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Question: I understand that it is not polite to use "curse words," since many people consider them vulgar and offensive. But why do some people object to such seemingly inoffensive outbursts as "gosh" or "gee" or "Jiminy Cricket"? Surely these are preferable to the harsh and vulgar words some would use in their stead. Am I mistaken?
Answer: At first glance, many might think that these words and others like them, seemingly much tamer than the various "four-letter words" in circulation, are preferable to those other vulgar phrases. However, for a Christian, some of these "innocent" phrases may be even less appropriate than apparently more "vulgar" phrases. Why? Because they are euphemisms for the names of God the Father and Jesus Christ—and those who use them are taking God's name in vain.
Scripture warns: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). The Psalms are full of praise for God's name. "Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven" (Psalm 148:13). And: "Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious" (Psalm 66:1-2).
"But 'gosh' isn't 'God' and 'Jiminy Cricket' isn't Jesus Christ!" some will object. "What's wrong with using a 'minced oath' or a 'euphemism' instead of God's name?" Well, as the dictionary explains, a euphemism is "the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensively blunt or harsh" (Random House Dictionary of the English Language). A vague allusion to God's name is still alluding to God's name, and thus should not become a "substitute curse word." If we casually use God’s name, or a euphemism for God's name, to express shock, surprise or even profanity, we are showing contempt for our Creator, whether or not those around us may consider our words "vulgar."
People's sense of what is vulgar may vary over time, as a community's customs and language go through changes. The wording of 1 Samuel 25:22 would not have seemed vulgar to readers of the King James Version in 1611, yet today's readers may be discomforted when they see how the KJV translators rendered a phrase containing the Hebrew word shathan (Strong's 8366). The NKJV translators, by contrast, rendered the clear sense of that verse's Hebrew idiom without resorting to a word that most today would find vulgar. We should certainly be considerate of others in how we choose our words, and thus should avoid vulgarity. But taking God's name in vain is a different—and far more spiritually serious—matter.
How should we use God's name? In the New Testament, Christ instructed His disciples to pray to God the Father through His name. "And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). And when we pray, we should give honor to God's name. "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 6:9).
The disciples healed the sick through the name of Jesus Christ. "Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk'" (Acts 3:6). James instructed Christians to continue to follow that example. He said, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (James 5:14).
In the book of Acts, we read that the disciples preached the Gospel through the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:15), and baptized in Christ's name (Acts 8:16; 19:5). Paul told Christians at Ephesus, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).
The words we use are important to God. We should be sure that our speaking reflects our honor and reverence for Him.