As with other discussions about language, this post contains words that may offend certain readers. If you’re offended by these words, feel free to skip reading this post and move on to less offensive topics, like dwarf bunnies.
As we’ve seen my foray into scriptural backing for the popular Christian prohibition against swearing fell short of, well, any results at all. Swearing, it turns out, is about making oaths, and the prohibitions against it are more about pure intentions (lack of deceit) than pure language (not saying words like “shit”).
But, I knew that Christians use the phrases “swear words” and “curse words” interchangeably, and I assumed that I’d find my answers there. So, I began my second step on my journey. Maybe now I would learn if the Bible forbids “crap”.
Well, finding broad commands to not curse was surprisingly more difficult than finding the same for not swearing. Whereas swearing was forbidden directly and clearly, cursing seemed to be handled more circumspectly. Like in the case of Romans 12:14, which tells us to bless, not curse, those who persecute us. In fact, many of the biblical mentions of curses contrast them with blessings in this manner.
And that makes sense when you consider what curses actually were at the time. They were prayers or divine commands for some spiritually empowered vehicle to harm or injure someone. This is the death half of the dichotomy depicted in Proverbs 18:21 (the classic “power of the tongue” verse), while blessing is the life half of the dichotomy.
Again, like my digging into “swear words”, my search for “curse words” revealed a powerful series of lessons about how to live my life, but I could not find anything remotely to do with there being special words that are inherently wrong.
Ancient [Bad?] Language
This was reinforced when I researched the original languages. While the Bible’s original authors words in Greek and Hebrew were more diverse related to cursing than swearing, the results were the same for my purposes. Despite using more words that we translate to “curse” and related terms (“cursing”, “cursed”, etc.), not a single one of these depicts anything resembling the popular interpretation.
In other words, telling someone to “rot in Hell” is wrong because of the evil intention behind it (wishing bad circumstances upon someone) and not the presence of the heinous H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
These Are Not the Words You’re Looking For
So far as I can tell, we’ve somehow usurped the original intent of these Scriptures and the original meanings of these words. What was a set of powerful teachings about heart motives has been transformed into some superficial legalism about words to avoid in polite company.
What was a set of powerful teachings about heart motives has been transformed into some superficial legalism about words to avoid in polite company.
We’ve made room for thinks to be said like “I swear, if I wasn’t a Christian man, I’d have some specific words to tell you about where you can stick that.” We’ve totally missed the point.
But my old search wasn’t over. Swearing isn’t about bad words, and cursing isn’t about colorful metaphors. Fine. Perhaps the Bible’s instructions about “unwholesome” speech can tackle this issue once and for all…