What Does It Mean to Be a Busybody?

By | July 20, 2023

Three verses in the New Testament refer to a busybody—2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13, and 1 Peter 4:15. The following briefly explores the meaning of busybody in each verse.

2 Thessalonians 3:11

For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

“Busybodies” in this verse stems from periergazomai, a verb meaning “to be intrusively busy” (BDAG). Broken into parts, this verb literally means “to work around” (peri, “around”;  ergazomai, “to work”). One commentator puts it this way: “the scornful characterization is produced by the preposition peri, ‘around,’ prefixed to the second participle, ‘working around,’ giving it a bad sense, since that which encircles anything does not belong to the thing itself, but lies outside and beyond it, going beyond its proper limits.”1 In other words, a busybody is someone who busies himself with what does not belong to himself. He goes beyond the proper limits of his own matters to busy himself with the matters of others.

In the context of 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15, Paul’s remedy for this person is simple—this person can either work quietly and earn his own living or not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 12). Diligent work leaves little time for minding the affairs of others. For everyone else, they should avoid this lazy busybody or admonish him to live as he ought (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 13–15).

1 Timothy 5:13

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.

“Busybodies” in this verse stems from periergos, a noun related to the verb periergazomai above. Recalling the explanation above, this term refers to someone who neglects his own life to invade the lives of others.

In the context of 1 Timothy 5:3–16, Paul instructs the church how to care for widows. Addressing the church about younger widows in particular (1 Timothy 5:11–15), he prohibits the church from providing for their long-term welfare. Without work, similar to the busybodies of 2 Thessalonians 3:11, younger widows might meddle in the affairs of others. They could fall prey to their passions, learn to be idle, busy themselves with gossip, and bring reproach upon the Savior. Paul’s remedy here is for these widows to remarry, bear children, and manage their own households as God is gracious (1 Timothy 5:14; cf. Titus 2:4–5).

1 Peter 4:15

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.

“Busybody” in this verse stems from allotriepiskopos, referring to “one who meddles in things that do not concern the person.2 It combines two words, allotrios (“pertaining to what belongs to another”)3 and episkopos (“overseer”). It thus refers to a person who intrudes to oversee matters that belong to someone else. Because this term is found next to “murderer,” “thief,” and “evildoer,” some suggest the term takes on a criminal nature, referring to one who intentionally causes trouble (e.g., a social or government activist) or possibly someone who oversees stolen property or even acts as a spy. Whatever the meaning, the context suggests that this meddlesome behavior is more than being merely a gossip as it could lead to the same kind of punishment given to a murderer, thief, or evildoer.

In the context of 1 Peter 4:12–19, Peter instructs the church not to be surprised but to rejoice when suffering comes. We are blessed to suffer as Christians for the name of Christ, but Peter clarifies in 1 Peter 4:15 that we should not suffer punishment for significant sin, including being an aggressive busybody, leading to legal punishment. Peter’s command and caution for Christians here is to trust God if suffering comes and to suffer only for God’s will (1 Peter 4:15, 19).


Whether at the workplace or in the home, God gives men and women noble work to do. Without anything to do, we could learn to become busybodies and be unduly drawn into the affairs of others, perhaps even criminal in nature. May God help us to mind our own affairs, diligently do what He commands, and, if we suffer, suffer not for sin but for Him alone.

  1. D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (revised edition; Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1996), 375. []
  2. BDAG, s.v., “ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος.” []
  3. BDAG, s.v., “ἀλλότριος.” []

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