Cursing: Does Jesus care if we cuss?

Is it okay for Christians to use profanity?

"What goes into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that is what defiles you. . . . But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you." -- Matthew 15:11, 18

In a recent issue of The Echo, SNU's student newspaper, a student wrote that Jesus doesn't care if we cuss or swear. The implication was that casual use of foul language is OK for Christians.

It's not. Here's why in terms of the four elements of the Wesleyan quadrilateral.


God knows something about the powerful communication tool we call language. That's clear from the way John begins his gospel: "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1). In Genesis 1 God speaks the universe into being1. The final words of Revelation are a warning about adding to or subtracting from the "words" of that prophetic book (Revelation 22:19)2.

As to the specific issue of cussing, there are worse evils than using profanity. Still, two of the Ten Commandments (the third and the ninth) deal with the sanctity of oral communication. James scolds his readers for their foul language: "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be!" (James 3:10)

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges believers to focus their thoughts on "whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable . . excellent or praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8). I do not think expletives related to human waste are what Paul had in mind as "pure and lovely." Paul also tells the Ephesians that obscenities and "coarse joking" are "improper for God's holy people" (Ephesians 5:4).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonished his listeners not to say "raca" to someone (Matthew 5:22). Scholars are divided as to whether "raca" was technically a curse word. However, it was a strong enough insult that, as Jesus noted, a person could be taken to court over using it. That might place "raca" in the same category as the "n" word hurled at Black people today in the USA or the "yellow people" phrase said about people of Asian descent.


That the movie industry warns audiences about language it considers inappropriate for children and young people to hear speaks volumes about a need for discernment in vocabulary use.

There is great power in words. The casual use of "damn" trivializes the awfulness of divine judgment. Using "hell" as a cuss word diminishes the appalling thought of an eternity apart from God. Sprinkling conversations with expletives related to sexual intimacy demeans the sacredness of the divinely ordained union of a man and a woman within the bounds of marriage.


Believers of every culture clean up their language when they come to faith in Jesus. That's been true down through history. It's one of those "new things" Paul speaks about as he writes to the Corinthians. I personally observed the changing vocabulary of new believers in Italy and Haiti, all without any prompting from a preacher. Through the ages, the new tongue of believers has resounded with dignity and respect.


A young man recently told me that he only cussed among friends and in the presence of certain professors. It was clear that he understood there was something not quite right about his use of foul language. He knew it apparently wasn't okay to use in front of everyone, but he could not resist the titillating experience of using "forbidden" words. He needed to listen to his conscience as it tried to confirm the words. Jesus says in Luke's gospel: "Out of the overflow of a man's heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). [ The power of Jesus' words ]

To speak against swearing is neither excessive prudery nor a misguided attempt to squelch legitimate expression. Arguing against the use of foul language is an acknowledgment of the power of language.

Does Jesus care if we cuss, swear, or use profanity? People who say He doesn't care display woeful ignorance of Scripture, a callous disregard for what believers through the centuries have experienced, and an insensitivity to the voice of a sanctified conscience.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This article originally appeared in an issue of The Echo, Southern Nazarene University's student newspaper

  1. 1"God said" -- Genesis 1:3, 6 9, 14, 20, 24; "Then God said" -- Genesis 1:11, 26
  2. 2"And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll." -- Revelation 22:19

What does the Bible say about cussing?

The Bible verses below directly refer to the question of swearing and cursing. There are other scripture passages with divine principles that could also be applied to the issue.

Questions for reflection

Related articles

How powerful is language?

Several years ago, InterVarsity Fellowship Regional Director Gene Thomas was looking to buy a retreat center. He heard about a dude ranch for sale in the mountains southwest of Colorado Springs. When he visited Bear Trap Ranch, Gene could hardly contain his excitement. That property was exactly what he was looking for.

He went back to Colorado Springs to see George Krause, the gruff president of the company that owned the mountain ranch in addition to the historic Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs.

When Gene said he was interested in buying Bear Trap Ranch, Krause shot back, "What in the hell do you want it for?"

"Well, actually," Gene replied, "hell has quite a bit to do with it. We want to tell college students about Jesus, and Jesus has this thing about hell. He wants to keep people out of it."

Disarmed by Gene Thomas' response, Krause offered to let InterVarsity have Bear Trap Ranch for $50,000. That was an incredibly low price given that Krause's Antlers Hotel had just invested $75,000 in new plumbing and furnishings at the ranch.

The InterVarsity board agreed to the purchase on the condition that Gene Thomas would raise the money himself. Gene agreed. Then, when Gene returned to Krause to confirm that InterVarsity would purchase the ranch, Krause told him that someone else had just offered $150,000 cash for it.

Gene's heart sank. Then, Krause continued, "However, I told him ´no´, and that I was going to sell it to people who were keeping college students out of hell."

      — Adapted from For Christ and the University by Keith and Gladys Hunt, IVP, 1991

A few years ago, historian John Lukacs spoke on the campus of Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts. While there Lukacs was interviewed by ENC professors Donald Yerxa and Karl Giberson. That full interview was featured in an issue of Books & Culture. Here's the section of the interview in which Lukacs talked about language:

Language is a very mysterious gift from God. In the beginning was the Word. Not the Fact. Not the Picture. Not the Number. Not the Image. It is through words that we relate to each other. It is through words that we can give pain or pleasure to each other. And because of this and every historian worth his salt ought to know this -- the choice of the word is not only a matterof accuracy, not only an aesthetic choice, it is a moral choice.

Perhaps best known for his book Historical Consciousness: Or, the Remembered Past, John Lukacs has ranged far and wide as a historian. His books include A Thread of Years, a series of imaginative vignettes of everyday life in the twentieth century, and Five Days in London, May 1940, focused on Churchill and his cabinet.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

arrow pointing rightThough language may not always seem the most prominent characteristic of a person, it is certainly one of the most revealing. . . .[ more ]

Other articles written for the SNU student newspaper while I was on the faculty

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