8 Times the Bible was More Vulgar than TV - EpicPew

8 Times the Bible was More Vulgar than TV

Modern Bible translations are often great representations of the original texts, but they can also be a bit misleading. Aside from leaving ancient euphemisms intact, whose meaning no 21st century reader would ever guess, many translations also tone down even the harsh language as it would have appeared to its first audience. Here are 8 examples of pejorative expressions and vulgarity in the Bible.

WARNING: Some of this content might be considered grotesque, but it is Scripture. It is presented not to be provocative, but to educate.

1. Isaiah 64:6

We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

That “polluted garment” that Isaiah mentions is literally a “garment of menstruation”, or simply “menstruation rags”. To make his point, the prophet Isaiah invoked the equivalent image of a used tampon, something unambiguously vulgar and indicative of ritual uncleanness in ancient Judaism.

2. 1 Kings 14:10

therefore behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jerobo′am, and will cut off from Jerobo′am every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will utterly consume the house of Jerobo′am, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone.

If you have a Douay-Rheims translation handy, you’ll see a more literal translation of “every male” that reads, “will cut of from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall“. In fact, that language still fails to conveyed the real meaning of the original words, a meaning that was probably the modern equivalent of “sons of bi***es”.

3. Song of Solomon 5:14

His arms are rounded gold,

set with jewels.

His body is ivory work,

encrusted with sapphires.

In this passage, the wife speaks lovingly of her husband’s appearance, but in terms not so easily understood by modern ears. The husband’s “body” is actually his mid-section, and “ivory” invokes the source of ivory, the elephant’s tusk. She is saying…exactly what she’s saying.

4. Ezekiel 16:26

You also played the harlot with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your harlotry, to provoke me to anger.

You rarely find the NIV, an unapproved Protestant translation, providing a more literal rendering than the RSV, but this is one of those cases. The NIV accurately translates this passage: “You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity.” But Ezekiel didn’t stop there.

5. Ezekiel 23:19b-20

when she played the harlot in the land of Egypt and doted upon her paramours there, whose members were like those of asses, and whose issue was like that of horses.

Most translations use “issue” here, even though its usage is antiquated, but that was probably the point. The NIV adopted a slightly more explicit and literal translation with “emission”. If ever there was a prophet who was willing to be graphic and vulgar to get his point across, it was Ezekiel in his detailed comparison of Israel to a prostitute.

The New Testament may not provide the copious examples we find in the OT, but it has its fair share of vulgarities…

6. Philippians 3:2

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Passing over the fact that the pejorative “dogs” was far more denigrating two-thousand years ago in a society that considered them contemptible, vicious scavengers, the word “mutilate” here is easier to stomach than the literal meaning. St. Paul contrasts these mutilaters with the “true circumcision”, and his point is made all the stronger by realizing that the mutilation he is talking about is a play on words about “cutting through” as opposed to “cutting around”, the latter meaning circumcision. Paul did not shy away from talk of genital mutilation…

7. Galatians 5:12

I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!

In context, St. Paul is writing, apparently angry and frustrated, to a group of Gentile converts to Christianity who are being told by some people (“Judaizers”) that they must be circumcised. Paul is understandably perturbed; he writes an explanation for why these Judaizers are wrong, and he closes that explanation with this tidbit. But “mutilate” is pretty generic and safe. One translation has it “emasculate”, which probably gives you an idea for the apostle’s meaning — St. Paul is playing on the idea of a circumcision and wishing that these heretics would botch the job and…that’s right…castrate themselves.

8. Philippians 3:8

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ

Maybe you’ve heard about this one before. The word here rendered “refuse” (skubala) has, as is common, a range of meanings. However, the modern equivalent is most accurately “shit”, though some scholars will insist that it isn’t quite that harsh.

These examples were chosen, in part, because none of them can be considered merely descriptive, and not prescriptive. That is to say, these aren’t accounts of bad people acting badly in their speech. So, if asked whether there are such things as “bad words”, in the light of Holy Writ, we must recognize that the vocalization of a word in and of itself is neutral — “nothing is unclean in itself” (Rm 14:14) — and that there is nothing inherently evil about an individual verbal symbol. Rather, the appropriateness of our speech is determined primarily by its purpose and meaning. Some situations warrant harsh, offensive language.

John Milton, a man far more eloquent than me, put it thus:

fools, who would teach men to read more decently than God thought good to write. And thus I take it to be manifest, that indignation against men and their actions notoriously bad hath leave and authority ofttimes to utter such words and phrases, as in common talk were not so mannerly to use.