How False Rumors Proliferate

Cecil and Patti May

A wild rumor got started about John the Apostle. It was reported that he would never die. John tells how the rumor started and proliferated in John 21:20-24. His account follows the course of most false rumors.

Someone got too interested in someone else’s business. Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” John was there and followed after Jesus and Peter. When Peter saw John, he asked Jesus, “What about John?” This was the root of the problem and the starting point of what was to become the false rumor. Peter had his own instructions and obligations, but he stuck his nose in John’s business. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 tells us “to mind your own business.”

A statement was misinterpreted. To put Peter in his place and call him back to minding his own business, Jesus rebuked him with a sarcastic question. About John, Jesus said to Peter, “If I want him to live until I come again, what is that to you? You follow me!” Any statement can be twisted, but sarcasm is especially susceptible to misconstruing. In particular, since tone of voice is the telling clue of sarcasm, written sarcasm is often misinterpreted. In these days of instant messaging, texting, and emails, people often take sarcastic statements at face value. If you use sarcasm to make a point, make sure you are understood. Even false news stories meant to be humorous and photo-shopped pictures meant to be funny are often passed on as if they are true.

An important word was left out. Paying attention to accuracy in reporting and passing on conversations and details of events is important for both the speaker and the listener. Jesus did not say about John, “I want him to live till I come again.” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again.” If you tell something that really happened, make sure you heard it right and that you tell it right. Even then, if the person you heard it from was not careful in either listening or reporting, the information you pass on is still wrong. Not only was a word left out, but then the shortened version of the false statement, that John would never die, took hold.

Everybody talks. John 21:23 says about the false rumor, “So the saying spread abroad among the brothers.” The Bible says to be swift to hear but slow to speak. Unfortunately, many of us get that statement turned around, too.

This is the course of many a false rumor. Someone, not minding their own business becomes the source of information that is misinterpreted. Information is inaccurately and incompletely reported. It is widely and wildly reported, second hand, third hand and so on. May all rumors die as soon as they reach our ears.

This excellent post is by Cecil May III, minister and one of the elders of the Parkway Church of Christ in Fulton, Kentucky.