Published: 22 August 2022

Cussing Christians

Cussing Christians
Image courtesy of flickr.

In the not so distant American past, even those who were not religious refrained from swearing in the presence of women and children. As our nation has grown more secular and profane, so has our use of language; some women and children have worse potty mouths than men! God’s people have never been immune to the corrupting influence of society. Consequently, it’s becoming more and more common to encounter “cussing Christians.”

God expects us to leave the bad habits and sins of the world behind when we become His disciples. God has always commanded his people to be different from the rest of the world. Peter, quoting Leviticus 11:44-45, said, “it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16 ESV). Likewise, Paul said, “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Th. 4:7 NIV).

“Cussing Christians” are a contradiction

God expects us to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us to become more like Jesus (Rom 12:2) and this includes our mouth. The New Testament is very clear about what kind of language a Christian is supposed to use:

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. (Eph. 4:29 ESV)

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Eph. 5:4 ESV)

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

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:10 ESV)

I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. (Matt. 12:36 NET)

The Bible clearly says there should be no such thing as a Christian who uses foul language. A cussing Christian is a contradiction of terms. 

Even those who claim no religious affiliation of any kind know that coarse language is not appropriate. One does not have to be a follower of Jesus to know that some words and phrases are tasteless and improper. It would seem that it is only certain “Christians” who attempt to justify filthy talk.

Justifications given by “cussing Christians”

There are three main arguments used by Christians who want to use profanity.

  1. Words are not inherently vulgar.
  2. Using the language of society opens doors for evangelism.
  3. The apostle Paul used profanity.

Words are not inherently vulgar

Christians who want to justify using profanity sometimes argue that words are not inherently bad or dirty. It is the consensus of society that determines whether words are offensive or not. After all, words that are vulgar now weren’t a generation or two ago (and vice versa). Therefore, using four letter words isn’t really that big of a deal.

It is correct that words are not vulgar in and of themselves. It is also correct that societal consensus defines profanity. What we must underscore is that society does deem some words to be offensive. A case in point is language warnings for movies, music, and TV shows. These ratings warn viewers and listeners they are about to encounter coarse language. The world does not deny this fact! It is only foul mouthed Christians who feel the need to justify bad language.

It is undeniable that there are words which even non-religious people find offensive. Therefore, those who wish to be obedient to God will avoid words and phrases which society considers corrupt and filthy (Eph. 4:29, 5:4).

Using the language of society opens doors for evangelism.

Others argue that in order for a Christian to have “street cred” we need to be able to fit in and identify with those we want to evangelize. Therefore, we need to drop a few four letter words to create evangelism opportunities. This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus told His followers to do.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16 ESV)

Jesus’s approach to evangelism calls for us to be the best examples we can possibly be, not to lower our standards. If using salty language helps us evangelize, why stop there? Why not also use illegal drugs, hire prostitutes, shoplift, and commit other sins for even more street cred? 

It is not worldly, sinful behavior which draws people to God. The world needs to see that God’s people possess something special. They need to see that our relationship with God has made our lives better. If all we can offer them is what they already have, then we really have nothing to offer at all.

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8 ESV)

Paul used profanity

There is a common misunderstanding alleging that Paul used a Greek word equivalent to the English word sh*t in Phil 3:8. 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8 ESV)

The claim is that Paul used this word for shock value because it helped him make a point. The argument goes that if Paul could use crude language, then so can all Christians. What word did Paul use and what exactly does it mean?

The Greek word in question, skubala, is variously translated as dung, rubbish, refuse, or garbage depending on which Bible translation you consult. Like most words, skubala has a range of meanings and one of those meanings is indeed excrement or manure. BDAG’s definition is, “useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, refuse, garbage (in var. senses, ‘excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps…”1

Is skubala ancient profanity?

One of skubala’s meanings is in fact manure, but does this mean skubala was a vulgar word in the ancient Greek language? Dr. Garry Manning, Jr. has performed an exhaustive search of ancient Greek literature and has concluded there is no evidence to support the idea that skubala was a swear word:

“I did a search of two exhaustive databases of ancient Greek literature (Perseus and Thesaurus Linguae Graecae) to see if σκύβαλα functions as a swear word in Greek. I discovered that nowhere in all of ancient Greek literature is there a clear example of σκύβαλα functioning as a swear word or even as a rude word. I could not find a single place where it was used as an insult, invective curse or interjection. In fact, the normal use of σκύβαλα in ancient Greek scholarly literature makes it almost impossible that it was a swear word.”2

In a follow up project, Dr. Manning researched ancient Greek papyri. The papyri tended to be authored by everyday Greek speaking people (as opposed to poets and philosophers). The use of skubala in the papyri was consistent with its use in Greek literature. There is no evidence skubala was ever used as a crude word.3 Links to Dr. Manning’s articles are in the footnotes. They are short and easy to read articles which you might find interesting. 

Another scholar weighs in

Dr. Manning’s conclusion is consistent with that of Dr. Moises Silva:

“Some have thought that Paul here deliberately uses language that is vulgar, or at least crude, perhaps comparable to English crap. However, the use of the term by various writers does not indicate such a nuance; the rendering of the NIV 2011 is probably on target: “I consider them garbage.””4

The idea that skubala was an ancient swear word has no support whatsoever. The bottom line is that skubala was not an offensive word in ancient times. 

Bad influences

If the influence of armchair scholars who perpetuate the skubala myth wasn’t bad enough, there are “pastors” who think having a potty mouth makes them cool and relevant. Well known men such as Mark Driscoll, Tony Campolo, Jeff Durbin, and Thaddeus Matthews unapologetically swear from the pulpit.5678

“Pastors” who use profanity are not pastors at all; at least not by the Bible’s definition of a pastor! Pastors are self-controlled and respectable (1 Tim 3:2). Pastors are examples to the flock (1 Pet 5:3). They serve under the chief Shepherd who is Jesus (1 Pet 5:4). Can anyone with any measure of sanctified common sense image Jesus swearing? The chief Shepherd does not swear, and therefore the under shepherds must not swear either.

Goethe said, “Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.” Likewise, nothing reveals what is in our hearts more than the words which come out of our mouths.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt. 12:34 ESV)

Cussing Christians need to kick the habit

Habits are hard to break, but every word that we utter is 100% under our control at all times. There is no place in a Christians life for vulgarity. We shame ourselves when we use foul language, tell dirty jokes, or share profanity laced memes on social media. 

Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. (2 Cor. 6:17 NKJV)

References

  1. Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000. BDAG, s.v. “σκύβαλον,” 932.
  2. https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2015/did-the-apostle-paul-use-profanity
  3. https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2022/more-skubala-did-the-apostle-paul-use-swear-words
  4. Silva, Moisés, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. Second edition. Vol 4, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014. 326.
  5. https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/driscolls-vulgarity-draws-media-attention/
  6. https://churchleaders.com/news/424664-cussing-pastor-returns-mark-driscoll-swears-addressing-abortion-calls-joe-biden-a-coward-headed-to-hell.html
  7. https://christiannews.net/2020/10/13/the-language-of-hell-apologia-pastors-preplanned-profanity-at-conference-provokes-shock-rebuke/
  8. https://www.christianpost.com/news/pastor-who-uses-cussing-to-draw-millions-doesnt-give-a-dan-what-you-think.html