The Theology of Curse Words

Categories Life Hacking Spiritual Disciplines2 Comments

I used to have a boss with a mouth like a longshoreman. He was a Christian, he told me. (Of course.) And he tried, up and down, to justify his prolific use of the f-word.

And while his arguments were silly, it got me thinking. Why are bad words bad?

God Never Said…

It’s true. God never says: Don’t say the f-word. That, and all of our four-letter-words were created long after the Bible was written.

But I’m sure there were dirty words 2,000 years ago. Why were those not prohibited?

The issue comes down to a matter of principle. God never quarantines specific words, but He does give us guidelines for us to make the call ourselves. He does this when He says, “watch the way you talk,” and “let nothing foul and dirty come out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29).

The general principle guides the specific instances.

It’s like telling your kids: “No more sugar.” And then later when you’re not around, they reason: “Well, he didn’t specifically say I couldn’t have candy…he just said no more sugar.” That’s not a loop hole. No sugar is the principle. No candy is the specific.

So Which Words Actually Qualify as Curse Words?

First, let me say, I’m using “cursing” and “swearing” interchangeable to mean: saying the words that get bleeped out of movies on TV. I’m not talking about witchcraft or taking oaths.

Okay, so, how do we know if a word is a curse word or not? We can wait for society to tell us. But that water flows both ways. If they tell us which words are bad, then they also tell us which words aren’t. For instance, as followers of Jesus, we believe that using His name disrespectfully is always wrong. But why would society hold to this same view? (And, they often don’t.) So we cannot simply take what society tells us. We need a deeper reason.

So, to that end, here’s a a filter, or a test, you can use. If the word passes both intent and reception, then go for it.

2-Part Test:

  1. INTENT

    Intent is about you. Ask yourself: why am I saying these words? Is it to be “foul or dirty”? Often we swear (if not just out of habit) to add emphasis to our words. But today, swearing is so common it’s hard to still make that argument. What are you trying to accomplish with these words?

  2. RECEPTION

    This is about your audience. Who’s listening? If they’re used to swearing, then they may never stop to consider what you just said. But if they’re not used to it, and it’s offensive, then is that the kind of impact you want to make?

Are the Words Themselves Bad?

I’ll come clean. I’m not a schoolboy on this issue. Sometimes when I get mad, I swear. But I’m a sinner. That’s not an excuse, just an explanation. Yet, the question still remains: is swearing itself wrong? Like, for instance, when you’re all by yourself?

I say yes. And it goes back to the #1 in our test above. When you get in the habit of swearing, it comes out when you don’t expect it. And often on accident. (Trust me.) It becomes automatic.

Is a single isolated swear word in a dark closet a bad thing? I don’t know. I guess it depends what you’re doing in the closet.

But I do know if you’re standing next to a cliff, it’s a whole lot easier to fall then it is if you’re a mile away. Is it worth it?

What About Semi-Curse Words?

Like “crap.” And some would put “hell” and “ass” in this group. What about these words?

In Greek society during the New Testament times, Paul gives the example of not eating meat that’s been offered to idols. In their day, eating the offered meat was a sign of reverence to the idol. But Paul said: it’s all fake. Eat the meat if you want. But if you’ve got a fellow believer who’s struggling on this issue, then hold off.

The same works for us here. Some words or language are offensive to some but not others. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. As Paul said, “Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently” (Romans 14:1).

Focus on Being Healthy

There’s nothing magical about these words. They are not intrinsically evil. But that doesn’t mean we should use them.

Jesus said words come from the heart, not the other way around (Matthew 15:11). In other words, what we do is just a reflection of who we are on the inside.

I think the bigger issue is not to focus so much on the words, but to think instead about why we’re using them.

Thoughts?

Thoughts, questions, dirty words? Leave me a comment below 🙂

2 thoughts on “The Theology of Curse Words

  1. Hi Joe! Great article. I just wanted to add I knew someone who “cursed” or used strong profanity often, particularly when they were angry. I can distinctly remember the Lord reprimaning me because He told me – that person is more honest …he tells you how he feels but you wait till you are alone to “curse them out” in your thoughts!

    I just read this yesterday in the Word: PSALM 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. 24 Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

    PSALM 19:14 May my spoken words and unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.

    Jeanne

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