Profanity, Blasphemy, & Purity of Speech

In the summer if 1975, Frankie Valley’s hit single “Swearin’ to God” came out and climbed the charts. As you’d expect, millions of radio listeners sang along. The problem is that this song was a clear, if seemingly benign, example of taking the Lord’s name in vain -- something God commanded us not to do:

“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” (Ex 20:7; cf. Deut 5:11).

But beyond sappy song lyrics is the larger problem of what in former days was known as “impure speech” -- the use of profanity and blasphemy. It’s a widespread failing, and many people imagine that the way they speak is of no lasting importance in God’s eyes. They are sadly mistaken.

We can divide the problem of impure speech into two categories: profanity, which is the use of crude swear words, and blasphemy, which is the use of swear words in combination with God’s name. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that, “Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God -- inwardly or outwardly -- words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in fail-ing in respect toward him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name. St. James condemns those ‘who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called.’ The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ’s Church, the saints, and sacred things. . . . Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin” (CCC 2148; cf. 2150). In the Old Testament, blaspheming God, even just by using his name in vain in casual conversation, was punishable by death (cf. Lev 24:15-16).

The Bible is clear that using profanity is unacceptable for Christians (indeed, for anyone) and that we should strive to be pure in thought, word, and deed, both because profanity and blasphemy offends God and can be a mortal sin, and because such speech is the sure sign of a spiritually (not to mention, socially) immature person. True spiritual maturity has no room for crude and blasphemous language.

St. Paul taught us that, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). And Christ pointed to our need for pure speech when he exhorted us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

Consider these other Scriptural warnings on this theme:

Mark 7:20-23 -- “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”

Isaiah 6:1-7 -- “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’”

Sirach 27:11-14 -- “The talk of the godly man is always wise, but the fool changes like the moon. Among stupid people watch for a chance to leave, but among thoughtful people stay on. The talk of fools is offensive, and their laughter is wantonly sinful. The talk of men given to swearing makes one’s hair stand on end and their quarrels make a man stop his ears.”

James 3:6-12 -- “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue--a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.”

Colossians 4:6 --”Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.”

If you have a problem with profanity and blasphemy, repent to the Lord with sincere contrition, go to sacramental confession, and firmly commit to rely on God’s loving grace to help you avoid this sin in the future. It may not be easy at first, but in time and with God’s help you can unlearn that bad habit. And just think, besides being a more enjoyable person to be around, the payoff for you will be eternal. Remember what Christ said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The converse is also true: Those who are not pure in heart shall not see God.

Which group will you be in?

Patrick Madrid is an author, public speaker, and the publisher of Envoy Magazine. Visit his website at

Additional Verses:

Psalm 59; Psalm 109:17-18; Hosea 4:1-3; Matt. 15:20;

Mark 7:21-23; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; 1 Thess. 4:1-10;

1 Tim. 4:11; Titus 2:8;

Rev. 21:27.