This is not always the easiest topic to cover. There are a lot of opinions on either side of this debate and from personal experience I think there is much more scripture that argues for and against certain words than there is to justify the use of certain words. With that being said we need to consider the root of argument rather than presuppositions from culture around “swearing”.
What we must first understand is that the word swearing used in scripture is not the same word that we use in English to denote a profane or inappropriate word. Swearing mentioned in the Bible is about affirming an oath or pledging a type of allegiance or promise to something. Think of a knight, swearing to protect a king or queen. We know this because in context swearing is never about the use of a particular word’s use.
Hosea 4:2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby—
James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
As you see this argument falls flat, particularly in James where he refers to swearing by an oath. If we are to be honest with the context we have to throw that argument away when it comes to 4 letter words. The same can be used with the word “cursing”, as it holds a very particular connotation.
Another more well-thought argument is the use of unclean or profane words. This argument I think can win almost every time because it’s laid out plainly and clear for those who read it. The issue most of us don’t consider is that a profane word is not necessarily dictated by culture instead it stems from the heart.
For example, one could utter the phrase “you’re a piece of garbage” to someone. Not one word of that phrase is considered a 4 letter word in our native tongue English. If you were to say garbage to someone referring to the trash you take out, people would not reel back in offense. Yet, the context behind the use of the phrase “you’re a piece of garbage” is an insult to the value of the person it is referencing.
In the same note, if I approached a near and dear friend and with a hug I called him a “shithead” and he returned it with “thanks asshole” and yet neither of us were offended, the connotation is that we were cordial to one another in an almost brotherly way. There was no ill will toward him or him toward me in that engagement and neither of us took offense.
This doesn’t negate the fact that our language and culture has determined that some words should not be used in certain situations. Most television shows cannot be shown on prime time without a censoring of the words they use in the show. For some, this is a valid enough reason not to use those words at all, and to be honest we can’t fault someone for thinking this way. Our church culture has helped to determine what words we use or not use in a way to help us to avoid being like the world. Though this thought has some great intentions, it presents us with a false sense of holiness.
It becomes a way to measure someone else’s level of Christianity or godliness. We begin to judge others who don’t use “swear words” as being more righteous or better than those who do. We then cast guilt or blame on those who do happen to use those certain words, without necessarily considering the heart or context behind those words.
Often times 4 letter words are used as adjectives, embellishing the use of verbs or pronouns i.e., “today is a really shitty day”. The words didn’t assault a person or insult someone’s worth or value. It didn’t come from a heart condition and it would have the same weight as saying “today is a really crappy day”.
What many Christians have done is use replacement words to denote the very same feeling or emotion that others use other bad words. We use words like “frick”, “shoot”, “crap” or “darn”. All of these words carry the same weight of the heart that 4 letter words use, yet the only difference is that some in society have deemed certain words “evil” while others appropriate.
The final thought that we should all have on this matter is consideration for those around us when we use certain words. We can make a far better argument through scripture to enforce that we should avoid saying things that cause offense to others, and should speak in a way that encourages each other. This is a much harder concept for some because it causes us to be aware of the people and environment we are in and around. It causes us to be considerate to not say certain things when we know it will offend someone.