What the Bible Really Says About Swearing

Originally published at https://rethinknow.org on January 29, 2019.

Is swearing a sin? Should Christians cuss?

My guess is you have a relatively strong reaction to those questions. Either for or against. While many well meaning Christians have several passages loaded and ready to fire about this topic, the Bible actually says very little. I know, you have this verse that you are certain is the definitive proof text. But hear me out. Not only does the Bible say little about using harsh language, but it says some pretty offense things.

Let’s start by looking at how we’ve edited and softened many of the offensive things in the Bible.

Want another issue that gets Christians fired up, but the Bible says little about? Should Christians drink, smoke, or get tattoos?

Editing Out the “Bad” Stuff in the Bible

Since most people cannot read ancient Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic the Bible needs to be translated to modern languages so we can understand it. The problem that comes with that process is the human translators are just that, human. They make mistakes. But often times they also edit parts that they deem offensive.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Today we read Song of Solomon as a cute little relationship between two lovers. But this is no PG encounter; it’s so explicit that the Jews didn’t let their kids read it until they became adults. Once case of editing this book is in Song of Solomon 5:14. Most translations simply state “his body is polished ivory”, or something like that. But that’s missing the point. The wife is comparing an elephant tusk to her husband… In other words she is saying he is WELL endowed.

Paul wasn’t shy about harsh language either. He used the word skubala in Philippians 3:8, which harsher than crap, but not quite as harsh as shit (sorry I meant sh*t…). If you were offended by that, that’s the point. Most translations tame it down to rubbish or trash, totally missing the offensiveness of the word that Paul intentionally uses. He actual tames down the similar point that Isaiah 64:6 makes that our works are like “filthy rags” which should read “menstruation rags.”

Translators of the Old Testament often translate the word shagel as “to lie with.” But shagel is a much more vulgar word. Often used to describe a sexual act or rape.

Ezekiel won’t stop talking explicit sexual acts in disturbing detail. Jesus was really good at putdowns, that we soften today. And let’s not forget about the violence that we often just glance past… There are plenty of other examples. But I think we get the point. The Bible is not afraid to use harsh words and descriptions. However we are uncomfortable with the language the Bible uses and have edited much of it.

What Does The Bible Say about Swearing?

I know some of you are chomping at the bit with that one proof text about why swearing is a sin. So let’s look at a few of the more popular verses used. If you want a complete list go here: What the Bible Says About Profanity

Ephesians 5:4, Colossians 3:8, James 3:6–10, and Proverbs 4:24 are the four passages I hear most commonly used to argue against swearing. The problem is these passages aren’t referring to what we now understand as cussing.

The above scripture indicates that it is a sin to use our words to tear people down. What the Bible does make clear is that any language used to belittle, demean, or attack someone is a sin. But what about cussing when we stub our toe or using a strong word to better express what we are feeling? The Bible doesn’t give us a direct answer.

God doesn’t really seem to care about the words we use. Rather the manor in which we use words is what matters.

Words are powerful. And we ought to be careful to use them in a way that honors God and builds people up. Often we do the opposite and use our words to tear people down. And that’s what God cares about.

Here’s the bottom line. Words are not the issue. They are simply that, words. Each word has a proper place and a time that they can be used. Any word that is used to tear someone down is wrong. But just because we’ve placed certain words on the “do not say list” doesn’t make them a sin. It’s how, when, and where we use them that dictates whether they are good or bad.

What About Taking the Lords Name in Vain?

Taking the Lord’s name in vain often gets lumped into the same category as cussing, so we will briefly look at what that means. But if you want a more full look at it I have written this article: What It Really Means to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

Exodus 20:7 is where this command is found and states: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

Far and away the most common application of this verse is we shouldn’t use God’s name as a curse word, as in saying “Oh My God.” You could make an argument for not saying those phrases above because they show disrespect. However we’ve softened what taking the Lord’s Name in vain really means. We often dismiss the true seriousness of what this passage means with the simple answer of not using God’s name as a curse word.

The real issue this passage is address is one of representation, not the use of God’s name when you stub your toe. Think of the TV Evangelist who, in God’s name, influences people to give them money. they aren’t accurately representing God. By claiming they are and leading people astray they are taking God’s name in vain.

Read this if you want more: What It Really Means to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

So Should Christian Swear?

We know what the Bible says. But what do we do with it? Can Christians cuss?

Here’s the short answer: Do what you want.


Don’t use your words, whether curse words or not, to belittle, attack, or demean anyone. Yes, even “that” person that you know is wrong.

Some of the worst things I’ve heard have come from Christians who intentionally don’t swear, but still use their words to tear others apart. The point the Bible makes is that the words you use aren’t the problem. Words are neutral. The way you use words dictates if they become good or bad.

The point is swearing is not a sin because of the word itself. It can become a sin depending on how we use those, and other, words.

Now there is a secondary question we need to answer. Can Christians cuss? Yes. Should Christians cuss? Well that depends.

What is right and wrong isn’t always the same as what is wise and unwise. Or at least effective and ineffective. While it might be okay to do something, or say something, it might not always be wise.

Here’s a better question to ask… Would Using {Fill in the Blank Word} Help or Distract?

Life is not all black and white. The Bible doesn’t portray it that way either; there’s a whole lot of gray. This question will help us sort out what the wisest thing for us to do is.

Last point… Let’s have a little grace. Some people will decide cussing will hinder their relationship with God. Great, don’t do it. And let’s watch our language around them. Other’s aren’t bothered, but there’s no need to judge them for how they use their freedom. When the Bible is grey, choose grace.

Originally published at https://rethinknow.org on January 29, 2019.



Husband. Father. Pastor. Writer. Trying to be more like Jesus each day. For more articles check out: rethinknow.org

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jeffery Curtis Poor

Husband. Father. Pastor. Writer. Trying to be more like Jesus each day. For more articles check out: rethinknow.org