Can christians cuss and swear?

Question:

“I understand no one is perfect and that our worldly nature often comes out, but is it OK for godly young women and men to use the term such as “you totally raped that!” or refer to her close friends as “sluts” or his friends as “niggas” and still be able to praise God & proclaim the Gospel with the same mouth? How should this be viewed by other godly young women & men who don’t use words like this? Esp as a young women I see youth gravitate (or become attracted) to those who do rather than don’t”

Answer:

This question dictates that we understand two things, first is the nature of language as a tool to convey ideas. Just as there is no good or evil paper but the meaning that is put down on the paper in form of writing is important, there is no good or evil language, only the ideas that are conveyed through it. The second is that this really boils down to a heart issue. Why are people saying the things they are saying ? If they mean to degrade and mock godly things, if they desire to glorify sin and evil, if they desire to hurt someone, it is a sin regardless of the harshness of the language used. For example, whether you call someone a “stupid idiot” or  use all of the words you can’t say on TV, it really is the same sin; you have a hate towards them that stems from your heart for whatever reason.

LANGUAGE IS CHANGING

If you diligently study the Bible you will find that there is no list of words that is good or bad to say. There are lists of other sins, for example sexual is very graphically detailed and listed in many variations to ensure the topic is fully covered. However, with language and words no such list exists. Why? The reason for this is that language is constantly changing and evolving with culture. What the Bible would have defined as sin 3000 years ago is still sin, however, the language and culture, and with it meaning has changed dramatically. This is why we use Scripture to explain Scripture, because the meaning of a word in the Bible can be explained with another passage using that same word, and we can be sure that a changing language did not change the original meaning. For example if we read a passage that says “Abraham knew his wife Sarah” we can postulate that they were acquainted with each other. Then we cross reference with all other cases of “knew” and see that in the context of husband and wife, every time the word “knew” is used its followed by “and she bore him a child,” so then we conclude “knew” means marital intimacy.

There were certainly slang phrases used in Biblical times that carried within themselves ides of hate and ill intentions, however, these same phrases would mean nothing to people in our culture. This kind of change in language doesn’t even need thousands of years for example:

fifty years ago someone could shout out “I am gay” when they were filled with excitement, the definition of that word has shifted so dramatically that it means something completely different today. Or consider that the word “sick” usually caries within it connotations of someone or something that isn’t functioning properly, yet today its common to hear that word used as a symbol of something cool (i.e. “that car is so sick”).

The main thing we should be aware of is the way people around us understand the meaning of a word, if everyone understands a meaning that is harmless and good, then it would be appropriate, if there are some or many that have a very different meaning and a negative one at that, it  would be much wiser to use words that are more understandable. As a further example, the term “nigga” was adopted by Blacks as an alternative towards the racial slur “nigger.” Today it’s often used as term for endearment (affection and friendship) though some can understand it as a racial slur meaning one does need to be careful about a potential misunderstanding. “Slut” on the other hand has a very clear definition as a promiscuous woman, one who has loose sexual relations with many men. Though it can be argued that a small minority uses this to refer to their friends, the general public, and dictionary, still defines “slut” as a woman that is engaged in a tragically sinful lifestyle. Even if a few girls remix language to create alternate meaning,  the word’s meaning will remain the same to most people and when they hear you say “slut” they are imagining sexual promiscuity and attaching gruesome stereotypes to those involved.

WORDS THAT ARE NOT SIN

First off, this is a section you may disagree on, and that is fine, it’s not something I am willing to publicly fight for. I propose that at times its allowable to use coarse language, since at times even the Bible uses very graphic or course language.  The Old Testament is filled with some horrendously atrocious phrases to describe sin if we are judging by today’s “Christian standard.” God in righteous anger often uses very harsh, and almost vulgar, language to describe the folly and sin of Israel, see Ezekiel 23:20 for example, it is particularly vivid in the NLT and NIV translations since they use very plain language that doesn’t obscure the issue with archaic words: “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.” This seems horrific, and we would quickly remove someone from the stage if he or she were saying that disobedience to God is symbolically like Ezekiel 23:20’s explanation. Yet, God wrote it, using specifically and exactly the language that we find in that passage. The Apostle Paul even uses the word ‘skybalon‘ (modern equivalent is “crap” or even “sh*t” according to some scholars) in Phil 3:8 to refer to his own works geared at earning salvation. Prof Danker, one of the world’s premier classicists and Greek lexicographers said about the meaning of Paul in Phil 3:8 was “to convey the crudity of the Greek… ‘It’s all crap’”. [Frederick William Danker (ed.), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Third edition.

There are times when we may use language that is shocking or coarse to highlight our strong emotion, as long as it inst aimed at anyone, doesn’t demean someone, or glorify/celebrate sin. I think you can say “God I just sinned so bad, I hate it, it was idiotic, stupid and filthy” as this emotional use of strong words shows your strong hate towards sin. I once read of a theology professor that was dying from cancer and in his frustrated and tearful prayers he would cry out “God this f-ing hurts, help me” and as crazy as this sounds, I feel that this was a true and sincere prayer, in which he didn’t hide his broken emotions but really did tell God how he felt. I don’t think God looked down and said “that’s why you have cancer, because of that filthy mouth.” I believe God saw his child, afflicted by a great pain crying out while his body was being ravaged and until God provided comfort before death and compelled this man to pray with thanksgiving. Yet before the calm came I think his prayer was true to his feelings. That doesn’t mean such a prayer should be the norm, by no means, but I imagine that if, for example, my atheist friend is nearly killed and falls on his knees in repentance  and curses his old life as he turns from it, some language could possibly be appropriate that time.

WORDS THAT ARE SIN

While profanity is not something that disqualifies people from worshiping or seeking God,  it is sin in most cases and sin should be put to death. The first order of business is figuring out where from the heart does the issue stem. Is it from ignorance of language or simply done without thinking? This is corrected by simple education of Biblical expectations. Is it from a sinfully prideful desire to be like some celebrity and the desire to find value, worth, and meaning by trying to become well known or culturally cool? The issue of pride needs to be dealt with. Is it an issue of desiring to mock and ridicule others? The issue of hate needs to be fixed in the heart. Below are categories of sinful language and the issue or reasons in the heart that need to be fixed by the Grace of God.

Filthy shameful speech

In Ephesians 5:4 we have a whole section detailing sinful speech. The first of this is speech that is “filthy.” Here the term “filthy” (aischrotes) refers to “behavior that flouts social and moral standards, shamefulness, obscenity.” Basically this refers to any speech that flouts, displays, portrays, showcases, celebrates the breaking of Gods moral commandments.  If jokes are made that glorify sin and sinners it is filthy and shameful. If someone makes a joke about their friend raping a woman and this is laughed at, or if he curses another and detail horrific things that they want to do to them, even if someone speaks of their parents with loads of profanity and hate, and etc, they are in open sin and are glorifying sin. The issue stems from them having a very lackluster and easygoing attitude towards sin. The word of God tells us that sin is so abominable that God had to die for it, and so having such a “whatever” attitude towards sin shows a gross misunderstanding towards God.

Obscene dirty talk

The second part of Eph 5:4 refers to course or obscene talk. This is also mentioned in Col 3:8  which tells us to avoid obscene talk (aischrologia). This Greek word means a “speech of a kind that is generally considered in poor taste, obscene speech, dirty talk.” This refers to the guy that wants to string three swear words before every proper noun. This refers to the girl who looks at her another and proceeds to critique her by heaping loads of obscene words on her, whether to herself, to her friends, or to the victim, it doesn’t matter. This also refers to any other use of dirty and crude words that are  used to describe things, especially things that are not dirty and crude. In both passages dirty and obscene talk is often associated with anger or ill intentions, and in life this is often the case. Most often we use profanity because in our selfishness  we are unhappy things are not going the way we want and so we gt frustrated and angrily scorn people or even things that don’t obey our will. The root issue at heart is that we need to grow in the Spirit and become more gentle and patient as we learn to trust trust the Lord to take care of us.

Perverted speech

Another type of profane and sinful speech is that which glorifies illicit sexuality. In 2 Peter 2:18 we see a type of “sensual” or “lascivious” speech is used by false prophets and teachers in folly (foolishness) to entice others into some kind of perverted sexuality.  This is the type of speech which attempts to sexually defile someone’s mind by conjuring up illicit sexual images and ideas. This refers to any talk of sex outside of a Biblical context and outside of marriage. If you are talking about sex and sexuality with your Bible study group or with your wife, and the context is what does God or the Bible say, this is good. If you are discussing sexuality outside of Biblical norms and doing this because you desire it, then you are sinning. This may be a bunch of guys talking about how awesome it would be to do _____ to some girl, or that they would like to sleep with a certain girl or another. This can be using sexually perverted language to try to convince someone to sleep with you (though any words you say to that effect are already sinful because they come out of a sinful heart). This could also be simply the thrill of imagining illicit sexuality and putting your imaginations to words. The heart issue is lust and ignorance of Gods design for sexuality. We are called to abstain from lust and are given the Holy Spirit to guard our hearts from this. Repentance for the heart problem of sexual idolatry must be sought in this case.

HOW TO DEAL WITH IT

This may be a hard issue to deal with, especially with friends that are either careless or sinning. Basically the best thing to do is not condemn them personally, but let them understand that Scripture condemns them, when and if they crossed the line. Don’t act “holier than thou” and simply publicly tell them they are in sin, instead ask to speak with them privately, perhaps over coffee. Very humbly and very gently explain to them your desire to be faithful to Jesus and explain you are concerned they are taking this too far and may be heading into sin. If they say they don’t use the sinful meaning of some words but the popular slang use, explain to them very gently that you and others feel that you understand the meaning as something different. If need be use some parts of this blog post or the scriptures that are used, however, again be very careful not to use it to beat them over the head but gently in the spirit of friendship. In the example you give, I am most concerned with the word “slut” and in that case you could really press the issue that while the person called this may not appear offended, it is a derogatory term for someone who denies everything Godly about the gift of sex and perverts the God –ordained idea of marriage. At the very least kindly ask them to try and replace these words with something less crude and coarse, if only to because you really want to be friends with them and are sometimes hurt by these words.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9)

2 responses

  1. Amen, its especially difficult to listen to those who go up and preach the Gospel or try to praise God with their mouth if foul language is flowing through the same source. But I don’t understand something, is it still okay to call your friends “niggers” or use “that’s what she said” jokes? Is it okay to use the term “tonight I’m going to rape my homework” when really they mean “Tonight, I’m going to finish my homework” Why can’t they just use the second term?

  2. Truthfully the current generation makes me sick with their usage of f-bombs for everything! When did people stop washing children’s mouths out with soap!

    But, the point is well taken – if the intent is to demean or destroy the image of God someone was created as, it is sin no matter how politically correct or incorrect a term(s) might be!

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