idea. If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all. Popular saying.

I think you have the right idea on this and don’t really need to go any further.

Also check out what James says in James 1:26

Also James 1:19 Everyone should be quick to listen.
Same thing: Be a good listener; people need you!

Of course we all make mistakes and if we do get angry it’s easier to say hurtful things, thus James 1:19 also says to be slow to anger.

God bless you.


Well, in light of the fact that immediately preceding Saint James’ remark “slow to speak,” he also says that we must be “swift to hear,” I would have to say that he is referring to a certain level of respect and obedience to our superiors and lawful authorities. We should be doing what they say without question and not always trying to pipe in with our comments or dissensions, but rather, ready to listen. In addition, it calls to mind that we should really try to observe a certain level of sacred silence in our lives, contemplating on the goodness of God and leaving out the opportunity for foolish and distracting talk.

This is something that rings true with Saint Benedict, whose feast day is today, as evident in this quote from Chapter 6 of his Holy Rule on “Restraint of Speech”:

"Let us follow the Prophet’s counsel: I said, I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue. I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words (Ps 38[39]:2-3). Here the Prophet indicates that there are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence. For all the more reason, then, should evil speech be curbed so that punishment for sin may be avoided. Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk, because it is written: In a flood of words you will not avoid sin (Prov 10:19); 5and elsewhere, The tongue holds the key to life and death (Prov 18:21). Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.

Therefore, any requests to a superior should be made with all humility and respectful submission. We absolutely condemn in all places any vulgarity and gossip and talk leading to laughter, and we do not permit a disciple to engage in words of that kind."

Read More at christdesert.org/Saint_Benedict/Study_the_Holy_Rule_of_St__Benedict/Chapters/index.html

May God bless you abundantly and forever as you explore His Holy Catholic Faith! :slight_smile:


Well, in light of the fact that immediately preceding Saint James’ remark “slow to speak,” he also says that we must be “swift to hear,”

What a welcome thing this would be in our self-absorbed world of everyone talking and nobody listening.

So to me, it means in ANY SITUATION, even with subordinates, listen first and speak second. Does anyone still do this???


Unfortunately, not many… :shrug:


Since when were Christians called to treat law as if it were irrefutable? As if it were always just and equal to our Creator.

Christianity was not formed so we could all be timid little slaves under a dictatorship and neither is Christianity absorbing us into a theocracy.

Discernment is about listening and being ready. Wisdom. Inner peace. And sometimes that means not putting up with unjust oppression for the good of others. Just as sometimes it means getting on with things without complaint.


…all said and done with graciousness; if I were a politician, diplomacy.


This is apt, though.


King David understood the need to keep his mouth shut…

I said, "I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will bridle my mouth,
so long as the wicked are in my presence."

(Psalm 39:1)



Haha I did not mean that we should be submissive slaves to dictatorships and the like…I was really just referring to Saint Benedict’s views in terms of brothers in a monastic community and their unquestioning submission to their superiors.

May God bless you abundantly and forever! :slight_smile:


Sorry to you. :o And thank you for clarifying.

I wondered afterwards whether maybe I’d dived in there head-first a bit too early.

Sure, obedience can be a difficult thing. Mainly, because sometimes it is hard to trust that another knows what they are doing enough to guide and that they are not erring in some way. Maybe this is yet another reason to trust the Holy Spirit unreservedly, in awareness that He is in others also - re-reading your post in the correct light has made me think.



When I saw this thread, the first thing I thought of was this old saw: We have two ears and one mouth, which means that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

Then I was reminded off something said by my pastor back when I was a Pentecostal. He talked about a friend that he had when he was much younger, with whom he got annoyed because he always seemed to pause before answering a question. Finally he asked him about it, and the friend said that he was counting to ten to see if he really wanted to say what he was about to say.


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