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Bad Language

Courtesy Bibleinfo.com


Does the kind of language we use really matter? You’ll find the answer in the book of Ephesians 5:4, TLB. "Dirty stories, foul talk and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead remind each other of God's goodness and be thankful!"

What about misusing God's name? Does the Bible say anything about that? One of the commandments forbids the misuse of God’s name. Look in Exodus 20: 7, TLB. "You shall not use the name of Jehovah your God irreverently, nor use it to swear to a falsehood. You will not escape punishment if you do."

Will someone who wants to be a Christian have to change the way he talks? Discover the answer in Colossians 3:8, NIV. "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."

Jesus' followers are to speak with care. You’ll find it in Colossians 4:6, NIV. "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."

What we believe shows by how we speak. Surprised? Then look in Proverbs 13:3, NIV. "He who guards his lips guards his soul, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin."

Even young people can be examples for others by their choice of good language. It’s in Timothy 4:12, NIV. "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."



Bad Language ( ...take 2 )

by Phil Johnson

Where should we draw the line in deciding what language is appropriate or inappropriate for Christians, especially in a public context like a book or a blog or a sermon, when the whole world might be listening?

Here are some points I want to make clear:

It's hard to be perfectly consistent on this question, because so much about it is inherently subjective. What's profanity in Hindi doesn't offend my ears at all, because it evokes no meaning in my mind. For that matter, certain English words that have no evil connotations throughout the Commonwealth are jarringly offensive here in America, and vice versa. (The late, greatly beloved founder of our ministry's New Zealand branch used to plead with me to try to convince our pastor not to use the word bum to describe a drunken derelict, because that word was simply not used for any reason in polite society by Kiwis from his generation. There's a totally innocuous British expression meaning "stay cheerful" that probably shouldn't be used in mixed company in America. I'd go on giving examples, but I don't want to offend anyone unnecessarily.)

Nonetheless, we ought to aim at matching our words to our profession of faith. Dirty language and casual cussing seems to be a besetting sin in the "Emerging Church" movement. I don't know if it's a generational thing, a cultural thing, one of the ramifications of the blithe worldliness that pervades the philosophy behind the "Emerging Church," or all of the above. But I listened to the first few podcasts from Emergent, and I was floored by how freely vulgar language and "mild" profanity flows in the so-called "Emerging Conversation." "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10).

The Bible isn't all that confusing in what it says about this issue. Several commentators pointed out that the Bible contains some language that would not be deemed polite for public reading under most normal circumstances. Others seemed to be suggesting that if there's no convenient set of rules or list of disapproved words in the Bible, pretty much anything short of taking God's name in vain is OK. Granted that the Bible records some instances of indelicate language, and there are a few occasions when godly men—including Paul, Elijah, and Ezekiel—used some shockingly graphic lowbrow imagery. But it's not true that Scripture is utterly devoid of any restrictions on the use of coarse language.

Ephesians 5:3-4, for example. That passage and its cross-references do establish a clear, albeit subjective, principle governing the use of coarse, vulgar, and filthy language: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." The Greek expressions for "filthiness . . . foolish talking . . . coarse jesting" are speaking of exactly the same kind of language your mother used to wash your mouth out with soap for. Check any lexicon. It's a pretty sweeping prohibition against every kind of "bad" words. See also Ephesians 4:29.

Granted, there's no banned-word list, and based on Scripture's own example, the prohibition against the mere mention of fornication is not as absolute as a woodenly-literal reading of that text might suggest.

What's more, all of us are guilty of violating the standard these commandments give us. We do it all the time. In practical terms, it's impossible for us not to sin in this. "We all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man" (James 3:2).

Nonetheless, Ephesians 5:3-4 means something, and it's worth pondering carefully. When we have an admittedly subjective commandment like this, that's not a warrant to push the envelope and see how close to impropriety we can come, especially for the sheer shock value of being heard. Rather, it's a good time to exercise extreme caution and stay as far away as possible from whatever is obviously in bad taste—perhaps even what is merely questionable.

Finally, for those who always insist that absolute guidelines or rules written in black and white are necessary to make sense of (or practically apply) a principle like that of Ephesians 4:29, I can't help you. Just keep your coarse and filthy words away from me please.

PS:  To save unnecessary comments, let me anticipate and address two arguments the pro-vulgarity lobby always makes:

Are these biblical commands really concerned with words, or is this about attitudes and ideas? Both. Colossians 3:8 is expressly concerned with what kind of words we use. Ditto with Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4.

Why are some words deemed taboo when an exact synonym might be perfectly acceptable in mixed company? The question has interested me for a long time. I work with words for a living, so I think about language a lot. The distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable words are admittedly hard to account for. But I still think there are good reasons to recognize and respect the boundaries civilized society places on language. For one thing, it affects our testimony. That alone should be sufficient reason for Christians to honor the distinction between bad words and their more socially-acceptable substitutes. After all, the fact that Paul bans "filthy language" in Colossians 3:8 without giving a banned-word list or any further guidelines suggests that he was expecting them simply to follow whatever convention was recognized in the polite society of that time. Again, there is a measure of subjectivity here. But that's no reason to throw out the principle altogether.




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