What is the sin of "railing"?

What is railing as referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:11?

In practice, the issue of railing has been one of the most difficult problems to handle. The accusation of railing has been abused at times. An answer to this question requires great care and the fear of God.

The noun translated "railer" in 1 Corinthians 5:11 is used in only one other passage (1 Cor. 6:10). The related noun, "railing," appears twice in 1 Peter 3:9 ("not rendering . . . railing for railing") and once in 1 Timothy 5: 14, translated "speak reproachfully." The related verb is always translated "revile" in its four uses (John 9:28; Acts 23:4; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:23). The other related word is translated "reviled again" (1 Pet. 2:23).

A blending of the meanings given by various language helps (Vine, Thayer, Strong, Moulton and Milligan, and Kittel) and commentators indicates that railing is abusive, insulting language intended to wound, vilify, and defame another. It is persistent, purposeful character assassination.

Railing may involve some degree of truth (John 9:28; 1Tim. 5:14), but is directed in a derisive, destructive way. In Acts 23, Paul understands that when the Scriptures forbid speaking evil of a ruler (v. 5), this includes railing (or reviling, v. 4). Therefore, although evil speaking may not be railing, all railing is evil speaking. The use of this family of words (railer, railing, revile) in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) adds another element to its meaning. The uses include hatred (Gen. 49:23), striving or chiding - expressing disapproval (Ex. 21:18; 17:2, 7; Num. 20:3, 13; Deu. 33:8), slander (Pro. 10:18), brawling (25:24), and contention (26:21; 27:15). This seems to add the thought of contentiousness to the meaning of railing.

Contrasting with most of the other sins in the passage (1 Cor. 5:11), railing requires a subjective judgement (made by spiritual leaders) as to when its continued practice constitutes the offender a railer.

D. Oliver