Writing Tips from the Bible on Swearing

We can get plenty of writing tips from the Bible on swearing. While God forbids profanity and all unwholesome talk, the Bible is full of sinners like us. So how did Bible writers handle instances of people swearing? Let’s look at the example of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus as recounted by Matthew.

Peter Swore
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. (Matthew 26:69-74, NIV, emphasis mine)

Show Don’t Tell?
We’ve all received advice to “show don’t tell.” Peter’s betrayal was vehement. Although he was a follower of Jesus, Peter lost his temper and lapsed into old habits. Matthew doesn’t tell us what Peter said, but it was something like: “@$#&%!”

Matthew told/narrated and did not show/quote Peter’s exact words. Why? Maybe he didn’t want to expose us to blasphemous words, which could take root in our minds and become part of our vocabulary.

From the Heart
The thing about language is that it’s personal: our words come from inside and reflect what’s in our hearts. Actors can pretend to kill someone, but they can’t pretend to swear. The physical act of speaking is the same whether actors agree with what they’re saying or not. The words come out of their mouths. Profanity includes euphemisms and acronyms such as “OM–!” that have become so commonplace they can desensitize us to phrases that dishonor the Creator we love, worship, and serve. Do we want to put swearing into the mouths – and hearts – of our readers?

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

The Heart is a Fountain
The Heart is a Fountain

The Power of Words
Our French teacher told us she never taught her students how to swear in French because they would pick it up without any help from her. Why do bad words stick in our minds even when we’d rather forget them? Maybe someone said them in anger and shocked us. Perhaps we were even the target!

If our aim is to please God with our writing, I think it’s reasonable to take writing tips from the Bible. What’s your view?

Posted on January 13, 2015

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