The Bible’s Viewpoint
Why Profanity Is Not for Christians
A BBC Wales radio producer was reprimanded for refusing to cut out “offending words” from an interview with a homosexual who, according to a BBC spokesman quoted in The Guardian newspaper, used “extremely coarse language to describe acts which might cause one to contract AIDS.” In addition, 22 percent of the programs monitored in a two-week survey of broadcasts on Britain’s four television channels contained “bad language, swearing [cursing] and/or blasphemy.”
Such news items point up a real paradox of attitudes. To many people a conversation peppered with profanity shocks and offends. Others shrug off such language as merely colorful and earthy, of no real concern. However, should profanity find a place in the speech of Christians, who value their relationship with God and their fellowmen?
Why So Common?
Profanity is “any sort of habitually foul language.” Blasphemy, cursing, and swearing fall within the scope of this definition. Profanities express rage, even abusive condemnation. Mary Marshall, author of the book Origins & Meanings of Oaths & Swear Words, says that “oaths and swearwords belong to spoken far more than literary language.” Nevertheless, many novels teem with profanities.
Why is profanity so common? Some people with a limited vocabulary may make up the deficit by an abundant use of curse words. Others resort to bad language for emphasis. By definition, profanity is often linked to emotions of annoyance, frustration, and anger. Indeed, when faced with trying circumstances, many allow an expletive to burst forth from their lips as a “vent for . . . pent-up emotions.” Researcher Marshall notes that her alphabetical card index of English swearwords is thickest under words that begin with explosive and sibilant consonants.
Though swearing may seem to relieve their feelings, many discover that profanity breeds profanity. Why is this? Foul language fuels the emotional fire. For example, amid the confusion of a massive traffic snarl in one West African capital, an irate driver jumped out of his car to accost another whose vehicle blocked his way. As tempers flared, bad language befouled the air, each trying to outdo the other with insults. Other stranded motorists leaned out of their cars and cheered the rivals on to mouth ever-increasing depravities.
Insults that demean a person may unleash a spate of bad language. Included may be words that compare the target to an animal or even an insect, disparaging comments about a person’s parents or questionable ancestry, terms that call attention to certain physical characteristics, and, what may even be more offensive, obscenities, blasphemy, and sexually lewd remarks.
God’s View of Profanity
Certainly, misuse of the divine name constitutes a serious offense. Exodus 20:7 states: “You must not take up the name of Jehovah your God in a worthless way.” But did contravening this instruction jeopardize the worshiper’s relationship with God? Yes; the Law continued: “Jehovah will not leave the one unpunished who takes up his name in a worthless way.”
To illustrate how important obedience to this command was, the Bible records a struggle between an Israelite and another man. The latter “began to abuse the Name and to call down evil upon it.” How did God judge that situation? He decreed: “The abuser of Jehovah’s name should be put to death without fail.” (Leviticus 24:10-16) Though not providing specific details of that abuse, this scriptural example nevertheless reveals God’s view of irreverent speech and behavior.
The Christian Greek Scriptures foretell of our day that “critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be . . . blasphemers [Greek, blaʹsphe·moi], . . . and from these turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2, 5) The Greek word bla·sphe·miʹa conveys more than the idea of irreverent speech against things held sacred. Indeed, its meaning embraces any injurious and defamatory speech that damages another person.
People whose speech is abusive manifest “the old personality” that Christians are exhorted to “strip off” like a foul-smelling coat for which they have no further use.a The apostle Paul counsels: “Put them all away from you, wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth.” “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.” (Colossians 3:8, 9; Ephesians 4:31) Further, please note that those who insult and heap abuse on others, whom Paul describes as “revilers,” are included among the “unrighteous persons [who] will not inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
A genuine love of God will move a Christian to do what pleases Him. (1 John 5:3) Just as God shows concern for all humans, so the Christian will want to reflect that same feeling in his attitude toward others, thereby obeying the two greatest commands, namely, love for God and for neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-39) Consequently, “let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.” (Romans 15:2) So ask yourself, ‘Does my choice of words offend or does it build up?’
Admittedly, cleaning up one’s speech will not be easy if profanity has been an ingrained habit. Yet, it is possible—with help. God’s spirit can help a person change speech patterns. However, the individual must first be willing to build a vocabulary filled with good words—and then regularly use it.—Romans 12:2.
“The tongue that speaks evil will be stopped,” warned wise King Solomon. So do not allow the dirt of profanity to soil your speech. Instead, aim to be a person who knows the clean thing to say and who says it graciously!—Proverbs 10:31, 32, Today’s English Version; Colossians 4:6.
a Note Ephesians 5:3, 4, where the context gives “foolish talking” and “obscene jesting” a sexual meaning. Hence, vile speech and jokes of a sexual nature are not for Christians.