I see you want to know if cussing is wrong. Maybe you are reading to gain some clarification on what a swear word even is. Does the Bible tell us? Is there a list of bad words in the Bible that we should avoid? Should Christians swear at all?
When asked if profanity holds the Christian stamp-of-approval, the obvious answer is a typical, resounding “NO!”
When asked why exactly it’s improper for a Christian to use profanity, however, people find the answer a bit more complicated. After all, there’s no “Thou shalt not curse” in the Ten Commandments, which are often our “go-to” handbook for quick, Christian guidelines.
I recently held a conversation with a friend, who claimed that cursing was an invention of man—that man chose certain words to mean certain things, and that these “things” are now agreed-upon to be “bad words.” His reasoning was that, as cursing was an invention of man and not something distinctly laid out by God as “bad” or “good,” it was acceptable for a Christian to curse within certain constraints.
I beg to differ.
At its core, cursing is a form of resentment—either of the self, of others, of an object, or of a situation. When we curse, we are showing disrespect for something—we are showing hate. Jesus claimed that the greatest of all commandments was to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” and that “There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 31)
There is a time to rebuke and a time to chastise others; however, cursing holds no uplifting merit. Cursing is a verbal means by which we inflict mental, psychological, or detrimental harm on another person. In folklore and fantasy, including RPG games, “curses” are magical attacks that maim and kill opponents; how ironic, then, that we refer to profanity as “cursing.” Given Christ’s commandment of love, it’s clear that cursing does not fit well with the image of the ideal Christian that we are called to be.
“…whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22) Many Bible scholars equate the phrase “thou fool” in this context with such modern day phrases as “go to h*ll,” and other profanities. The Bible advocates the weight of words to the point that Proverbs 18:21 claims “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” The words we say literally have the power to “bring someone to life” mentally and emotionally, or “kill them” in much the same way. Many a person has committed suicide over the cruel words of another… and just as many have been saved by the kind words of a passerby, who assured them that things would get better.
“But, Casey,” you say. “I don’t curse at people. It’s just part of the way I talk.”
Well, the Bible has a thing or two to say about that as well. Matthew 12:36 says, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” “Idle words” are those which bring no honor to God; they are foolish, wasted words spoken out of self-righteousness, apathy, indifference, or laziness.
Profanity holds strong connotations with resentment, and using such damaging words as a means to emphasize something we say is foolery at its finest. Using a curse word to fill a placeholder like “very” or “really” is like using a blowtorch to light a birthday cake. It might cast a strong image in the moment—it might shock people and mortify others, maybe even give you a bit of a powerful position within the conversation—but in the end you’re left with nothing but the uneatable ashes of a perfectly good cake.
Certain words—even those that are not explicitly curse words—are so full of hatred and suffering that Christians should think twice before using them. In the gaming world, for example, the word “rape” is a term that means “to beat your opponent to the ground with one-sided ease.” To those who have been raped and abused, however, using language such as this is both callous and apathetic.
Much profanity—particularly certain, more severe words—is tied to the name of God or to the abuse and harm of others. The infamous f-word carries sexual connotations, often tied directly to rape and other forms of sexual abuse; why, then, do we honor it so frequently as part of our vocabulary?
Likewise, God’s name is frequently taken in vain as a form of cursing, and this is expressed as a big no-no in the Ten Commandments itself: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) Cursing is one of the number one ways that we can show disrespect for God’s name—a name so holy that certain scribes and translators cleansed their entire bodies before writing it.
Lastly, profanity is lazy. Yes, lazy. When we use profanity as a part of our everyday conversation, especially if it makes up every other word that we say, we are willingly transforming ourselves into simplistic, automatic robots with no sense of imagination. Our words lose power. Our conversation becomes predictable and boring. We fail to hold the interest of others because we substitute swearing for a proper mastery of the English language.
Cursing is a short-cut—a quick and easy, I-want-it-now sort of way for us to say exactly what’s on our mind, rather than taking the time to actually frame our thoughts and compose our opinions. Profanity is considered unprofessional in nearly all business circles, unthinkable in governmental public speaking, and even liable of getting you fired if you’re representing a larger organization out on the field.
We are Christ’s representatives on earth. Our lives are a living testimony of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. We are set apart from the world, cleansed with the precious blood of Christ. When we curse—when our mouths spew petty profanity and idle words—we mar that image. To others, we become “no different than the rest.” James 3:10 speaks against this hypocrisy: “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” When we pray with our church, but curse with our friends, we are acting the two-faced hypocrite and failing in our mission as an ambassador for Christ on earth.
Cursing is lazy. It’s offense of the name of Christ. It’s hurtful to others. It’s marring to our image as a representative of the heavenly kingdom. In extreme cases, it’s even got the power to sway life and death itself. There is no long-term benefit to cursing. Perhaps, in the few seconds that the words leave your mouth, you do feel better, cooler, more accepted, more normal. But we aren’t called to be normal. The Bible says we are “more than conquerors,” not mere conquerors (Romans 8:37); we are called to be downright radical.
“But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” – Colossians 3:8
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesian 4:29
Should a follower of Jesus cuss? Well, the Bible does have a lot to say about how we’re supposed to speak. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:21). Words have tremendous power. They can build up and they can tear down. But do four-letter words always fall on the “death” side of what the tongue can do, or can a person cuss in an edifying way?
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” – Romans 12:14
The kind of “curse” used here is not the same as what we usually call “cursing.” It is the opposite of a blessing, a word spoken against a person. It’s not the same as using swear words. Calling upon God to “damn” things would fall into this category. Cursing in the Biblical sense is certainly something a Christian shouldn’t do.
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne…” – Matthew 5:34
The “swearing” in this verse is talking about swearing an oath. In fact most modern translations don’t use the word “swear” here. It’s an appeal to some higher authority while you’re making a vow, something the Bible says not to do, because your word should be good enough, and apparently people in Jesus’ day were being pretty casual about invoking the authority of Heaven.
But that’s not the same as cussing.
There are no specific Scriptures forbidding the use of swear words. The Bible has a lot to say about speaking in a way that builds up others instead of hurting them, but it doesn’t ever expressly forbid cussing. Swear words are slang, usually avoided in polite society, but they are not sinful of themselves.
“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23
Is it okay for a Christian to use these words? Yes, I believe so. Depending on how you use them.
The example I usually give is this: I’ve seen gamers sitting around playing Super Smash Bros. and swearing at each other in perfect innocence, not hurting one another at all. And I’ve seen people say, “I’ll pray for you,” in a way that carried more venom than any four letter word.
I know a lot of Christians believe that “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” refers specifically to swearing, but the Bible itself does not say so. And there are plenty of non-edifying things that could fit the verse instead: lying, backbiting, blaspheming, taking God’s name in vain, cruelties…
A lot of scholars believe that Paul himself used “strong language” when he penned this verse: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The word translated “garbage,” “rubbish,” or sometimes “dung,” could well have been a swear word, meant to drive home Paul’s point, that everything you lose for Jesus’ sake is a worthless load of [Um… how about we translate that as something a bit less offensive].
I’m not saying Christians should swear all the time. Being polite is good. I don’t swear. Yes, even though I don’t believe it’s necessarily sinful, I still avoid it. But when it comes to how God wants you to talk, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Is this death or life I’m about to say? Will it build up or tear down?” If you can drop a four letter word with only love and life behind it, fine. And if what you want to say is “clean” but is untrue or unkind… don’t let it past your lips.
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