Has Facebook Made Us All Busybodies?
BUSY-BODY, n. biz’zy-body. [busy and body.]
A meddling person; one who officiously concerns himself with the affairs of others. 1
Busybody is an old-fashioned word. It sounds as though it could easily be featured in a grandmotherly scolding along with words like snooping and pilfering. Excepting matronly tongue lashings, we probably don’t think about it with much precision. What is a busybody exactly? More importantly, what does the Holy Spirit mean when He warns us in the Bible against being a busybody?
Busybody in the New Testament
The English word busybody appears three times in the New Testament. If we look at each one briefly in its context, we form a good description of the word.
- “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). The Greek word, περιεργαζομενους (periergazomenous), is here translated busybodies. It is a verb, so Paul wrote that some Thessalonians were not working but rather they were busybodying. The word literally means to work around and conveys the thought of busying oneself with business other than one’s own. This verse pairs with 1 Thessalonians 4:11 where Paul instructed the Thessalonians to do their own business. So in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 Paul is complaining that they had not followed the admonition.
- “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Busybody here is translated from a different form of the Greek word from 2 Thessalonians 3:11, περιεργοι (periergoi). The word denotes being busy with trifles and refers to dabbling in magical arts in Acts 19:19. In the context of the verse, it is paired with idleness, wandering from house to house, babbling about inane things, and speaking things they ought not. Paul is here describing a woman whose husband has died and she doesn’t have any children and otherwise is not set to any useful employment. She has become an idle gadabout and gossip.
- “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). The underlying word here is different from the other two we looked at. Here it is αλλοτριοεπισκοπος (allotriepiskopos) and means overseeing others’ affairs or meddling in others’ affairs. It is a compound word formed by joining allotrios, “belonging to another,” and episkopos, “an overseer.” Allotrios is the opposite of idios, which is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 when Paul says to “do your own business.” The word in 1 Peter 4:15 does also have a legal connotation in the form of a charge brought against the early Christians as being insurrectionists.
From this we have a good picture of the term. A busybody is one who meddles in the affairs of others. It can include such things as gossip and slander or go more maliciously to inciting discontent and rebellion in families, churches, businesses, or even against governments. Inherent in all those definitions is the understanding that there are things that belong to us and things that do not. There are things that are our business and things that are not. A busybody is a person busy in the things that are not their business. The Bible has plenty to say about the kind of damage that busybodies do (Proverbs 6:16-19; 11:13; 16:27-28; 17:9; 18:8; 20:19; 25:9-10, 23; 26:20).
What are we to do about busybodiness?
The sin was similar in the three instances we referenced above and the solution was also similar. The sin has to do with meddling in business that doesn’t belong to us. The solution was to avoid it and give attention to our own affairs.
- The answer for the Thessalonians was to busy themselves with their own business (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
- The answer for the widows was to get married, have children, and take care of their own house (1 Timothy 5:14).
- The answer for the Christians was to ensure that whatever suffering came on them was because they were busy doing what belonged to them and what they ought to do (1 Peter 4:16).
If we return to our wizened matriarchs, we need a good dose of, “Mind your own business!” Be busy doing good and taking care of your own affairs. We have ways of rationalizing meddling. We call it “concern” or consider it “spiritual” to meddle in the business of others. Jesus had just told Peter what Peter should do and he immediately asked about John, “What shall this man do?” Jesus responded, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:21-22). Get it? Take care of your own business and let others take care of their own business.
You said something about Facebook?
Now we get to that sharp thingummy that justifies the needle’s existence—the point. Social media gives us a facility to pry into the affairs of others that would have made long-tongue Lucy of bygone days win a blue ribbon for proper impression of a mastiff on hot, summer days.
I’m afraid that along with the capability we have accepted the perfidy that anything posted publicly is the right business of the public. I realize the mint-tithers could chop and dice this up into impressively precise cuts, but I think we’re better off to heed the biblical admonition to mind our own business and not go wandering about in things we ought not. And I think the Bible said something about creeping things, but maybe that was about something else.
So, has Facebook made us all busybodies? The answer is: No. I must also admit it is a trick question. Facebook doesn’t make anyone a busybody or a sinner in any other way. Facebook is like any tool—it can be used for good or bad. It can be a strong temptation to people with a penchant for gossip and too much time on their hands. What are we to do? I believe the Good Book somewhere says that if Facebook causes you to sin, you should logoff and unsubscribe, for it is better to be disconnected from social media and have actual friends you know than it is to know what your “friends,” whom you don’t know, were wearing on Wednesday, March 30th and what they were eating for lunch. And cat pictures.
- Webster, Noah. (1828). American Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved June 2. 2015. http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Home?word=Busy-body ↩