I came across another thoughtful article the other day on the CNN belief blog called “My Take: Stop sugarcoating the bible.” Here’s an excerpt:
For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags.” The original language doesn’t say “filthy rags”; it says “menstrual rags.” But that sounds a little too crass, so let’s just call them filthy instead.
And let’s not talk so much about Jesus being naked on the cross, and let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the Greek would more accurately be translated.
I’m glad to see someone recognize that the bible isn’t “proper.” It is so far from proper or an etiquette manual, it’s astounding. The bible has language, stories, characters, activities that are certainly not rated PG, but R. Let’s just consider the “language” part of it.
Many people who think any use of any cuss word in any situation is always a sin often point to this passage in Ephesians 5:4, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
But the problem with such thinking is that the bible itself doesn’t pass it’s own “filthiness” test. Unless that is, filthiness means something different than gross or graphic. God inspires writers to write in such language that is, well, something. It’s raw. It’s earthy. It’s real. It’s gross and graphic. It’s filthy in some sense, particularly when it describes sin in sexual terms (Ezekiel 23:20) or menstrual rags. (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3).
Ultimately what happens when we ignore the graphic language of the bible, we just get a safe, proper, black and white, Christianity where everything has an easy answer. We forget the depth of sin, the ferocity of the spiritual battle, the nastiness (crap, or S%$*) of self-righteous behavior.
Don’t be too quick to condemn someone’s language that actually closely aligns with the bible. Someone once said in bible study, “We think we are the s%*^, but we’re really not; we are really more sinful than we think.” I commended this guy’s spiritual breakthrough. I think he finally understood the gospel and simply reiterated an expression more “Pauline” than the words “rubbish” or trash” our modern translations have substituted in Phil 3:8.