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#75 - What does the Bible say about cursing and using bad words?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
What does the Bible say about cursing, using bad words, what speech should come from your mouth?
As followers of Christ, our speech and our thoughts should reflect the teachings of Christ Jesus. Being faithful to our calling as Christians includes our consistently adhering to the powerful words of Jesus, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." (Luk 6:27, 28) This exemplifies real courage, true, wisdom, might, and unconditional love, agape.
When one curses, one is betraying Christ, just as Peter did when he cursed and betrayed Christ. (See Mat 26:74 , NRSV.)
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus instructed us,
You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Mat 5:21, 22, NASB)
Theo Sorg (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 1, edited by Colin Brown, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975, page 417-418) sums up the issue very well when he writes in his definition of "raka (rhaka), emptyhead, fool:"
CL & OT… [Classical literature and the Old Testament]
(a) J. Jeremias,, and H, Schniewind.. regard rhaka as the transcription of the Aram[aic]. term of abuse reqa, empty-head, blockhead (cf. Heb. riq, empty in the brain), rhaka, instead of rheka, was formed under Syr[ian] influence.
(b) In the Gk. of pre-NT times rhaka appears only in a Zeno papyrus (257 B.C.), where it is a cat-call.
(c) Rab[inic] writings present a great number of instances of reqa… In address reqa is an expression of angry scorn perhaps with the meaning mutton-head, ass.
NT In the NT rhaka appears only in Matt. 5:22: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment: whoever shall say to his brother, 'Empty-head' (rhaka), shall be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'Fool' (more), shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire." rhaka is here compared with more, the term of abuse that was most in use.. more is more drastic in meaning and is perhaps to be rendered by idiot or fool.. In Matt. 5:22 there are thus assembled the two everyday terms of abuse that were most prevalent in Jesus' environment…
The ego de lego hymin, "but I say to you", of Jesus introduces a divine law that is a development of the OT. Not only does actual murder place men under he punishment of death. The heart that has become inflamed with the destructive mental attitude, from which springs the damning word, merits the same judgment. With tremendous sharpness Jesus' word makes it clear that God's judgment on sin is radical and far-reaching. It does not merely cover the accomplished deed; it exposes the motive behind it. Jesus does not simply condition the divine commandment by an overstatement which emphasizes human powerlessness… Accordingly in this three-stage development, Jesus sets the sins of thought and tongue (which include the damning of a man) on the same level as physical murder which can be atoned for only by death.
Then we have the writer of James instructing us,
Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourselves. (Jam 1:26, TEV)
James goes on to say,
All of us often make mistakes. But if a person never makes a mistake in what he says, he is perfect and is also able to control his whole being. We put a bit into the mouth of a horse to make it obey us, and we are able to make it go where we want. Or think of a ship: big as it is and driven by such strong winds, it can be steered by a very small rudder, and it goes wherever the pilot wants it to go. So it is with the tongue: small as it is, it can boast about great things. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire. It is a world of wrong, occupying its place in our bodies and spreading evil through our whole being. It sets on fire the entire course of our existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself. Human beings can tame and have tamed all other creatures-wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish. But no one has ever been able to tame the tongue. It is evil and uncontrollable, full of deadly poison. We use it to give thanks to our Lord and Father and also to curse other people, who are created in the likeness of God. Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, this should not happen! (James 3:2-10, TEV)
The Letter to the Colossians says,
Let your speech always be gracious… (Col 4:6, NRSV)
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer