When it comes to swear or cuss words there’s more cultural distinction than biblical instruction involved with the rules. Different languages have different kinds of taboo words for different reasons. So the Bible doesn’t explicitly state a specific word is taboo nor are there any Hebrew or Greek translations of swear words in English. Unless we are actually cursing or insulting someone, it is not a sin to use certain words. Words are just words, whether it be in some generic colloquial expression of pain or angst (what the f*ck or oh sh*t), or using a word in its proper context like referring to a donkey (ass), or female dog (bitch). A lot of our modern Western English swear words actually have legitimate context, so when using them in context it’s not an issue.
When it comes to the concept of bad words itself, it can’t be a definite thing because language is dynamic and various words have different meanings in different cultures, some of which are only taboo in one culture or religion but not in another. So in reality words are words and they’re only negative biblically if they’re used to insult people or blaspheme God. Swearing to God isn’t a specific word but it is a form of taking God’s name in vain so this fits in the category of blasphemy, especially when lying. In the old testament, they would say things like “as surely as the Lord lives” when swearing something is true, but if a person was lying that means that God is dead. Jesus made it simple and said to forget oaths and just say yes or no (Matt 5:33-36).
For two countries that speak the same language, one word can be taboo in one country but completely normal in another country. For example, the word “fanny” in the USA simply means butt, however, in the UK that word is a slang term for a woman’s genitals. This means it’s the UK’s equivalent of the American word “p*ssy”. Likewise is true for the word “bloody”, which is a swear in the UK but not in the US. In the US we typically use it literally, but in the UK it is considered taboo. The concept of cursing words in the West is most likely based on superstitions and cultural taboos from pre-Christian Europeans. There are no specific words in the Bible that are considered curses, the Torah only deals with blasphemy and using God’s name in vain. Yet Medieval Europeans freaked out just over mentioning hell or the devil because of superstitious fears of a horned man with a pitchfork. Fearing Satan himself is not biblical because we are not supposed to fear anyone but God. Paul explains so in, Col 2:15 (NLT) “In this way, he [Christ] disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly for his victory over them on the cross.”
Christians should use discernment with this kind of speech based on the principles that Paul taught about following our conscience on issues like vegetarianism, holidays, and idol meats in Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8-10. Paul makes it clear that rejecting holiday observance, eating meat in general or meat sacrificed to idols aren’t sins. Gentiles were never given kosher food laws or holiday observance rules in Genesis, nor are Christians required to go back to the vegan diet from before the flood. Christians are instructed not to judge other Christians on what they eat because as Jesus said, “what you eat will not defile you” (Matt 15:10-16) and Paul says the same about holidays in Rom 14:5 and in Col 2:16. He says if you don’t believe in idols because they’re not real gods then it is not an issue to eat meats sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:4-13). However, he was aware that there are people that thought the other way so he told Christians, to be compassionate and be mindful of those around them who are sensitive to these kinds of things (Rom 14:20-23, 1 Cor 8:9-13, 1 Cor 10:25-33). So Christians should be cautious about who they are around and avoid offending people.
Jesus said not to insult others in anger in Matthew 5:21-22. He gives examples of generic words like ”raca” (idiot) or fool which are socially acceptable in English. Since his point is simply don’t insult people, then it doesn’t matter which words we use or whether or not they’re socially acceptable. If someone uses socially acceptable words to insult another person but the other person uses swear words in simple contexts they don’t insult anyone then only the first person is in sin. We can also apply what Paul says in Ephesians 4:29 that we should uplift people with our words rather than use abusive language and corrupt words. With that being said it’s better to play it on the safe side and not use taboo words no matter what language we speak, that way we avoid offending anyone. Otherwise only use them in context or just around people that don’t mind random usage. Also, it’s probably better to get into the habit of not using them by default that way we can more easily control our tongue around people who are offended.
The word damn itself just refers to damnation and would be only sinful if we were telling someone to be damned and to go to hell. Which is different from simply explaining that hell exists and that damnation is to be avoided. Saying God plus damn would be blasphemy since one is damning God to hell.
Hell is short for the word Helheim which was the realm of the afterlife in Norse myth. This is the word we use in English translations of the Bible because English is a Germanic language, however, in the Greek translations, the bible uses Hades which is the Greek myth afterlife. This was how they translated the place of the dead from the Hebrew Sheol. It’s simply a reference to being dead or the afterlife, nothing more. It’s in the Bible so it can’t be a “curse” word. Unless of course again we curse someone to go to hell.
Ass is a synonym for donkey in its true definition, however colloquially it is a synonym for butt and it’s no different from saying glutes, buttocks, booty, or anything else. Just avoid calling someone an ass or jackass.
Bitch (female dog):
In Breeding circles, male and female animals have distinguished names. For example stud (male horse) and mare (female horse), or bull (male) and cow (female). There is also hog and sow for pigs, roosters, and hens for chickens, you get the point. For dogs, it is a dog (m) and bitch (f). Calling a woman a bitch is like calling them a dog or any other animal in a pejorative (insulting) way. Using the term in its proper context or even just colloquially saying it with no negative application toward another person would not be sinful.
Terms related to sex and defecation
(I censored these words to be more appropriate):
F*ck, sh*t, p*ssy, d*ck, are all simply synonyms for body parts. This is simply a distinction between academic scientific terminology and street slang. That is the only difference, these words have no other definition other than what they are synonymous for. Using the words sex, intercourse, or coitus is no different from using f*ck. Using the words penis and vagina is no different from using d*ck and p*ssy. Feces, dung, poop, and turd are all the same thing as sh*t.
In the case of defecation and sex terms, in America, those are the only kinds of terms that are restricted on broadcast television. Words like ass, bitch, son of a bitch, damn, and hell, appear regularly on television and in PG-13 movies. I have a theory on why these words are extra taboo in the Western world. I believe it’s related to the definition of modesty and nakedness. In most cultures, “pure/impure” body parts like genitals and buttocks are considered naked. However, outside of that, definitions of modesty vary by culture. For example, in some cultures, a women’s breasts are seen as sensual because they entice men sexually, so breasts are expected to be covered, while in other cultures men and women can go topless because breasts are for feeding and not sexual. This is the root of the controversy on the issue of breastfeeding in cultures that consider breasts sensual. In other cultures, hair is considered sensual and may entice men with lust. This is why in many Islamic countries, women are required to cover their hair. Around the time of Jesus, married women were expected to cover their hair to let other men know they were taken. Since the genitals and the buttocks are related to sex and defecation, those words are then seen as extra taboo because of the relation to nakedness on a grander scale and would be taboo in most cultures around the world.
In addition from a biblical standpoint, these two things are at odds with the ritual purity laws in the Torah. There may be a cross between ritual purity laws and the taboo for slang words dealing with sex and poop. We don’t need to be in a clean state (ritually pure) to interact with God’s presence as the Israelites did. In the Old Covenant, a person could not come before God’s presence at the Temple or Tabernacle if a person was unclean which included people who had skin diseases (like leprosy), touched the carcass of an unclean animal or human, or were lodging in a building with mold. This also applied to contact with sexual fluids via intercourse, or menstruation. Old church fathers like Augustine came up with the idea that sex for pleasure in marriage was a sin and it was to be “tolerated” and only used for reproduction. They took the old testament laws about ritual impurity out of context. This led to sex itself being taboo in modern Western cultures. Poop would have been viewed as unclean for obvious reasons, and the Israelites were told to defecate outside the camp (Deut 23:12-14).
Long story short, Medieval superstitions and modern academia are responsible for determining which words are acceptable socially. The Bible gives us principles like “let no corrupt communication come to form your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29). As well as what Jesus says about not insulting people in anger (Matt 5:21-22) or defiling yourself with words of your mouth (Matt 15:16-20). However, these principles have to be applied correctly and at the right time. We should not make up rules about specific words if they do not actually violate these principles, especially if they are based on superstitions (like fearing Satan) and out-of-context beliefs about taboo subjects like sex and poop. Unbelievers see this nonsense as hypocrisy, and they would be correct since no modern swear words are listed in the bible as evil. So we should always point to what is commanded to define sin and make sure we don’t turn cultural taboos into theological commands.
Think about this: If a Christian husband and wife use inappropriate words with each other in the bedroom are they sinning? I can’t imagine most people saying things like, “I am ready to engage in coitus with you”, or “my penis is erect, have your skene glands produced enough lubricant yet?”, and “my clitoris needs a little more stimulation first, oh and try sliding your finger along my cervix”. Is it a sin if a Christian married couple doesn’t use proper anatomical terminology when engaged in sexual activity? If so, name a chapter and verse in the bible. I’m pretty sure most people are using slang terms in that context, even if they are using more socially acceptable euphemisms.
Eve altered God’s command in Gen 2:16-17 when talking to the serpent in Genesis 3:2. God said they could eat all of the trees except for the one with the knowledge of good and evil or else they will die. So the command was not to eat it. However, Eve told the serpent that the command was not to touch or eat it. Eve modified the command into a man-made tradition. She could have grabbed the fruit, shoved it down the serpent’s throat, and tossed him out of the garden and it would not be a sin because she did not eat it. We need to make sure we don’t claim the bible says something that it doesn’t. That would be tampering with God’s commands which is something that has plagued Christianity with superstition and legalism for far too long. Besides damn, ass, and hell are in the KJV translation of the Bible, so why would God, DAMN someone to HELL for talking about an ASS?
James 3:1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. 7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. 13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
Controlling our tongue matters according to James ch. 3, so Christians should make sure their speech represents the kingdom since they are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). The point of this article is to acknowledge that there is no literal bible verse that says specific words are sin, but Christians must always speak as if they are representing God because they are and so their speech reflects what they represent.
Matt 15:16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”
To bring home my point about how words themselves can’t be a sin (unless associated with God’s name) because definitions change a lot. However, it’s worth being mindful of how we use them especially when interacting with people who are offended by certain words. If unbelievers reject the gospel message for what it is, then it is their choice, but the careless behavior of a Christian shouldn’t be a reason someone rejects the gospel.
There is a YouTube video on how Taboo words work in the island culture of the Kwaio on Malaita. These people make up new Taboo words every day based on what the spirits of their ancestors tell them. So one day the word for food like pig guts is fine, then the next day it is a taboo word, and anyone who says it has to sacrifice a pig or pay in cash (mainly for foreigners). It’s like a game that involves a swear jar with a mutating dictionary, and if you happen to say the bad word of the day, you have to pay. There are other Oceanic tribes that do this as well, which makes it impossible not to swear.