I'll just go right into this one: swear words are not condemned in a single Biblical verse or passage; there is no list of approved or unapproved phrases in Scripture, and the onlyword Jesus tells us not to use is an abusive one -'raca,' which is sort of like the racist term 'n****r' except that it could be applied to anybody-and Jesus actually uses that one Himself in the middle of commanding us not to use it (Matthew 5.22 ASV). Passage after passage has been used to show that swear words are bad, but those passages only seem to talk about abusive language like the word raca. So, for example, Scripture might disallow phrases like 'F*** you,' because that's abusive language, but 'This is f***ing serious' doesn't seem like the kind of phrase that the Bible would really disallow (except for, when used in the wrong crowd, it causes unnecessary offense - but we'll get to that). The use of swear words actually has some forcefulness to it, such that 'this is reallyserious' just doesn't have the same punch or meaning to it that its expletive-laced alternative does.
How Swearing Is Like Drinking
In John 2.1-12, St. John the Apostle wrote that Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine. That's fine, right? Well, here are some of the details that are less well-known: He made 180 gallons of wine (John 2.6-7). For whom? For a large group of people who were holding a celebration (this is what's called social drinking). Well, you might wonder, could Jesus have made non-alcoholic grape juice? Fat chance. Jesus made the best wine, the kind that people used to get drunk off of at feasts and parties before they started to bring out the cheap stuff (John 2.10). This during a time when, like our day, people sometimes went overboard and become drunks and drunkards (Titus 1.7). While the Bible does emphatically tell us not to get drunk (Ephesians 5.18) it obviously doesn't condemn alcohol in general and neither did Jesus. That said, at one time Christians did preach against the use of alcohol and condemned it as a social evil, and that's created a society where even among non-Christians drinking is seen as something that only irresponsible frat boys do. If a potential employer sees pictures of you on Facebook drinking alcohol, it could keep him from hiring you. My point is that swearing is a lot like drinking, a taboo we've passed onto society which was never part of the Bible's teaching in the first place. Now we've realized where we went wrong but society still expects us to stay away from alcohol and never swear and that creates a sticky situation for us in terms of expressing things.
Swearing and Unnecessary Offense
So keeping all of this in mind, we have to be careful about where and when we use swear words, not because they're wrong to use, but because among some non-Christians swearing will hurt your credibility, and with some it's just another way of talking. So you have to know your crowd. Unfortunately, even some Bible passages would be a little more clear if we could use swears to translate them (seehere), but in some settings it's just better to say something along the lines of, 'and here in the Greek, the expression is a bit more forceful.' It's a bit frustrating that popular convention has taken away our ability to use the most forceful and descriptive English words when we really need them, but such is life. Some people will only hear abusive language or ignorance when they hear a swear word thrown about, and while that's partially our fault for giving society that impression in the first place, it's a reality that we have to live with (for now). Swearing might be a really helpful way to express what you mean in a small group with the right crowd, but out in public it could make you seem too crude or ignorant for people to want to hearyoutell them about Jesus. We should totally offend people, but only on the necessary things.
Swearing and Necessary Offense
Of course, some people just need to be offended. I've heard popular preacher Mark Driscoll exclaim, from the front of the church, 'who the hell do you think you are?!' towards men who get harsh with their wives. That's not the only time, either. It's a big risk to say that sort of thing in public (which I've been pointing out over the last two sections) but if you know your crowd, the forcefulness of swear words lets everyone know that what you're talking about is no joke. It's f***ing serious. Ultimately, even my 70-year-old protestant female highschool English teacher would tell you that swear words are powerful and should be used for serious matters, though sparingly. These words draw attention to what they're being used for, and when we use them, everybody in the room knows that we are doing something more serious than delivering a few quaint devotional thoughts just so that everybody can go home. Those words are used for their forcefulness and are used to talk about significant things. If we douse swear words in public -despite what I said in the middle of this post- then we should use them for this kind of purpose. St. Paul did that when he described everything as scubalon, or 'a pile of s***' compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3.8, insufficiently translated 'rubbish' in the ESV). That word alone carried the force and the meaning that Paul needed to get across in his letter. And that letter just so happens to be part of our Bibles. The lesson? Use all the words you need to express yourself well - just don't createunnecessary offense in doing so.
P.S.I apologize for all the swearing. Though it's all censored, I know I've walked a pretty fine line with this post. If this is your first trip toThe Voice, don't be put off - this isn't the kind of language that is normally used around here. Thanks for reading to the end though.