Writer Rachael Cottle turns to the Bible to answer the question: “Can Christians swear?”


Source: Etienne Girardet / UnSplash

Before wading into this debate, I thought it would be a good idea to be sure we’re all on the same page about what swearing actually is. Google tells us that the definition of swearing is: “The use of language regarded as coarse, blasphemous, or otherwise unacceptable in polite or formal speech in order to express anger or other strong emotions.”

If this is theclassification we’re rolling with, in my humble opinion, swearing is something to be avoided. I know, I know… I toe a hard line. But prayerfully and thoughtfully, I’m afraid I do think we should steer clear of the profanities. But many people don’t agree with me and don’t consider swearing as off limits to Christians.

Swearing at someone is pretty much always a no-no, but swearing in frustration if you stub your toe, is passable for plenty of Christians. 

Some people hold the view that it’s not the word itself that’s bad, but the context in which it is used. For example swearing at someone is pretty much always acknowledged as a no-no, but swearing in frustration if you stub your toe, is passable for plenty of Christians. 

A second arguement for the use of bad language, is that it can break down barriers with groups of people who might not have otherwise experienced Jesus. There are plenty of people who will brush off Christians as inaccessible, unrelatable and “too perfect” but chucking in the occasional “s-word” could serve to put people at ease. 

On one level I can see the function of swearing in these contexts, but as with any debate, what’s the point in running through our rationale when we have the ultimate guide book in the Bible to turn to for advice. And the big book is not short of verses about how we speak. In James 3 it is very clear that we should pay particular attention to the tongue as it is like a small rudder that steers a large ship (James 3:4). This spells it out quite clearly: there is power behind what we say. Our words have great authority. Surely we should use them to bring life, joy and be uplifting to whoever hears them as it says in Ephesians 4:29?

As part of my personal walk with Jesus, the words that people say have, at times, had great impact on me - both positive and negative. I have been in situations where my day has been completely turned around because someone was kind, and gentle, and encouraging in the way they spoke to me. But, on the other hand I have also experienced the working through and unpikcing of damage in my heart from destructive speech over my life. In James 3:10 it says: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” We can’t always know what effect our words will have on others.

The words that people say have, at times, had great impact on me - both positive and negative.

With this in mind, I believe that in every instance we should speak in love over people. Swearing is often harsh and abrasive and often comes from frustration or anger. In these moments I find it helpful to take a second, breathe and let the Holy Spirt lead. It all sounds very Christian, I know. But I guarantee it works. 

With that said, James 3:2 says: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” I know that on many occasions I have stumbled. This is where the love and sacrifice of Jesus is so powerful. No matter how often I slip up or fall short, I know that I am loved and forgiven.

Being human means that I will make mistakes and will often not get things right. My relationship with God stands above all this. Every day, in every situation he is there with me. Even though no matter what we do God love us, I think that we should try to guard our speech for the sake of others. There are many ways to express strong emotions without swearing and it’s not a bad thing to stand out because people notice the love in the words you use.