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 major impact on the way people talk.  “Hollywood” has become the teacher for many children as they learn to communicate from the programs and movies that they watch.

There has definitely been an increase in profanity on television.  Recently, 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 that there has been a large 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 using profanity in their aids, 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 making reference to the sex act or to those acts associated with bodily functions. Many people seem to have a very limited vocabulary which is often focused on things of a crude nature.

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

The Old Testament clearly teaches that God’s name was not to be taken 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 taken God’s name in vain.  A person would have violated this command by “swearing falsely,” or he could have violated 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.”

There are several New Testament passages which focus on proper speech. One is Ephesians 5:4.  This verse says that Christians are not to engage in “. . . filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” These three nouns (in the Greek) are only found here.  The word “filthiness” (aischrotees) could refer to “conduct,” but in this context, it would seem to refer to speech.   Next, “foolish talking” (moorologia) is “silly talking” or “buffoonery” such as would characterize a person who disregards God.  The third word, “jesting” (eutrapelia), simply 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 involve “. . . 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 duel meanings and through euphemisms.  Colossians 3:8 says that we are to get rid of “filthy communication” (or language). Ephesians 4:29 says that no “corrupt communication” (unwholesome words or talk) is to proceed from our mouths.  The word translated “corrupt” originally referred to spoiled fruit or fish, and literally the idea is “every rotten word.”

Bad language generally proceeds from the heart (Mt. 12:34).  It is important that we watch over our hearts with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life (Pb. 4:23).  Instead of “corrupt communication,” we need to make sure that words which are “good to the use of edifying” 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 they must set the right example by taking control of their own speech as well.