Backslid and Attitudes

by Lois E. Gibson

The word "backslid" is erroneously used by many Christians to label another who may not adhere to the  same beliefs and therefore does things deemed as rebellious or wrong. Many times I have seen this word used to describe the woman who, for whatever reason, has cut her hair. Regretfully, I used to take part in this practice. It has also been used against the person who attended some other church service when their home church was in session. It has been used to describe the saint who misses some church services. According to its usage by some, it applies to many situations. Just what does this word mean?

No form of this word is used in the New Testament. It is translated from five Hebrew words in the Old Testament as 'backslider,' 'backsliding' and 'backslidings.' It appears 17 times.

1. Cuwg means "a prim. root; to flinch, i.e. (by impl.) to go back, lit. (to retreat) or fig. (To apostatize)."1

It is used once in Proverbs 14:14 as 'backslider.'

2. Carar means "a prim. root; to turn away, i.e. (morally) be refractory ." 2

It is translated once as 'backsliding' in Hosea 4:16.

3. Showbab and showbeb are each used twice and translated 'backsliding' in Jeremiah 3:14, 22, 31:22 and 49:4. They mean "from 7725; apostate, i.e. idolatrous" and "from 7725; apostate, i.e. heathenish or (actually) heathen."3

4. Meshuwbah or meshubah are translated 'backsliding' seven times and 'backslidings' four. They are found in Jeremiah 3:6, 8, 11, 12, 8:5, Hosea 11:7, 14:4 and Jeremiah 2:19, 3:22, 5:6, 14:7. It means "from 7725; apostasy."4

The word 'apostasy' is not found in the Bible. It means "An abandonment of what one has professed; a total desertion or departure from one's faith, principles, or party."5 (The emphasis is mine.) An apostate is a person who has done what is described here.

How are these words used in the Bible? A study of the Scriptures and contexts in which they are used point only to one meaning. The people had turned from God and participated in idolatry; they were worshipping idols. They had forsaken God. It is likened to a woman committing adultery and whoredom: a harlot. Nowhere does it state they backslid by failing to obey one rule. It wasn't because they missed celebrating the Sabbath. The backslider literally turned away from serving God and gave his or her devotion to a false god in idolatry. This is the true biblical meaning of 'backslider.'

Quoting from the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, backsliding means "to run away, to rebel against God in favor of heathen gods and idols, to become apostate."6  It goes on to say:

"In each instance the term is used when Israel turned away from the true and living God to worship the heathen nature gods and idols, usually referred to as Baals.  

The term backsliding does not appear in the NT, but the idea is implied... The NT concept of turning away or backsliding carries with it the idea that those who once made profession of the Christian faith have turned aside or have reverted to a life of sin and spiritual indifference."7

Read the third chapter of Jeremiah and all of Hosea for a solid, biblical meaning of the term 'backslider.' You will see that it was used to show a person at their worst point; committing adultery against God. It was not lightly used. It was also not used to label a person, thus turning other believers against them. In fact, after all Israel and Judah had done, time and again, God asked them to come back to him and return. He promised to accept and heal them.

"Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: ...return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings...." Jeremiah 3:12-22 (KJV) 

It's sad to see that God accepts and wants people back while some Christians and churches do not. There have been ministers with pompous attitudes who have proudly declared from the pulpit that they are glad someone no longer attends their church. They would not wish to have them back. I am afraid that these people have forgotten some very basic concepts of Christianity.


(author unknown)

When some fellow yields to temptation,
And breaks a conventional law,
We look for no good in his make-up
But God! How we look for a flaw!
No one will ask, "How tempted?"
Nor allow for the battles he's fought
His name becomes food for the jackals;
For us who have never been caught.

"He has sinned!" we shout from the house-tops,
We forget the good he has done,
We center on one lost battle,
And forget the times he has won.
"Come, gaze on the sinner!" we thunder,
"And by his example be taught
That his footsteps lead to destruction,"
Cry we who have never been caught.

I'm a sinner, O Lord, and I know it,
I'm weak, I blunder, I fail.
I'm tossed on life's stormy ocean,
Like ships embroiled in a gale.
I'm willing to trust in thy mercy;
To keep the commandments Thou'st taught,
But deliver me, Lord, from the judgment
Of saints who have never been caught!

God is in the process every day of restoring people to himself. Unfortunately, some Christians do not see this, nor do they help with the process. Galatians 6:1-2 states:

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (KJV)

When some Christians see a fellow believer do something that is sinful, or something that they perceive is sinful, instead of fulfilling Galatians 6:1-2, they proceed to tear that person apart. Several things may transpire. The person may be avoided, slandered, looked down upon, openly rebuked by the other believer, be made the subject of gossip, and/or labeled a 'backslider' or 'rebellious.'

Who are we to judge another Christian? Yes, we may be able to truly identify an action as sin. There is nothing wrong with that or preaching against something sinful. What is wrong is when we cast a negative reflection on that person's character or cut them to the quick. Many church articles and literature have been written about various standards which ridicule or put down the person who partakes in the 'forbidden act' instead of just addressing what is felt to be wrong.

Perhaps what your brother or sister in the Lord did was a sin. Do you know if they repented? If they have, you are continuing to hold the past against that person when God has forgiven and forgotten that sin. Who are you to continue condemning this believer? You are in danger of fulfilling the role of the servant who owed ten thousand talents in Matthew 18:21-35.

Are you without sin? If so, cast that stone. If not, you had better reach out to that person lest you be pelted unmercifully with rocks of judgment, criticism and condemnation when you fall.

Could you possibly be looking down on your brother or sister for something that they've done which may not truly be biblically wrong? Have you then taken on the role of lawgiver?

Please think twice before labeling the next person- or yourself- a backslider. A true  backslider is one who turns away from God and commits spiritual adultery by worshipping other things, which are really no gods at all. It is not the person who has a weakness in their life and commits a sin. It is not the person who wears a piece of jewelry or cuts their hair. It is not the person who is in the stadium watching a football game....but it is the person who turns away from the Living God in their heart.

And for those of you in church who are quick to point fingers and cut God's people to pieces with your tongues, beware! Have you been perfected? Who appointed you a judge?

"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother's eye." Matthew 7:2-5 (KJV)

"God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7 (KJV) 


1. James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 82 Hebrew dictionary.

2. James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 84 Hebrew dictionary.

3. James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 113 Hebrew dictionary.

4. James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 73 Hebrew dictionary

5. The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (Chicago: The English Language Institute of America, 1977), 48.

6. Merrill C. Tenney, General Editor, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 1, 1975 ed., s.v. "Backsliding," 450.

7. Merrill C. Tenney, General Editor, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 1, 1975 ed., s.v. "Backsliding," 450.

You may write Lois at the email address displayed in the image. No correspondence that seeks to debate will be answered as I have no desire to debate. Understand that due to the volume of mail, not every email may be acknowledged.
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Copyright 2000

Posted June 5, 2000

In His Image


August 23, 1997
Copyright © 1997-2012 by Lois E. Gibson
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