Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth

First of all, a word of warning, this post contains language... of the English, Greek, and explicit variety so proceed under advisement.

So lately I have been thinking about how exactly I feel concerning "cuss words" (I will use cuss words as my connotation, not "swear words" since they are actually different and the Bible speaks to each differently), specifically the use of and listening to them with respects to how it all fits in with the teaching contained in scripture.

First we look at Colossians 3:8 "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." So now let us ask ourselves, what exactly is "filthy language?" (For reference the KJV translates it as “filthy communication” and the ASV says “shameful speaking.”

When looking at the Greek (and forgive me, I am just now beginning to learn how to use my Strong's numbers and am HORRIBLE at learning languages, the fact that I am trying to self teach myself Greek, all is to say I will lean heavily on others interpretations and readings of Greek words, yay Google and Wikipedia!) the 2 words that make up "filthy language" are aischros and logia. The first aischros, seems to be translated very correctly, it is dishonorable, filthy, etc. It is the 2nd word, logia, that is the actual subject (aischros is the descriptor) of the passage. I will quote the first sentence in Wikipedia as to what logia is: "Logia is a term applied to collections of sayings credited to Jesus and used as source materials by the Gospel writers in the writing of the familiar canonic narrative gospels." To me, this passage in Colossians isn't saying don't use "cuss words", it is instead speaking out against false prophecy and the twisting of Jesus's message or "dishonorable/filthy message of Jesus". In my research I ran across an article that best summed up how I view this passage: "Thus, rather than reprobates like George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, and Buddy Hackett, the condemnation pertaining to the aischrologia rather applies to the practices of such men as Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Robert Tilton, Kenneth Hagin, and Kenneth Copeland."

Next in my reading I was pointed to the passage Philippians 3:8 "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." The phrase I am looking at here is "I consider them rubbish," the KJV translates it as "dung." The Greek word in question is skubalon "This word is used primarily for excrement, especially human excrement; secondarily for rubbish, dirt, leavings, etc." It seems to me that Paul was trying to be quite emotive in this passage, that he was not only showing how worthless his previous Judiastic Religion was, but also complete revulsion (hence the primary translation of human excrement, and the secondary translation of "rubbish", human fecal matter isn't just worthless, it's to most people quite repulsive as well).

To quote the word study I linked above (which maybe 2 of you actually followed up on):

That skuvbalon took on the nuance of a vulgar expression with emotive connotations (thus, roughly equivalent to the English “crap, s**t”) is probable in light of the following considerations: (1) its paucity of usage in Greek literature (“Only with hesitation does literature seem to have adopted it from popular speech”) (2) it is used frequently in emotionally charged contexts (as are its verbal cognates) in which the author wishes to invoke revulsion in his audience; (3) there is evidence that there were other, more common and more acceptable terms referring to the same thing (in particular, the agricultural term koprov" and the medical term perivsswma) (4) diachronically, the shock value of the term seems to have worn off through the centuries; and (5) a natural transfer of the literal to a metaphorical usage, in which disgust, revulsion, or worthlessness are still in view, argues for this meaning as well.

I think that to capture the true emotion and expression Paul was displaying here we would translate it as: "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them crap(or if you wanted to go with the adult version, even the word shit wouldn't be inappropriate in expressing Paul's emotive stance here), that I may gain Christ."

Whats my point here? Glad you asked! My point is that whenever we interpret scripture that calls for refraining from unclean speech we need to do it in light of Paul using very emotive and "crass" (dare I say... "cuss") terminology of his day when speaking with the people of Philippi. We must conclude that the use of a cuss word in and of itself is neutral (Rom 14:14), that there is nothing inherently sinful about any particular word. Rather, its filthiness or appropriateness is derived from its referent and significance. Paul demonstrates this in his use of “crap, shit” in Philippians 3:8, where the word skubalon, has a metaphorical referent of his former religious practices, with the significance that these practices are worthless.

I am not saying that we should all wander around professing to be Christians and then dropping F-bombs and sounding like sailors recently in to port (that hardly sounds like a group of individuals who have been "set apart.") What I am saying is we need to stop judging individuals who speak differently than we do and instead focus on a message of love. Lately in my circle of friends quite a number of individuals have lately spoken out against swear words. When some friends of both Shalisa and I were over a while ago (of whom I have the utmost respect for their walk with Christ) the two adult males in the room (myself and the unnamed other individual) both used some "cuss words" in the heat of competition (we were playing some games). Later my wife was aghast that I would say something so terrible (well, she wasn't THAT surprised, but she did chastise me) but I believe that the words I used properly expressed my emotive feelings at the time. It's the difference between saying "My dice rolls suck" and "You suck", the reference to what I am talking about is what makes all the difference. If you refrain from using the "big 7" but call someone an idiot or stupid or dumb in my mind that is much worse than saying "my electric bill is too damn expensive!" Again, it all comes down to WHAT (as in context) you are saying not HOW (as in emotive) you are saying it.

During college I had mandatory chapel every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and often we either had a guest speaker or professor come and speak to us. One of the guest speakers was a missionary in Africa. He got up in front of everyone and started off his speech by stating that "seven fucking thousand kids are dying every day from hunger in Africa alone, and more of you are upset about the fact that I just used the f word in church than the fact that a child is dying every 3 seconds across the globe." Needless to say, he never spoke at my school again which I think is a tragedy because he illustrated a very important point. We as Christians get so hung up on judging what is and isn't right that we forget our true calling to love the world and spread the gospel of Jesus. The fact that a child is dying every 3 seconds in 3rd world countries across the globe SHOULD evoke VERY STRONG emotions in us, that should make us upset to our very core, and in our in our language today the evoking/expression of that emotion happens to be done with words that we consider sinful. The sin in our lives is failing to be motivated to love our fellow man and bring them Jesus, not by using some words... I am pretty sure Paul would have dropped an F-bomb as well if he thought it would motivate people to live for Jesus.


.justin said...

sounds good to me.

thanks for engaging the mind.

i've been banging this drum for awhile now. it's nice to have other people playing along with me.

a thought to consider is this:

why is "Cussing" considered unchristian? and when did that come about?

i think "Cussing" began to denote a person as not a christian when it became common for GENTLEMEN to not cuss in front of ladies. therefore, good moral behavior has modified what "righteous living" is defined as. and that's no good!

we've probably retreated in the call to advance the gospel in the name of being a "gentleman"!

and another advancement of your logic based on "unwholesome words"... unwholesome words, in a practical sense are those that produce filth and rot or better stated, death. and it's really easy to produce DEATH in people's lives without swearing. we do it all the time with gossip, slander, manipulation, control, etc. even "holy" and "righteous" people do this. in fact, i would bet that the most "holy" person you can think of is excellent at producing "unwholesome talk" or "words that bear death", while they are really good at "not cussing"... does that make sense?

build each other up.

i really like romans 12:9-21 in the Message.

dualism [compartmentalizing] is evil.

thanks for sharing, ryan. at first i wasn't going to "share this post on my google reader", but due to your diligence in study, i will.

Shalisa said...

I think I agree with you on your major points. Especially as we often look down our long noses to judge people using cuss words...but those people usually are non-believers, and we have no place to put judgement. There is a place for cuss words...but using them on a person...that is wrong. Anyway...

james d said...

all i got out of your post was the f-word.

Bob said...

You are right, a post like this has potential to cause strong feelings on either side. My question is why would you find it so important to defend the issue. It is true that words in themselves are not evil, but gossip is a sin and it is only words. The key here is the meaning behind the words. Cuss words have synonyms that mean the same thing yet they are acceptable for everyday use. So you are technically correct that there is nothing wrong in using certain words.
Back to my first statement, why do you feel it is so vital to defend this arguement? Wouldn't the time be better spent alleviating hunger, children dying, social injustice, etc? I am sure that a point can be made just as eloquently without resorting to such usage. As a case in point, did your parents have to resort to such language to get your attention or did you get the point anyway? :)

jeremy said...

This discussion makes me think of cussing in "Christianese" which i see a lot of and am myself guilty of. You know, using words like "freaking" or "stink" instead of saying the real cuss word.

When i was a kid, mom would always discipline me for using these kinds of words because the use of these "quick cleanups" as she called it is still intent on conveying the emotion/message/strength of cussing. She is right, it is still cussing at the heart.

But I think the error of my mom's line of thought is that there are no occasions where it is appropriate to use "extra strength" adjectives. Growing up, in moments of extreme frustration, i found myself having nothing to say that wouldn't cause mom to shove a bar of soap in my mouth. It was very frustrating and most unnatural.

I think if one doesn't overuse cuss words, they retain their bite and effectiveness in conveying extreme feelings, and i think there are acceptible occasions to use these. People who use the big 7 all the time are just foul and their cussing is lame (verbally speaking).

Susan deWaalMalefyt said...

I guess... I dont really find to much wrong with it. its not that big of an issue to me. (cussing) I use it with my friends when were joking around or when i am explaing a story about the day i just had. I think it is only bac when people cant understand what you are trying to tell them cause every other word is a cuss word... I guess i just dont mind it as long as it isnt every other word. yep . that is all.

hettinger said...

Ok, here are my 2¢'s. Take them for what they are worth (and since they are free...).

i think your exegetical method is lacking here...

"Wikipedia as to what logia..."??

Try using a Koine Greek Dictionary, especially one that consults the cultural context(s) that the words were originally found in, such as: Moulton and Milligan, BDAG, or the TDNT.

Context is the strongest determinative in assessing word meaning. Particularly in Col. 3:8, the verse asserts the differences of how the Colosians used to walk, and contrasts their former behavior with how they should now be walking.

Logia can refer to any group of words. Essentially, a literal translation of Logia would be 'words.' The antecedent of the noun would be determined by the context, and in Colosians, I don't think it refers to a 'collection of sayings credited to Jesus.'

I think you have a good point with the Apostle's usage of strong language. As well, other cultural taboos we deal with, such as drinking, could also fall into these types of misunderstandings.

I think it is important to realize that one of the fruits of the Spirit is Self Control. When we are in control of our body and actions, this is pleasing to God. Drinking can lead to dissipation, and the tongue can hurt people like none other (James 3). Want to be perfect? All you have to do is control your tongue (James 3:2).

Inherently, all different types of strong language, vulgarity, profanity, etc are destructive. I think only in rare occasions can you use strong language to effect an outcome of events that is righteous. Paul, i think was doing that.

Jami said...

I understand the argument and some what agree, but the only comment I have is I don't really like people using colorful words around my small children who don't understand how and when to use words like that and will use it at anytime anywhere. I don't care what others think, I just don't want those kind of words coming out of my sweet little girls mouth.

Koralmae said... there is hope for my salvation! I've always used cuss words as a way of releasing anger. It's almost therapeutic for me to use them, but I totally agree with Shalissa. They should not be mis-used and directed TOWARD someone. In other words...hate speech very bad. There is a time and a place for them, and most times and places are inappropriate for cuss words. And if you're around someone who finds the language offensive, use your common sense, and don't use the language!!! Know your audience.

.justin said...

"know your audience"