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I know the Bible says not to let "unwholesome talk" come out of our mouths (Ephesians 4:29), but to my knowledge it doesn't speak specifically about "bad words."

In fact, to my knowledge, the English language (and especially American English) is somewhat unique in that it has words that are always considered bad, in any context. In my (limited) study of other languages (which is mostly Spanish), most "bad words" are perfectly good words, used in a specifically "bad" context.

Is it possible to use a "bad" word in a context that is not "unwholesome?"

I have a very close (Christian) friend, and he and I occasionally use "bad" words in our conversation, but always in a joking sense. Never out of anger or malice toward the other person. Is this okay, or should we change our behavior?

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English is in no way unique there. Of the three other languages I know, at least two have some words that could never be used in a neutral way. Btw, a funny outcome of having English as a second language is that the cuss words don't really have a deep meaning to me. I (almost) never curse in my own language, but English "bad words" are more like a joke to me. –  dancek Aug 27 '11 at 1:15
    
@dancek: I have many friends who speak Spanish as a first language, and say the same about English "bad words." I also feel the same way about Spanish "bad words" (which are, to my knowledge, all contextual). –  Flimzy Aug 27 '11 at 4:29
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I cuss in all the (two) languages I speak fluently. It's just my upbringing, and we should "honor our parents", right? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Aug 29 '11 at 12:50
    
@Jürgen A. Erhard You may be interested in this question christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1794/… –  a_hardin Sep 2 '11 at 15:20
    
@JürgenA.Erhard: No! You can't violate one commandment with the excuse that you were upholding another (that you've turned on it's head). If your parents were bank robbers would it be an honor them to carry on the family tradition or would it bring more honor to the family name if you break out of the lifestyle and earn an honest living? –  Caleb Sep 2 '11 at 15:28

4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Ephesians 4:29 says:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 5:4 says:

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Language is a collective memory or cultural history. In other words, the meaning of words are defined by society. Per Ephesians 5:4, there could be no obscenity, foolishness or joking apart from an audience to interpret the message. Just as words in English have no meaning to people that don't speak English, the words can have certain meanings in certain sub-cultures or circles.

If certain words are not interpreted as obscene in a given circle, then the use of these words do not violate the command in Ephesians 5:4 and they will not have the appearance of evil per 1 Thessalonians 5:22. Same thing with Ephesians 4:29. The words are not sinful in themselves.

That said, in my experience it will be very tough for someone that incorporates this kind of language into their regular routine to refrain from using it around people that might not interpret it the same way. One way or another it always slips out. Furthermore, one has to be discerning enough not to cause another Christian to stumble by using this language improperly. It's probably safest not to use it and not flirt with violating these commands.

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+1 You have hit the nail on the head. –  Robert Haraway Aug 27 '11 at 2:47
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@Jeff while I mostly agree with this answer I have a big problem with people who will refer to someone as a jerk or moron and think that is ok when, if they use a curse word to describe that same person, they would feel bad. Either way you are judging someone else and putting them down and who are we to judge. I personally don't have a problem with curse words (excepting GD, of course) but they are not directed at people (ie- i hurt myself and say something as an exclamation) –  Patrick Aug 28 '11 at 21:40
    
@Pat: GD? Do you mean "GoD"? Or what? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Aug 29 '11 at 12:51
    
@Jurgen A. Erhard I mean the two word exclamation literally using God's name in vain (as in a structure that holds back water). –  Patrick Aug 29 '11 at 14:22
    
Ah, you mean... okay, elided due to obvious sensibilities. ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Aug 29 '11 at 18:57

Cf. 1 Corinthians 8, with "meat offered to idols" replaced by "speaking with bad language."

I will transcribe it for your reading pleasure!

1 Corinthians 8

 1 Now as touching BAD WORDS, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

 2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

 3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

 4 As concerning therefore BAD WORDS, we know that A BAD WORD is nothing in the world, and that STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES ETC.

 5 For though there be that are called BAD WORDS, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be WORDS many, and BAD WORDS many,)

 6 But to us there is but one WORD, JESUS CHRIST, BY Whom are all things, and we in him; and one EPITHET Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we by Him.

 7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the BAD WORD unto this hour HEAR IT AND SPEAK it as a thing offered unto DISSOLUTION; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

 8 But BANDYING PHRASES commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we CURSE, are we the better; neither, if we HOLD OUR TONGUES, are we the worse.

 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (italics mine)

 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge IMITATE THE SAILOR, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to VITUPERATE LIKEWISE;

 11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

 12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

 13 Wherefore, if BAD WORDS make my brother to offend, I will CURSE NOT while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

N.B. "Sticks and stones" is, to be self-referentially perverse, bulls***. Or, as C. S. Lewis put it, damned nonsense. The notion that words can't be bad is tantamount to denying the meaning of words, which as a more perspicuous answer has pointed out, is untenable.

Along these lines it is edifying to consider instead the vast power that language has for spreading the kingdom of God, and not only with regards to apostolic spreading of the Gospel. An Alaskan native who sang in the choir asked a priest if his book had been published yet. Upon an affirmative response, the lady told him that perhaps some people would read his book. But her voice projected the words of the gospel, which reverberate unto the ends of the universe.

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Could you add some of your own content to this? –  wax eagle Aug 27 '11 at 2:31

Even when they're spoken in a joking way, other people not in on the joke might think you're being vulgar. Paul provides some good advice in 1 Thessalonians 5: 22:

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

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No, that's not what the verse refers to. See here (In short, "appearance" here means any time evil appears, not to avoid appearing evil.) –  Richard Sep 1 '11 at 12:25

Jesus says in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 5:21, 22 - Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Racca is a term of contempt. Ref. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/raca/

Also, consider this passage:

Matthew 5:18 - But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.

And, lastly, please consider this passage:

Luke 6:45 - A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of

These are the things which the bible says about cursing; that it is "defiling."

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Good to notice about Matthew 5:18 and Luke 6:45 on the heart/mouth reflection. In the first passage, do you think that applies when there's no contempt between friends as the OP suggests? –  Garet Claborn May 18 at 9:40
    
With regard to biblical accounts, the accepted answer notes "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." Other than that, curse words are often "perverse" in their nature so using such words would probably not be considered "upright" or "pure of heart." –  user1477388 May 18 at 22:03

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