Watch certain types of TV shows, and you'll likely hear "hell" said without any censoring, whereas other words get censored. When we read the Bible, depending on the translation used, "hell" is used up to 54 times, many by Jesus Himself. So why do we sometimes cringe when others say hell? Is hell really a curse word?
Read on as we explore if hell is a curse word and why the intentions behind what we say matter. We'll also explore what the Bible says about cursing and if Christians should ever curse.
What does the Bible say about cursing?
Throughout the Bible, it is clear that we need to be careful about what we say and that we should use our words for good, not evil.
Proverbs 18:21 tells us that death and life are in the power of our tongue. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits."
In Ephesians 4:29 (MSG), Paul implores us not to let anything foul or dirty come out of our mouths:
"Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift"
Later in Ephesians 5:4 (NLT), Paul tells us that foolish talk is not for us:
"Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God"
In Peter 3:10 (ESV), we are told to keep our tongues from evil.
"Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech."
In Colossians 3:8 (ESV), we are told that we must put obscene talk away:
"But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth."
Is Hell a curse word?
When considering if hell is a curse word, it's essential to clarify the definition of a curse word.
The Collins English Dictionary defines a curse word as:
1. a profane or obscene word, esp. as used in anger or for emphasis 2. any term conceived of as offensive.
With the term "hell" being used frequently in the Bible, before considering if the way the Bible uses hell would meet this definition of a curse word, it is important to consider how hell is used, and its meaning in the Bible.
The term "hell" is complicated as it is a single term used to denote a cluster of different Greek and Hebrew words and ideas in the Bible, but none of them were intended to offend or were used in anger.
Yet it is clear that the Bible speaks about the reality of hell, just like it does the reality of Heaven (Revelation 20:14-15, 21:1-2). It's important to note that the Bible gives few particulars about hell, and the images we typically associate with hell are normally derived in some form from Dante's Inferno rather than the Bible.
The Bible does tell us that hell was intended originally for demonic spiritual beings (Matthew 25:41) and that the experience of hell is compared to the experience of burning (Mark 9:42, Matthew 18:0, Luke 16:24) or with intense grief (Matthew 22:13), horror (Mark 9:44) and darkness (Matthew 22:13). It is clear from the Bible that hell is real and eternal and should be avoided at all costs (Matthew 5:29-30).
However, the good news for us all is that God does not want anyone to go to hell (Peter 3:9). God made the ultimate sacrifice and full payment for our sins on our behalf by sending Jesus Christ as our Savior. God is clear in his promise that anyone who believes in Jesus (John 3:16) and trusts in Him as our Savior (John 14:16) will be saved—in other words, not go to hell.
So, while hell is not used in the Bible in a way that meets the dictionary definition of a curse, can it ever be used in a way that makes it a curse word?
Why intentions matter.
Like everything we say, it's essential that we consider the intention behind the words we use, as our intention can significantly impact the meaning of words.
For example, people might yell out "This is hell" midway through a particularly tough gym session or when battling a punishing deadline at work. Others tell someone they don't like to "Go to Hell!" They both don't, of course, mean hell as literally a place of eternal torment. Instead, the use of hell in this context is for anger or emphasis, matching the dictionary definition of a curse word.
Therefore, we would certainly consider many of the uses of hell we hear in society and popular culture a curse word, and we should therefore avoid using hell in those contexts.
Hell is not something to take lightly in conversation.
People often give little thought to telling someone to "go to hell" or using hell as a colloquialism or curse word. After all, it is a phrase we hear often, so can it really be that bad?
The short answer is yes! As we have seen above, hell is a very real place. It is full of darkness, torment, and isolation. It is a terrible place and certainly isn't the place to be or wish for people to end up! Therefore it's essential we are careful about how we use the word hell in conversation. We should always be aware of the reality of what we are invoking if we use the word hell for anything other than talking about the biblical concept of hell.
Is it okay for Christians to curse?
It is clear from the scriptures referenced above that God only wants pure and noble words to come out of our mouths. When our mouths are spewing out curses, it dishonors God and who He is to us.
One of the biggest reasons not to curse is because the words we speak can impact the state of our hearts. Luke 6:45 clearly tells us that our heart can be filled with good or evil depending on what we store in it and that what we store in it will inevitably flow out our mouths.
Scriptures are also clear that God wants us to use our words to lift others up, and let's face it, how many times have you been lifted up by someone cursing? Profanity and cursing are almost always an insult, and in Matthew 5:22, Jesus is very clear that we should not insult others.
We've seen above that whether hell is a curse word depends on the intention and context that it is used and that the Bible is clear that hell is not a pleasant place. Therefore, it's crucial that, as Christians, we are careful about how we use language, ensuring that we only use hell in its biblical context.