Clearing Up Misconceptions
Over time, many beliefs with little to no Biblical basis have crept into common Christian thinking. This web series aims to correct some of the most commonly held misconceptions about the Bible.
There are many passages in Scripture that discuss the use of speech, and how it can be used for evil. There is no doubt after reading passages like the following that cursing or swearing is a sin:
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:8–10)
For “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10–12)
However, does this mean that if we refrain from certain words we will be abiding by the teaching of these passages? Are the actual words evil? In each culture and language, there are certain words that many people believe we should avoid. Is the reason for this avoidance because they are inherently bad words? In order to properly answer this question, we need to consider how the words became “bad” in the first place. This article will examine the dangers of purely focusing on the words rather than the people and their intentions.
How Did Bad Words Become Bad?
In many circumstances, the words that most consider to be bad have legitimate meanings. Sadly, many of these words are no longer used properly in relation to their original definitions; instead, they are used as curse words to express one’s anger towards someone or something etc.
For example, many use the word “hell” as a swear word. However, “hell” has a real meaning that everyone should take very seriously. Since it is used as a swear word, does this mean we can no longer say it when we read our Bibles?
If one person started using a word as a “swear word,” and it were to catch on and become very popular, then this word could easily appear on many people’s list of another word not to say. Most words have become bad because people used the word negatively due to their evil intentions.
Originally, everything—including words or language—was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Since then, the world has been corrupted because of Adam’s sin. Sin has affected everything within this world, including the use of language. Now we just have to find out what words sin has affected, right?
We must realize that the passages above that refer to cursing always reference the person doing the swearing. Scripture does not give a list of bad words simply because there is no such comprehensive list.
Some might claim that languages, in and of themselves, are fallen because of sin. However, God’s intention of the use of language has never changed. After all, Jesus used language, yet He did not sin. Scripture was written using language, and it is without error.
Furthermore, bad words change with the different languages, but the common element is the person doing the swearing. Ultimately, certain words have become bad because of man’s sin.
What Should Our Focus Be?
Many avoid certain words that they believe are evil and replace them with substitute words—I will admit, I have done the same thing. If we purely focus on the words rather than the person and intentions, we could still be in conflict with the passages above. For example, if I call someone a “cabbagehead,” would that be wrong? After all, many of us have a list in our mind of words to avoid, and “cabbagehead” is probably not on it.
As the passage in Ephesians states, we need to use words that will edify the recipients, not bring them down. Whether one should use “cabbagehead” towards someone is a question of edification and the intention of the person using the phrase. I do realize that we sometimes use phrases like these in a joking manner; however, we just need to remember that our focus should be on edification in all words and not just to avoid certain words that we have defined as “bad.”
As James teaches, the mouth can be used for good and bad, yet this does not mean we should never speak again. James simply pointed out that the natural use of the mouth is not for saying good and bad things but only for good, just as God originally intended. However, sin has changed this.
Our focus should be on doing good and avoiding evil. In order to do good, we need to be examining ourselves in light of Scripture rather than just examining the words. Only then will we be properly applying the teaching of Scripture regarding the words we say.
Does This Mean We Can Say Bad Words?
As long as we use the words for good and edification, does this mean we can even use the bad words? If any word is used for the right purposes at outlined by Scripture, is it bad?
There are some words determined by most that should never be said. Whether the words are bad or good is not really the point here because we must not “become a stumbling block” (1 Corinthians 8:9), which includes avoiding words that people believe we should never use.
There is no comprehensive list, however. Some people use words that others believe we should never use. As Christians, we must be careful not to offend other Christians who believe a word is bad when we do not.
Words are not inherently evil. Originally, language was perfect, as it was created by God. Sin has changed things since then. Sadly, words can be used by sinful people for sinful purposes. This is how many bad words we have today came about. As Christians, Scripture clearly states that we must always be careful on what we say and do. We must strive to use the tongue that God gave us for the purpose for which He originally created it.
The list of bad words will change with time. In this world, the sin of humans will not change. Therefore, rather than focusing on the words, let us focus on the reason and purpose for why we are saying things. I do believe that avoiding the commonly known “bad” words is important so that we may avoid being a stumbling block to fellow believers. However, this is only a small subset of what we should be doing. Are we saying things for the purpose of edifying and encouraging others? Or are we saying things out of anger and spite?
Calling someone “stupid” could be just as bad as replacing that word with a commonly known bad word (Matthew 5:22). The reason behind saying that word is very important. Although we tend to look on the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and we must glorify God in every word we say. He is our Creator and Savior and all glory is due Him.