Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
The name of Jesus Christ has become an expletive uttered almost everywhere in the Western world. Hollywood movies often mention Jesus in an unflattering way. Television, too, plays a big part.
It’s no longer unusual to hear the name of Jesus shouted in programs—from soapies to chat shows. You hear it on the sporting field, in the street, at pubs and clubs, at work—in fact almost everywhere. Most of us have, apparently, accepted it as part of the standard English vocabulary.
Even though a British Broadcasting Standards Commission (replaced in 2003 by Ofcom) report found that swearing and offensive language were a turn-off for television viewers, respondents put Jesus Christ and God at the bottom of a list of words they found most offensive.
The Irreverent Use of God and Jesus
In fact, 60% suggested that using the word ‘God’ in a non-reverent way was not really swearing. Forty-six per cent said the same about the word ‘Jesus’. And even the dictionary describes the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ as strong exclamations of surprise, disbelief or dismay rather than cursing.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first published record of the word ‘Jesus’ being used non-reverently occurred in 1377. It was also recorded in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 1592 and by 1923 the publication of Dialect Notes (V.212) reported that Jesus Christ was “an expletive common to both men and women, and considered by neither as in any way profane.”
But to treat something profanely means to desecrate it, to make it unholy, irreverent or contemptible. Given that the name of Jesus is regarded by Christians as sacred, it would seem to follow that to use his name as an exclamation of surprise is to render it unholy and treat it with contempt or disregard.
But the interesting question in all of this is: Why is Jesus Christ the only holy person whose name is used as an expletive? The Muslims’ Muhammad, for example, has been spared this indignity. An imam (a Muslim religious leader) once told me he had never heard the name Muhammad used in “such a filthy context”.
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It was something that just doesn’t happen, even among people of non-Muslim faith, he said. He was saddened by the use of Jesus Christ’s name as a swearword and said Muslims would not think of using the name of Jesus irreverently because they “respected and revered” the person and the name.
A Name Change That Changed a Life
Two thousand years ago, a Roman scholar and Jew named Saul persecuted Christians and cursed Jesus Christ. Then he met the man he had cursed. While travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus in order to take any Christians he found prisoner, Saul was confronted by a bright light and heard Jesus ask him why he was persecuting him.
The meeting not only led to a name change from Saul to Paul; it transformed him into one of Jesus’ most powerful and influential followers, and he was later to write:
God raised [Jesus] to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name. And so, in honour of the name of Jesus, all beings in heaven, on earth and in the world below will fall on their knees and will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father. (Philippians 2: 9-11)
Why not get to know Jesus? The person whose name is so often used as a swearword is waiting to transform your life. All you have to do is call on him.
By Bill Simpson
Warcry Magazine (Salvation Army)