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Give an account of every idle word

Mat 12:36-37 ESV  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  37  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Is this warning addressed to believers or unbelievers?

The immediate context

Mat 12:23 – All the people
Mat 12:24 – Pharisees
Mat 12:27 – Pharisees
Mat 12:29 – All people (bind the strongman)
Mat 12:30 – All people (with me or against me)
Mat 12:31 – All people (which sins will be forgiven)
Mat 12:32 – All people (which sins will be forgiven)
Mat 12:34-  Pharisees (brood of vipers)
Mat 12:35 – Describing all people (good person and evil person act from the heart)
Mat 12:36 – ‘people’ (give an account of every careless word)
Mat 12:37 – ‘your’
Mat 12:38 – Scribes and the Pharisees (asking for a sign)
Mat 12:39 – Evil and adulterous generation
Mat 12:43 – All people (return of the unclean spirit)
Mat 12:46 – All people (‘while he was speaking to the people)

The word ‘people’

ἄνθρωπος  anthrōpos  anth’-ro-pos (G444)
From G435 and ὤψ ōps (the countenance; from G3700); manfaced, that is, a human being: – certain, man.
Total KJV occurrences: 560

The word for ‘people’ used in Mat 12:36 is very common. It is used in the following places in Matthew 12 with reference to people:

Mat 12:10 ESV  And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him.
Mat 12:11 ESV  He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?
Mat 12:12 ESV  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Mat 12:13 ESV  Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.
Mat 12:31 ESV  Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
Mat 12:35 ESV  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
Mat 12:36 ESV  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
Mat 12:45 ESV  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

These verses show that the Greek word for ‘people’ used in v36 is used consistently through this chapter. It simple refers to people generally – not to any specific class of people. So there is nothing in the word itself that suggests that Jesus had a particular group of people in mind.

Other related passages

Mat 16:27 ESV  For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Rom 14:12 ESV  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

1Co 4:5 ESV  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

2Co 5:10 ESV  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Rom 2:16 ESV  on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Luk 8:17 ESV  For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.

Ecc 12:14 ESV  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Conclusions

  1. This teaching that ‘people’ are to give an account of every idle word is only recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.
  2. There is a dual context for the passage:
    1. The general context is fairly clear – many people were listening to Jesus and it included the Pharisees and His  disciples (Mat 12:23,46,49). But at times he was speaking explicitly to the Pharisees.
    2. The immediate context is less clear.
      1. In v34 Jesus is clearly speaking to Pharisees.
      2. In v35 Jesus is clearly describing people other than Pharisees – ie ‘good person’.
      3. v36 is the verse under consideration and simply uses the word ‘people’. He does not say only bad people or only Pharisees will give an account.
      4. v38 Jesus is again speaking to Pharisees.
  3. Other passages in both Testaments suggest that all people will have to give an account of their every action. I assume that includes what we say.
  4. So, it seems to me that all people, believers and unbelievers will have to give an account of every word they speak. This conclusion is based on:
    1. The verse itself simply says ‘people’, not just bad people.
    2. The context where this was spoken included many people including His disciples.
    3. It is consistent with other passages that suggest the same thing.

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