The Swearing Christian

The Swearing Christian October 5, 2016

I received the following email on 11/27/12:

The reason I’m writing has to do with the subject of the swearing Christian. It has become quite evident that a large portion of professing saints have little to no objections for the use of vulgarity. In my research, I’ve found men lauding the right as a Christian to swear and professing the approval of Christ. Does anybody see a problem here? It appears that in attempts to “win the world” the favored route is to become like the world. Mr. Viola, would you care to comment or post a blog on such a topic from a reader? Cheers.

CLICK HERE to read my answer to this question.

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  • Never heard “pickle juice.” Shoot, that is annoying! 😉

  • Diane Bice

    I think swearing is preferable to swear substitute words. For example, when a Christian shouts out “PICKLE JUICE!!!” instead of swearing it is really annoying. I’d rather just hear the swear word!

  • Well, this is just a big ‘o can of worms, isn’t it? My husband is Navy and not a Christian, and I myself am former Army. You can bet that “swearing like a sailor” holds true at my house. However, I’m not exactly proud of the fact. I am becoming deeply involved with my church, recently volunteering to serve in the nursery. I fear that I might stub my toe and let a word slip around the babies. That would not be good. When I’m at church or talking to someone I don’t know well, I watch my tongue. I’d like to quit it all together.

    At the same time, I think there’s a difference between general swearing (out of pain/frustration) and cussing someone out. For instance, I typically refrain from calling another person “a stupid motherf*****” because I don’t think that’s an acceptable (let alone Christian) thing to do. But damning a stressful situation seems ok and even brings some emotional relief. Studies have been done that show swearing can relieve pain and stress. And for some people, a swearing Christian is a comfort. Some people avoid those exuding the typical “goody-goody” image. They think it’s fake and can’t be trusted. Paul said he became “all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

    There’s also the issue of what constitutes swearing. For instance, I met a woman for whom saying words like “stupid” and “darn” was just as offensive as “f*ck” and “sh*t.” In these instances, I would abide by the Apostle Paul’s rule of defending “the weaker brother” and not use words that would cause offense or be a stumbling block to one with a sensitive conscience. Because if I cause someone to violate their conscience, then I have caused that person to sin, which is quite the opposite of what Jesus has called me to do (and brings me under judgment). For those who hold to the idea that swearing is acceptable, I would urge them to consider this reality.

    For those who say that swearing reveals a lack of the Spirit, I think a person’s whole behavior should be taken into account first. Anytime Paul or Jesus speaks of “the pagans” or “the unrighteous,” swearing is never mentioned among the bevy of reprehensible sins: disobedient to parents, drunkenness, orgies, sexual immorality, violent, etc. If my overall life reflects peace, love, joy, faith, etc., then letting a swear word slip shouldn’t earn me a one-way ticket to hell. However, if I continue to swear after being convicted of its wrongness by the Holy Spirit, then I am in error and must change. Just my, uh, 13 cents.

  • Ebeneezer Schopenhauer

    Thanks Patrick, that is one for the quote bin

  • Ebeneezer Schopenhauer

    If it was a Christian and not a Heathen was using “God” as a swear word , that is about the only time I would intervene, but I would not go ballistic. Darn I just realized I don’t even know where the English word “God” comes from. Talk about a problem that needs fixing.

    As for colorful language, years spent at blue-collar jobs have effed me up pretty good

  • Way late, but I wouldn’t swear around you. Or talk about “vulgar” things. I do understand that not everyone is comfortable with earthy, salty talk and I have no need or desire to shock or provoke anyone with my language. I follow other people’s lead. On occassion I might throw in a very mild curse word just to feel the waters. If someone doesn’t swear I don’t swear with them. I’m quite certain that some people I know have ever heard me swear. But honestly, those are also people I won’t go to with my deepest thoughts or my real troubles when I need someone to talk with. If you can’t deal with a few curse words, you most certainly won’t be able to deal with a real life with pain that is far more harsh and damaging than some salty words.

  • Profanity is a violation of the sacred, usually referring to speech in violation of the sacred. Vulgarity is base, common, coarse speech. Example of the former might be “God dammit.” Example of the latter might be when I yell at a rude driver (I am not rude, of course, in yelling it) “piece of shit asshole.”

    Now where that distinction breaks down is when we have disagreements about the sacred. If I call another person a “piece of shit asshole,” and that person is an image of God, is my vulgarity also a profanity? I had a student come to me (chair of a large academic department) about a year ago complaining about a faculty member who in class, referring to Osama bin Laden, called him a “motherf*****.” This is a public college, and the student code of conduct prohibits students from using profanity in the classroom. I told the instructor that as faculty, we should be held to the same standard. I thought he was going to argue that it was not a profanity, but simply a vulgarity. Instead he wanted to argue some sort of academic freedom to say it since it had the right (he claimed) pedagogical effect. He lost that one. Had he argued it was not a profanity, I might have hauled out my moral theology and argued that indeed the m-f-bomb does express a violation of the sacred, so it too is a profanity.

    Not that I think “What would Jesus do?” is a legitimate defense for what I should do (boxers or briefs? I think Jesus went commando). Jesus gets invited over to some pharisees’ home to eat, and berates them. Should I take that as a model for how I should respond to invitations of hospitality? I am just not sure I should. If I did, I would not hide behind “it’s what Jesus would do.” Jesus calls some people a bunch a snakes, maybe a first century way of calling them a bunch of penis-brained dip-shits. Should I take that as a model for how I should respond to people whose religious views I find to be oppressive to others by the legalism they impose on others? I am just not sure I should. If I did, I would not hide behind “it’s what Jesus would do.”

    I am pretty sure my view has holes in it. It serves as a reasonably good guide or first approximation for me.

  • Swear words are ways of expression. Expressions can either be empowering, and promote the Kingdom, they can be neutral, or they can be harmful/sinful. It is not the words themselves which are wrong. It is how I express these words and how the world around me is affected by them. Humans swear. I do not believe in a believer vs. non-believer spectrum here. Where the spectrum should exist is in posture and manner in which these words are used.

  • Frank Viola

    Thx. can you explain what the difference is between vulgarity and profanity? And why do you object to profanity . . . given the examples that many of the people who commented here have said to justify it. I’m curious to hear your reasoning. Thanks.

  • I distinguish between profanity and vulgarity. I have a strong objection to profanity, and there are many ways to profane besides in speech. Vulgarity is more a matter of etiquette than ethics, although to significantly flout etiquette can be ethically wrong. I wouldn’t wear a Speedo to church, at least not to a church wedding or funeral, even though I can imagine some far-out situation where wearing it might be appropriate. Analogously, I measure the contexts in which I speak, and will dole out vulgarities as suitable. Actually, I tend to have a more generous notion of “as suitable” than most of my church friends. So take nothing I’ve said here as of any useful advice.

  • Jesse

    Here is my predicament;
    Let’s say I were to spend the next month inventing a new language. I begin to teach other’s my language but caution them, in my made up language you cannot say “pluckbee” “labdab” or the “s” syllable because “ssss” is that sound snakes make and snakes are of the devil.
    Naturally someone would ask me “Jesse, why did you even make those words if you were just going to tell us they were wrong to say?” I would then list in scripture verses about controlling the tongue and of Old/New Covenant.

    Now this may seem a little bit silly but I think it may well represent what we face as english speaking westerners (or at least thats me). Scripture can’t give an exact answer of what words we can and cannot say simply because it wasn’t written in english! These words didn’t exist just the same as “labdab” and “pluckbee” didn’t exist.
    So while I don’t believe there is a way for us to draw a line on what words are in and what words are out, I think there are principles we can draw from.
    If we are to live at peace with everyone around us, then depending on where I am I may speak or act a little bit different. When I am with conservative friend’s, I will not swear or drink beer or do anything that they may have decided is wrong for them, so that I don’t cause them to Sin by doing so.
    I loved the use of Tony Campolo’s quote up there, mind you he probably offended some people! Case in point sometimes strong situations call for strong vocabulary.

  • Paul B

    My standard is to not swear. I’ve been caught up with the “minor” swearing in & around my coworkers. It’s just not right, in my definition of right & wrong. I believe I am a pretty “devoted to God Christian”. Why do I do or allow myself to do those things. I believe we all struggle in our surroundings. The answer for me is to work harder on my self control. So…. It’s a struggle but we have to, as Christians trying to let our light shine, work VERY hard on those self control issues!!!

  • Caleb

    Patrick, F-ing right on man! 😉 All kidding aside, I appreciate and agree with all that you’ve said here. If I could go back and have a conversation with legalistic and self-righteous person I was 6 years ago, I’d say, “Someone’s crap is another person’s sh-t, so STFU and get busy loving folks in word and in deed!” Peace, Caleb

  • Frank Viola

    Not sure who is reading this, but I’ve seen the quote “Everything is permissible” a number of times here and I’ve also heard it used to support all sorts of things. No matter where one stands on the issue of swearing (or any other controversial matter), I just want to point out that most scholars believe that this line isn’t something Paul authored. Rather, Paul was quoting the Corinthians, “Everything is permissible,” they argued. And Paul replied saying, “Not everything is beneficial.” He did this throughout the Corinthian letter. Again, I’m just making a comment on that specific text because this is a common thing I hear. Hope it helps.

  • I find it interesting that those who support the liberty to swear are editing their comments to remove the swear words, by changing them to symbols or dashes, etc. lol.

    Someone above said it best: “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”

    I’m not automatically offended if someone cusses; I just try to avoid it, personally. As we all know, we can say some pretty evil things without cussing, and we can say some pretty loving things, even with it.

  • Valeria T

    Martin Heidegger said:
    Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man. We do not speak language, language speaks us.

    I believe we rob ourselves of so much when we are lazy about what comes out of our mouth. And it is not a question of eloquence necessarily – it is a question of whether our choice of vocabulary really gives our ideas justice. And eventually the way we speak will influence the way we think. So in a sense, ideas and thoughts exist outside of language and we really belittle them with poor choice of vocabulary on our parts. Heidegger uses the word “technology” to describe how linguistics can affect our minds. The root of this word actually means “poetic” and related to art (strangely enough). But because of our laziness with language, “technology” nowadays can’t be farther away from “poetry”, when in essence it doesn’t have to be. Heidegger juxtaposes a windmill to a power plant to illustrate this idea. Anyway, I think language influences the way we think. And more often than not this influence is not positive. God probably chose (and is choosing) his words very carefully. And even in case of emotionally colored speech, most likely it has always been a calculated decision. So, Christian or not Christian, the end result is the same.

  • René

    It is easy to get a long discussion about this subject because it is legalism. To me the solution is simple, like it should be. My life en everything in it should all be in Christ. The swearing is just one part of it. When I swear I do it in English, because the Dutch once are far worse. Everything is relative and according to cultural definitions, that do evolve because culture and meaning of words do change over time. I think it is a trick of the Devil when we concentrate on the legalism and forget about the person of Jesus. My quest will not be to stop swearing (in whatever language), but to be, to remain and live out Christ. I wish we would discuss about that and what’s even better, help each other to live out Christ. I really miss that 1st century community where this was apparently present. I would like to see this kind community grow in my context, but I know I am weak, my relation with Jesus lacks and yes I swear sometimes t00 (in English and German).

    A better theme to talk about is western individualism and “independentism”, sins that nobody seems to be bothered about. What about greed, pride and other of those sins that are whitwashed in our societies. Swearing is really an easy one, if you ask me.

  • I think God does not give a f*** if we swear, he does not look on the outside, but looks into our heart. And language used is part of outside appearance, folks. We tend to belief that we are smarter than god f**** you. We think because someone has rude language, we f**** know what his heart condition is, so we judge. Same goes for dress code, hair, makeup, etc. And money. If you have money, you must be blessed by god and therefore reightous. No money, no blessing, people avoid you. We are so smart, as we have deciphered how god determines our heart, right?! Yeah. Oh, of course Jesus also hates sarcasm. It’s like lying, not saying what you actually mean. And everybody knows that Jesus was best friend with the well educated, the theologians, and avoided to be seen with obvious sinners, prostitutes, thieves, and such.

  • Jim

    Can I skirt the issue? Let’s listen more and talk less. We would certainly get ourselves into a lot less trouble. If I make it my goal to please Jesus, then I had better stop if he tells me it is not right for me to do it. On the other hand, if I am not convicted to stop, I have freedom until I offend him or a brother/sister in the Lord. This applies to much more than ‘swearing’. Whenever something is not directly addressed in scripture, we must ask, “Is it beneficial to me or another?”, “Is it mastering me?”, and/or “Does this build up the one I am with or the church?” [These are based on 1 Corinthians 6:12 & 10:23, 24.] We must be careful how we live. I have no credentials to write what I have written. I am a fellow struggler with you all, which gives me some experience, and I am a studier of the Bible, which gives me limited knowledge. Let’s work to please the Lord and edify our fellow sojourners in all we do.

  • Neal

    Swearing and vulgarity has never been an issue in my life, but I do have my issues and my sin issues are things I hate and detest and want deeply to be rid of. I spent 20 years in the Navy and saw teenagers come in, some of whom were as innocent as a baby on his mother’s breast. Soon however they were cussing like a sailor. To me it is sad that as Christians our influence which could be so positive is made negative by unattractive speech. In my first tour a Master Chief in my squadron had on his desk this saying, “Profanity is worded ignorance.” I can say that in 20 years of duty, two
    Christian shipmates made a positive impact on my life, one was that Master Chief another was a flight instructor. When a sailor started telling a joke, he said, “if it’s dirty I don’t want to hear it.” Their courage to stand for their convictions helped me to stand for mine.

  • Bret Olson

    In the words of pastor Tony Campolo: “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

  • mcgeelister

    It is much more simple than whether or not Christians should or should not swear; just get a better vocabulary and use it! In the 1920’a, according to lexographer, Vizetelly, there were about 1 million English words; “average” people used 4,000 to 5,000 words; “educated” people used 8,000-10,000 words; doctors,lawyers etc used about 23,000 words. Today the average person uses between 2,000 and ,000 words. GET A CLUE; LEARN A WORD AND YOU WON”T HAVE TO SWEAR! My ears could use a break!!

  • May Lyn

    Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 3:8. And if they don’t speak to you, pray about it…Psalm 19:14.
    It saddens me when Christians post foul language on facebook. WWJS?

  • I swear like an apostle at a wedding. Can’t imagine “Sons of Thunder” describes someone not prone to expletive outbursts. No, the Christianity of Jesus wasn’t genteel, not like we want to portray it. Seems the gospels describe a pretty down and dirty movement where swearing was not uncommon. When did this grass roots movement if the marginalized and disenfranchised become gentrified?

  • bobson

    Using God’s name in vain (a worldly oath) is sin. Fair enough. Somehow this became any profanity, any vulgarity or anything that may remind someone of profanity, vulgarity or using God’s name in vain.

    What should be setting christian speach apart is the quality of the speach, are you showing love and building someone up or have you just cherry picked a verse to add to the ‘handbook of christian living’? I once had a neighbor that considered ‘oh boy’ swearing because if you said this you were substituting ‘boy’ for ‘god’ and …. Hate to say this but people like rules (no swearing!!) because they are easy to follow and allow us to evaluate ourselves and others based on these rules. I swear less and less because I have no need, but when someone ‘kicks a**’ they usually understand that better than ‘what an admirable job you have just done’.

  • Bob

    The real question I must grapple with is not what vulgar words may have come out of my mouth but why, oh why did I allow my anger to take control of me. Forgiven, yes. But I truly believe that all enduring changes to the life of a christian begin within the heart and mind of the believer. So, I consider myself a work in progress, a man who seeks wisdom and reproof from above in all areas of my life.

  • I personally rest in, and teach from two main scriptures in regards to swearing, cussing, and using the Lord’s name in vane. They are: Exodus 20:7 (ESV) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. & Colossians 3:8 (ESV) But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. The bottom line is this…do not grieve the Holy Spirit, and remember that our tongue is a straight path to our heart. If our mouths are speaking with obscene talk, which is a footstool for anger, malice, and slander; our hearts are not on God. Remember the most important commandment: Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. To love the Lord is to completely surrender ourselves to Him, He does not wish for us to hang onto our previous lives; hence to be born again. Will we make mistakes, of course. Yet we are still called to repent and turn towards Him, for in Him, we are able to overcome.

  • Jeremy

    For me, I swear around people for whom swearing is a natural or assumed part of talking, and I abstain around people for whom swearing is rude or vulgar. In both cases I feel doing otherwise would put me in the judge’s seat, looking down on either others’ lack of discipline or lack of freedom. I don’t believe swearing is sinful, so for me it’s mostly just tool in the communications box. Speaking in any way excessively can infect a person’s vocabulary, so it’s wise to exercise some discipline. I don’t think that’s unique to swearing though.

  • gilles lamoureux

    Good for your conscience. Mine wouldn’t be good with it; and I dare say nor would your presence be good for me for very long. Not to say that you or I are right, or wrong, only to say that we need to honor what our hearts tell us is right or wrong, for ourselves and even for others. There are no words I can use to convince you, no more than having the right words to convince a person to believe in Christ. God convicts, with the Holy Spirit. The truth sets us free, from each other if need be, for a time, or forever. Try these on for size:

    1 John 3:21 AMP
    And, beloved, if our consciences (our hearts) do not accuse us [if they do not make us feel guilty and condemn us], we have confidence (complete assurance and boldness) before God,

    Romans 14:23
    But the man who has doubts (misgivings, an uneasy conscience) about eating, and then eats [perhaps because of you], stands condemned [before God], because he is not true to his convictions and he does not act from faith. For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin [whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful].

    James 4:17
    Amplified Bible (AMP)
    17 So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.

    Paul was free from all men, so that he could become the slave of all. There is no doubt that in the great scheme of things, cursing will have little effect amidst the bold message that is being projected. We say a lot of things when we speak but the main thrust of what is said is conviction, from the speaker and the hearer alike. I hope I have done that here.


  • gilles lamoureux

    But we are our ‘brother’s keeper’. Correction is warranted when appropriate. Christ cleared the temple, and afterwards was enabled to perform miracles in the courtyard. We, like him, act to propagate the good, and will require disapproval of many forms of evil. That takes courage. Love is only as pure as our hatred of evil.


  • Roberta Jackson

    We are called to be holy. At this stage in time of our ever-degrading world, I don’t think we have a clue what true holiness looks like. As a 60-year old (and I do think it is somewhat age related) I don’t feel comfortable with swearing. How does that make us look or act differently from anyone else? If someone hears a Christian in a restaurant carrying on a conversation littered with that language, how would they even know they are sitting next to a Christian? And what mixed message would that give if they had just seen the Christians praying over their meal? Wouldn’t they tend to scoff a bit? Call us hypocritical? Should we give the world one more reason to denigrate the faith and reject the Savior? I think Christians are too willing to cut themselves slack in areas where they could easily behave differently. That being said, our faith is based on a personal relationship with Jesus. If we are sincerely striving to become more holy and Christ-like, then we will be “nudged” in those areas we need to address in our lives.

  • gilles lamoureux

    Edification. ‘Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word that is good for edification.’ And that, whenever the need arises. There is definitely a context. That’s accounted for in how love ‘covers all sins’. We forbear, put up with it, in ourselves and others, but knowing full well that there is a better way.

    There’s always a better way. How does context alert us to when and where we fall short of edification, in growth and faithful witness? Our conscience will tell us. If we are sensitive to what get’s said then we will know according to that sensitivity if the context is right and where the sensitivity of the person is at. We can be overly sensitive. That sensitive will prompt us to lay off and lay low, or consider when and where it might be good to deal with what had been said, a person’s habits and sensitivities.

    Mostly, cursing stems from a person’s sensitivity towards anything that does not line up with the Holy Spirit, with the substance of our hearts that over time are managed by the Holy Spirit.

    1 John 3:21 AMP
    And, beloved, if our consciences (our hearts) do not accuse us [if they do not make us feel guilty and condemn us], we have confidence (complete assurance and boldness) before God,

    Like the tip of the iceberg, cursing is a flag on a ship on a certain course, but can act as the rudder if we are not careful. Sensitivity is a question of growth over time. If we are Christians, we will change over time, known largely in retrospect, and with patience on our part and on the part of others, we change. It’s far more important to learn how to respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, to our sensitivities, which will be different in all of us, but will not exclude correcting someone.

  • “On the other hand, a Christian who doesn’t swear is no more “holy” or “sanctified” than one who does. I, personally, am more offended by hearing gossip than I am hearing swear words. ” Thank you!

  • manny

    Sin is sin no matter how we try to justify it or name it!
    As my wife likes to point out from time to time….Can I minister the Gospel after what I have said, (no profanity used just common everyday language)…If we are being conformed to the image of Christ, what part of sin is acceptable? Does corruption inherit the kingdom of God? Vulgarity, profanity and, self-righteousness are not holy…we are called to be holy… and no it’s not extra revelatory knowledge…search the Scriptures to see if it is so…

  • Sarah

    Hmmm…well, I don’t agree with the use of degrading or sexually explicit words. On the other hand, a Christian who doesn’t swear is no more “holy” or “sanctified” than one who does. I, personally, am more offended by hearing gossip than I am hearing swear words. Jesus lives in everyone who accepts him, and words are really just words. What matters is your motivation. Are you swearing for shock value, or to show how cool and un-religious you are? Are you swearing because you want to offend people or just because the words seem appropriate to you at a particularly frustrating moment? I think it truly matters whether your words are a stumbling block to someone who DOES have a problem with it. “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” In the same way you wouldn’t drink alcohol around a person who has an issue with it, you wouldn’t want to use words that that same person may find offensive. God knows each of our hearts, and we just have to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of us.
    I’d rather hang out with a loving, generous, God-adoring, swearing Christian than I would a pious, judgmental, “holy”, non-swearing Christian. Not saying you have to be either/or, but…

  • Cynthia

    It makes me sad to hear those words , the f word, God’s Names, and other slang and curse words along with these are disrespectful and show disrespect to those hearing or seeing the printed word.

  • Stan

    This is my take on it;
    If we’re all created in his likeness, The God would also posses a temper, a sense if humor, anger, love, understanding, and common sense to name a few. Included amongst the ling list of traits that make us human would be language, and of course swearing. I don’t think he expects every one of us to be perfect, but as long as we believe and at least try, that’s all he asks… as far as his feelings when it comes to people swearing, quite frankly I don’t think he really gives a shit.
    Merry Christmas to all, and God Bless the USA

  • David

    Using God’s name (JC, etc) or His power (God damn, etc) are sins. Everything else is a personal matter of conscience.

  • Jerry

    “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
    ~ The Weight of Glory~C.S. Lewis

  • I think “swearing” is more of a cultural/language issue rather than a spiritual issue. Sometimes I think “swearing” is lazy because the person doesn’t have a large enough vocabulary to express themselves. But in some cases, profanity is the most expressive way to communicate something, not necessarily in a filthy manner.

  • Rob

    To this question, I can’t help but recall Paul’s perspective that “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” Believe it or not, there are people who automatically close their ears to Christians because they don’t want to be annoyed (or judged) by the stereotypical “goody-goody” message that Christians often personify. In my experience, the overwhelming opinion held by the general public toward Christians is that we seek to push a Holy Do’s and Don’t’s List down the throats of everyone else. As frustrating as this might be, it’s the reality of our society. Part of the struggle to connect with folks, then, is getting to a point where they feel like they can trust that my goal is not to judge them so that, despite my identity as a Christian, we can have a “normal” conversation. In an effort to get to this point, I have admittedly inserted swear words into a conversation. To me, sacrificing a moment of piety is worth earning the opportunity to communicate a life of holiness.

    With that, I truly do believe that I have a responsibility to figure out how to engage the world without abandoning my conviction that following Christ means not being of this world. This requires discernment, as sometimes using a swear word would not help me accomplish my goal of connecting in such a way as to become a respected influence in a person’s life. Seeing as it is most certainly permissable, I must ask myself if it is beneficial (and, I would add, wise). Using swear words, however, can be very hurful and tactless when used in anger, they can be perceived as shallow and uncreative when used superfluously, and they can become a drug of sorts when relied upon as a source for one’s identity. These filters are certainly important aspects to keep in mind when discerning how to act and what language is appropriate to use.

  • Jerry

    Col 3:8: But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

  • John I.

    Words, the sounds that we speak, are like empty cans and must be filled with meaning. A particular sound has no inherent meaning, which is why different languages can use the same sound to mean or refer to different things. This is even so in the same language–we call such words homonyms.

    Vulgar or profane words are such because of the socially attached emotion. If you swore in English to a unilingual Tagalog speaker, you obviously wouldn’t offend her. The negative social impact of words also changes over time–which is why we keep coming up with new euphemisms for unpleasant subjects or objects. When a Euphemism becomes to closely connected with the unpleasant it itself becomes more unpleasant and we move on to a new euphemism that has less negative emotional impact (we use “passed on” instead of “died”, “boobs” instead of “tits”, etc.). The change in a word’s status from a safe euphemism to a more offensive word is an example of vulgarity moving in the opposite direction to “swear” word (from inoffensive safe to more offensive v. offensive to inoffensive).

    So called “swear words” move in the opposite direction. They start out with great impact (which is their purpose) and through use become more common and banal and so lose their impact (@ss would be one of these words, as would be $hit).

    Furthermore, because the impact of these words arises from social mores and behaviour, which is non-uniform, the same word can have different amounts of impact among different people. Anyone who has been to a nonChristian university has experienced the F sharp being used like the word “and”, and as a result having much less force.

    Language is a social construction, and so the force that a word has depends on the speaker and hearing and the social context. One wouldn’t speak to a banker like one speaks to one’s mom, nor vice versa. Similarly, what is offensive in one context is not in another.

    I don’t think that a Christian should intentionally offend her listeners, and so should avoid vulgarisms that the listener would find offensive. In other contexts, where everyone “swears” a blue streak and is not offended, using those same words in communication is not wrong or “unChristian” and is in fact more contextually and relationally appropriate.

    Personally, I don’t swear much at all but I’m not offended by it, and in the proper contexts I’ll use words “swear”) that in other contexts I would not. If by “swearing” one means “using specific words”, then yes I do swear sometimes, BUT if by “swearing” one means “use offensive words intentionally to offend the listener” then I never “swear”.

  • Jeremy Hetzel

    In regards to this subject, two thoughts come to mind. (1) First, I am reminded of Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed…” We are called to be IN but not OF the world. Does this mean that we are perfect? No. We all get unrighteously angry sometimes and say things we shouldn’t. Nonetheless, we are called to be different. If people are comfortable swearing in regular conversation, when they aren’t angry, but simply sharing info, I think they need to consider if they are in and of the world. (2) I think about 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul talks about eating meat which causes another brother to stumble. In that same vein, if cursing and swearing cause our brothers and sisters to stumble, if it sends an unintended message, I think we need to strive to refrain. Just my two cents.

  • I swear all the time and would do so if Jesus was standing next to me in physical form. I’m a writer and I love words. Swear words are just that – words. And some rather choice words for which there are often no good substitutes at that. (I will say that I don’t use the word c*nt. That’s just too vulgar and sexist for me. Motherf*cker is also a bit much even for me.)

    In fact, Paul uses the Greek equivalent for sh*t in his writing. (Philippians 3:8: “But indeed I also regard everything to be loss on account of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all things; and I consider them sh*t so that I may gain Christ…”) And there are many other places where what we would view as vulgarity is present in the bible. My favorite is Ezekiel 16:17: “You also took your fine jewelry—including my gold and my silver that I had given you. Then you made for yourself male images and had sex with them!” [ISV] Just in case you missed it, that’s God accusing Israel of melting down the jewelry he’d provided them as gifts and making dildo’s to self-pleasure with. And you thought your ex had nasty things to say about you!

    Frankly, I think that we have an unhealthy attitude towards what we term vulgarity. God created us as people who have all sorts of bodily functions and I don’t believe for a moment that he views them as anything less than good. As I often tell my children as they are giggling over farts, BO and such, “wasn’t it kind of God to provide us with such endlessly amusing bodies?” In fact, these words have the effect of allowing us to discuss these normal albeit amusing parts of being embodied beings without turning anyone’s stomach. I view them as a positive part of human creativity, really.

    The idea that certain words are bad or wrong is simply a cultural construct. And in our culture, these words are no longer taboo. Speaking them in casual settings with peers (not Grandma or a group of kids or at a professional meeting) is unlikely to cause any offense to anyone. But conversations where they are used are likely to be filled with camaraderie and either a lot of laughter or a lot of shared pain and comfort, depending on the subject matter. As a Christian, I also find that using curse words with ease can help put people who might otherwise view me with suspicion at ease. Not swearing is an image-focused concern. I’m not really concerned with image – I’d much rather speak words filled with love, truth, mercy, grace and kindness while using salty language than fool myself into thinking that my nice, clean speech marks me as good.

    I will say that at some point in my youth I had picked up the habit of using God’s name inappropriately. It always bothered me, but was such a habit that I never seemed to be able to break it. Finally, I offered it up to God and asked him to change it for me. Over the last couple of years, that habit has pretty much disappeared, thankfully. But as for all those other words? I do and will continue to swear with a clean conscience.

  • Manny Fragoza

    I swear out of frustration,but not in a typical conversation with anyone.I dont use the Lords name in vain, or rather when im cursing. Not that it makes swearing any better.

  • Tom

    Swearing like any other characteristic that is of the flesh or old nature or the 1st Adam’s nature is of the bad tree. This tree has been cut down in God’s economy. It is fruit from a tree that CANNOT bear good fruit. If we are partakers of the New Creation, we are encouraged to put off theses things and put on Christ. The members of our bodies, tongue included will obey or be servants of sin or of Righteousness that leads to Eternal Life. So your attitude to swearing should indicate what source you are living from. Do you not know or are you ignorant of the truth that as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death and have been raised into New Life in Christ Jesus, therefore as Christ CANNOT swear, neither CAN we.

  • I agree with Ryan

  • jeremy

    Manny, what passage would you point to that makes your point. You making a statement like “vulgarity in our conversation/life cannot be justified, it is sin and must die” without specific Scriptural support sets you up as either one of three things: (1) You’re claiming “special revelation” from God Himself (apart from Scripture) which is tantamount to Papal decree. (2) You’re claiming to be the Holy Spirit which is tantamount to Heresy or (3) You’re setting up your own standard on top of the expectation of Scripture which is legalism and, I believe Jesus called that kind of person a “whitewashed tomb”.


  • jeremy

    I’m with Patrick. I think you’d better get be a olympic long jumper if you’re going to try to make Scripture say that using a curse word is “evil” without context (I could use the phrase “trash can” in an evil way and utilize a four-letter word in a way that “builds up”). You’re taking quite a leap there, Katie.

  • jeremy

    I think it’s important to differentiate between “vulgarity” and “profanity.” The former are words that one might say are “inappropriate” (“cuss” words). In my opinion, they’re not treated at all in Scripture. Often, in an effort to prove a point, people (like those commenting here) are assigning these kinds of words to Scriptural phrases like “unwholesome talk” – this displays a poor hermeneutic at best (forcing one’s own opinion on a text rather than letting it speak for itself). So, in my opinion, while “vulgarity” may be socially inacceptable (particularly among those with a poor hermeneutic – namely in church) it’s impossible to make legitimate case for those words (specifically, not contextually) being “sin” in Scripture.

    In the case of “profanity” (words expressing a “profane” meaning or a meaning that makes less of God), we’re dealing with a completely different animal. While Scripture does not mention “vulgarity”, it does give us CLEAR commands (literally, “thou shalt not…”) related to how God’s name is to be used. That being said, I believe (again, my opinion – based on what I believe Scripture teaches) that saying, texting or using God’s name in a way that makes less of Him is an affront to both His character and His person. So, “OMG” is a REALLY big deal!

    Unfortunately, there are far too many Christians with their panties in a wad about “four letter words” rather than dealing with the seeming onslaught of tolerance of the use of God’s Holy name in vanity. In short, I don’t give a “crap” (I don’t want to deal with a bunch of uptight pharisees today) about vulgarity, but take my God’s name in vain and you’d better be ready for a fight.

  • One of my favorite uses of s*** in a sermon comes from Tony Campolo: “Today, I have three things to say: One: 10,000 children died from starvation last night. Second: most of you don’t give a s***. Three: Most of you are more concerned about the fact that I just said s*** than you are concerned that ten thousand children died of starvation last night.”

  • Would I behave and speak in the same if Christ Jesus was standing beside me (not that He is not).
    I do not believe our definition of vulgar would meet the mark…just a thought

  • The thing about language is that it is inherently contextual. What we consider “vulgar” in one culture can be no big deal in another (even allowing for translation). In the North American situation, some subcultures define virtually nothing as vulgar while others have a much longer list of words deemed inappropriate for no context. By not swearing in some places you’re taking yourself out of the conversation while by swearing in other places you are taking yourself out of the conversation. You have to know your context. I swear rarely and usually for calculated reasons. By calculated I mean that I consider my audience and I consider whether there are more effective ways to say it.

    What I have a hard time respecting are those who simply substituting vulgarities for half of their language. At that point they aren’t really able to make a point. But sometimes I do think the added strength of the word could convey a point better. For example, Paul used the word skubalon which is essentially best translated as s*** although most translations water it down to something like “refuse” or “garbage” or “excrement.” He was talking about how all of his birthright and his religious deeds were s*** compared to the grace of God. I definitely think that saying it that way packs a more meaningful punch than saying one of the watered-down versions we get in our translations, helping to see the gravity of the comparison.

    So in summary, swearing has its place but that place is not simply to be cool; it is to communicate best the point that needs to be made to those you are communicating with.

  • Renee

    Well, I NEVER swear because I don’t want to offend anyone. On the other hand, it doesn’t really offend me. I don’t like it when people toss around God’s name, I don’t think it’s respectful to do that with any friend’s name. Scripture does seem to indicate, as several people have pointed out, that we should respect cultural taboos, etc. However, cussing is becoming the new normal in our society and is generally not viewed as offensive. I don’t think anything makes “bad words” “bad” except for culture. That being said, often cussing is used when speaking disrespectfully, hatefully, or judgmentally of someone. But, God is love, so there’s no place for speaking without love and respect. So what I’m saying is that the intent of the cussing is what either offends or doesn’t offend me. I can’t say whether it’s right or wrong to cuss when your attitude is loving and respectful, perhaps it depends on who you’re talking to- don’t say it when someone will be offended.

  • Katie

    We are not responsible for what others say. Jesus calls us to examine our own hearts. Love covers a multitude of sins, and you just might be the only ‘Jesus’ somebody sees. When I say ‘you’ I mean us all.
    Accept in love, preach the true gospel and if needed, use words; and if in doubt, read the red. A little compromise can “leaven the whole bread.”
    What is permissible is not permissible for others. There will be those whose walk with Jesus is in a different place than yours, and Jesus may be dealing with that one in the area of swearing. We are the light, a city on a hill and Jesus has called us to higher ground. Be a true witness of the true word, for the word is flesh and dwells among us.

  • This seems rather to have missed the mark. Yes, you can know a person’s heart by what comes out of their mouth, but does that mean that swearing in and of itself is evil? Why can’t a swear word be used in a “good” context? I don’t see why all “swear words” automatically have to receive an “evil” label.

  • I’ll try to avoid swearing in this comment, but what I do use I will censor.

    The fact that there exist Christians in this world who swear is something that I tend to go back and forth on, mostly because I can see both sides of the issue. For some, vulgarity in language is offensive for a number of reasons, some of them good ones. Certain vulgar words and phrases serve as direct insults to the female gender, demeaning their humanity, and by all means should be avoided in that context (though gender, racial, ethnic, or sexual discrimination do not require swear words to achieve their impact).

    Beyond that, however, it’s hard for me to get upset about using words that, though conisdered “vulgar” are simply words for body parts (@ss = gluteus maximus, etc.) or bodily functions that every human being performs, but we’re just not comfortable talking about it for reasons I’d consider outdated. It’s not eloquent, but eloquence isn’t as common as some would like, nor is it necessary to express an idea with eloquence, which often just becomes a verbose expulsion of one’s hot air (academia, I’m looking at you).

    What matters most, in my mind, is the message conveyed with the words we use. As mentioned above, destructive attitudes such as insult, injury, discrimination, and dehumanization don’t require slurs to hit their mark, yet we try to avoid them all the same. Our language needs to always be positive, no matter what words we use. If I accomplish some great task, and my friend says to me “F—in’ right on, man!” I’m not going to be angry with him. He just congratulated me, why should I be mad because he used a word deemed “inappropriate” by the FCC? I’m happy he’s happy for me, and I’m going to express my happiness back in a positive way as well.

    I’m hard pressed to find scripture to support Christians not swearing. I think that Jesus had no trouble directly insulting the leaders of his day who weighed heavy yokes on the population they served, and speaks of inner sinful natures reflected in one’s actions rather than the simple words one uses. Paul has no trouble using the greek word for “crap” when speaking to the Philippians (it’s not rubbish, and it’s a lot “worse” than crap), though he does tell the Ephesians to avoid “unwholesome talk”.

    Do I tend to think less of someone who swears quite a bit? Unfortunately, yes, but I think that the use of “vulgarities” is viewed as “inappropriate” more because of cultural views rather than good exegesis. I will not support the tearing down of other human beings with any language, but I’m finding more and more that, if someone is buidling up another person, even if it’s “vulgar” the way they do it.

  • It is as Katie writes above. We all fall short…vulgarity in our conversation/life cannot be justified, it is sin and must die…the dying is the really hard part…As John Sanford once said…enjoy your death…it ain’t easy

    Matt 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

  • Francois Nell

    First we must define swearing. What is in and what is out. Many words that are considered swear words are so classified by tradition and not by fact and logic. Some people go ballistic when a fellow Christian use some of these “black listed” words … like “god”. As “god” is not the name of my God (or any other) I can’t see it as a swear word. One example.

  • Katie

    Luke 6:45 ~ “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”
    Godly character is built in the secret place, when no one is looking. What you fill your heart with will overflow from your heart….

  • I won’t come on here and act like I don’t swear. I do from time to time, and while I used to feel like I was an unrepentant/unsaved/whatever Christian because of it, I then realized how much condemnation I was sitting under, and that doesn’t come from God. Then I tried substituting my words for other words in order to ‘whitewash’ myself, but that didn’t last long either; I realized it was the same thing. It’s never been about the outward, but in the inward. So where I’m at now is I understand it is good to master the tongue, but I also realize that Christianity’s view of “holiness” has been redefined as morality, so if I swear, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. God isn’t either. Also, I believe we should watch what we say in accordance to more than swearing, but that’s just my opinion on the matter. I realize this isn’t an exhaustive answer, but as someone who passionately loves the Lord and is excited to see His gospel and Kingdom revealed in the world more day by day, I know God isn’t judging me for swearing, so if any other Christian is going to judge me for that, that’s their loss for missing out on getting to know who I am.

  • Greg

    My thoughts are we should strive for holiness in all aspects of our life, which is only made possible by God’s grace and power, BUT sin is sin. Jesus has covered and washed away our sin, past, present, and future. If you are IN CHRIST, you are fully forgiven, freely forgiven, and forever forgiven. (Rom. 8:1, Eph. 2:8-9, 1 Pet. 3:18/Heb. 9:28). If it is coming off your tongue, it is coming from your heart, so perhaps some heart examination is in need.

    (P.S. when I say “you”, I am preaching to myself.)

  • Daniel Farrow


    Its my view that swearing as a Christian is a symptom of deeper issues that the individual isn’t willing to address. I personally believe that swearing isn’t pleasing to God and isn’t fruitful speech before God, but I used to swear as a means to cope with and hide from my own bitterness and emotional pain. As a shepherd in God’s Kingdom, if I hear another believer swear, I find myself interested in digging a little deeper if the person is willing and finding out what the deeper issues are. God’s love needs to be applied with the wisdom of God on a case-by-case basis