Bible Answer

Can our tongue pronounce death?

Proverbs 18:21 says "death and life are in the power of the tongue". Do we really have power to pronounce life and death?

In reference to Proverb 18:21, this is not speaking of a literal power to pronounce death onto someone. We must understand this in its proper context when taking into consideration the whole counsel of God (the entire Word of God).

PROV. 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.

According to the text, the tongue has a unique power in which it produces a picture of what is in the heart of a man or woman:

MATT. 15:18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and those things defile the person. 

Therefore, the tongue acts as a type of meter for determining what is inside your own heart or that of others. James, the half brother of Jesus, says it like this:

JAMES 3:3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.
JAMES 3:4 Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.
JAMES 3:5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
JAMES 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
JAMES 3:7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race.
JAMES 3:8 But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
JAMES 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God;
JAMES 3:10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.

James is stressing to believers that the tongue, although small, can lead our entire body and life on a course towards death (evil) or life (truth). He explains that every kind of animal has been tamed by mankind but never has a tongue been wholly surrendered. Our tongue is responsible for lying, deceitfulness, arrogance, fowl speech, gossip, poor teaching of God, false teaching, hatred, slander and the list goes on. All of these negative attributes of the tongue have the unique power of death in the sense of hindering our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters, while also harming our testimony.

In verse 9, James says we bless our Holy Father with our tongue through singing worship, praying and sharing the Gospel, which is life, however, we also use the same appendage to spread evil and hatred. 

In the structure of James' writing we see that our tongue is largely responsible for keeping us aligned with the Royal Law or not:

MATT. 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
MATT. 22:37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
MATT. 22:38 This is the great and foremost commandment.
MATT. 22:39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
MATT. 22:40 Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”

The Bible is clear, from beginning to end, how important our speech is, whether used for speaking life (truth) or for speaking death (evil): 

PROV. 12:18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
PROV. 15:4 A soothing tongue is a tree of life,
But perversion in it crushes the spirit.
PROV. 21:23 One who guards his mouth and his tongue,
Guards his soul from troubles.
PROV. 26:28 A lying tongue hates those it crushes,
And a flattering mouth works ruin.
EPH. 4:29 Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 
MATT. 15:7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you, by saying:
MATT. 15:8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
MATT. 15:9 And in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
MATT. 15:10 After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand!
MATT. 15:11 It is not what enters the mouth that defiles the person, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles the person.”
1PET. 3:10 For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days,
Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.
1PET. 3:11 He must turn away from evil and do good;
He must seek peace and pursue it.

May we all pray the prayer of King David:

PSALM 141:3 Set a guard, Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.

We suggest listening to our James Teaching, specially James Chapter 3 for an in-depth study of the tongue.