PROFANE AND VULGAR SPEECH

Mike Johnson

The use of vulgar and profane language is at an all-time high in our society today. Profanity is everywhere, and it is difficult to escape from it. 

Without a doubt, the media (specifically television and the movies) has had a significant impact on the way people talk. “Hollywood” has become the teacher for many children as they learn to communicate from the programs and movies they watch. 

There has been an increase in profanity on television. Several years ago, Fox News reported the results of a study by a watchdog organization called The Parents Television Council. The Council studied trends in the use of profanity on television for the past five years and found there has been a significant increase in its use. During the so-called “family hour” (8-9 PM), profanity has increased on television by 94.8%. It rose by 109% during the 9:00 P.M. time slot. The problem has become so accepted by television viewers that advertisers have even started using profanity to sell their products. They have no fear of a public backlash against their ads containing profanity, evidently feeling that it will help sell their products. Children, as well as everyone else, are being more and more influenced to speak in an offensive and improper way.

 Some people appear to be unable to talk without using vulgarity. A simple definition for the word “vulgar” is “making explicit and inappropriate reference to sex or bodily functions” (Oxford Press). In addition to using God’s name in vain, many apparently cannot talk without referring to something sexual or those things about bodily functions. Many people seem to have a minimal vocabulary focused on matters of a crude nature.

Not only is profanity contrary to Scriptural principles, it is simply bad for society. There is an organization (not religious) called “Cuss Control Academy,” which conducts seminars in workplaces on how to eliminate profanity. They point out correctly that “swearing” discloses a lack of characterreflects ignorance and immaturity, creates an overall bad impression.

The Old Testament teaches we should not use God’s name in vain. Exodus 20:7 says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” There are two senses in which a person could have used God’s name in vain. A person would have violated this command by “swearing falsely,” or he could have broken it by using God’s name in a profane, light, or idle manner. Leviticus 19:12 embraces both ideas as it says, “And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.”

Several New Testament passages focus on proper speech. One is Ephesians 5:4, which, says Christians are not to engage in “. . . filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” These three nouns (in the Greek) occur only here. The word “filthiness” (aischrotees) could refer to “conduct,” but in this context, it references speech. Next, “foolish talking” (moorologia) is “silly talking” or “buffoonery,” such as would characterize a person who disregards God. The third word, “jesting” (eutrapelia), means “course” or “dirty” joking. (It is not talking about innocent joking as we would sometimes use the word “jesting” today.) This word can involve the more subtle forms of profanity and can include “. . . a connotation of suggestive talk which employs euphemisms and double meanings” (UBS Handbook Series). Many people today subtly use filthy language through words and phrases with dual meanings and euphemisms. Colossians 3:8 says that we are to get rid of “filthy language.” Ephesians 4:29 says no “corrupt communication” (unwholesome words or talk) is to proceed from our mouths. The word translated “corrupt” referred initially to spoiled fruit or fish, and literally, the idea is “every rotten word.”

Bad language generally proceeds from the heart (Mt. 12:34). Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Instead of “corrupt communication,” we need to make sure that words which are “good for necessary edification” proceed from our mouth (Eph. 4:29). We are to “put off” filthy communication (Col. 3:8). We certainly have not “so learned Christ” (Eph. 4:20) to do otherwise.

Parents must control what their children watch, and must set the right example by taking control of their speech as well. We all need to speak, not in a base way, but as God wants us to.