First, some definitions in this context:
Swear at: ‘To use abusive, violent, or blasphemous language against; curse.’
Blaspheme: ‘To speak of (God or a sacred entity) in an irreverent, impious manner.’
Of course God is above such things as swearing – but it doesn’t make swearing right or helpful, or mean we have to choose to put up with it. From experience one of the reasons for blasphemy and swearing is to cause problems. The reality is, is there ever any real need to use such language to make a point?
Swearing has become more ‘acceptable’ for some at least because a fallen world accepts it without question, and perhaps because more and more swear words and words with derogatory or rude meanings have been added to language – it might make them acceptable, but it doesn’t make them helpful or ‘good’. So, is swearing / blaspheme acceptable?
What does the Bible say?
Well, the Bible is quite strong on this subject in places – here are a couple of examples (both from the Old Testament, please note as this is significant):
“Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.
anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death.
Now, regards non-believers, note this verse in the New Testament:
1 Timothy 1:13
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.
Also note for believers in particular perhaps,
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
Luke 12:10 is a tough verse in this context…I can’t unpack it here…BUT even with this verse in the overall context of the New Testament there is still hope if a person turns from these actions and oppositions toward Christ and leaves it all behind – because His grace is still sufficient when sin is turned from fully. All is not lost. In Christ there is always a hope. Matthew Henry says, among other things of this verse,
…“Greater works than those shall he do, and, consequently, greater will be the punishment of those that blaspheme the gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost in you. Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, shall stumble at the meanness of his appearance, and speak slightly and spitefully of him, it is capable of some excuse: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But unto him that blasphemes the Holy Ghost, that blasphemes the Christian doctrine, and maliciously opposes it, after the pouring out of the Spirit and his attestation of Christ’s being glorified (Acts 2:33; 5:32), the privilege of the forgiveness of sins shall be denied; he shall have no benefit by Christ and his gospel. You may shake off the dust of your feet against those that do so, and give them over as incurable; they have forfeited that repentance and that remission which Christ was exalted to give, and which you are commissioned to preach.”…
There are many other mentions of blaspheming in the Old and the New Testament. So either way, actually, from the Bible we can see that this is a serious issue. Now, some only ‘see’ this issue from the perspective of the Law, or the Old Testament, out of the whole context of the Bible, or from a perspective without Christ at the centre. Whenever this happens, condemnation will quickly follow. This is different from conviction about the issue – hold on to this as I take you through some more thoughts.
God is interested in the heart and motivation
Rather than focussing on just the literal swear words, or blaspheming words (many of which, incidentally, have only fully been introduced into language with their current meaning and understanding far after Bible times and of which God is far above such things as I said from the start) perhaps it is that God is interested in the heart, and the ‘spirit’ behind whats being said more than the literal words themselves. I think it is fair to say that swear words, and even blasphemous words are often used agressively, or confrontationally, or to insult another person or in a derogatory / ‘don’t care’ context or attitude. I would suggest that this alone isn’t compatible with what Jesus taught and the Bible teaches about how we should use the powerful language of speech and communication.
That said, from the New Testament, we understand that in Jesus, God does not condemn people – non-Christians – for swearing (but he might convict them to stop) and therefore neither do I. But I also don’t feel it right to ignore the issue entirely – especially for Christians and just ‘let it be’ because swearing, and in particular blaspheming, often the context and thought – or lack of – behind them is, in my opinion seldom a good thing. For Christians, the line is perhaps more clear-cut in that you ‘naturally’ wouldn’t desire to be derogatory or purposely rude, or without care for someone you love, and especially since we understand that to Christians, God is a King (the Bible tells us that He is ‘King of Kings and ‘Lord of Lords’ – 15 …which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords – 1 Timothy 6:15). Because of this God deserves our respect, surely? Again, God will not condemn us if we slip up and genuinely repent from that, but He may bring to us conviction about the subject which might be a motivator into action. Words are powerful, and how a Christian uses them is critical. What comes out of anyone’s mouth sooner, or later will be a reflection of what is in their heart. God already knows what is in our hearts (Proverbs 21:2), so he’s never surprised by what we say – but man can be fooled and hurt and goaded by it.
Swearing as a ‘freedom of expression’
Some would perhaps cite the argument for ‘freedom of expression’ at this point as a reason to be able to swear or even blaspheme, but even this isn’t really a good reason. Are people always aware of exactly what it is they are saying or the exact meaning of what they say to another? Not always. Do they care? Often not. Does swearing have the potential to do harm? Yes – in all sorts of ways, directly or indirectly. Oddly, in terms of using ‘Jesus’ as a swear word, people will apologise afterwards if they know or find out they are talking to a Christian – and they often seem to be serious about it. I wonder why that is? For many people ‘Jesus’ literally is just a ‘swear’ word, it has no other meaning except to be used as an expression of shock perhaps.
Offensive or not? Ignore it?
I don’t get offended when people who are not Christians use the word ‘Jesus’ in this kind of way – for one thing, they simply have no idea of the true meaning of the name – but that doesn’t mean I have to personally accept or like the word being used in certain contexts, and likewise with other words too. Christians really have no ‘excuse’ for this particular word along with ‘God’ or ‘OMG’ the Bible is quite clear really on the seriousness of blaspheming in the Law of the OT – see verses above – of course, a true understanding of Christianity does not bring condemnation, but by the Holy Spirit, conviction, also hope, grace, love and repentance and enables us to better understand the verses in complete context of the whole Bible. But the Bible makes it clear it isn’t a good thing even if all hope and grace is found in Jesus.
Does that make it wrong to consider blasphemy or swearing, or is it better to simply ignore it altogether? I have suggested already why other commonly used swear words are also not wise to use. As a Christian, would you be comfortable using the words if Jesus were in the room? – and even more so, if you were using His own name? On the other hand, a non-Christian might not even know he is there, or at least be aware of who Jesus really is.
Condemnation nor just words are not the ‘root’ of the issue – getting the the ‘heart’ of the issue
As I’ve really already said, condemnation is not the root of the issue – and the words themselves are generally not even the issue – the heart is, and not listening to the conviction of the Holy Spirit for a Christian. To understand this better requires a close on-going relationship with God. On the ‘receiving’ or hearing side of swearing, it also matters how a person reacts. Here again, I would at least suggest that condemnation does no good. On the opposite end of the scale, there is a Biblical, Holy Spirit led way to react for every unique situation – and that’s ultimately the best way.