Friday, October 22, 2010

What is a Curse Word?

I know. Stupid question, right?

But lately I have heard Christians begin to debate what actually makes a word a curse word. Since the Bible never says, “Thou shalt not say the ‘s’ word,” how do we know that a word is bad? Because of this I have heard Christians justify cursing.

The Bible gives a broad command for Christians to adhere to: let no corrupt word come out of your mouth (Ephesians 4:29). The word corrupt means rotten; therefore, we should never say a rotten word, whether it is on the list of curse words or not.

First, we have to realize that there are curse words. On the night of Jesus’ arrest Peter was found guilty of using one himself. Matthew 26:74 tells us that when Peter denied knowing Jesus that he began “to curse and to swear.” This verse shows that there are curse words, and that they are wrong to use.

I’m sure whatever words Peter said were not the same curse words that we have in our culture today. Here is the point: a curse word (or rotten word) is any word that culture deems inappropriate.

If our motion picture and TV ratings system can recognize a word as being rotten, then why can’t Christians? Our culture has a list of words that are simply considered to be inappropriate, and we all know what they are. If our culture decided that the expression “holy cow!” was offensive, then I would not say it. In the mean time, I will not say the words that culture really has deemed as being inappropriate.

If you are a Christian and you want to justify profanity so badly, I can’t help but wonder why. II Corinthians 6:17 tells Christians to come out from the world and be separate, and to not touch any unclean thing. Instead of wanting to talk like the world so badly, why not try to be separate from the world. Just like I say so many times, we don’t have anything to offer the world when we are just like them.

I Thessalonians 5:22 tells Christians to stay away from the very appearance of evil, so even if you think you have the right to curse, you should still abstain from it because of the appearance. Why do we have to borrow the world’s profanity?

If you realize now that you shouldn’t say bad words, then do you also realize that you shouldn’t watch or listen to them either?

According to Paul in Romans 1:32, all who take pleasure in watching people sin are as guilty as the ones who sin. In other words, enjoying a movie, show, or song that uses curse words is just as wrong as saying the curse words yourself.

I recently heard a Christian justify her use of a three letter word that referred to a person’s gluteus maximus by saying that the Bible uses that word (think "donkey" in KJV). This is an example of culture dictating what words are profane. A word that meant donkey for so long now has a profane definition. In fact, consider that the Bible goes to great lengths to not use profanity—when it said that Peter cursed, that is all it says. Notice that Matthew didn’t say, “And Peter said, ‘Oh @$#%!’”

So for Christians I believe this issue cannot be any clearer. If there is a word that is deemed as inappropriate, don’t say it. Don’t demand that you have a right to say it, because you are not abstaining from the appearance of evil, and don’t take pleasure in listening to others use profane language.

You have the right to disagree, but please watch your language.


CrossKeysMom said...

Ditto! My mother refers to the time she took my little brothers to see "Beverly Hills Cop" at the theater... I know, go ahead & gasp. She was a little naïve, to say the least. Anyway, in times past when she has referred to that outing, she said that every time the f-word was used, my brothers would look at her & she would just cringe. She said that after the movie she talked to them about how "we don't talk like that." Unfortunately the damage had been done. Like you said in your blog, if we don't talk like that, we shouldn't listen lke that either! I'm proud of my mom- the last time she referenced that event, she admitted that she should have just left the theater & taken them to a different movie.

Keep the bar high! Well, actually Jesus does that for us, doesn't He!

Tommy Mann said...

It seems that people always look for a reaction when someone uses bad language; if there is no negative reaction then the language is deemed as appropriate. Even tonight at the county football game a man came up and was talking to us in the parking lot and he swore. I noticed right away that every person in our group look at me to see how I would react. If I laugh it off like it is no big deal then that sends a message that it isn't a big deal, and Jesus clearly said it was. Our young people (and unfortunately, even older people) need to see a clear line in the sand on what is right and what is wrong.

Scott said...

Tommy, let me first say that I absolutely agree with your underlying premise in this blog. There is a strong biblical case against frivolous use of cuss words and offensive, profane speech. People who curse out of sinful anger, or just for humor or shock value sake, need to assess their spirit. That being said, I have two major problems with this post.

1. You say, “Here is the point: a curse word (or rotten word) is any word that culture deems inappropriate.” While there may be some legitimacy to this statement, my issue with it is that the Bible gives no indication that culture EVER determines what is right and wrong for a Christian to do or say. We are not to live like the world, but we are also not to live in reaction to it. What biblically determines what is right and wrong for a Christian to speak is the motivation and attitude for it’s being said. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, FOR OUT OF THE ABUNDANCE OF THE HEART HIS MOUT SPEAKS.” God is far more concerned with the attitude and intentions behind what we say than He is with the words we are saying it. (This statement will be more clear with my second problem)

I would argue (although I won’t go into it at length) that because it is the attitude that matters to God, these Christianeese cuss words that we use instead - “Dang it!” “What the heck?” “I don’t give a crap!” - if they are said from the same angry, sinful heart, are JUST as sinful as saying the culturally offensive ones. Much less these new cultural abbreviations becoming common like just yelling “Eff” or saying “WTF” instead of just saying it. No matter how you try to hide or water down your bad language, God sees the intent behind it.

2. You say, “the Bible goes to great lengths to not use profanity.” My objection is simply that that statement is not true. For example:

- 1Samuel 20:30 - Saul is mad at Johnathan for warning David and calls him a "son of a perverse rebellious woman." I won't use the modern English equivalent, but he was cursing...
- Amos 4:1 - God calls a group of women "cows of Bashan." Try that on your wife and see I it's not “rotten” language.
- Isaiah 64:6 - God uses the Hebrew equivalent to “used tampons” to describe our righteous deeds. Example: “You think not cussing makes you righteous? Compared to My righteousness, it looks like a used tampon.”
- Repeatedly through the Old Testament God called Israel a whore. In fact, that's the point of the book of Hosea.
- Galatians 5:12 - Paul says of the circumcision group that if they are so into circumcision then they should go ahead and just cut the thing off. (ESV says, "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!")
- Matthew 23 - Jesus publicly calls out the scribes and Pharisees calling them hypocrites (vv. 13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29), a term quite offensive to any Jew or Christian, but especially the religious leaders. He calls them fools (v. 17),  a term repeatedly used in Psalms to refer to people who do not know God or His ways. And He even calls them children of hell (v. 15). And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a private, calm conversation. When He is saying all of this publicly, I’ll bet He’s being pretty aggressive in the use of these terms. Other places He calls them a brood of vipers, many scholars believe referencing the vessel used by Satan to lead man to the fall. Jesus openly, to their faces, calls the religious elite hypocritical, foolish, tools of Satan. In that era, He was cussing them out.

(Continued... I type too much...)

Scott said...

Here’s why this matters. Every time the Bible uses strong, offensive language, it is never frivolously. It is always either as part of the historical narrative (like, say, watching an HBO documentary on WWII), or, and more often, it is used when there is a need to aggressively point out God’s truth. Because God’s people DO play the whore. And we DO get self-righteous, when it’s a bloody tampon compared to God’s righteousness. And too often, us spiritual leaders ARE blind foolish guides. And God is ruthlessly going to call all of those things out.

I really debated all night at work on posting a comment or not, but it is my second point that pushed me to it. When you will make and absolute statement that “cussing” or culturally offensive language is ALWAYS wrong, and then to make a false statement claiming that the bible, in practice, agrees with your statement, you are flirting with being called another one of those “Christian leader” cuss words that I know you despise -- legalist. Don’t patronize God or the Bible by making claims about it that it doesn’t make about itself.

The Bible seemingly makes the same claim about everything in creation - words, money, wine, food, or women - that God has made a right way and a wrong way for them to be used. So in the same way the Bible never 100% outlaws sex, alcohol, feasting, or working hard for a good paycheck, it also never 100% outlaws harsh language. It is just expected that when harsh language is necessary, that it is used in a way that declares the truth and is honoring to God.

James 3:5 says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” If we are going to be starting fires (and James makes clear that we are...), dear God, let it be a holy blaze.

I love you Tommy, and I know that your write this blog for your youth. To them I would just say this, “I cannot think of any way that harsh, culturally offensive language would ever be necessary for you at this point in life. People cuss in Middle School and High School because they think it’s funny to do so. That is wrong. Stop it. If you are cussing when there is no God-honoring point to be made, then your use of strong language later when there is one will be of no use. People will not have respect for what you are saying then, because YOU do not have respect for what your are saying now. Check your heart and cut it out.”

(P.S. I saw Alicia’s blog pics of Reagan. She’s too cute. Makes me want one...)

Tommy Mann said...


Thanks for your comments—always greatly appreciated. And I don’t like to brag, but you’re right about Reagan!

I’m sure you knew this was coming, but I have to disagree with you, not on your biblical assessment, but on your deviation from my point.

#1 I never justified the use of slang (heck, dang, crap, etc.). And with a passion I HATE the abbreviations. In my 2nd book I address why Christians shouldn’t use omg even if it means gosh to them (it is the appearance of evil), and my skin crawls when I see people in the ministry on Facebook type eff or effing daily. And before you call me a Pharisee, I use to talk like that in high school, and I am so glad the Lord was patient with me.

#2 I am not saying we need to react to culture. However, if the majority opinion is that the f word is not something a Christian should say, no matter how right it might actually be, a Christian should never say that word because of the appearance of evil. Just like with drinking alcohol (and I know we disagree here, but we both know I’m right ). This is not reacting to the world, it is being above reproach. Why hurt the cause of Christ just because I think I have a right to do something? When Paul said he is all things to all men, he was GIVING UP his rights, not adding to them.

The f word means “for unlawful, carnal knowledge,” and for so long was a word that was used to describe perverts; now the word is much stronger and viewed as something that should not be said. This is not being dictated by culture, but rather being above reproach.

#3 Yes, the Bible uses strong language like circumcision and tampon (depending on your translation, of course), but that goes right back to my point. Strong language to who? In our culture no one would sit around and discuss used tampons (except us, apparently), but in those days things were different. Consider when Rachel told her father she could not get up to greet him because it was her time of the month (Genesis 31:35); I don’t know of any girl today that would share that kind of information with her father (even though she was lying). That stuff is private today, but not in Old Testament times.

The same is true of all the examples you used. When God called His children whores He was accurately assessing their behavior. Like Gomer, they had left the goodness of God for selfish pleasure. That is no different than a parent today calling their child a brat if that is an accurate assessment of their behavior. Different culture, different word, same point. And it confirms my point.

And I want to start that holy blaze that you spoke of. Do you think it will come with the same tongue that curses? Of course not, so let’s stop defending language that we all know is wrong. Let’s use our tongue to do two things: glorify Jesus (can’t while we’re cursing) and glorify Jesus by telling people about Him (teaching the unsaved about salvation and the saved about personal holiness that we have been called to—they aren’t holy when they’re cursing).

I know I will hear criticism when I write things like this (legalist, Pharisee, patronizing God and the Bible, etc.) but I do it for a good reason. I want there to be a holy blaze, and when I hear Christians curse I know they lose their witness with their friends, and when I hear so called church leaders come a few letters short of cursing (effing) I know their church will have no power (purity is power). I want them to change, not be a fellow-legalist, but for the kingdom of God, and I don’t care how many friends that costs me along the way.

Scott said...

Again, I am not disagreeing with your underlying premise of it all. I just don't agree with the way we got there.

And even though culture was different back then, and words carried different connotations, I am pretty sure every one of those references I listed were meant to be strong, offensive language to lead people to the truth. You never tell anyone that their righteousness is a bloody tampon, or tell someone to "emasculate themselves" in a kind, gentle way. They were strong words to relate a strong truth.

I'd also disagree that cursing causes Christians to "lose power." If that were the case, we wouldn't be here today because Martin Luther who one recent writer has called "the vulgar, beer-swilling theological rebel who sparked the Reformation." He cussed out the Papacy on different occasions and daily "prayed a curse on Erasamus (of Rotterdam)."

It was then Calvin, following in Luther's footsteps that wrote many of the books which led to America's system of life, influencing both why our legal system is Judeo-Christian, and being the direct reason why we have free-market economy. (Not to mention the fact that we aren't a Catholic nation...) All of this started with Martin Luther's private times with God and public shouting matches which included some cuss words. God's power was still in it.

Again, I'm not saying it's necessary, or that we should do it because we can. Just pointing out historical facts to argue my point.

The truth of the matter is that when most Christians cuss, they aren't doing out of any righteous anger, and they also aren't doing it with an awareness of themselves. They are uncritically giving themselves to sin. I agree whole heartedly with that. I'm just not willing to move to an absolute prohibition of it. Paul said that "all things are lawful to me" it's just that we need to be better about deciding how "beneficial" it is when using our freedoms - drinking, cussing, eating, or whatever.

On another note. I hope your last line wasn't saying that me and you aren't friends just because we disagree over small stuff like this. If we agreed on everything, we never would have become friends in the first place. What about throwing hot dogs at Nora, or arguing with Edward over his need to the Holy Spirit in sermon writing and the legitimacy of spiritual gifts - even having George agree with us.

We're in agreement on all the major doctrines and especially on what is primary to the Gospel and how salvation works. We are only discussing the daily applications in our lives, which in the end are nothing if God doesn't do something in them in the first place. I, and my language, are insignificant to God's work, to say the least. The beautiful thing is that He takes our insignificance, and calls us to bat. That's when these discussions matter. And I just hope I don't get hit with the ball and yell a cuss word... j/k

Tommy Mann said...


I certainly was not saying we aren’t friends. Honestly, I wish we got to talk more. That was a generic statement, but I have certainly lost relationships for not bending on my convictions.

I understand that your examples were meant to carry strong language, much like a child hearing his parents call him a brat is strong to that child. Still, those were not curse words. There is a difference between strong language and cursing. Strong language can be very appropriate and effective. I like a preacher to “spit and stomp” when he is preaching, but he should never cross a line and use known profanity. Never. If he uses the word damn in its original biblical context, that would be an example of strong language that is not cursing. This SHOULD happen.

But that is not the real issue here. I think Christians (not you) want to justify cursing, not so they can do it, but so that they won’t feel guilty about TV shows and movies that do it.

And Christians do lose power when they curse. Just because Luther accomplished good things for God doesn’t mean that he didn’t have his shortcomings. There are no perfect people, and God uses imperfect, yet willing people to carry out His will. Luther was a bigger Jew-hater than Hitler, and God still used him. God used Pharaoh to show off his wrath, and Pharaoh is in hell.

Just because God uses people in spite of their mistakes is no green light to curse. People can try to justify cursing all day, but if I got behind a pulpit and cursed, or even if I cursed in a conversation with someone, we both know that my language would only hurt, and never help, my ability to teach that person (the same is true with drinking alcohol).

The problem is we excuse it too much. It just slipped. I was having a bad day. Pardon my French. In reality, it is sin, and there is absolutely no way for a believer in Jesus to ever justify that language.

Tim said...

Great post Tommy. In this day, when it seems people, ideas, philosophies, etc. are spending their time and energy into defending sin and thinking how much Christians can live like hell on their way to heaven, I'm so proud to have a pastor that preaches the truth of God's Word. I understand that you are encouraging Christians to be separated from the world and holy (as God demands), but I see in no way how a simple encouragement like this would be looked at as being like you are a legalist, etc. To me, a legalist would say "You aren't entering heaven or can't have God's favor because you curse!" or something along those lines.

I guess I'm trying to say, I took your post as an encouragement to me, a Christian, to simply watch my language as it affects my testimony. It seems people want to look philosophical and put too much into a simple encouragement. We need to be holy and encourage others to be holy so the world will stop being confused by hypocritical Christians. Again, thank you for your stand in a world where even most pastors and teachers of the BIble along don't teach the importance of sanctification.


The Mann Family said...

Tommy, can you please change your link to my new blog?

And, cussing (or even the new fake cussing) is plain immature and obnoxious... :)

Tommy Mann said...


Thank you for your comment. A lot of people like to quote Titus 3:9 which says to avoid foolish debates, and they say that we should not post blogs likes this, but they need to read the verse right before it. Paul told Titus that it was profitable to men for him to maintain good works among the believers.

Why? If the believers did not maintain good works (like cursing or drinking a Bud today) then nonbelievers would get the wrong message. That is plain and simple.

Tommy Mann said...

The Mann Family,

I have changed your link to Raising Reagan, which is a great blog that everyone needs to read!

And yes, cursing is obnoxious; it shows a lack of vocabulary.

Amber Lee said...

Interesting topic. I have always decided on this subject that it is not society that is dictating "bad words" but the temperament in which we use them. I joke around with our college group by saying things like..."was that a happy cuss?" Meaning that the anger behind the word is what actually makes it sinful, and not the word itself. For example: The "S" word is another word for poop. Is poop a bad word? Parents tell their kids to "poop" all the time! What the word represents is not the sinful part, but it is the action behind it. The "F" word represents the word sex. (dare I mention even that word on a christian blog....ha ha) I hope Christians see past the point that "sex" is a bad word. Its not, and holding that word back in our households can cause so many problems, but thats for a different blog. My point is, I don't think the word itself is a sin but the motive or temperament behind it. In some circles the word crap or suck would be considered wrong...I personally don't. I think instead of the focus being on our language, maybe it should be on our tempers.

Tommy Mann said...

Amber Lee,

Good to hear from you again.

You are absolutely right that the motive behind our words is important. For example, I recently heard a pastor use a curse from the pulpit while preaching at Liberty University. He was clearly trying to use the shock value of his language to appeal to postmodern college students, which is wrong on 2 levels; he cursed from the pulpit, and he manipulated the pulpit to garner a response.

With that said, I can't think of a time where anyone would ever curse with the right motive.

The s word is a bad word, plain and simple. I would ever ask my daughter if she took an "s" in her diaper. Motive and temper do not matter.

My personal belief is that this emergent church mentality is killing us. They have declared that there is no absolute truth, and we are seeing that played out here. No offense to you or Scott, but are we actually trying to justify the use of the s and f word?

Culture doesn’t dictate what is bad? Then why is it hate speech to call someone a faggot? After all, a faggot refers to a pile of sticks, and in the UK is a meatball dish. Why is it hate speech to call an African American the “n” word. That word is simply a derivative of the latin word for the color black. If you’re happy and having a good day, then would you tell everyone that you are gay?

Culture has taken words that once had a harmless meaning and turned them into something that is accepted now as having a different meaning. No absolute truth Christians might try to justify cursing based on the “culture doesn’t dictate what is right and wrong” mentality, but would you ever throw around the word faggot? I doubt it, and that has nothing to do with temper; it has everything to do with the fact that culture has made that a bad word, and no Christian should ever say it.

This was a simple blog to remind Christians to watch their language because profanity from a believer confuses the nonbeliever. Whether it is the s or f word, or the n word, Christians become stumbling blocks when they use foul language.

I love you guys and I don’t want to look like I am being judgmental or disagreeable, but culture will always do things that are wrong, and we have been called to come out from them and be separate and clean, to be the salt and light of the world. And like I say so many times here, we don’t do that when we look (and talk) just like the world.

Bobby said...

"My personal belief is that this emergent church mentality is killing us. They have declared that there is no absolute truth..."

I know I am picking out a statement that doesn't really have to do with the theme of your post about cursing, but when I see something like that I almost have to say something. There is no emergent church philosophy that there is no absolute truth. Please take it from someone who has been serving in missional churches for the last 5 years. The pervading worldview of our culture is that truth is relative and not absolute. The missional church exists to love and lead younger (mostly) people into the realization that God can be trusted because He IS the absolute truth. The church is ministering TO people who might feel there is no absolute truth- not ministry BY people who feel there is no absolute truth.

The people that spout this stuff about emergent churches it seems are just trying to incite a culture war among traditional pastors who are worried they are "losing ground" to these new churches.

Sorry....I know it isn't terribly relevent to your post, but I know your own experience in missional church settings is very limited, and your information likely comes from sources that are being less than fair and objective, for reasons I mentioned earlier.

Love ya,


Tommy Mann said...


Hey man. Welcome back to my blog.

I know the emergent or missional church believes that God is the absolute truth, but that is an easy, broad statement. Where I believe (and again, as I said in that statement, my opinion) the problem exists is in the daily details. I realize that no emergent leader has ever stood up and declared that there is no absolute truth, or ever penned a manifesto that said as much.

But the problem played itself out in the comments under this very blog.

Amber and Scott, who I love and are friends of mine, both made arguments to give themselves wiggle room to curse (or at least watch shows that do). Is it wrong to say a word that is bad--a word that has a crude meaning that would make decent people blush? Is it wrong to say a word that the FCC won't allow on depraved TV? Absolutely yes.

But when we put our philosophical thinking caps on and sound really intelligent and make excuses about how it might be ok in certain situations using certain words among certain groups, the absolute truth has been replaced by relativity.

I have personally witnessed this (not assumed or gathered bad information) from the emergent mindset. Every sin seems to be allowable, while the commands for personal holiness get picked apart and dismmissed. Both come from a lack of absolute truth.

To say that God is the absolute truth is a great statement, but I hear one thing and see another played out in practice. This has nothing to do with you or any missional churches you have attended.

And my concern over this movement has nothing to do with me being a traditional pastor who is "losing ground" as you assessed. I serve a 1,000 member congregation in the middle of nowhere that only continues to grow, evidenced by our move to a third morning service and a second Sunday school beginning December 5th. The reason for our steady growth is that the remnant of believers are hungry for the absolute truth that has been watered down in an attempt to appeal to people. We are not jealous that these churches are taking members; we are worried that they are teaching people a false gospel.

Again, nothing personal. Love you too.

bobby said...

Very insightful, as always. Even when I disagree with your conclusion I always respect and admire how you got there.

I wasn't calling you one of the old traditionalist pastors trying to incite a turf war. I just know that it exists. I've read enough websites and watched enough videos of stuff designed to create fear. I wasn't lumping you in with those- just cautioning about placing too much stock in those places.

I know your church is huge and is growing, and that's great. A church like yours in a little town in the bible belt no doubt faces different challenges than my small-but-growing church in the inner city. One deals with people who are skeptical of God and unfamiliar with faith, and the other deals with people who have spent their lives in church because its their culture, but may not be following Jesus. I wonder if both pastoral staffs suddenly switched places if either church would continue to be effective?

Saying that God is the absolute truth wasn't meant to be a vague and mystical statement so much as a summary. The missional church affirms all the essentials of the faith as found in the creeds and holds absolutely to these things. And no one should pick apart commands to things like personal holiness (even if I've done it to you a few times). All believers should be striving for personal holiness, there just.may be disagreements over what that might actually look like. I'm sorry if I've picked at you on here.

Don't forget that all churches attribute the size of their churches to how well they preach the gospel. The big churches quote Jesus as saying that He will draw people when He has been lifted up. The small churches quote Him talking about the narrow road and how the true gospel won't have many followers. :) Remember at ABC it was the old dying churches that said the big ones were watering down the gospel to attract followers.

Again, I always love the thought that goes into your writing. I usually also agree with your overall theme. I learn a lot from you even though we usually disagree when it comes to practicality and detail.

Tommy Mann said...

I know you're not picking at me. As Sean Hannity says, debting the issues that makes us stronger.

Tommy Mann said...

To go along with the emergent church/no absolute truth theme, here is a blog I wrote on that topic: