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Profanity, A Bible Study, part 1

May 14, 2006

First, the data gathering phase.

Ephesians 4:29-32 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

What does the context suggest that “corrupting” or “unwholesome” means?

Here’s the entry in BAGD Greek-English lexicon for the word translated “corrupting” or “unwholesome”

“sapros”(‘make putrid’)

1. lit. of such poor quality as to be of little or no value, bad, not good

A. in the prim. sense spoiled, rotten (of spoiled fish Antiphanes Com. [IV BC] fgm. 218, 4 K. [in Athen. 6, 225f]) of rotten fruits (PFlor , 9 figs; Theophr., HP 4, 14, 10 of worms that infect olives) of grapes that lie on the ground and rot Hs 2:4.

B. of poor quality bad

a) of living matter, fish Mt 13:48 (s. BAR 19, ’93, 52; it is of semantic significance that these fish have just been caught and would therefore not be rotten or spoiled, whereas Antiphanes in the ref. cited above [1a] declaims about fish that have been in the marketplace too long).—Of plants and their products (Aristoph., Theophr. et al.; PFay 119, 4; 6) that are of inferior quality: trees, Mt 7:17f; 12:33a; Lk 6:43b; fruit Mt 12:33b; Lk 6:43a. Unless the proverb contains hyperbolic diction, ‘rotten’ would be an inappropriate rendering, since ‘rotten’ trees would either not bear any fruit at all or at the most fruit of such poor quality as to be inedible.

b) of stones unusable, unfit, bad, stones of poor quality

2. bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful, bad, evil, unwholesome, in a moral sense an evil word, evil speech Eph 4:29

Ephesians 5:3-5 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

All of the words in bold above occur only here in the NT. Again, what does context suggest they mean?

Depending on your translation, the English word “profane” occurs about 75x in the Bible, usually of desecrating a holy place or blaspheming the name of God. All but once or twice it translates this Hebrew word:

(chalal) vb. pollute, defile, profane; –

Niphal 1. reflex. pollute, defile oneself a. ritually, by contact with dead. b. sexually.
2. Passive, be polluted, defiled, of holy places, name of God and even God himself.

Piel 1. defile, pollute: a. sexually, (the father’s bed); a woman. b. ceremonially, profane, the altar by a tool; sacred places; the holy land; sacred things; the sabbath; and so the sanctity of the prince of Tyre who made himself God, and his holy places. c. the name of God, God himself. d. defiles or profanes his inheritance by giving it over to Babylon; the princes of the sanctuary by giving them to Chaldeans.
2. violate the honour of, dishonor,

or this Greek word:

(Bebelow) to cause someth. highly revered to become identified with the commonplace, violate sanctity, desecrate, profane the Sabbath

“Obscene” occurs once and translates this word:

(aischrologes) speech of a kind that is generally considered in poor taste, obscene speech, dirty talk (Aristot., EN 4, 8 [1128a], contrasts the preference for obscenity in older drama with the more refined taste of later times and argues that obscenity, can be expected from those of servile nature but not from a cultured gentleman. Clem. Al., Paed. 2, 6, 52 might properly be defined as story-telling involving such unseemly deeds as adultery or pederasty. aivscro,j=obscene: Ps.-Demetr. Eloc. 151). Obscene expressions would also be used to flavor derogatory remarks (s. Aristot. above); hence the rendering scurrilous talk (Polyb. 8, 11, 8; 31, 6, 4; BGU 909, 11f ) is pertinent Col 3:8, esp. since blasphemy (=‘defamation) immediately precedes. The gener. sense dirty talk fits D 5:1, which could apply to ribald stories as well as scurrilous talk.

And now, here’s the context to constrain the lexicon:

Colossians 3:5-15 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Results to come in few days. Any thoughts on these? Any other verses you think should be considered in seeking principles to govern a Christian’s use of words considered obscene?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2006 9:14 am

    This post has been removed by the author.

  2. May 17, 2006 2:54 pm

    Isaiah543 says:

    Ephesians 4:29-32 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

    What does the context suggest that “corrupting” or “unwholesome” means?

    Egana answers:

    The phrase “corrupting talk” implies something or someone being corrupted by the words of another. Is unwholesome a synonym here? Can the word be translated corrupting or unwholesome? In modern speech, “wholesome” is mainly used sarcastically to refer to the Leave it to Beaver show, or the Osmond Family or something like that. Maybe wholesome might mean healthy… like the difference between junk food filling the stomach but not bringing any nutrition to the party, and healthy food, which not only fill the stomach but also delivers vitamins, minerals, nutrients, water, and roughage. (This analogy may get a little freaky…)

    Anyway, so unwholesome talk may fill the ears and the mind with images and ideas, but they are not really useful toward the goal of building others up and giving grace to those who hear.

    Isaiah543 says:

    Here’s the entry in BAGD Greek-English lexicon for the word translated “corrupting” or “unwholesome”

    “sapros”(‘make putrid’; Hipponax [VI BC] 32 A Diehl;, Aristoph., Hippocr. et al.; TestAbr B 13 p. 118, 13 [Stone p. 84, ]; SIG(2 )587, 24; pap) prim.: ‘rotten, putrid’.

    1. lit. of such poor quality as to be of little or no value, bad, not good

    a. in the prim. sense spoiled, rotten (of spoiled fish Antiphanes Com. [IV BC] fgm. 218, 4 K. [in Athen. 6, 225f]) of rotten fruits (PFlor , 9 figs; Theophr., HP 4, 14, 10 of worms that infect olives) of grapes that lie on the ground and rot Hs 2:4.

    b. of poor quality bad

    a. of living matter, fish Mt 13:48 (s. BAR 19, ’93, 52; it is of semantic significance that these fish have just been caught and would therefore not be rotten or spoiled, whereas Antiphanes in the ref. cited above [1a] declaims about fish that have been in the marketplace too long).—Of plants and their products (Aristoph., Theophr. et al.; PFay 119, 4; 6) that are of inferior quality: trees, Mt 7:17f; 12:33a; Lk 6:43b; fruit Mt 12:33b; Lk 6:43a. Unless the proverb contains hyperbolic diction, ‘rotten’ would be an inappropriate rendering, since ‘rotten’ trees would either not bear any fruit at all or at the most fruit of such poor quality as to be inedible.

    b. of stones unusable, unfit, bad, stones of poor quality

    2. bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful, bad, evil, unwholesome, in a moral sense an evil word, evil speech Eph 4:29

    Egana says:

    ARGH! What in the world? I really don’t understand the differences here, and the numbers go 1 a b a b 2. It probably made sense to you, but it left me saying “ummmmmm, huh?”

    So if these are possible definitions of the original word, then perhaps “words of poor quality” that are “unusable” for the good of others might be an acceptable understanding of the word “sapros” here in this context. Words that corrupt instead of edify. Words that bring unwholesome content into the mind of the listener. But just as some foods are more or less nutritious than others, some words are more unwholesome than others, some words are more corrupting than others, in that they introduce topics, ideas, or images into the mind of the listener that are contrary to the purpose of building each other up and giving grace to those who hear.

    Now does this apply to particular words only, or can it apply to a wider understanding of conversation topic? Is what someone says “corrupting” because of the words he chose to use? Or is it corrupting because of the thing he chose to discuss? I can think of examples of both, but I will allow the reader to do that for themselves.

    (As a side note, my mother, the English Teacher Extraordinaire, could go on and on about avoiding words “of poor quality.” …the generic, meaningless, poor quality ones. **grin**)

    So how does corrupting talk grieve the Holy Spirit anyway? Do we make Him sad when we talk this way? But all of our talk is rubbish compared to the glorious words of the Father, who has light and life in His words, so what gives here? Does this verse claim that we grieve the Holy Spirit when we injure each other with our words? Or does our unforgiving heart which manifests itself in corrupting words grieve the Holy Spirit. It looks as though the context continues to be one of injuring others with our “bitterness,” “wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” “slander,” and “malice.” So are these things examples of unwholesome talk? This is not a word list, but a heart attitude list, a motivation list, a desire list. Man, this is right on, isn’t it? Our fleshly hearts want yucky stuff. And out of the depths of the heart the mouth speaks. Yikes!

    Instead of speaking our corrupting talk, we are directed to “be kind,” “tenderhearted,” and “forgiving.” Again, this is not a word list. It is a heart attitude list, a motivation list, a desire list. And don’t we all want this, really? I read this list I think “Oh yeah, THAT’S what I want. That’s who my God is, that’s who I want to be. I want to open my mouth and have that kinda stuff come out…. Mmmmmm-mmmmm.”

    (Another side note: so much of what I read online about “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” could fall into the category of unwholesome talk. I was unaware of this seedy church underworld until recently, and I must say that I want no part of it. The true doctrines of God must be defended from corruption and heresy, but not in a manner that causes the hearers to slander Him because of the behavior of His ambassadors. “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”)

    So it seems to be to be a two-pronged issue: Behavior (no corrupting talk, but edifying talk instead) and Motiviation (be different, stop wanting yucky stuff, start wanting good stuff.)

    Man, I’m getting tired. I think I have to be done, even though there is the whole other half of Isaiah543′s original post to dialogue with. I’ll come back later and talk more. (some are glad at this, some are weeping openly… hee hee hee)

    Egana

  3. May 17, 2006 2:55 pm

    silently wondering what the deleted comment was…

    hmm…..

    Edgarware says “deleted!”

  4. May 17, 2006 4:13 pm

    As Mr Owl once said, “The world may never know”.

  5. May 17, 2006 4:15 pm

    Way to go Egana, thanks for your work. I think we’re grooving the same groove. By corrupting words are meant not primarily obscenities, but any words that promote division, discouragement, etc. It is possible, (in a very few instances, see profanity, part II post) to build someone up with a four letter word. And we all know it’s possible to corrupt someone or slander someone with highly refined rhetoric.

    P.S. The deleted post was just someone’s oops, no drama behind it.

  6. May 17, 2006 7:22 pm

    the reason for the partial unintelligibility of the post is that I cut and pasted from a lexicon and blogger didn’t recognize all the fonts. I actually did clean it up some. Now I will do so some more.

  7. May 18, 2006 11:06 am

    Dagnabbit! Here I was, making the deleted post all dramatic, only to have my drama cut out from under me.

  8. May 19, 2006 2:53 pm

    Studying this out

    Ephesians 5:3-5 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

    So here’s another attempt to interact with you about these verses:

    Filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking are translations of words that occur only once in the entire scriptures? In Ephesians 5:4? Yikes! This doesn’t seem to be a firm linguistic foundation upon which to build an application list of “don’ts.” (that is plural for don’t, so it doesn’t need a second apostrophe, right? Right…)

    They are nestled between verses talking about “sexual immorality,” “impurity,” and “covetousness.” Hmmm…. Again the context of these words seems to imply that the behaviors (filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking) are not appropriate, or are “out of place” because they are a sign of a deeper problem, a heart desire problem. If we are truly saved, one of the “saints,” then we have assurance that we are going to Heaven. But no one who loves their sexual immorality, or their impurity, or their neighbors’ stuff, is going to heaven.

    So these verses seem to be talking about the behavior we should expect from ourselves and others who will have “an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (thanksgiving), versus the behavior of those who have no such inheritance (filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking). But I do not see that the behavior itself saves you or condemns you. It seems only that the behavior shows the condition of the heart.

    And yet the sentence structure is one of admonition. Paul is telling us clearly what to do and what not to do. We are to choose behaviors (thanksgiving) that express our true heart condition (we are saints, regenerate in Christ). And we are to refrain from behaviors that are “out of place” among regenerate saints but are common among “idolaters” (filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking). Hmmm….

    Why does Paul issue a behavioral admonition that requires the changing of one’s heart attitude? And why would we think that if we alter our behaviors accordingly, we would somehow trick God into thinking our hearts actually loved Him instead of the things He has created. Romans 1:24 comes to mind.

    “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, amen.”

    So unregenerate man is given up to this impurity: a heart who loves the creature rather than the creator. And our behaviors show this impurity, for Luke 6:45 says “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.“

    So we are stuck speaking and doing what our hearts dictate. It is a massive charade to try to follow Paul’s admonition merely behaviorally. And the word “charade” implies that we are tricking our audience. We might be able to trick other people, maybe even most of the time, although I bet the wife of the unregenerate legalist knows the truth. Being a perfect husband all the time, in every situation, through all difficulties and temptations, in every trial and every blessing is too hard for anyone. I mean, come one, the example is of Christ and how he loves and serves the church, right? No way is any wife gonna be tricked for long by a legalist husband trying to suck it up to earn his inheritance. Ain’t gonna happen.

    And if a man cannot even trick his own wife for long, “how much more so” can he not trick God? (see Isaiah543? I can be logical too, and I am listening to what you say **grin**) How can we possibly hope to trick God into giving us an inheritance we don’t deserve by attempting to follow a behavioral checklist of dos and don’ts?

    He is not limited as we are. We have to look at the outside of a person, to listen to his words, to watch and get to know them based on time and shared experiences and communication. He knows our hearts, our secret places, better even than we think we do. He will not be fooled by our trickery. God tells His people in Isaiah 29:13 “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”

    So clearly we don’t want to be like that. We don’t want our worship to be full of rules taught by men (or women either). We want to walk in newness of life as beloved children of God.

    So I am back to my original question: how can Paul admonish the people to behave differently, when behavior alone is not enough? The attitude of the heart toward God and one another seems paramount. And yet, he does give behavioral instructions, so behavior must be important….

    I’m getting tired again…. And I think I have digressed somewhat from the text in question. But this behavior versus heart stuff always gets me goin’ round in circles.

    Be back later….

  9. May 30, 2006 9:49 am

    Egana,

    In the question of heart change vs. behavior modification, the answer is that heart change always comes first. But once the cycle is begun in the heart, a change in one’s behavior can keep on reforming the heart which changes the behavior which changes the heart which changes the behavior and the bicycle is up and moving!

    And so in James 3 it seems like he is saying that we can get to the springs of our hearts by biting our tongues.

    James 3:3-4 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

    Here’s an excerpt from my sermon on the above text:

    Before I studied James more closely last summer, I didn’t see so much hope in this passage. I saw that no one could be perfect, no man could tame the tongue, and I remembered Jesus saying, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” and so I had in practice concluded, “What’s the point of even trying to bridle my tongue? I should just seek God for a changed heart and then my tongue will be more tamed”
    And there is truth in that statement. A changed heart will result in a tamed tongue. But now I believe that it can work the other way as well. Taming the tongue can be a spiritual discipline that will result in a changed heart.

    I saw this when I noticed the phrase thrice-repeated in this paragraph “the whole body” Now if you’re holding an NIV you’ll have a hard time seeing this because they translate the phrase with three different words, “whole body” in verse 2, “whole animal” in verse 3, and “whole person” in verse 6. But in fact, all three of those are the exact same phrase. If you don’t stumble in what you say, you are able to bridle your whole body. If you put a bit in the mouth of a horse you are able to guide the whole body. And the tongue has the power to stain or defile the whole body. So it seems that your tongue is not merely an indicator of the condition of your heart. It also has a leading influence in your life. Your use of the tongue can result in your corruption, or your use of the tongue can also be a means of bridling your whole body, it can result in greater self-control in other areas of your life.

    How does this work? Suppose you speak words of cursing against someone. That is not only an indicator of your sinful heart, but the very act of cursing them actually makes you a more hateful person. Conversely, if you are tempted to curse someone but you instead choose to bless them with your tongue and speak well of them to others and encourage them, I believe that God will thereby change your heart and you will find that your hateful feelings toward them dissipate.

    Did we not learn something similar in chapter 1? In times of trials and tribulations we should be slow to speak and slow to become angry, because speaking in anger, venting, is the opposite of letting perseverance have its perfect work in us. Suppose I am frustrated and irritated. If instead of grumbling and complaining and spraying all that on my friends and family, I choose to let that pressure drive me to cast my anxiety on the Lord, I believe my heart will be transformed through this discipline of biting my tongue.

  10. May 30, 2006 10:30 pm

    This post has been removed by the author.

  11. May 30, 2006 10:33 pm

    thanks Isaiah543, that makes sense…

    I think I actually remember that sermon…

    I can tell that my heart and mind are drifting away from Jesus and how wonderful He is, because trying to be kind sounds like too much work…

    I don’t really think anything else I might post would be worth reading tonight….

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