What is cursing?
Scripture makes it clear that cursing is a sin: but what is it? Swearing includes not only profanity, but also swearing upon God. This goes beyond saying “I swear to God…” but includes attempting to swear upon anything higher than yourself (Matt. 5:34-37). Most people, however, think of profanity when cursing is mentioned.
James 3:10 “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
It is unfitting for people, especially those who are representing God on Earth, to mark themselves with profane language. For there to be both cursing and blessing pouring from the same mouth is like a fountain that produces both water and poison. The term “brothers” comes from the Greek word adelphos (ἀδελφός), which was used collectively to refer to fellow Christians.
Eph. 5:4 “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
“Filthiness” is translated from the Greek aischrotes (αἰσχρότης), and can also mean “obscenity.” “Foolish talk” comes from morologia (μωρολογία). Morologia has been used in Greek writings in the context of drunk speech, but has also been used to refer to moral foolishness. Moral foolishness here refers to mocking the commands of God and spewing foolishness that can either demean it or belittle it. The Greek eutrapelia (εὐτραπελία) can be translated as “crude joking,” “coarse jesting,” or “facetiousness.” While eutrapelia can refer to crude sexual humor, the context within the verse suggests that the speech is making a joke out of God. The previous verse rebukes the Ephesian church for sexual immorality, so it is valid to say that Paul was also admonishing against sexual humor. “Out of place” is also translated as “not fitting.” This comes from the Greek aneken (ἀνῆκεν), meaning “fitting, suitable, proper.” The three forms of immoral speech previously listed are not fitting for anyone, let alone representatives of Christ. “But instead,” or mallon (μᾶλλον) could also be translated as “rather” or “better yet.” There is a nuance of shifting from one lesser thing to something better. Upon replacing “but instead” with “better yet,” we get the full impact of the verse.
Col. 3:8 “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
The idea of putting away these sins is expressed in the Greek word apotithemi (ἀποτίθημι). Apotithemi means to lay aside, renounce, or cast off. “Obscene talk” comes from the Greek aischrologia (αἰσχρολογία), meaning “filthy speech, foul language.” Foul language is placed alongside other sins which can be committed using one’s mouth and thus gives it an equally negative connotation as wrath and slander. In the context of the passage, Paul would go on to tell the church of Colosse to take off the previous sin nature as if it were a piece of clothing. The verb used, apekduomai (ἀπεκδύομαι) can mean both to renounce and to undress. The double prefixes (apo, ek) thoroughly emphasize the depth to which we are to renounce our old nature while the double meaning adds depth to the admonition.
Matt. 15:11 “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
Jesus was responding to a reproach against Him that His disciples did not wash their hands before eating. However, the washing of hands before meals was only a tradition and not a law ordained by God. The only law referring to this affected priests. Priests were supposed to wash their hands before eating holy offerings (Lev. 22:6-7). While this verse was part of a response to a specific reproach, it can easily be extended to many sins involving speech. The emphasis here was that outward expressions of faith such as actions and words meant nothing if the heart was not truly for God. Anyone can say or do anything he wants; faith, while it can be expressed externally, is internal (Matt. 15:8-9). What comes from one’s mouth ultimately comes from one’s attitude and true feelings (Mark 7:21-23). Our words are a reflection of our hearts and if our words are profane, they defile us. The word for “defile” comes from the Greek koinoo (κοινόω) meaning “to make unclean, pollute, desecrate, defile.”
Eph. 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The word “corrupting” comes from the Greek sapros (σαπρός) and refers to something rotten like spoiled fruit or meat, or something morally worthless. While this includes profanity, it includes saying anything that is not useful for building up fellow Christians, and anything that instead could bring them down or lead them to sin. This includes flattery, boasting, slander, backstabbing, facetiousness (refer to Eph. 5:4), dissension, confusion, and deception. Sapros used here says that useless speech is putrid, and putrid speech is useless. Both useless and putrid speech are not to pass the lips of a Christian (and by extension, anyone), but only what is good to build up others.