After a bit of a hiatus, the sixteenth episode of Aletheia Quest with Alan Fahrner is “Swearing,” where we look at whether swearing is acceptable for Christians, or people in general.
You can read the rough episode notes below to see what verses are leveraged.
What do you think? Please comment below.
Rough Episode Notes
Hey truth seeker!
Welcome to Season 1, Episode 16 of Aletheia Quest with Alan Fahrner, where we are on a quest for truth.
I’m Alan :-), an ordinary guy who lives in a small, friendly, high plains town east of Denver.
We broadcast two times each week, starting on Sunday nights at 7PM, on WRMI’s 9955 kHz shortwave frequency. This is also a podcast distributed on multiple audio and video platforms. You can discover all our listening options by visiting aletheia.quest/listen or truthquest.link/listen.
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This week we are going to discuss a subject that can be controversial. I ask you have an open heart and mind, with the understanding that if you disagree, I’m okay with that. I just hope you disagree for the right reasons.
In a previous Aletheia Quest episode, I tackled the question of whether people should lie. I found plenty of evidence that the answer was no, but no evidence that there were allowed exceptions.
In this episode, we are going to discuss something that is less cut-and-dry, but not nearly as ambiguous as some might claim (or honestly believe):
We’ll do it in three parts:
- Verses that straight up indicate swearing is prohibited for Christians
- A general discussion of Christian behavior
- Responses to arguments made that swearing is okay (especially around the freedoms we have as a believer)
Have a Bible handy?
Because broadcasts don’t do well with dead air, I won’t be able to give you time to look-up every verse, but if you go to truthquest.link/s1e16 (“s” as in “Sam,” the number 1, “e” as in “Edgar,” and the number 16), you can see the reference list.
Oh, before I forget, unless I say otherwise, all of these quotes are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
And…if you aren’t a Christian…I think the material still worthwhile (many of the Bible’s principles are still applicable), and near the end I speak directly to whether you should swear regardless.
Ready? Let’s go…
To start off our discussion…or…more like a Bible study, let’s look at Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4:
29 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 (Ephesians 4:29).
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4).
My take? In those two verses Paul is straight up saying you shouldn’t swear. Sure, he is prohibiting even more, but foul language seem a subset of “corrupting talk” and “filthiness.”
Not convinced? Don’t worry, we are just getting started. 🙂
Let’s head over to Colossians 4:5-6:
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6).
This one in Colossians reminds me a bit of Paul’s advice to the Ephesians to only have talk that “is good for building up,” in that in this quote he is saying our speech should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt.”
Is swearing ever “gracious”?
Our next two verses are Paul providing guidance to a young man he loved, that he treated like a son:
20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, (2 Timothy 2:15-17).
Before we discuss Paul’s advice to Timothy, “irreverent babble” in the ESV is translated as “worldly, empty chatter” in the New American Standard Bible and as “Godless chatter” in the New International Version.
How likely do you think that most modern swearing would fall under “irreverent babble,” “worldly, empty chatter,” or “Godless chatter”?
I’m not saying that foul language was Paul’s primary target here, far from it, but I also don’t think it unreasonable to suggest that Christians swearing like their non-Christian counterparts are being pretty irreverent, worldly, and…is it fair to say?…acting godless.
As we continue, let’s look at one special use of swear words, which is especially bad, by discussing Matthew 5:21-22):
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21-22).
Can we be honest? Although foul language might actually be used to compliment something (e.g. “that is f-ing amazing”), it is frequently used to insult, deride, and so on. Jesus gave the example of “You fool!,” but how many times have you heard someone use a swear word to add to the impact to a similar exclamation? You know, like, “You f-ing idiot!” or “You s-word for brains!”
Considering Jesus’ words…
If you think swearing is okay, are there times your use of foul word is making you “liable to the hell of fire”?
We are going to wrap up this section of “verses that straight up indicate swearing is prohibited for Christians” with two quotes from Matthew, one from Luke, and one from James:
34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:34-37).
18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18-20).
43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45).
Before we talk about the verse from James, what can we learn from Jesus’ words, as quoted by Matthew and Luke?
Your words reflect your heart:
“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (twice)
“But what comes from out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”
Do curse words reflect the state of your heart? Would you ever want people thinking that?
Segueing to “a general discussion of Christian behavior,” let’s listen to James talking about our use of words:
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:5-12).
Clearly, the scope of James’ advice here is a lot more than just swearing, but “the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” should give you pause, as should “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Well, all those versus should give you pause.
It’s clear that it is hard for to tame our tongues…and I would suggest that, for many, the love of foul language is part of that.
How have I done? Are you at least a little convinced that Christians swearing is possibly problematic?
Although this section about Christian behavior in general will have no smoking guns, it is still valuable for us to consider.
How should Christians act. Let’s hear from Paul and Peter to start:
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth (Colossians 3:5-8).
Do you think it “a road to far” for me to suggest that if you swear like the wold does, you are being conformed to this world, that you aren’t acting “holy in all your conduct,” and that you have not “put to death therefore what is earthly in you”?
If you act like unbelievers…talk like unbelievers…what change did God make in you?
And as the two latter quotes noted, we shouldn’t be “conformed to the passions of [our] former ignorance” and that things like foul language are the way we “once walked, when [we] were living in them,” but we “must put them all away” (and the “must put them all away” included “obscene talk”…which means I could have stuck it in the “straight up prohibition” section of this talk). Ephesians 5:7-8 also reminds us to put off our old habits when it says:
Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:7-8).
Is swearing “[walking] as children of the light” or continuing to walk in darkness?
Don’t walk in darkness.
Let’s wrap up with a little more guidance from Paul, this time in Philippians 4:8-9:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).
Even if you want to argue that swearing is allowed for Christians, can you honestly say it is “honorable,” “pure,” “lovely,” “commendable,” or “worthy of praise”? If not, is it what Paul is saying you and I should practice?
And…by the way…would you want your young children swearing? If not, what would make it not okay for them, but okay for you? Please ponder that as we go into our final section, “Responses to arguments made that swearing is okay.”
Arguments for Swearing
At this point, if you aren’t convinced…it is unlikely that’s going to change, but please bear with me a little bit longer as I answer a few arguments for swearing.
First, I can imagine, is a non-Christian saying, “I’m not a Christian! This doesn’t apply to me!”
Whether you are a believer or not, your words still reflect you (“your heart”) and there are plenty of other adjectives and expletives you can use to get your point across. Do curse words truly reflect your character? If yes, do you really want them to reflect your character? Really?!
But, you might say, “I want to swear!”
I want to sit on a couch all day, every day, doing nothing useful, drinking McDonald’s Diet Coke from the tap, and eating pizza and ice cream…and McDonald’s fries, come to think of it.
But I shouldn’t.
And you shouldn’t swear.
Ultimately, ask yourself, “Why do I need to swear?”
You don’t. You know you don’t.
It might feel good to swear, but not everything that feels good is good.
Okay…now for answers to Christian arguments for swearing (although what I just stated for non-believers would also hold for Christians).
Christian argument #1: But so-and-so in the Bible swears!
Assuming you are right, let’s chat about the difference between descriptive and normative (or prescriptive). There are times when God, through His word, is just describing what was done. There are other times He is telling us what to do (or not do)…our Lord prescribing (or proscribing). Descriptive versus normative.
I have given you plenty of verses that could be considered normative: God telling you not to swear or to behave in ways that would preclude swearing.
I do not think you could find a single time that you believe an individual in Scripture used foul language, where you can then say, “And God said, ‘Go and do likewise.'”
God’s people, including those who were after His own heart, are recorded…described…as making many mistakes. The fact a mistake is captured in the Bible (even without specifically being called out), doesn’t mean you should (or can) do it to.
Again, assuming any examples you might provide are truly equivalent to modern swearing.
Christian argument #2: With so many, more important things that Christians should and shouldn’t do, you are worrying something small and unimportant.
Can we take a look at Matthew 23:23-24 together?
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24)
The scribes and Pharisees worried about little things, neglecting some big ones.
But notice Jesus didn’t say that negated the need to do those little things. Instead, He reminded them that not only should they have done the little things, they should have not done so at the expense of the big things.
So, you might be right and I spend to much time worrying about swearing, but that doesn’t let you off the hook. You shouldn’t be using foul language.
Christian argument #3: I am not convinced, so I am free to swear.
Boy, I am glad you decide to argue this. 🙂
Let’s see what Paul has to say about this…
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (1 Corinthians 6:12-13).
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:12-13).
And one really long one…
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1).
Notice a theme, a motif?
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.
Something that you are allowed to do may not be good for you…may not be good for others…or both. Whatever you do should be for Glory of God, not “setting [your] own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
Also, please notice Paul says to be an imitator of him. Maybe he did swear, but clearly not as frequently as modern Christians that think it a-okay do. And, let’s be serious, the ultimate person we should emulate, Jesus, is unlikely to have been throwing around first century equivalents of the foul language used today. If Paul or He spoke that way as a norm, why isn’t it recorded?
Thank you listening to Season 1, Episode 16 of Aletheia Quest with Alan Fahrner, “Swearing”
At this point in my life, you’ve heard best arguments for why you shouldn’t swear.
Did I convince you?
Where did I come up short?
Basically, my arguments were:
- The Bible prohibits swearing
- Swearing does not fit Christian behavior
- Arguments for swearing come up short
What did I miss in my presentation?
I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me by e-mailing or by visiting aletheia.quest or truthquest.link and choosing “Contact Alan.” In the U.S. you can also call me toll-free at (855) 476-4776.
And please understand that I may dislike swearing and believe it is a sin, but there are plenty of other things I feel the same about, but don’t hold against people, especially non-believers.
Let’s chat more about it if you want. If I’m wrong, I’ll be blessed if you show me.
- There is truth.
- You can know truth.
- Truth doesn’t contradict truth.
- Truth matters.
- Truth is, I care about you.
See you again next week!