Christians and profanity: What does the Bible say?

By Hal Lane
Sep 17, 2007

“What’s the big deal about profanity?” It’s a question I sometimes hear from young people who consider profanity a normal part of modern communication. Indeed, some Christian leaders in supposedly “cutting-edge” ministries use profanity in their presentations in an attempt to relate to the street language many unsaved people use.

What is profanity? The word profane literally means “outside the temple.” The term originally identified people or things that were secular as opposed to religious. The proliferation of profanity in American culture indicates secularization and an attack on Christian values. Media ratings of movies, music and videos continue to use language as a criterion, but standards of censorship on public airwaves are clearly eroding.

Profanity is used for shock value in expressing anger and humor. The words often are associated with sexuality and filth. Names of the Deity are used to bring additional potency and irreverence to the expressions. It is worth noting in our politically correct culture that the blasphemous use of the names of God and Jesus Christ are not regarded as “hate speech.”

The Bible recognizes the power of words. God spoke His creation into existence, and the gift of speech is one aspect of man’s creation in the image of God (Gen. 2:19-20). In the revelation of God’s law, words as well as actions are assigned moral values. Lying, blasphemy, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and cursing are examples of sinful speech forbidden in the Mosaic Law.

The New Testament also commands believers to be pure in speech by controlling their tongues: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be this way” (James 3:9-10). Christians should honor the purpose of speech by using our mouths to praise God and leading others to obey the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. Every word we speak should be “gracious” and “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). We should always ask, “What would Jesus say?”

Christians are called upon to live differently and to act differently than the world of unbelievers. I do not need to speak profanity to win a cursing unbeliever anymore than I need to drink alcohol to win an alcoholic. The words of Scripture have all the potency and power we need to reach the heart of the lost.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Hal Lane is pastor of West Side Baptist Church in Greenwood, South Carolina, and chairman of the trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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37 Comments

1 On Sep 18, 2007, at 10:42pm, D.E. Beasley wrote:

To use profanity seems today to an acceptable use of profane speech.  I have always said that a man who must use profanity to speak must have a very low vocabulary.

2 On Sep 19, 2007, at 6:56pm, Steven Wales wrote:

As hard as it is for Christians to actively share their faith, the passive act of simply NOT engaging in profanity can open a lot of doors.  Many times my not-cussing has caused people I work with to ask me about my faith.  People notice.

3 On Sep 19, 2007, at 7:18pm, Kristal wrote:

I am a Christian of about 4 years and I was
amazed how the Spirit changed me this way. The
closer I got to God the less I used profanity. I think it is a good way to discern who is His
and who is not.

4 On Sep 19, 2007, at 7:58pm, Janie Johnson wrote:

You know, it has been amazing to me, but more and more “christians” are using the term, “Oh, God!” It seems that they don’t even flinch anymore, but I do.  Most of my Pentacostal friends are the guiltiest.  They strive for plain living practices where people can “view” their obedience, but if you listen long; you begin to hear the profaning of HIS name. It is “Oh God” this, and “Oh God” that. I don’t even want to type it, but I am falling guilty when I get frustrated and say"Oh, My Dear God” as I call on him to see me through. It is NOT acceptable in any venue.

5 On Sep 19, 2007, at 8:58pm, Nancy Goss wrote:

Profanity, it seems to me, fosters aggression.  I may be to sensitive but when I hear even the tamest word I feel as if I have been violated in some small way.  It is so sad that our children feel that this is a proper way to communicate their feelings.  My own children, all Christians, have no problem with “light profanity”.  They are all adults!  We did not speak it in our home so they had to have come up with it in work environments, etc. 
This is just one way Satan is breaking down our culture.

6 On Sep 19, 2007, at 11:36pm, Marilyn Hebenheimer wrote:

My pastor would never consider using profanity at any time.

7 On Sep 20, 2007, at 12:22am, Barb Paton wrote:

John 17:16 contains the prayer of Jesus for his followers and for US.  He clearly states that we are not of this world, just as he is not of this world.  How can the world see Jesus in us, to see that there is something different about us if we speak and behave as the world does? 
Jesus Christ prayed that God would protect his own from the evil one.  We need to pray continually for a renewal of holy living in our lives.  People will respond to the love of Christ showing through us; we do not need to become one with them in speech and action for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.  We need only be obedient.

8 On Sep 29, 2007, at 9:31pm, michelle Polk wrote:

I am so thankful for your article. This really does need to be addressed in the body of Christ. As does many other things that get shifted to the back burner these days. There are so many other big things happening that the unleavened bread has been able to get and spoil the rest.

9 On Nov 28, 2007, at 2:36am, Micah Bruce wrote:

I would like to point out that a profane word is not intrinsically sinful, but rather the sin comes from the condition of the heart.  For Example:
 
  one could call somebody an “idiot” beacuse they were SO angry towards them, with malice in their heart.  That would be sinful.

  or

  one could stub their toe on the edge of a chair, and then exclaim “S*%#” to express their physical pain.  And I would challenge that using a profane word in this situation would be sinful. 

  Just a thought, what does anyone think about this thought process?  I just know that when Jesus talks to the teachers of the law, he almost ALWAYS is reminding them that it is not the surface action that is the sin, but rather the condition of their heart.  The Pharisees and Sadducees LOOKED so good on the surface, but their hearts were far from the Lord.  Everything always comes back to the heart.  Where is your heart?

10 On Dec 29, 2007, at 11:51pm, Meekrob wrote:

Okay so profanity reflects the condition of the heart. Jesus Christ was prone to anger. Would he not have used pronfaity, impulsively, to express his frustrations? A healthy heart should, at times, be prone to anger (after all, there is much in the world to be dissatisfied about). Therefore, if one is honest in their expression, they should have the freedom within themselves, to let their heart manifest itself through their speech, even if profanity is the necessary vehicle.

11 On Jan 10, 2008, at 5:50pm, Doug wrote:

important subject but “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” brothers and sisters!
and read Phil 3:8 sometime in a more earthy translation which reflects the harshness (a godly one) of the Greek!

peace-

12 On Jan 31, 2008, at 12:23am, Robert S. Hatten wrote:

also I learned years ago from john 1:1, that Jesus Christ is the Word.
Also old, not current politically correct, dictionaries put first definition to profanity is blasphemy.

13 On Jan 31, 2008, at 7:23pm, Janie J wrote:

Please understand…..I do believe that out of the mouth .....comes the condition of the heart.  When we say or do evil…..HE knows WHY.
That is what I feel that we will be judged upon.  The whys….. of what we have done, and what we have said.  Thanks be to HIM who knows our heart.  Only praise, reverence and worship should be mentioned in the same sentence with such a Holy King.  He is My King!  I pray that I will honor Him .  Read the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21.  We all just need to be Christ-Followers…. worthy to ask…......and the unimaginable will take place.  Thanks for this unusual place to discuss and give praise.

14 On Mar 10, 2008, at 5:37am, Julien Gillis wrote:

Colossians 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.


In God’s eyes, saying “darn” when you mess up is just as bad as saying the F word. You’re using it as a curse, in anger. And no sin is worse than another, so…

15 On Mar 18, 2008, at 3:17am, Todd wrote:

I want to comment on Dr. Land’s posted explanation of why he called Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) a “schmuck,” which did not allow readers to post comments. 
Land’s explanation is that he merely meant that Schumer is a “jerk.”  How is that any better?  When did those with different political views become the enemy rather than (if they don’t know Christ) the mission field?  How can we reconcile name-calling with our call to reach out with the love of Christ?
Land concurred with Weis that his statement was a “relatively harmless insult.”  That seems like an oxymoron, particularly from one who communicates in a capacity that is supposed to be representative of the SBC.  When our leaders engage in political attacks, it damages our reputation and hinders our cause.  We are not going to win people to Christ by insulting them.  Besides, salvation isn’t found in the government.  It’s only found in the loving sacrifice of Jesus - and that’s what we should be communicating.

16 On Mar 18, 2008, at 5:00pm, Janie J wrote:

Then why do you attack Dr. Land?  In such a sneaky way too.  This is a comment page for a completely different thought.  Please do what you claim to preach.  DO NOT JUDGE!
Over all, Dr. Land has represented us all very well.  When in the realm of politics, He comes across calmly, and well prepared.  We should be proud, and praying for him…......NOT putting him down.

17 On Apr 2, 2008, at 1:25am, Fiti wrote:

I have a friend at work strait from the pillipines he knows little english and he has exepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  So when guys at his last jop tried to get him to use profanity he knew in his heart and by the Holy Spirit in him that it was wrong. The Lord just showed me through my friends situation that profanity is not write. Because I am a baby Christian and sometimes I feel as if I may be being to religous or just takeing things to far but the Lord keeps me strait by the Spirit and situations like this.

18 On Apr 2, 2008, at 8:10pm, Janie J wrote:

That story about the guy from the Phillipines was so true.  The Holy Spirit should be in control of every Christian.  He indwells us at salvation and we can be filled, if we seek HIM.  He keeps our tongue on the right path.  Thanks be to HIM for His grace and mercy.

19 On Apr 2, 2008, at 10:11pm, michelle polk wrote:

I agree with you. The Spirit does lead us in ways of righteousness. Let the meditation of my heart and the words of my mouth be pleasing in your sight,oh Lord!

20 On May 12, 2008, at 5:49pm, Becky wrote:

In reference to the comment, Jesus did not sin. He did not use profanity. Jesus is perfect. Like when he had to go in the wilderness for 40 days. No matter what Satan tempted him with, Jesus still did not sin. When we are born again , we must turn from our sinful ways and keep our eyes on God. The Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us. We must love one another and Love the the lord with our heart, souls and mind. May Peace, Love and Joy be in our your hearts forever.

21 On Jun 13, 2008, at 9:56pm, ANGEL wrote:

As I was reading all of the comments on profanity I find it quite interesting because, I my self have been having a hard time with it lately, I have been so frustrated in a lot of areas lately and been vulger.It has been very unsetteling for me because I know that it is wrong, these comments has gotten me to thinking about how careful I should be in choosing my words even in the time of anger and frustration. thank you

22 On Aug 12, 2008, at 11:36pm, Dee Dee Bass wrote:

I was just asked by my daughter of 19 exactly why cursing is a sin….Thank Goodness for Google becaue I didn’t have a clue where to look in the Bible to find the answer.  This is where it led me too.  What a great website, Thanks for the guidance.  Let her throw something else at me….At least I know she wants to learn…or challenge or whatever, I am still able to teach her.

23 On Aug 29, 2008, at 9:50pm, Tim Campbell wrote:

I have a confession to make - lately I have been very angry with God; it came to a head Wednesday when a tire that I just changed went flat. I just spent $100 to have the tire replaced and the wheels balanced. Then about a week later it’s flat. Well, this isn’t the problem - it’s a mixture of poverty, isolation, anger with God and stuff from the past… I said some pretty horrible things; I took God’s name in vain several times that day, using the F-word, the S-word… please pray for me about this sinful anger.

God bless,
Tim

24 On Sep 2, 2008, at 4:22pm, Becky wrote:

To Tim Campbell, I will pray for you. I have had some difficulties myself. I have been depressed and my blood pressure went up because of my anger and frustration. It is not good for us to be angry because it will lead to stress and stress is not good for our bodies. We need to keep reading our Bible and trusting God.Maybe you will be able to get to the root of your anger and ask God to help you handle it. I wish you the best.God Bless you.
Ephesians 4:26-27
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

25 On Oct 13, 2008, at 9:12pm, Nino Lyons wrote:

I feel that “curse words” as they are generally called are social construct created by us (humans). Isn’t cursing wishing bad on someone because in different cultures, places, regions, and times (meaning generational changes)certain things are accepted and not only that, but moreover aren’t deemed as bad in the first place.Likewise, some gestures we utilyze in America as positive can be seen as negative somewhere else.

26 On Nov 8, 2008, at 7:18pm, sara wrote:

can you be saved and still say curse words

27 On Nov 12, 2008, at 4:06am, Michelle wrote:

I think you can be saved and say unacceptable things. Speaking them can be a bad habit and take a while to get them out of your system.

28 On Dec 9, 2008, at 5:30am, Gina wrote:

I believe that christians are the poster children for Jesus. If unbelievers hear you using profanity they won’t pay attention to you when you try to witness to them; They will turn you off. The holy spirit will pull at you letting you know that you shouldn’t speak that way and a close relationship with God is required to have that.

29 On Dec 11, 2008, at 3:22am, wai sin tam(i'm chinese) wrote:

I’m 13 years old and i curse a lot but i want to stop it but i can’t, it’s like somebody is controlling me what to say i want to stop it. How do i stop it ? God please help me?!?!?!?

30 On Dec 11, 2008, at 5:40pm, Becky wrote:

In reference to the 13 year old. The closer you get to know God and have a relationship with him and do his will, the less you will cuss. I know myself that when I am not in tune with God or quit going to church for a while,  it is easier for Satan to sliver his self in before you know it. Just pray and ask God for his forgiveness because God forgives you. We all fall short sometimes. God bless you.

31 On Jan 4, 2009, at 1:15pm, Matthew Pawloski wrote:

So I am kind of curious…when did the church adopt a code of ethics? The bible is truth 100% but I am curious as to how we label a word as “profane” or not. I don’t understand where someone decided that crap and the s-word implied different meanings, and that one was unclean. The bible to my understanding does not have a set notty list of words that need not to be spoken. And I noticed a comment suggesting someone conviction for saying “Oh, God”. I don’t understand what is wrong in crying “Oh, God”, he is the only truth and when in awe of something contradictory or even something just emence, what more can you say…::shrugs::

32 On Jan 6, 2009, at 12:18am, chelz in mississippi wrote:

crap and the s-word
While these words would be profanity in our country they wouldn’t necessarily be in another.Paul was always cautious for his weaker brother. If using these types of words would dilute his christianity in the eyes of his brother then from his own testimony I would guess he wouldn’t say them. (forever of abstaining from meats sacrificed to idols which were nothing) To be honest if I heard a seasoned believer speaking crude language when I first got saved I probably wouldn’t have listened to another word he spoke. There are probably going to be these types of questions for the rest of our life on earth. It is important to lift our brother higher than ourselves. Since when is speaking nonsense relative to speaking? Why do we want to speak words that have little value in getting our point across. Let’s pull out the dictionary if we can’t do any better than to revert to trash.

33 On Jan 10, 2009, at 3:04am, Matthew Pawloski wrote:

Chelz, I absolutely agree with you. I believe what is appropriate to understand is the divide of who is doing the judging. The lost judge our actions as good or bad comparative to our governments code of ethics where as Christians, mostly immature ones judge us unscriptural according to the church’s code of ethics which have problems of its own. We are moving into a new season of knowledge and understanding, and I have accepted that just because the church of the past has established something as being accurate doesn’t mean it is 100% correct. It is up to us to have the responsibility of our words, and better yet actions. We have to have precision in what we say and who it is said around (for example, your reference to the cultural differences of foreign countries, or perhaps just different groups of people). We have to remember that our greatest goal is sharing the gospel of Jesus with the world and to the lost. My heart is to see the lost come to know Christ!

34 On Jan 10, 2009, at 3:31am, Matthew Pawloski wrote:

1Co 9:19-27 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.  (20)  And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;  (21)  To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  (22)  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  (23)  And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.  (24)  Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

35 On Jan 10, 2009, at 3:59am, Matthew Pawloski wrote:

This is very interesting in that we have to be very careful about how we interpret what the apostle Paul is trying to share with us. I believe when Paul suggest that he is “free from all men”, he means exactly that! His freedom is from the antics of indoctrinations and codes of ethics, and to the lost, they don’t see him “mightier than thou” rather, just one of the guys, but perfected through truth and love. The bible establishing favor with man and God for those who are committed to their faith! The wisdom he is sharing is that sometimes we have to conform to certain codes and law to gain the respect of those we desire to be obedient and minister to. To the lost this is a little easier being that they have more or less of code of ethics to abide which is that of their government. We can almost use all of this to draw a parallel and see what Christ presented while here on earth.

36 On Apr 12, 2009, at 6:01am, John wrote:

Dear Mr. Lane,
My brother and I are at odds over an issue. I insist that Jesus was without sin and did not use profanity. When I broach the subject of his language to him, my brother justifies his use of profanity by claiming that Jesus used profanity by saying “throw them on the dungpile” in one of his speeches/sermons (which one, I am unsure). I say that if this is true, then it is in reference to throwing them out with the garbage, he claims it means literally “Sh!t-pile” and constitutes the use of profanity by Jesus. Please explain this matter to me so that I may forward your response to my brother for his or my edification. Thank you for your time.

John

37 On Apr 16, 2009, at 2:23am, linda wrote:

Dr. John,
The real point here in your agrument with your brothter is that Jesus used a different word than what your brother is referring to. Jesus may have used the word that referred to something else in another term, but the point is that HE literally did not use the negative term. I would point this fact out to your brother.  There are many words used for the same subject as we all well know. This does not deminish what Our Glorious Christ did for us all, encluding your brother, who I feel is just agruing just to agrue. Some people tend to enjoy the banter and negate the true issues at hand. I would just ingnore his point of agruement and stand on your faith alone. For it is by FAITH we are saved and not on what we can prove and agrue over. I tell people that my faith means to much to me to agrue over what they can or can not believe. Let us pray for you brother and others who feel this way. 
Sincerely,
LF

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