In the Old Testament, "mouth" (Heb. peh [h,P]) often refers to inanimate openings: the entrance of a cave ( Joshua 10:18 Joshua 10:22 ), a well ( Genesis 29:2 Genesis 29:8 Genesis 29:10 ; 2 Sam 17:19 ), a sack ( Gen 42:27 ), or a lion's den ( Dan 6:17 ). "Mouth" also refers to the biological organ, whether human ( Exod 4:11-12 ) or animal ( Num 22:28 ). It is used for the necessities of human life, eating and drinking ( Psalm 78:30 ; Dan 10:3 ), or for intimate contact, kissing ( Job 31:27 ; 1 Kings 19:18 ). The idiomatic phrase "mouth to mouth" means to speak personally and in a straightforward fashion with another ( Jer 32:4 ). Unity is expressed by the phrase "one mouth" ( 1 Kings 22:13 ; cf. Rom 15:6 ).
The anthropomorphic phrase "mouth of God" refers to God's revelation and sustenance for humankind ( Deut 8:3 ; Jer 9:12 ). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 when Satan tempts him and reveals that life is more than what one puts in his or her mouth. Rather, true existence originates from "every word that comes from the mouth of God" ( Matt 4:4 ). Whether one acknowledges it or not, God's immanence is necessary for existence.
The mouth is the means for expressing what is in one's heart. The association of the Law and the mouth is often made because it is with the mouth that one expresses the essence of his or her religious belief.
In the New Testament, "mouth" (Gk. stoma [stovma]) is used much as it is in the Old Testament. The mouth reveals what is in one's heart. In jas 3:3-12 the point is made that if people can control the speech of their mouth, they can control their actions. What people speak is consistent with what is in their hearts. Therefore, slanderous speech reveals an evil heart (cf. Rom 3:14 ).
The concept that the mouth reveals the true nature of the heart is consistent with what Jesus taught: "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" ( Matt 12:34 ; NRSV ). Jesus points out that it is not the food that goes into the mouth that defiles, but the words that come out of the mouth because they come "from the heart" ( Matt 15:17-18 ).
In Colossians 3:8 Paul tells the Colossians to get rid of filthy speech from their mouths. He also says that the confession of the mouth, "Jesus is Lord" ( Rom 10:7-10 ), reveals the belief in one's heart. It is not the confession that redeems a person, but the belief of the heart, where the confession originates.
Revelation sometimes uses "mouth" in a literal sense (NRSV e.g., 14:5 ) but most references are used in an apocalyptic, symbolic way. In this apocalyptic framework, fire ( 9:17-18 ; 11:5 ) and a two-edged sword ( 1:16 ) come out of the mouth. Additionally, other apocalyptic imagery is found ( Revelation 13:2 Revelation 13:5 Revelation 13:6 ; 16:13 ; 19:21 ).
Eric W. Adams
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Mouth'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".