Monday, June 30, 2008


I wonder if Jesus ever swore.

Many Christians will say no, and cite Colossians 3:8 by way of argument: "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips," as the prooftext against profanity. I can't picture Jesus using words like "bunt," "sickhead," or "flocksuckers" when he's talking to or about other people, and certainly I can't see him talking in a crude sort of way about women.

But I've often wondered if "filthy language" in this context refers more to crude or vulgar language rather than to profanity or cussing. The Greek word in Colossians 3:8 that some translations render as "filthy speech" is aischrologia. The aischro part can mean base or filthy, but that's hardly the same thing as saying, "Damnit!" when you realize that the wood you've been working with for the last eight hours has begun to split, and now you have to start that chair all over again.

For the same reason, it's not the same thing as saying "Oh, shit," when you realize that everything just went way down south for you, and the next several hours, if not days, are going to be fairly stressful and difficult.

The issue isn't word choice, although if the range of your vocabulary is limited to the F-bomb, you desperately need a dictionary. It's the thought and intent behind the word that determines whether language is filthy, or not.

When Jesus talks about righteousness, it's clear he's concerned with what's going on in a person's heart far more than with the externals of what they are doing or saying. A person whose vocabulary is limited to expletives may not be fit for polite society, but I wasn't aware that polite society is what we hope to be fit for.

For a rather tongue-in-cheek essay on this, take a look at Toward An Evangelical Theology Of Cussing.

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