Is it okay for Christians to Swear?
So many people are divided on the issue of Christians and swearing or using profanities. Here are a few thoughts and options perhaps for you to consider – whether or not you are a Christian. First, some definitions in this context to break things down:
(To) Swear [verb]: ‘[intransitive] to use rude or offensive language, usually because you are angry’ (1)
2. Blaspheming or using profanities
(To) Blaspheme [verb]: [intransitive, transitive] ‘to speak about God or the holy things of a particular religion in an offensive way; to swear using the names of God or holy things’ (2)
Profanity [noun]: [uncountable] ‘behavior that shows a lack of respect for God or holy things’, [countable, usually plural] ‘swear words, or religious words used in a way that shows a lack of respect for God or holy things‘ (3)
Now we know that there are two main identifyable areas of language relating to swearing for Christians – swearing and blaspheming / profanities. Let’s ask the basic question:
Is it a sin?
1. Swearing: Is it a sin to swear? (that is, to use a known rude or offensive word aggressively, use rude word(s) to emphasise a point where not necessary to the overall understanding). Swearing is very common, and we all get used to hearing it. Depending on a Christian’s personal understanding, the answer could be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. Ultimately, Christians live by grace, and have free will to make up their own minds. However, it isn’t quite that simple. They will be influenced by the Bible, and what they feel God and the Holy Spirit is saying to them on the subject. We’ll take a look at what the Bible says later. Someone who isn’t a Christian may not have even considered whether swearing or not is important, indifferent to it being a part of everyday life and acceptable – so long as they can ‘give as good as they get!’
2. Blaspheming / Profanity: Is it a sin to blaspheme or speak profanities? Once again, if you’re not a Christian the thought may not even have crossed your mind, but if it has, you might be indifferent to saying ‘god’ or ‘jesus’ as an exclamation during conversation (have you ever stopped to wonder why these words come to mind first?). For a Christian, unlike swearing, the situation is quite different. Christians know this from what the Bible says about blaspheming specifically (e), as opposed to swearing generally (words from modern language made into swear words, or sexual references when used in aggression in certain contexts). More about what the Bible says on this, and the differences later.
Purely from the point-of-view of respect, since ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ are names (massively important for Christians), most Christians purposefully choose to use those names only in wholly appropriate and acceptable contexts. If nothing else out of total respect and reverence. Imagine if your own name became a phrase or word – like ‘Gordon Bennett’ (4) for example. Imagine your name being constantly used all over the world, but in an aggressive, rude, discouraging, derogatory context most of the time, and hearing it all around you – how would you feel about that?
What does the Bible say?
Of course, for Christians, God is way above and beyond such things as swearing. However, He does care very deeply about both what comes out of our mouth and whether His name is respected. We know this, because there are many passages in the Bible about speaking good and encouraging things, and choosing not to speak negatively, with lies or aggressively (a). Proverbs also has a lot of wisdom about the tongue (b).
1. Old Testament
We first find evidence of the importance of what comes out of our mouth in the Old Testament. Here’s a few references:
Exodus 20:7 (Part of the Ten Commandments)
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“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.
Note these references are from the Old Testament. They need to be lined up with the teachings in the New Testament to be fully understand today. We’ve included them in this article to show you just how significant and important respect for God’s name and others in authority was in Old Testament times (it’s still true today, but critically the New Testament and Jesus changed the entire perspective on the above verses of the Old Testament – there is too much to unpack in this basic article regarding the interplay between the Old and New Testament!
2. New Testament
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,
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
There are many other mentions of blaspheming in the Old and the New Testament – some more difficult to unpack than others, but the overall message is always the same.
Here’s one of the more difficult and challenging passages from Luke for both believers and non-believers:
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 the context we are talking…we can’t unpack it fully 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 genuinely turned from – so all is not lost. In Christ there is always a hope.
Is swearing acceptable in our modern world?
Swearing and blaspheming have become more acceptable for some, at least, because a ‘fallen world’ often accepts it without question, and perhaps because more and more swear words and words with derogatory or rude meanings have been added to modern language – it might make them acceptable, but it doesn’t make them helpful or ‘good’, or mean we have to choose to put up with them. Sadly, one of the reasons for blasphemy and swearing is its use in aggressive situations. Is there ever any real need to use such language to make a point? Is there any justifyable reason that makes swearing totally acceptable? If swearing wasn’t used, would it actually then help to prevent a situation before it gets out of hand? In the end, swearing has become ingrained into a lot of modern language, which, by default makes it more ‘acceptable’, and if you couple that with the notion of freewill (the fact that everyone is completely free to use whatever language they want), it is no surprise it has continued to develop – but that doesn’t make it right, of course! Notably, even non-Christians will sometimes mention the third commandment, ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…’ (Exodus 20:7, KJV) by way of correcting people if they ‘slip up’ and use God’s name in vain.
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 does’t really stand up. Are people always aware of exactly what it is they are saying or the exact meaning behind what they say to another? Do they care? Does swearing have the potential to do harm? Yes – in all sorts of ways, directly or indirectly (b). If you don’t care what the Bible says, take a look at social media, the news, or people’s personal blogs and talk to friends around you.
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 an inward emotion like shock, anger or awe.
Swearing / Blaspheming / Profanities – Offensive or not?
People who are not Christians often have no idea of the true meaning and weight of the names [e.g. Jesus, God, Holy Spirit] – but that doesn’t mean we all have to personally accept or like the names being used in certain contexts, and likewise with other words too. Christians really have no ‘excuse’ for these particular names and other words alongside phrases like ‘OMG’. The Bible is quite clear on the seriousness of blaspheming in the Law of the Old Testament – see verses in the paragraphs above (e). Of course, a true understanding of Old Testament and New Testament Christianity does not just bring only condemnation, but by the Holy Spirit, conviction and also hope, grace, love and repentance. This enables us to better understand the verses in complete context of the whole Bible. But the Bible does make it clear there is never a good or right time for blaspheming – even if there is always hope and grace to be found in Jesus.
Is it better to simply ignore this subject altogether?
We explored earlier 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 be aware of Jesus at all, or at least even be aware of who Jesus really is, and have accepted that swearing is just a part of everyday life – even if it does make them angry, or is hurtful at times.
From our ponderings so far, it would seem strongly that isn’t right to simply ignore the issue entirely – especially for Christians – and just ‘let it be’. Often the context and thought – or lack of – behind swearing, and in particular blaspheming, is basically, never a good thing anyway. The Bible re-enforces this message. Throughout the Bible there is clarity about the power of the tongue for good or bad (b).
The thing is, the literal words themselves are generally not even the issue – the [emotional] heart is. For a Christian, you can also add not listening to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. To understand how this looks and feels requires a close on-going relationship with God. On the ‘receiving’ or hearing side of swearing, it also matters how a person reacts. Swearing often occurs in a non-caring, aggressive context where people can be emotionally hurt in their hearts with the words of the tongue. Here again, of itself, condemnation does no good unless accompanied by conviction and repentance and a change of heart.
Getting right to the ‘heart’ of the issue – God is interested in the heart and the motivation
Rather than focussing on just the literal swear words, or blaspheming words, let’s turn to the deeper thought behind the words. We can understand from the Bible that God is interested in the heart and the ‘spirit’ behind whats being said more than the literal swear words themselves. As we’ve already mentioned, it is fair to say that swear words and even blasphemous words are often used aggressively, confrontationally, to ridicule or to insult another person or in a derogatory / ‘don’t care’ context or attitude. 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 (a), (e).
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 (if they are listening to God) as He perhaps begins to work in their hearts and life, just as He might do with Christians.
The power of the tongue – love, respect, honour, encourage or hate, despise, dishonour, discourage?
For Christians, God is the King, ruler over all things (the Bible tells us that He is ‘King of Kings and ‘Lord of Lords’ (c). Because of this God deserves our utmost respect. Again, God will not continue to ultimately condemn Christians if they ‘slip up’ but then genuinely repent from that and change – the gospel message tells us that. However, God may bring to us conviction about the subject in general which might be a motivator into action before slipping up again and again. Words are powerful, and how Christians – actually anyone – 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 (d), so He’s never surprised by what we say – but any person can be fooled, hurt, discouraged and goaded by it.
In the end, for Christians, at least, there is a Biblical, Holy Spirit led way to react for every unique situation – and that’s ultimately the best way.
Additional Bible verses:
(a) Romans 3:14 – ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’, Psalm 10:7 – ‘His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue’, Psalm 19:14 – ‘May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer’, Ephesians 4:29 – ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’, Luke 6:45 ‘A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’, Ephesians 5:4 ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.’, Colossians 3:8 – ‘But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.’
(b) Proverbs 12:18 – ‘Reckless words pierces like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.’, Proverbs 10:20 – ‘The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.’, Proverbs 12:19 – ‘Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.’, Proverbs 15:4 – ‘The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.’, Proverbs 18:21 – ‘The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat it’s fruit.’
(c) 1 Timothy 6:11-15 – ‘But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.’
(d) Proverbs 21:2 – ‘A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.’
(e) Exodus 20:7 – ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.‘ (KJV)
Sources for references:
(1) Definition of swear verb from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
(2) Definition of blaspheme verb from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
(3) Definition of profanity noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
(4) The people behind famous phrases
Further food for thought
‘God’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ listed alongside ‘butt’ and ‘jerk’ as acceptable in ‘U’ rated films, says guidance on swearing (Premier Christian News) – Article specifically about the use of swearing in films
What the Bible Says About Swearing and ‘Dirty Words’ (Focus on the Family)
Profanity is Worse Than You Think (The Gospel Coalition)
Is Cursing Really That Big of a Sin? (Bible Study Tools)
Can Christians Swear? (FaithLife)
Blasphemy: How to respond when God’s name is used as a swear word (Premier Christian News)
What does the Bible say about swearing and cursing? (A basic list of BIble verses from the Open Bible) – keep in mind, there are multiple meanings in the context of the Bible for the word ‘swearing’ and ‘cursing’.
What Does The Bible Say About Cursing? A Christian Study (What Christians Want to Know)