What Is the Meaning of Rebuke? Bible Definition and How to Rebuke Others

How do we define rebuke? We commonly think of rebuke as an adverse confrontation, but Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

Christianity.com Editorial Staff
rebuke, rebuke definition, rebuke bible meaning, how to rebuke

"You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments." ~ Psalm 119:21

"As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." ~ 1 Timothy 5:20

Many Christians don't like the idea of a rebuke. In a culture that promotes tolerance and accepting others as they are, we run into some friction whenever we rebuke someone. However, we also know that the Bible calls us to become more like Christ. When a fellow brother or sister does something that runs contrary to Scripture, we should remind them of the truth of Scripture in love. In this article, we'll explore the biblical definition of rebuke. We'll also discuss when a Christian should step in and rebuke someone, and how to do it. Finally, we'll analyze what Scripture has to say about rebuking. Let's dive in.

Bible Definition of Rebuke

For a simple definition, according to the King James Dictionary, rebuke means "To reprimand; strongly warn; restrain."

Furthermore, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives the following explanation of the term rebuke:

As a verb "rebuke" is in the Old Testament the translation of ga`ar and yakhach; another word, ribh, in Nehemiah 5:7, is in the Revised Version (British and American) translated "contended with." "Rebuke" (noun) is most frequently the translation of ge`arah; also in the King James Version of cherpah (Isaiah 25:8; Jeremiah 15:15, the Revised Version (British and American) "reproach"), and of a few other words signifying reproach, etc. "Rebuker" (mucar, literally, "correction," "chastisement") in Hosea 5:2 has the Revised Version margin "Hebrew `rebuke.'" 

In the New Testament "to rebuke" is most often the translation of epitimao (Matthew 8:26; 16:22; 17:18, etc.); also in the King James Version of elegcho, always in the Revised Version (British and American) rendered "reprove" (1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:13; 2:15; Hebrews 12:5; Revelation 3:19). Another word is epipletto (once, 1 Timothy 5:1); "without rebuke" in Philippians 2:15 is in the Revised Version (British and American) "without blemish." On the other hand, the Revised Version (British and American) has "rebuke" for several words in the King James Version, as for "reprove" (2 Kings 19:4; Isaiah 37:4), "reproof" (Job 26:11; Proverbs 17:10), "charged" (Mark 10:48). In Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3, the English Revised Version has "reprove" for "rebuke," and in the margin "decide concerning," which is text in the American Standard Revised Version. In Ecclesiasticus 11:7 we have the wise counsel: "Understand first, and then rebuke" (epitimao).

Meaning of Rebuke

For a modern definition, Vocabulary.com gives the following description of rebuke as it may be used in a contemporary context:

The word rebuke can be a verb, meaning to sternly reprimand or scold, but it can also be a noun, because a rebuke is the result of being scolded. The root comes from the Old French rebuchier and means "to hack down," or "beat back." A rebuke, then, is meant to be critical and to chide — in today's terms, a rebuke is verbal smack-down! 

To rebuke someone is to criticize him or her pointedly, for a particular observed sinful behavior. The Greek word most often translated as “rebuke” in the New Testament is elegchó. In its most comprehensive understanding, elegchó means “to reprimand and convict by exposing (sometimes publicly) a wrong.” There are moments when we all should be rebuked if we fall into sin, and there are times when a believer needs to rebuke another believer with love and discernment.

When Should We Rebuke Others?

We commonly think of rebuke as an adverse confrontation, but Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Paul tells Titus, as an official of the church, to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15), indicating that all three actions are of equivalent significance.

Proper Christian rebuking starts from the heart. Before we confront anyone about anything, we should first consider our own motives. First Corinthians 16:14 says, “Let everything be done in love,” including rebuking someone. There is a right way and a wrong way to rebuke someone. Wrong rebuking arises from pride, wrath, resentment, envy, or other egotistical attitudes. The aim of a misguided rebuke is to harm, shame, or self-righteously judge a fellow Christian. Many of the Bible’s teachings against judging others relate to those who rebuke others for the very things they do themselves (Matthew 7:3-5). Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Jesus gave explicit directions for managing situations in which a fellow Christian is engaging in a sin: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). We all sin in many ways, but when another believer is choosing sin that harms themself, someone else, or the body of Christ, we are to intervene. A rebuke is needed at times, as we must care for each other and live in truth. James 5:20 says, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” A confrontation may be difficult, but it is not loving to allow a self-proclaimed Christian to proceed in a sin that will bring God’s judgment upon them or their family.

Bible Verses about Rebuke

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. ~ Leviticus 19:17

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. ~ 1 Timothy 5:20

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” ~ 1 Corinthians 5:11-13

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. ~ Proverbs 17:10

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. ~ Galatians 6:1

A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. ~ Proverbs 13:1

Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. ~ James 5:20

Rebuking doesn't often seem glamorous. But if we find a brother or sister wandering, it is our duty to remind them of the truth and hope of Scripture and to help them to return to the path of righteousness. 

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash


Originally published November 03, 2020.