A certain well-known minister once shocked his audience by stating that “…millions of people are starving to death, and most of you don’t give a —-!” He went on to rebuke them by saying that “The sad thing is, most of you are more upset at my using that word than you are about people starving!” Was this the best way to make his point? That is open to debate, but it does challenge us in how we are going to define “bad words.”
As much as we might want it to, the Bible does not give us a list of “forbidden words” (and, as we shall see, uses some rather “earthy” language itself in places). So there are admittedly some “grey areas” when it comes to where the line needs to be drawn.
Often, the word “profanity” is used to describe any and all forms of off-color language, but that goes beyond its actual meaning. The word “profanity” means “outside the Temple” and refers specifically to blasphemous or sacriligious terms. Of course, this should not be part of any Christians vocabulary (Exodus 20:7). Nor should immoral sexual talk (Ephesians 5:4) or racist or otherwise degrading language (Matthew 5:22). These principles are summed up in the following Biblical guidelines:
“No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”- Ephesians 5:4
“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”-Colossians 3:8, NIV
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”-Colossians 4:6, NIV
But again, outside of these common sense perimeters, we are given few concrete examples of exactly what constitutes “corrupt communication.” More often than not, the definition of “bad words” is culturally determined rather than biblically mandated, and is therefore subject to change over time.
For example, the word “gay” is now almost universally recognized as referring to homosexuality. Yet originally, it meant to be happy or light hearted. Similarly, to “have an affair” once meant to throw a dinner party or other social gathering. Now it means to commit adultery. “Grass” used to be something people mowed, now it is something people smoke!
This is noteworthy because the Bible itself even uses rather crude language on occasion. Although it is sometimes obscured by our flowery King James English, there is an inherant “earthiness” to the Scriptures that is often overlooked. Here are some examples:
Isaiah 64:6 states that man’s righteousness is as “filthy rags.” Literally translated, this is referring to a bloody menstruel cloth.
Matthew 15:17- Jesus illustrates a point by referring to a bowel movement.
Matthew 23:33- Jesus calls the religious leaders a “generation of vipers,” or “sons of snakes.” Referring to someone as the offspring of an animal remains a common and forceful means of denunciation. The modern equivilent would be “son of a (not-nice word for a female dog).”
Galatians 5:11-12- Paul wishes that the false teachers in the church would castrate themselves.
Phillipians 3:8- Paul compares his pre-Christian life to fesces.
So am I trying to justify bad language? Not at all. I am simply saying that we should define our terminology by the Bible itself, not simply letting cultural norms dictate to us what does and does not constitute improper language. God is not as prudish as we may have been led to believe. Just because a word might be considered to be in poor taste in certain settings, that doesn’t necessarily make it offensive to God.
Keep It Real,
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