What makes a swear word sin?

By Stu Mattfield

Is swearing a sin? How could a combination of sounds be sinful? There is a frequently quoted phrase in the world of linguistics which states, "Words don't mean...people mean." In other words, this phrase attempts to claim that words don't inherently have meaning, but rather they only have meaning dependent on the user who uses them.

I'm not sure I would agree with that statement. I think the following things can be said:

1) Some words have meaning inherently. For instance, "the f-word." I have been around secular people who use this word to mean a whole variety of things. However, we can (or at least should) acknowledge that this word is universally unacceptable. It's a crass, slang word that could be replaced by other words that are less objectionable. We cannot say it means something other than it does, we can only misuse it to mean something other than it does.

2) Some words have meaning dependent on the user. This may be true at times. I may use a word to convey specific meaning in my own context. For example, I may say that someone who is very rigid and unbending is acting like a Nazi. Certainly, I don't think that person is literally a member of a fascist group responsible for horrible genocide and other war crimes. But you see the flaw in saying the meaning can be left to the interpretation of the individual user. The word in this example has universal meaning that makes it objectionable as a reference.

3) Finally, some words have meaning depending on the listener. There are many different cultural meanings to specific words. I may say that I have a real problem with the bums that are working in my office. That meaning may be meant to negatively refer to my coworkers as being lazy. To someone else, that may mean that I have a problem with jobless people hanging around my office. To my British friends, they may wonder why I have a problem with people's posterior ends (aka butts) in my office. So, the receiver also give understanding to the meaning. But again, that does not mean that it changes the universal meaning of the word.

For Christians, one of the key things we need to consider is the heart. In the end, sin is a heart issue. Where are you at with your heart? James taught us that we are to bridle our tongues (meaning, watch our language) as a sign of the condition of our heart (James 1:26). Jesus similarly taught that sin was not a matter of what you literally do or literally don't do — it's much more than that. Sin exists in the heart as well as the action. (Matthew 5:21-30)

So, what makes a word a swear word? Some words are bad just because they are always bad, and I would argue we pretty well know what they are. Some words are bad because of their context. We, as people, should be much better about the language we have to use. We can communicate so many good messages, so why focus on bad ones? As Christians, we should do better because we are called to be better. We are not to act as the world does, but be reflections of the One who has sanctified us in His Name.

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 2-16-16