Using Foul Language in a Fair Way

September 24th, 2012 Post by

My mother is one of those sweet, saintly women who is regarded as such by everyone she meets. You know the kind. Growing up she seemed to have eternal patience and rarely spoke an unkind word. She is truly a wonderful woman. So wonderful, in fact, that she has given me permission to tell the following story. I say that she rarely spoke an unkind word, because I remember an instance when she did. As patient as she was, no one on earth could test her patience the way my sister could. Riding in the car one day, my teenage sister was complaining about something, and my mother, having reached her limit, stopped the car, turned around, and shouted “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to slap the crap out of you!” My jaw dropped. I was in shock — not really because of my mother’s anger, but because she used the word “crap”. I had never heard my mom use the word before (and, as it has turned out, I’ve never heard her use it since). That word was simply never used in our house. My nine-year-old ears could not believe what they heard. After I decided that I heard her correctly, I began to feel ashamed of my mother (even though she only said it in front of my other siblings), and I was seriously worried that God was going to punish her for it. Even into adulthood, in some back-of-the-mind sort of way, I think I carried with me the notion that the word “crap” is a word that has no place in a proper Christian’s vocabulary (though I eased up on the idea that God would severely punish you for using it). I think I can even say that I considered any use of foul language to be a sin. Now, I don’t exactly remember when I changed my view, but I remember when it was solidified.

Probably ten years ago now, I watched a documentary on the making of the movie, Shawshank Redemption. The documentary revealed that the movie was filmed in the then-and-now-defunct Ohio State Reformatory, a prison which has the reputation of being one of the harshest in American history. One of the former prisoners from the prison was interviewed, and he was asked to sum up what it was like living there. He paused for a moment, put his head down, and then looked up at the camera with pain in his eyes, and said, “You were f***ed.” Right then, it occurred to me that that one simple phrase captured the entirety of his experience in a way that another phrase could not. That phrase has so many connotations, and he clearly meant every one of them. It wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if he said, “It was awful. The prisoners would rape you and the guards would beat you.” That one phrase said it all at once and said it better.

I’d like to look at four arguments that I have heard over the years for why people should never use foul language and then debunk each of them. I think that the last one I’ll discuss has the most merit but still misses the mark. There are certainly sinful uses of foul language, but I don’t think any and every use of it is. In fact, in some cases, using foul language can even be mildly virtuous. Also, I want to make it clear that what I’m addressing here is vulgarity/base language/foul language, and not cursing or swearing, properly understood. Unfortunately, the terms ‘cursing’ and ‘swearing’ are often used to describe vulgarity, but it’s important — whatever terms we use — to at least keep the concepts distinct. Cursing involves invoking a divine curse on a person, expressing your true desire that they suffer divine punishment. Swearing involves promising or declaring something on the greatness of the divine name — even if it is only implied. Distinguishing between vulgarity and swearing/cursing is a difficult thing for some, but they are truly different things. Cursing necessarily involves harm, which is not necessary in the case of foul language. I mean to address the latter and not the former. For a helpful discussion on swearing and cursing, see Pr. Mark Preus’ post on “Minced Oaths“.

 

The Bible Tells Me So

The first argument goes, rather simply, that the Bible says that we shouldn’t use foul language. What counts as foul language? Here the argument depends upon the notion that there is an agreed-upon list of bad words. Of course, the list isn’t as agreed upon as many would like to think. For example, “crap” made the list in our house, but it didn’t make conservative Evangelical preacher, Chuck Swindoll’s. The verse that’s usually pointed trumped out is Ephesians 4:29, which in the KJV reads: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying that it may minister grace to the hearers”.

The KJV contains an unfortunate translation of this verse. The way it is translated implies that there is something inherently corrupt about the words used. But Paul is quite clearly not talking about words which are themselves inherently corrupt but instead words which do the corrupting of others. Many versions translate it the same as the KJV (NIV, NRSV, RSV, NASB to name a few). Quite ironically, however, they don’t translate the second half of the verse in the same way. They all say – in effect – “that which is good for edifying”. Now if they were consistent with the first part of the translation they would translate it as “edifying words” or something similar, which would imply that there are words that are inherently edifying instead of words which have to be used in edifying ways. No one is edified simply by saying lots of Christian-associated words like “grace” “God” or “Jesus” (Perhaps you’ve seen those green and white bumper stickers which simply say “JESUS”. I always think, ‘Yeah, what about him?’ It makes him look like he’s running for office or something). None of these words are not inherently edifying, they have to be used that way. We seem to understand this when it comes to encouraging someone, but somehow we don’t think the same about discouraging or “bad” words. Here, we have a list. And the mere mention of a word from that list at any time, according to many Christians, is tantamount to corruption. Why? Well, they’re just bad words and your not supposed to say them. Is there any biblical support for this? Of course! Ephesians 4:29. And so the circle continues…

Thankfully, the ESV gets it right. Rather than “corrupt talk”, the translation reads: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” This translation discourages the reading that there are words which are inherently corrupt. The words are not spoken of as being corrupt in themselves, rather to qualify they have to corrupt somebody. Paul’s point is: Don’t use words to harm others, not: Don’t use “harm” words (i.e. words from the naughty list). The difference (again) is between using words which are already corrupt vs. using words for the purpose of corrupting. How we decide what words these are depends on the effect they have on the listener not whether or not they are on an arbitrary, predecided list of words.

Understanding Ephesians 4:29 this way doesn’t support the idea of the list. It means that vulgar words like any other words can be used for harm or for edification. Suppose I am caught in a real bout of spiritual despair and am not putting faith in Christ but dwelling on my failures (a form of self-righteousness in its own right) and a fellow believer sees me in this state and says, “Damn it, John, quit trusting in yourself and look to Christ. What the hell can overcome the new life you have in Christ?” Are these not words which edify? Perhaps I have been shaken by the seriousness of his/her plea through the use of strong language in a way that I might not have without these words. Since I was not corrupted by what was said, but was encouraged to flee in faith to Christ, then what was said (vulgarity and all) qualifies as “words which are useful for edifying” and not “corrupting talk”.

 

Children Set the Standard

Another argument I hear from time to time against using foul language goes like this: “If you wouldn’t want your children saying those words, then you shouldn’t use them either.” This objection is more easily dealt with. There are a lot of things I do that  I don’t want my kids to do, and this is not a double standard. I don’t want my ten-month-old daughter behind the wheel of a car; I don’t want her using a razor blade; I don’t want her crossing the street. The reason is not because I think there is something inherently wrong with these things, but because I don’t think she’s mature enough to know how to handle these situations. The same goes for vulgarity. Children lack good judgment on when and how to use those words, and until they possess the proper judgment, I don’t want them using them at all. This is precisely what I tell my daughter. While I don’t use much foul language around her, it is only because I don’t want her to naturally absorb that vocabulary and then use it without discretion, not because I think that there is something wrong or hypocritical with doing something that I don’t want her to do.

 

A Weak Vocabulary

The last argument that I’ll address is one that doesn’t really raise the issue of morality as much as it does tastefulness. Numerous times people have said that using foul language is a substitute for a poor vocabulary and is an indication of an ignorant person. The idea is that if someone was clever enough they wouldn’t need to use those words. I’m sure this is true in some cases. The person who seems not to know any other adjective besides “f-ing” could probably benefit from receiving dictionary.com‘s Word of the Day in their email. But in the case of people who use them occasionally, the opposite can be said as well. These words can enhance your vocabulary. They can be effective means of communication at times when no other words seem to quite capture the idea (such as in the case of the prisoner I referenced above). Sure, the claim can still be made that a really clever person could find a way to convey the same idea without using these words, but, of course, we could say the same about any word. Does someone really need to use the word “gregarious”? Couldn’t a really clever person find a way to convey his same idea without using the word “gregarious”? Sure. But why be handicapped if you don’t have to? Why insist on fewer vocabulary choices over more. Vocabulary choice is part of what makes language so rich and so powerful. Besides, I don’t think a clever person would find a way to say things without using foul language. He/she would find a clever way to use foul language.

 

A Hindrance to Evangelism

The final argument goes like this: Using foul language is a poor example to unbelievers, and as such, it can keep them from the gospel. I have heard this argument more than any other. I actually think this is the strongest objection. For one, it doesn’t insist that there is actually anything wrong with these words. And it doesn’t suggest that Scripture is necessarily against their use altogether. It says that if you use them then unbelievers won’t take your Christianity very seriously. There’s some truth to this.

Arguments like this are also offered against drinking alcohol, smoking cigars, driving expensive cars, living in expensive homes, even voting Republican or Democrat. Do these things and people won’t take your Christianity seriously, or they’ll think you’ve done something a Christian shouldn’t do and this will keep them from the gospel. Sometimes unbelievers might find it unfitting for a Christian to do things that they are under obligation to do. Probably the most common criticism of Christian behavior that unbelievers make involves the claim that Christians shouldn’t ever pass judgment on sin because, after all, the Bible says: “Judge not lest ye be judged”. Christians who call certain actions “sin” are considered to be hypocritical and doing something a Christian shouldn’t do.

But this accusation is based on a misreading of Scripture. So what do we do about that? Should we cater to those who think it’s wrong to say that a sinful behavior is sinful? Should we play within their rules and not do as God has commanded because they think we are being a poor Christian example? Of course, not. We can’t let that misunderstanding control our actions. We have to show them that they are misunderstanding what Christian behavior looks like. In the same way, I can’t let my language be controlled by a misunderstanding that someone has about whether a Christian is permitted to use strong language or whether a Christian is a poor witness for Christ if they vote Republican, etc. We must kindly and gently correct the misunderstanding rather than act within the false parameters that it sets.

I have had unbelievers comment that I shouldn’t drink because I’m a Christian. When I ask them where they got that idea, they reply that that’s what other Christians have said. But Christ doesn’t call me to act according to what other Christians say is the right way for a Christian to act. Rather, I am to act according to what his word says. Likewise, it is misinformed Christians who are behind the idea that Christians should never use a word from the “list”. Unbelievers accept the idea without examining it in light of Scripture, and just take it on the word of Christians who say that we should never use this kind of strong language.

If an unbeliever tells me that I’m no different than he/she is because I use vulgarity just like he/she does, my response is: no, I don’t use vulgarity  just like you do. I seek to use these words in a way that conforms to God’s word. Yes, there are wrong and sinful uses of these words, but just as many in Scripture used strong language, sometimes it is appropriate for me to use it. No where does the Bible say that we should never use these words. It teaches that we are to use words carefully whatever they may be. The accusation gives me the opportunity to briefly share what Scripture actually does say. I find this far more fruitful than reinforcing the misunderstanding that the unbeliever has by simply catering to it. Catering to the unbeliever’s misunderstanding only reinforces that the misunderstanding is accurate.

Furthermore, I think it is probably true that for every unbeliever who is put off by a Christian using vulgarity, there is at least one who begins to see that Christianity isn’t so restrictive after all. There is freedom in this area, and I think it is positive for Christianity to communicate this to unbelievers.

 

How We Should Use Foul Language

The primary point I wish to make is that vulgarity is simply one part of strong language in general (phrases such as “shut up”, “I hate you”, “I love you”, “will you marry me?”, etc.). Words that are called ‘foul language’ should really be thought of as powerful words, not forbidden words. This means we should exercise care in how and when we use these words, just as we should use care in how we use all strong language (and to a lesser degree, words in general). There are sinful ways to use these words, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that any use of them is sinful.

I haven’t gotten into the issue of the motives of one’s heart. Motivation is really a separate issue which can make anything you do wrong — from eating a sandwich to preaching a sermon. But with regard to the question of whether using foul language is inherently wrong, I cannot find a reason to think so. In fact, it may be in certain contexts entirely virtuous.

Martin Luther was known to use foul language when he spoke of sin and the Devil. This is entirely appropriate. What other words should we use to describe the foulest things than the foulest words we have available? If ever there was a purpose for using foul language, speaking to the Devil is it (as you probably know, some of our curse words — and also the very word “curse” — originated as religious pronouncements such as “damn”and “hell”). Perhaps you may be treating the Devil a little too politely. He deserves to hear foul language, and because of Christ you deserve to say it to him. Here’s a bit of a primer from Luther to get you started: “But if [the merit of Christ] is not enough for you, you Devil, I have also shit and pissed; wipe your mouth on that and take a hearty bite’ (Luther quoted in Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil [1982], p. 107).

I would like to address the matter of what Luther says about improper language and cursing in the Small Catechism, but we’ll have to save that for the comments.


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  1. Rev. Steven W Bohler
    September 29th, 2012 at 11:35 | #1

    @helen #50

    Well, John the Baptist said basically the same thing: “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

  2. Rev. Steven W Bohler
    September 29th, 2012 at 11:37 | #2

    Oh, and Luther and the other reformers were pretty comfortable assigning the diabolical ancestry of those who tried to thwart the Reformation.

  3. September 29th, 2012 at 14:49 | #3

    @Rev. Steven W Bohler #47
    I wonder if my mother ever understood the irony of calling me a little SOB…

  4. Rev. Jason Wolter
    October 3rd, 2012 at 12:59 | #4

    @Pr. Martin Diers #28
    Words may not be evil; how we use them is. I do not understand how one can use offensive language to praise God or witness to others His grace. Others have said it better than I, so I’ll just say this: if God’s people were most concerned with His glory… this wouldn’t even be a matter for discussion. To use an analogy I used to use with my students, when teaching about adiaphora: it seems like the author is striving to just barely hit the target (of what God allows), rather than aiming for the bull’s eye (what God desires).

  5. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 3rd, 2012 at 13:19 | #5

    @Pr. Don Kirchner #35

    I was prepared for you to level just this charge of appeal to authority. If, however, you will go back and read, you will see that I never claimed that I am right because I have education in philosophy. Had I done that, yes, it would be an appeal to authority. What I appealed to in order to show that I am right was examples of the definition of the ad hominem fallacy which clearly demonstrate how incorrect you are on the matter. I note that you have never once provided a definition of the ad hominem fallacy.

    The reason I appeal to my education to show is that I’m not some stupid uneducated person in the matter of philosophy, as you seem to suggest.

    Brother, you have been extremely pejorative and disrespectful throughout this conversation, and I encourage you to change your tone. I’m not asking you to agree with me, but what I am asking is that you to treat a fellow member of the body of Christ with respect when you disagree — behavior which you have thus far utterly failed to demonstrate. I think you have something to repent of here.

  6. Pr. Martin Diers
    October 3rd, 2012 at 13:30 | #6

    Rev. Jason Wolter :
    @Pr. Martin Diers #28
    Words may not be evil; how we use them is.

    That, I think, is the entire point of the article. I completely agree.

    But also this: A strong word sometimes is fitting and proper when condemning sin. Just as Paul used them, and John the Baptist, and Jesus, and the Prophets.

    So also: Innocuous words can be used as foul language, and are just as condemned by St. Paul. By focusing on the stigma of certain words, as if the use of the word is automatically a sin, one ignores the sinful use of non-stigmatized words which are used to degrade others or delight in filth.

    I do not understand how one can use offensive language to praise God or witness to others His grace.

    Neither do I. And anyone who does so should be ashamed. And I have heard no one do so here, nor advocate doing so.

  7. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 3rd, 2012 at 13:47 | #7

    @Rev. Jason Wolter #4

    Rev. Wolter,

    I can tolerate people disagreeing with me and attacking my arguments. In fact, I encourage it. What I cannot tolerate is you attacking my motives by saying that if I was most concerned with God’s glory, I wouldn’t be arguing my position and instead would see it your way — and please don’t pretend for one moment that this is not what you have said.

    When it comes to adiaphora, Paul never once concludes what you do — that if we all aimed for the bullseye of what God desires, we’d all agree. He allows that there can be legitimate differences of opinion on these matters by people who want to do the right thing without one side declaring that they are more committed to honoring God than another. Instead of your conclusion, he tells us “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13). He also tells us that the one who abstains is not to condemn the one who partakes, and that the one who partakes is not to look down on the one who abstains (Romans 14:3). “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).

    Now, I’m not convinced that the issue in this post is adiaphora, but supposing that it is, I have not looked down on those who categorically refuses to use foul language — they are free to abstain without being despised. I have, however, noticed that there have been several cases in which those who advocate for a responsible use of foul language have been condemned. I regard your comment to be the most egregious example of that condemnation. The Lord knows my motives. I do not, and you certainly do not. You would do well to learn a lesson here about dismissing arguments because of what you think are a person’s motives. If you don’t, I can assure you that you will continue to create problems for yourself by going around asserting that if people were committed to God’s glory the they would agree with you.

    I welcome arguments against what I have said, but what I won’t allow is another comment that claims that I’m only trying to get away with sin or that I’m not concerned with honoring God with my speech. You’ve been warned. Any further comment like what you have already posted will be deleted, because it is destructive to the body of Christ.

  8. helen
    October 3rd, 2012 at 13:53 | #8

    @Pastor John Fraiser #7
    Any further comment like what you have already posted will be deleted, because it is destructive to the body of Christ.

    Because they disagree with you!?

  9. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 3rd, 2012 at 13:58 | #9

    @helen #8

    Helen,

    Did you actually read my entire comment? I clearly wrote “I welcome arguments against what I have said” and “I can tolerate people disagreeing with me and attacking my arguments. In fact, I encourage it.” If I deleted comments from people who disagree with me, this thread would have a lot fewer comments. To date, I haven’t deleted any comments, and you can see that there are a number of comments that disagree with me.

    I’ll say again, the comments that I will delete are those which attack my motives and argue in effect that if I was more spiritual, then I wouldn’t hold the position that I do.

    If there’s anything that you find unclear about what I’m saying, I don’t know how I can make it clearer.

  10. Pr. Martin Diers
    October 3rd, 2012 at 14:10 | #10

    Respectfully, if I might suggest: I think the level of antagonism between the two sides in this debate has gone over the top in the last several comments, and everyone should just cool their heels and move on. This is no longer a useful conversation once it turns personal.

  11. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 3rd, 2012 at 14:19 | #11

    @Pr. Martin Diers #10

    It has certainly gone over the top from some of those who disagree with the post — and I’ve made it clear who they are — but I disagree that this has been the behavior of both sides. My heels do not need to be cooled, and I have not made it personal. What I have done is called out the public behavior of those who have made personal attacks. I will gladly discuss the issues at play here as I have throughout this thread, but when people get too far out of bounds in a blog discussion, they need to be reined in, which is my job as a moderator.

  12. helen
    October 3rd, 2012 at 14:47 | #12

    @Pastor John Fraiser #9

    Pr. Fraiser,
    I was unaware that you were a moderator as well as a writer here.

    However, other lists separate those two jobs, so that a man writes or moderates but not both on the same topic. There is too much temptation to take things personally.

    When someone says, “If I don’t like what you wrote about my thread, I’ll take it off”, the whole thing becomes a waste of time for those with honest doubts and no such clout, doesn’t it?

    (There is Paul McCain’s blog, of course, but he owns that one and makes his own rules).

    I’ll read all of Romans 14, not just your selected verses, because I don’t remember Paul approving of foul language anywhere. For the present, I’ll just say that I find Pr. Wolter more convincing.

  13. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 3rd, 2012 at 15:05 | #13

    @helen #12
    Helen,

    Any writer of a post on BJS has the ability to delete comments on his/her post only.

    You wrote, “When someone says, ‘If I don’t like what you wrote about my thread, I’ll take it off’”.

    Can you tell me who said this? I certainly didn’t. I’ll make it clear once again what I have said: personal attacks on my motives such as saying that if I was concerned more with what glorifies God, I wouldn’t hold my view are what will be deleted. There are numerous comments on this thread that disagree with my position, but I haven’t deleted a single one.

    Neither did I ever claim that, in Romans 14, Paul approves of foul language. Rev. Wolter referenced matters of adiaphora, and I showed that Paul doesn’t say anything at all like ‘If we are all aiming at what glorifies God, we’ll all hold the same view.’ He expects that on matters of conscience, people who abstain from a behavior not condemn those who take part and those who take part not look down on those who abstain. Rev. Wolter is wrong to judge my motives — or anyone else’s — on this matter. He simply doesn’t have access to them.

  14. October 3rd, 2012 at 15:37 | #14

    Once a post drops off page one, I think the mods should just shut down comments. Nothing much good comes from the commenting after page one. That’s what I’ve noticed. Seems to be happening again here as well.

  15. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 3rd, 2012 at 15:41 | #15

    @Rev. Paul T. McCain #14

    Rev. McCain,

    I want to point out that I found your previous response on the previous page to be an example of how to disagree on the issues without attacking one’s motives or integrity. Thank you.

  16. Rev. Jason Wolter
    October 4th, 2012 at 11:07 | #16

    Brother John (Fraiser),
    Let me attempt to approach this from a different perspective. Rather than giving my opinion, I will quote Paul (whom you referenced in your response to me). You can then feel free to respond as you feel appropritate.
    “5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
    12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    In v. 8 Paul says to “rid yourself… of filthy language”. In v. 17, he says that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (For the record, that is the verse I had in mind when I made my previous, offensive-to you- post.) Can you explain how your initial post is in agreement with these words from Paul?

  17. Rev. Jason Wolter
    October 4th, 2012 at 11:38 | #17

    @Pastor John Fraiser #7
    Brother Fraiser,
    After having some time to reflect on your response to my comments, it is obvious that I offended you. If I am going to take the position that foul language is “wrong” because of the potential it has to create offense (among other reasons) then I have to confess when I have used words to cause offense. I am sorry for offending you. There was probably a way I could have made my comments without giving offense- and I did not seek for that way. In that way, I sinned against you and ask for your forgiveness.

  18. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 5th, 2012 at 12:17 | #18

    @Rev. Jason Wolter #17

    Rev. Wolter,

    I truly appreciate your humility to apologize. I certainly forgive you. I will say that I probably did not put the best construction on your comment, and perhaps uploaded my frustration with personal attacks on my integrity in previous comments into your comment. For that I ask your forgiveness.

    Onto the issue at hand…

    I have already answered your excellent question in antecedent comments, but that’s a lot of mess to wade through to find it. So I’m happy to answer it again.

    When you hear the term “filthy language” in Paul, I think you immediately think of a list of special words whose use in any context is morally wrong/questionable. I don’t see any evidence that Paul has in mind such a list. If a list of bad words is what is what Paul means, then I think you and others are under obligation to make that case for your view to stand.

    I think that filthy language has more to do with using words in corrupting ways that sully the listener. I don’t think that all uses of vulgarity sully the listener or the speaker. As I argued in my post, I do think that a person can use those words in edifying, God-honoring ways. It seems to me that when Paul refers to his works as skubala in Philippians 3:8 he’s talking about something that is the paragon of filth – bodily waste. The same goes for when Isaiah speaks of menstruation rags (ukabeged ehdim) in Isaiah 64:6. Hardly anything filthier that one can talk about. So I take it that for Paul “filthy language” does not refer to speaking of things that are filthy, but using words in ways that are sullying the listener or the speaker. And, as I’ve said, I don’t think that the mere mention of one of those words on a person’s bad list sullies the listener or the speaker.

    I myself do not make it a habit to use those words, and would certainly never use them from the pulpit, but I think they have a place in certain contexts — a God-honoring place.

  19. helen
    October 5th, 2012 at 22:06 | #19

    @Pastor John Fraiser #13
    I’ll say again, the comments that I will delete are those which attack my motives and argue in effect that if I was more spiritual, then I wouldn’t hold the position that I do. #9

    @Pastor John Fraiser #13
    You [Helen here] wrote, “When someone says, ‘If I don’t like what you wrote about my thread, I’ll take it off’”.
    Can you tell me who said this? I certainly didn’t.

    If you can only delete your own posts, how can you say that you will delete those which “attack your motives”? [Which observation may, to a third party reader, only amount to someone who disagrees speculating publicly about why you might have said something.]

    If I misunderstood, and someone else would have to arrange the deletion of posts other than your own, I apologize. I think this exchange got a little too hot for common sense/clear writing to prevail.

    If you are only saying that a farmer may speak of “shoveling manure” without offense,
    we have no problem. (We really don’t have a topic either, IMO, but that’s something else.)

    [It does seem to me that those who will never have to deal with the problem of "filthy rags" get the most pleasure out of "updating the translation" in public discourse. As a matter of fact, boys, "rags" haven't been much used for quite a long time, and the "used tampon" (that one of you is obsessed with) is a reverse anachronism.]
    Should I thank Pr. Fraizer for providing an outlet for that!? ;)

    Norm,
    Why won’t a winkie work with a downturned ( ?

  20. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 6th, 2012 at 00:48 | #20

    @helen #19

    Helen,
    No one is talking about deleting posts (other than you). Posts are not the same thing as comments. I really don’t know how I can make it clearer to you what I’ve said about this. What I said was that I would delete comments (not posts) which questioned my character and motives. I never threatened to delete any comments that disagree with my arguments. I want people to interact with my arguments, but that is entirely different than someone calling into question my motives and my fidelity to Jesus when those are things someone cannot know. At that point, the person’s criticism becomes personal, and that’s where moderators need to step in.

    You’re accusing someone of obsessing with the use of the phrase “used tampon”, and I don’t know who you could possibly be talking about. I’ve searched every comment on all three pages of this thread and I can’t find anyone who used this phrase or even the word “tampon” until you said it. So kindly tell us who you’re accusing of an obsession? In fact, I can’t even find a reference to Isaiah 64:6 in this discussion until I mentioned it in my last comment. So, again, please tell us who you’re accusing so uncharitably of getting pleasure out of updating the translation in public discourse? It looks to me that you’re just speaking badly of people for no reason.

    Also, I don’t think it’s very respectful of you to refer to me and other men here as “boys”. So I’d appreciate you not speaking to me in such a diminutive way.

  21. Lifelong Lutheran
    October 6th, 2012 at 01:35 | #21

    As a woman, I’m offended by the description of menstruation rags as “hardly anything filthier that one can talk about.” There’s nothing disgusting about a natural process of the human body. And, to agree with Helen, I have seen one of the male writers on this blog use the term “used tampon” more than once to describe something disgusting. or awful. I find it misogynistic and disheartening.

  22. October 6th, 2012 at 04:56 | #22

    Lifelong Lutheran :There’s nothing disgusting about a natural process of the human body.

    Skubala!

    :)

  23. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 6th, 2012 at 05:02 | #23

    @Lifelong Lutheran #21

    If you are offended at someone speaking of menstruation rags as something disgusting, I suggest you take your complaint up with the Lord and with Isaiah. It’s their comparison, not mine. The comparison is not made because it is something lovely. The Lord is not saying all our righteousness is something lovely and beautiful. He’s describing it as something repulsive. Now no one (the Lord included) is saying that this process of a woman’s body is something shameful or bad — just as no natural process of the body is shameful, whether it’s a man or a woman. But that’s no reason for us not to regard some of the substances that come out of the human body as disgusting. Just this evening my child vomited. The fact is, it was disgusting, even though it is “a natural process of the human body”. But there’s nothing shameful about what she did. I don’t drag down the dignity of my child by regarding vomit as disgusting. In order for Isaiah’s point to stand, the societal opinion on menstrual rags must be exceedingly universal, and in our culture, no less than theirs, these used objects are regarded as something that disgusts.

    The King James uses the term “filthy rags”. Do you view it as misogynistic that it calls these garments filthy? The ESV uses the term “polluted”. Are you offended that this term is used?

    I did a search engine search for this site and the term you’re offended at, and I did find that there is a fellow who has commented on other threads who has used the term a high number of times. (Btw, Helen he does say it so often, I can see why you would say it’s an obsession. But when you said, “one of you”, it suggest that this is someone party to our discussion that said it a lot).

    But if you (speaking to our Lifelong Lutheran friend) find it so offensive, why take it up with me, when you can speak with him about it? The reference itself is not misogynistic, but I can see someone being annoyed at the frequency of his use of it.

  24. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 6th, 2012 at 05:08 | #24
  25. Lizabth
    October 6th, 2012 at 05:45 | #25

    Women. SO sensitive, I tell you. Look…no female gazes at a ‘menstrual rag’ and says, “Oh my goodness, such dignity, this”. Natural it may be, but it’s also unpleasant. It’s uterine rubbish, when it comes right down to it.

  26. John Rixe
    October 6th, 2012 at 09:39 | #26

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

  27. helen
    October 6th, 2012 at 10:08 | #27

    @Pastor John Fraiser #20
    Helen,
    No one is talking about deleting posts (other than you).
    Posts are not the same thing as comments.

    Excuse me. It hadn’t occurred to me to split hairs in that fashion.

    But if you (speaking to our Lifelong Lutheran friend) find it so offensive, why take it up with me, when you can speak with him about it? The reference itself is not misogynistic, but I can see someone being annoyed at the frequency of his use of it.

    @Pastor John Fraiser #23
    You, Pr. Fraizer, initiated a topic on inappropriate language. I gave you a couple of examples of occasions [not from this thread but from this blog] when pastors sound to me like teenage boys who have just learned a new thing about girls! So, I said so. Evidently I’m not the only woman to think it’s rather childish of you all.
    Or worse.
    In current [over]usage, the “updated” term sounds like a “righteous” way of putting women down. [To be very vulgar, on this topic of vulgarity, "as if men's (waste) doesn't stink."] (I said somewhere that I didn’t use this language; I didn’t say I’d never heard it!)

    The Lord, through Isaiah, was describing what all our righteousnesses are worth. Yours as well as mine. No problem with that.

    [I have been reminded in other contexts that boys over 16-18 should be referred to as young men. From my end of life, anyone under 50 is not much past boyhood.] Sorry about that! :)

  28. October 6th, 2012 at 10:53 | #28

    helen :[I have been reminded in other contexts that boys over 16-18 should be referred to as young men. From my end of life, anyone under 50 is not much past boyhood.] Sorry about that!

    Remember the TV alien Alf? He rang a doorbell and the octogenarian who answered the door said, “Hello, young man.”

    He replied, “Hello, old woman.”

    :)

  29. helen
    October 6th, 2012 at 11:38 | #29

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #28
    Remember the TV alien Alf? He rang a doorbell and the octogenarian who answered the door said, “Hello, young man.”

    He replied, “Hello, old woman.”

    I never met Alf. Some may think it, here among my acquaintances, but so far they’ve been too polite to say so. Still having naturally dark hair helps, I’m told.

    So I should stick with “boys”? Or remember their names? :)

  30. Pastor John Fraiser
    October 6th, 2012 at 11:59 | #30

    @helen #29

    Helen, I think we’re done here. I’ve reached a point where I’m convinced dialogue with you is fruitless. You accuse me of childishness (or worse) for mentioning Isaiah 64:6 in a way appropriate to this conversation. You attempt to talk down to me as though I’m a child by calling me a boy. You regard it as impolite for someone to call you an old woman, yet you see nothing impolite about calling *pastors* “boys”. The irony here is that you’re the one arguing that my view of foul language is inappropriate and yet you have no problem using your words to insult and speak down to people. It’s really gotten to be too much. So I won’t be discussing with you any further on this thread. It’s really gotten to be too much. So I won’t be discussing with you any further on this thread.

    The end.

  31. October 8th, 2012 at 16:13 | #31

    @Rev. Steven W Bohler #47

    Brother in Christ:

    Forgive me for not responding sooner. I had a head injury and haven’t gotten back on since I last posted.

    The point I’m making is that Jesus could condemn Pharisees without having to use obscenities. Of course, condemnation is very serious. Because our Lord does it, it shows that one can condemn when the theology is Pharisaical, and it is not taking our Lord’s name in vain to do so. But there is no equal argument to show that our Lord uses obscenities, ergo, we may too.

    Further, Col. 3 says that obscene speech is to be put away from your mouth. Isn’t that sufficient enough? The fact that obscene speech is listed in the same company as anger, wrath, malice and slander shows that it is to be regarded as sinful. Therefore, to engage in this can lead to condemnation, where there is not repentance and faith. Where there is, St. Paul says that it is in the company of acts and attitudes that does not fit the new man in Christ, and is to be cast off.

    @Pastor John Fraiser #46

    Brother Fraiser:

    Again, I apologize for not responding sooner. This head injury has really affected me. Here’s what I have to say:

    Perhaps St. Paul wisely did not include a specific list of obscenities because, 1) he was trying to teach people to cast them out of their mouths, and therefore it wouldn’t be good for such words to be in his mouth, and 2) St. Paul understood that language is fluid over time. What once was not obscene now may be. The Flintstones could sing that they would have a “gay old time”, but such language would mean quite a different thing today. So instead of writing a list of obscenities that we would need to avoid, St. Paul just lumps them all together and says whatever is obscene, cast out of your mouth.

    Self-control comes into it because we are in this world, but not of it and it sometimes takes self-control to avoid speaking like our worldly neighbors. Gentleness comes into it because gentleness does not wish to shock.

    Hope that helps.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

  32. helen
    October 10th, 2012 at 11:23 | #32

    @Rev. Robert Mayes #31
    Self-control comes into it because we are in this world, but not of it and it sometimes takes self-control to avoid speaking like our worldly neighbors. Gentleness comes into it because gentleness does not wish to shock.

    “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” –secular source; same thought

    I would like to apologize here, not to the original author, but to all who read this topic, for my recent contributions to it. It was my intention to show the author where his “slightly virtuous” speech could end up, but he didn’t get it, and I went further than I should have, in the attempt.

    For the record, I don’t believe you are a “boy”, Pr. Fraiser, but I believe yours is an adolescent argument and I’m embarrassed that a Pastor would make it on the WWW and that they would give you bandwidth on this blog.

    But in review, I note that all the appropriate arguments were made on the first page.
    Pr. Mayes, thank you for summing them up!
    I pray your recovery will be complete and soon.

  33. bubba
    December 9th, 2012 at 01:37 | #33

    I think there is a difference between people that let out a curse word a few times a year under duress and those that use them dozens of times a day. When I wasn’t going to church, the 3 most vocal people about their faith at work all cussed like sailors. It really made me think all Christians are hypocrites and to not come back to church sooner. So yes, I think foul language is bad. But if a Christian breaks their arm or has a spouse die, and lets out some curse words, it would not have harmed my faith.

  34. James
    July 11th, 2013 at 01:40 | #34

    Thank tou for the article. However , you failed to address the single strongest case against using foul language: God doesn’t use it! Not even to speak of horrible evils like Cain killing Abel, or the treachery of Noah’s generation, or the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. He even refuses to use foul language to describe the greatest evil ever concocted (far more evil than what went on in an Ohio prison), namely the murder of God’s Son. So if God never used foul language in any circumstance, neither should I as His image bearer.

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