What is the Definition of Contempt?

Contempt, pronounced kənˈtempt, or kənˈtɛmpt, is “the feeling or attitude of one who looks down on somebody or something,” according to the HarperCollins Publishers English dictionary.

The phrase “utter contempt,” meaning complete contempt, is considered a collocation because the two words often go together.

Synonyms for contempt in many thesauruses include scorn, disdain and despise. “He spoke with contempt” and “She has contempt for her opponents” are two example sentences.

A common American-English idiom is “familiarity breeds contempt,” which means contempt is more likely to arise in close relationships.

Legally, contempt means “to be disobedient toward a court of law or legislative body.” This is also known as “contempt of court” and signifies an open disrespect. Under New York law, civil contempt and criminal contempt mean willful disobedience to a court order.

Due to the authority of a court, contempt may result in criminal penalties. A person can also show a contempt of Congress by inhibiting the work of representatives.

The word contempt can be traced back to the Latin contemptus and contemnere. Based on its etymology and dictionary definitions, contempt is rooted in a lack of respect.

Contempt in other languages:

  1. Disprezzo (Italian).
  2. Forakt (Norwegian).
  3. Презрение or зневага (Russian).
  4. Pogarda (Polish).
  5. Temnere (Latin).

What is the Biblical Definition of Contempt?

Throughout the Bible, contempt, defined as disrespect is attributed to both people and objects. The Bible also uses the adjective contemptible to “mean worthy of despising.”

  • Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous. (Psalm 31:18, NIV)
  • He who pours contempt on the nobles made them wander in a trackless waste. (Psalm 107:40, NIV)
  • “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’” (Malachi 1:12, NIV)
  • Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2, NIV)

What’s the Difference Between Contempt and Resentment?

The difference between contempt and resentment is the perceived status of the person causing the contempt or resentment.

Resentment involves bitterness. It’s indignation at being treated unfairly and anger from a perceived wrong, insult, slight or injury.

When you harbor resentment, you view the perceived wrongdoer as a source of injustice. And injustice is often caused by a person or thing of higher power or status.

In the Old Testament story of brothers Cain and Abel, God favored Abel’s sacrifices more than Cain’s. Cain grew jealous of Abel and killed him. Although an extreme example, this story illustrates the mindset of a resentful person. Cain saw God’s favor toward Abel as unjust. Blinded by resentment and rage, Cain responded to the perceived wrong with murder.

Conversely, contempt is often aimed at a person of perceived lower status. The feeling is rooted in impatience and a lack of compassion. For instance, speaking to someone with condescension is contempt.

Over time, resentment can turn into contempt. Viewing someone as a cause of unfairness or injustice can lead to seeing that person as despicable, inconsequential and not worthy of respect or consideration.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31, NIV)

What’s the Difference Between Contempt and Disgust?

Disgust is a revulsion to something unpleasant, distasteful or offensive. Like contempt, this aversion can be directed toward people.

Another similarity between disgust and contempt is that both make you want to avoid the source of the emotion. For example, someone may emotionally detach themselves from a person they feel contempt for. Likewise, a person may physically move away from something he or she finds disgusting, like rotting food.

The rotting food analogy evokes an important contrast between contempt and disgust. On the one hand, contempt can create positive feelings of power over the other person. On the other hand, disgust creates negative, unpleasant feelings and often causes a physiological response. Again, think of how natural it is to move away from a bad smell.

In the same way that we are disgusted by contaminated objects, God is disgusted by our sin.

In 1 John 1:9 (NIV), John says Jesus will “purify us from all unrighteousness.” God sees sin as a repulsive part of human nature. Rather than move away, however, he chooses to cleanse us and come closer to help us.

What Can It Look Like to Act with Contempt?

Contempt can take both verbal and nonverbal forms.

Examples of verbal contempt include:

  • Sarcasm.
  • Hostile humor.
  • Name-calling.

Examples of nonverbal contempt include:

  • Eye-rolling.
  • Sneering.
  • Sighing.

Whether through words or actions, showing contempt communicates disrespect and a sense of superiority.

What Does Oppressed Mean? How is Oppression Related to Contempt?

Oppressed means being subject to cruel and severe treatment by people in authority or with power. And contempt is the foundation of oppression.

Oppressors disdain their victims. They often despise them and view them as “less than…” This dehumanization strips the oppressed of their worth and value.

An example of oppression can be found in the book of Exodus. For more than 400 years, the Israelites were enslaved and mistreated by Pharaoh. Seeing this injustice, God selected a Jewish man named Moses to lead his people to freedom.

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9, NIV)

What Does It Mean to Oppress the Poor? What Does It Mean to “Have Contempt for Their Maker”?

To oppress the poor means to harm, use or belittle those in poverty, to prevent them from escaping a generational burden or experiencing the opposite of poverty — a life of enough.

Oppression can happen in subtle ways, such as speaking rudely to others or denying them services — and in not-so-subtle ways, like human trafficking, child labor and denying education to girls.

Oppressing the poor goes directly against God’s teachings. Proverbs 14:31 (NIV) says, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

How we treat others indicates our heart posture and relationship with God. According to Scripture, all people are created by God in his image.

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all. (Proverbs 22:2, NIV)

God loves every human. So, by showing contempt for others, especially the poor, we are dishonoring God, putting ourselves above him and expressing contempt for our maker.

In Matthew 25:31-45 Jesus makes the connection clear.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 

How Does Compassion International Honor God and Respect the Poor?

Because we are a Christ-centered ministry, Jesus’ life, teachings and character shape our programs and guide how we work, love people, respect communities and cooperate with nations. We serve in Jesus’ name, and because of our faith, we devote ourselves to helping children in poverty.

Every day, millions of children living in poverty around the world find help and comfort in our church-driven Child Sponsorship Program. Thousands of local churches in low- and middle-income countries tailor our holistic child development model to the specific needs of the children in their communities. Doing so enables these churches to best deliver the help and care the children most need to alleviate the suffering of living in extreme poverty.

Each child assisted by our frontline church partners receives care that is personal, individualized, relational and tailored to the child's age, gender, health, culture and family situation. This gives the children opportunities to grow and develop physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually — to thrive as whole and healthy people.

The benefits of our child-focused sponsorship program include:

  • Better health.
  • Better nutrition.
  • Educational and vocational support for a brighter future.
  • Safety and protection.
  • Socioemotional development.
  • The opportunity to hear the gospel and learn about Jesus.

More than 70 years ago, our founder, the Rev. Everett Swanson, ministered to American troops fighting in the Korean War. He was increasingly troubled by the orphans he saw living on the streets, abandoned by society. God calls us to defend the fatherless. So instead of looking on the children with contempt, Swanson vowed to help them. His response to poverty demonstrated an honor and reverence for God. As a ministry, we follow his example.

Help a Child Escape the Oppression of Poverty. Share Your Blessings With a Child in Need and With Jesus. Sponsor a Child Today!

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