A topic like this would seem to be a no-brainer in Christian culture today, and for most of my life before I became a student of the Word, this had been pretty much a no-brainer to me as well. I really despised when people that proclaimed to be Christians chose to say certain words that I thought shouldn’t be said by a Christian. I’ve always been very put off by it. But then when I thought about the meaning of cursing, I wondered to myself, is what we define as cursing today the same thing that Scripture defines as cursing? Are words/phrases like “ass”, “bastard”, “bitch”, “damn it”, “what the hell”, “fuck”, and “shit” clearly defined by God as sinful words/phrases that should not be uttered, or is cursing according to the Word something different?
Before I get into the text, I think it’s interesting that some of these words did have other meanings before they became widely perceived as vulgar. For example, you may not know that “ass” used to refer to a donkey, “bastard” used to refer to illegitimate children, and “bitch” used to commonly refer to a female dog. We know about “hell”, and we’ve heard the phrase damnation before in Scripture, though perhaps not the singular wording of just “damn” has any particular prior meaning other than the alternative spelling of dam which is a barrier that blocks water. As far as the F word and the S word I’m not aware of any original meaning behind them, but it’s quite possible there could have been some other original meaning behind these words as well.
Now in the New Testament, with the help of my Greek Concordance, I looked up all the instances of the word cursing and curse. There are two different Greek words that are used for the word cursing, and one word used for the word curse. καταράομαι, which is the Greek word translated to curse, means to curse, to doom or imprecate evil upon. The Greek word ἀρά which cursing is translated from can mean prayer, supplication, imprecation, curse, or malediction. The other Greek word which cursing is translated from is κατάρα, which means execration, imprecation, and curse.
I looked up the meaning of the word execration, which means the act of cursing or denouncing. Imprecation means a spoken curse. So we come back around again to the word curse. What does it mean to curse someone? Well, let’s go back to the the Greek word that we just looked at for curse. It was defined as dooming or imprecating evil upon someone. So the question that comes up to my mind is does saying the words that we as a culture have come to define as curse words amount to imprecating evil upon someone according to scripture, or is it simply the perception that we’ve come to develop as such over a period of time? The Word never seems to explicitly state what words exactly that the tongue ought not be speaking as curses to men as stated in James 3:9.
Does that mean it’s okay to say words such as the F word? Well, let’s keep looking at more verses to further enhance our understanding. Ephesians 4:29 states, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Ok, so this instruction to the Christian Ephesians, and consequently all Christians, were to speak words that are only good for edification, which the greek word used for edification is oikodome, and that defines as building up or the act of one promoting growth in a Christian. Ephesians 5:4 states, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” So again, we have a clearly defined instruction of what type of words that God wants Christians to speak, and here it’s words of giving thanks. So at least in these verses we see God wants us to speak words that build people up, and also to speak words of thanks. Interestingly, the phrase “there must be no filthiness” is translated from the Greek Word aischrotes, which means obscenity. An obscenity is defined as a statement or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time.
So I have a few thoughts to close to kind of wrap together all of this evidence we have before us to make some kind of conclusion here. Yes, the Word does say “cursing” ought not come out of our mouth. God wants Christians to speak words to others that uplift and words that express thanks. Perhaps we could also infer words of kindness and other qualities based on the definition of love that we have in 1 Corinthians 13, and there could be other inferences of how our words should be spoken based on what the Word instructs of how Christians should treat each other. With that said though, it’s still the case that the words we have come to define as a culture for cursing is not necessarily defined as such in the text. So does it come down to our own perceptions of what we view to be filthy/obscene according to Ephesians 4:5? Well, it’s always important to be very cautious going with our own subjective perceptions. Though scripture does seem to indicate we can have different perceptions occasionally as to what we believe our faith allows us as implied in Romans 14:2.
What I would conclude based on all of this information, is that it would seem that it may not be a particular word itself that is cursing, but the intent behind the word that is cursing. If you’re intending to speak badly of someone and offend someone with a word, then it would seem according to scripture you’ve cursed, whether the word you’ve used is one that our culture has defined as cursing or not. Now someone might cleverly reverse this thought and ask, are you saying if someone is using the words that our culture has come to define as cursing in a non-“offense intending” non-“speaking badly” way to someone that it’s okay? Well, perhaps maybe so, but I leave that up to your own discretion. But as has been stated already, the “curse” words themselves are not specifically stated as words that should not be spoken. However, most importantly, it still should always be remembered that Christians are instructed to be speaking with their mouth words of building up, words of thankfulness, and words of love. As always, thoughts, questions, and comments are always welcome. Peace to all those who are in Christ.