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What does the Bible say about “bad” words?

In modern Christianity, we tend to hold a certain set of (approximately) four letter words as taboo words. In Ephesians, Paul writes:

Ephesians 4:29 (NASB)
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Most of these taboo words have unwholesome roots, but have now been overloaded with non-unwholesome definitions, so that in everyday dialect, they are not typically used with any unwholesome meaning.

Is there any Biblical or cultural[1] argument against using cuss words[2]?


[1] A cultural argument is an argument based on the cultural context in which the Bible was written, or perhaps an extra Biblical source describing a view point held by the very early church.

[2] I mean cuss words in the most general sense - obviously the definition of which words are cuss words varies between cultures/languages.

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marked as duplicate by Flimzy, Eric, Wikis, daviesgeek, warren Mar 20 '12 at 20:32

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Which words are you thinking of that are considered taboo but "not typically used with any unwholesome meaning"? –  DJClayworth Mar 19 '12 at 20:54
    
@DJClayworth, Well, not sure if I can say them here or not without getting the question closed... so please ask me to delete this comment if it is too offensive. Some examples, and their rough equivalents would be: "No sh**?" ~= "No kidding?". "Whoops, I fued that up" ~= "Whoops, I messed that up". "What the fu?" ~= "What in the world?" –  Eric Mar 19 '12 at 21:09
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Whenever you open your mouth, you show your intelligence. If you do not know how to articulate w/o using swear words, then it is a reflection on you. It's not biblical, so it's only a comment :) –  user1054 Mar 19 '12 at 22:42
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Tyranny of the weaker brother comes to mind. –  Affable Geek Mar 19 '12 at 22:53
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@DanAndrews, Good point. I'd agree that if someone doesn't know how to articulate without swearing, then it is a reflection of intelligence. But at the same time, it seems like an arbitrary constraint to place on yourself - if you can articulate without swearing, why must you? –  Eric Mar 19 '12 at 23:28

2 Answers 2

Preface: This is one of those questions that deals with personal convictions and preferences rather than a clear-cut Biblical statement. This actually came up not too long ago when our Pastor was preaching a sermon on the difference between the three.

A Biblical statement is simple. The Bible says "Thou shalt" or "thou shalt not". (Example: Theft - thou shalt not steal)

A Conviction (in his definition) is a position on a subject based on overwhelming Scriptural support, but no direct statement from Scripture. (not watching unwholesome movies based on "I shall set no evil thing before my eyes")

A preference is simply something we prefer. (short hair on men, wearing a tie to Church)

Often the line between conviction and preference is blurry. Many preferences can be loosely based on Scriptural understanding, and some convictions are based more on personal belief than the Word.

That said, I think the rest of this answer falls in that line between the two.


The Bible doesn't directly address "swear words" as we use the term. When the Bible has the word "swear", it is usually a translation of a word meaning "take an oath".

However, the Bible DOES say that what we say is important for many reasons. To list just the first two:

  1. The words we use can hurt others.
  2. The words that come out of our mouth reveal the condition of our heart and spirit.

Using just the second principle, if we are cursing, it's a sure sign that our spirit it not where it needs to be.


There's an entire sermon on the subject online here.

The relevant Bible section is James 3:1-11 (KJV)

My brethren, if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the pilot listeth.

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of Gehenna.

Every kind of beasts, birds, things of the sea, is tamed ... But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

With it we bless God, even the Father; and with it we curse men, which are made after the similitude of God.

Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olives? Or a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Also, Matthew 15:18-20 (KJV)

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

For me, the final test comes down to "what is the frame of mind I must be in if I'm saying this particular word/phrase".

There is no situation where a loving heart shouts or mutters things like "what the ######## are you doing, you ########. Learn to drive the ######## car!"

In any sentence where I can consider using what we would call "swear" words, I need to be either angry, disrespectful, reacting to a sudden injury or fright, or a combination of the above.

In none of those situations am I being "godly" or "Christ-like" which should be the goal of every Christian.

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I agree with you, and generally like everything you say, but I'm not sure that the second half of the answer (after the first paragraph) quite fits the question. "The words that come out of our mouth" - Would this literally mean words, or would it mean the meaning of those words? For your answer to apply, can you demonstrate the importance of which words are used? –  Eric Mar 19 '12 at 23:42
    
No, the words are, as noted in the comments above, cultural. Similarly, nudity (covered elsewhere on this site) is cultural - in parts of Africa, the women don't wear shirts, but it would be inappropriate to do those things in Times Square, for example, or the London subway. All I'm saying is that the specific words don't matter, but they do reveal the heart condition, which is important. –  David Stratton Mar 19 '12 at 23:44
    
With regard to your edits, I agree that those examples you give are certainly indicative of a wrong heart. But I also think the same goes for those sentences without the swear words - For example: "What on earth are you doing, you fool. Learn to drive a car!" has the same underlying meaning, and mean spirit. And I think that there are times when "swear words" can be used in completely benign ways. –  Eric Mar 19 '12 at 23:51
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Edit completed. That's my final answer, whether anyone likes it or not. Thank you for driving me to give a better answer. –  David Stratton Mar 20 '12 at 0:01
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Ironically, I think most of the questions on this site fall on that line. –  David Stratton Mar 20 '12 at 0:03

There are really two kinds of cuss words (with some overlap): the profane and the vulgar.

Profanity is absolutely prohibited, in part because of the verse quoted in your question, but it is important here to first understand the precise definition of the word. To profane something is to take something that is holy (set apart) and make it common. Words themselves are never profane, but they can be used in profane ways.

Vulgarity is a little different. Again, it's worthwhile to go to the precise definition. Something is vulgar when it is "common", in the lowest-common-denominator sense of the word common. When you use vulgar speech, you are lowering yourself down to that level. You are not just making speech "saltier" or more colorful. Since you doubt a direct prohibition in scripture, I would point you first to 1 Corinthians 10:23 — "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial." Maybe you don't believe it's prohibited, but that doesn't mean it's still a free-for-all. There is also Ephesians 5:4 — "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving."

For some current practical examples of which is which:

  • You should not damn (condemn) things. That is profane, because it is a privilege reserved for God alone. This especially applies when directed at a person, because it is saying that you wish that person to spend eternity in hell... something no Christian should wish for anyone.
  • You definitely should not use the name of God or His son as an expletive; it's hard to be more profane than that.
  • A word that is vulgar, but not profane, is "shit".
  • Finally, the f* word is both vulgar and profane because it debases a holy act that God has set apart for marriage and makes it vulgar.
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I think that the question was not about profanity, but about vulgarity. People usually confuse the two terms but I think it is clear that the question is about the latter. –  Chris B Mar 23 '12 at 19:17
    
@Chris - that's a good point, but I think there's some room in the question to talk about profanity as well. Would you object if I expanded the answer to cover both points or would you still feel that the profanity section is too off topic for the question? –  Joel Coehoorn Mar 23 '12 at 19:27
    
Nope! Looks good, no objections here, just wanted to clear up any possible confusion. –  Chris B Mar 24 '12 at 4:44

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