Is Profanity Sinful?
Dear Pastor Lance – I heard you say the other day that when you hear profanity, it doesn’t even register with you and that you don’t really hear it. It seemed like you were saying that curse words aren’t that bad. Doesn’t the Bible talk a lot about filthy language and how it offends God? (Eph 4:29; Col 3:8; Prov 6:12; 8:13) I’m just trying to clarify. Thank you.
Thank you so much for sending me a note and asking the question. As a true Berean you question what you hear and check it against Scripture. Well done!!!
Now, let me see if I can clarify.
You were asking about bad language and then you cited four verses. I love the verses but if you look closer at the context of each you will find that the speech almost always refers to tearing someone else down, not about using profanity in general.
Let’s take a look at Ephesians 4:25-32 first, since it’s the most possible that it’s talking about profanity of the four…
Eph 4:25-32 – “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
As you can see it talks about lying to people, being angry with others, stealing from others…then it talks about corrupting talk and the need to build others up instead of tearing them down. It continues on talking about bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Ultimately in closing it talks again about treating each other kindly.
So the whole passage is about being harmful to others, not about using filthy language in general.
Almost all the passages that I could find have to do with the same matter. If you look at Colossians 3:8 it’s the same. If you look at the Old Testament verses you mentioned in proverbs, again the context is lying about others to gain something (i.e. Testifying falsely in court – God can’t stand lying).
The perverse mouth is one that is twisted to harm others. Those verses don’t need profanity to get the job done, in fact most of those situations don’t use profanity at all (it would ruin what they were trying to do).
Now then, remember, what I also said is that profanity in general is not a good habit to get into and doesn’t reflect a Christlike attitude, or maturity.
I was certainly not condoning using profanity as part of your normal speech. It demonstrates ignorance a lot of the time and a limited vocabulary. Also it tends to demonstrate that someone is trying to act tough or posture in some way. That’s not befitting a Christian.
There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t think that Christians should curse, but I don’t think that one of those is that God can’t handle bad words. Remember, our words are defined through time and we make up words just to communicate feelings. A lot of our profanity means intensity. We are limited in expressing ourselves and so we use simple catch words to stress how we feel. We aren't trying to be hurtful to others. (Perhaps embarrassingly immature in our dialogue, but a lot of people are.)
The place where profanity crosses the line, in my opinion, is where it gets mean and is used to tear others down, like calling each other names. In our society some of those bad words still convey a mean tone to them and are used to harm. It depends on the context.
Now, I’m sure that if we dug deep enough and expanded context we could easily find that God is not a fan of filthy talk, usually about negative sexuality, or diminishing the worth of others, so again, let me say that I’m not encouraging the use of profanity in the believer. I am merely saying that when someone is talking around us, some sensitive Christians bristle at the sound of a bad word, yet allow racism with no profanity. They get up in arms about the F-word, but are completely fine with gossip.
When someone is talking, listen to their heart. What they are conveying may be bad indeed, but you won’t always know from the specific words being used, you need to know the context.