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Friday
Jun152012

Lifeway Stores Remove "The Blind Side" from Shelves Over Profanity--Is the Bible Next?

According to a report in Louisiville's Courier-Journal, Baptist-owned Lifeway Stores have pulled the 2009 movie The Blind Side from its shelves over profanity. 

In spite of the film's positive treatments of issues like racial reconciliation, care of the homeless, and true hospitality, a bit of swearing will keep this movie out of Lifeway Stores. Perhaps the PTB at Lifeway didn't catch the MPAA's PG-13 rating of the movie for "one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references" to begin with. Maybe if that were the only issue and no swearing was involved in the above-described scene, the movie could stay on the shelves. 

Regardless, this got me thinking... What if Lifeway were to really get consistent with this "no swearing" policy for everything they carried. Would they really go all the way and remove the Bible, too?

Wait...what? You didn't know there was swearing in the Bible? Well, if you didn't, it's because most translations tend to smooth over objectionable language. 

I should stop to point out right now that the posts on this blog have always ranged from being rated G to PG, and that's not going to change now, but I will respectfully offer three examples of profanity (or at least very strong language) in the Bible for sake of argument. 

Philippians 3:8

Let's start with Paul in the New Testament, who after offering a pretty impressive resume of his earthly accomplishments, calls them for what they are in light of what he's gained from knowing Christ:

"More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth [σκύβαλον/skubalon], so that I may gain Christ" (HCSB, emphasis added).

Paul uses a very interesting choice of words here. The Greek word σκύβαλον/skubalon could refer to garbage or excrement according to its use. However, there's very little doubt as to how Paul was using this word here. And it's interesting to see commentators attempt to explain this without using strong language themselves. Consider J. I. Packer's explanation (NIDNTT, 1:480):

The only NT usage is Paul’s in Phil. 3:8, where he says of all the natural and religious privileges which once seemed sweet and precious, and all the things he has lost since becoming a Christian, “I count (estimate, evaluate) them as (nothing but) dung.” The coarse and violent word shows how completely Paul had ceased to value them.

Spicq may have made the sense a bit more plain when he wrote, "To convey the crudity of the Greek, however: 'It’s all crap'" (TLNT, 3:265). Truthfully, though, when you think of our modern word that's a bit stronger, that's the kind of intensity that Paul probably meant. 

 

Ezekiel: just about any time he refers to idols

Ezekiel is not alone in this in the Old Testament, but he has a preferred word when referring to idols: גִּלּוּל/gillul. 

Daniel Block explains it best in his commentary on Ezekiel (NICOT, Ezekiel, vol. 1, p. 226):

idols. The word gillûlı̂m...represents Ezekiel’s favorite expression for “images.” Although he did not coin the term, the fact that 39 of its 48 occurrences in the OT are in this book indicates its usefulness for his purposes. The word appears to be an artificial construct derived from the verb gālal, “to roll,” but vocalized after the pattern of šiqqûṣı̂m. The adoption of this word as a designation for idols may have been prompted by the natural pelletlike shape and size of sheep feces or, less likely, the cylindrical shape of human excrement. The name has nothing to do with the shape of idols, but it expresses Ezekiel’s/Yahweh’s disposition toward them. Modern sensitivities prevent translators from rendering this expression as Ezekiel intended it to be heard, but had he been preaching today, he would probably have identified these idols with a four-letter word for excrement.* A more caustic comment on idolatry can scarcely be imagined. Yahweh’s treatment of these images will involve not only their “smashing” (šābar) and “obliteration” (šābat), but their exposure as powerless figments of the human imagination. The destruction of the images testifies to the deities’ impotence to defend themselves, and the slaughter of the devotees to the gods’ inability to defend their worshipers.

In the original of the above, there are actually a number of footnotes that I'm not reproducing here. However, I will reproduce (with apologies for those who might be offended) footnote 45, which I have replaced with an asterisk above. It reads: "Bodi (RB 100 [1993] 481, 510) captures the intended sense with 'shitgods.'" You can read Block's explanation of Ezek 16:36 in the second volume of his commentary for an even more harsh use of this imagery. 

Hmmm... based on this example and the one from Paul, I'm noticing a biblical theme not covered in most topical treatments of the Bible...

 

1 Samuel 20:30

“Then Saul became angry with Jonathan and shouted, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you are siding with Jesse’s son to your own shame and to the disgrace of your mother?” (HCSB)

Now, you probably think that I'm referring to the phrase, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!" (בֶּן־נַעֲוַת הַמַּרְדּוּת/ben-na‘awat hammardut) which would certainly have an equivalent modern expression not fit for mixed company, but I'm not actually referring to that phrase. While not specifically swearing perhaps, Saul is using language that is quite strong and forceful in the second half of his sentence. The more literal New American Standard communicates it differently (but not necessarily more clearly): "Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness [עֶרְוַת אִמֶּךָ/‘erwat ’immekha]?" (emphasis added).

David Tsumura explains (NICOT, p. 520):

The term nakedness (ʿerwat), which may refer euphemistically to genitals, is used in a curse: to the disgrace of your mother’s nakedness. Here the emphasis is on the disgrace or shame which Saul thinks Jonathan has brought upon himself and his family rather than “his mother’s genitals, whence he came forth.” Note that the nakedness itself is disgraceful to anyone.

As an aside, it is well known that, in regard to the first phrase, when the Living Bible was first completed in the early 70s, Kenneth Taylor, did in fact use the modern expression "son of a bitch." It even appears that way in The Children's Living Bible that my grandmother gave me in 1973. In all later editions of the Living Bible, the phrase was altered to "You fool!" which is probably too weak. The current New Living Translation reads "You stupid son of a whore!" which like the original Hebrew, is pretty tough language if you're the recipient of it. 

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Although not offensive in 1611, reading 1 Sam 25:22, 34; 1 Kgs 14:10; 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kgs 9:8; 18:27; Isa 36:12 in the King James Version would not be seen as appropriate in many churches today.
  • And while not containing actual profanity, in my mind "Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite” (Ezek 16:45, HCSB) is an example of real fighting words :-)

 

My apologies to my mother, for all the language, if you are reading this post. 

 

As always, your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome in the comments below.

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Reader Comments (7)

indeed! if they have problems with 'The Blinde Side' they should get rid of the Bible! GOOD Post! what is wrong with these people??!! my guess too is it isn't so much lifeway but pressure from uptight customers?!

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrian

Interesting! I remember the Living Bible reference well.

-Peter Smith

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Smith

Rick, I appreciate your article and insights into the biblical text.

As one of the people who might have gotten you excited about the LifeWay "Blind Side" DVD issue, I sympathize fully with your point that in order to be consistent, our book stores ought to "quality check" every minute of every movie and every word of every book. Obviously, that notion is ridiculous and nearly impossible to enforce.

I will, however, pose the question of whether or not the instances of "very strong language" repeatedly evident in Scripture should be classified as "profanity" in the proper sense of the word. I believe we ought to distinguish between categories of "dirty words." I would suggest the classifications of "profanity" (demeaning something holy or haphazardly cursing someone's eternal soul), obscenity (references usually referring to sexuality), and vulgarity (culturally unacceptable or overly strong expressions). Granted, not everyone would divide them so neatly as I have, but I think there is at least some merit to those divisions.

So, do any of the biblical examples take something that is holy and "profane" it? I think that might be self-defeating on the part of God's Word. The Biblical writers clearly weren't afraid of using vulgarity on rare occasion in order to stress a point, but I don't think the biblical authors ever took God's name in vain just to make a point by using strong language.

I actually don't remember what word (or words) were used in the Blind Side movie, but I do remember wishing they hadn't used it if it represented the true Tuohy family in a way they would not have intended. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic movie that resonates strongly with Christians who want to live out their faith in the world. The Tuohy family lived out their faith more admirably than some of the "Christian school" hypocrites who were only interested in winning sports events. I fully endorse it for Christian families (probably with some older kids who would understand the social-political-moral themes better).

I am afraid that LifeWay simply didn't want to play a part in yet another pointless Convention controversy in a year that will probably be dominated by other, more important discussions. I don't agree with their decision to cave to the pressure of a single vocal pastor, but I do applaud their spirit to try and avoid unnecessarily contentious discussions this year. Sadly, I can't say the same for Pastor Rodney Baker.

I just figured I'd give you some food for thought.

Your "Study Office Buddy,"
Adam Winters

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Winters

Adam, thanks for the comments.

I believe your categories for strong language are very helpful in looking at the big picture of the issue. The problem may be that the average person doesn't take the time to thoughtfully make such distinctions. So my point--which was honestly attempted in spirit of levity--is that a lot of people would be surprised by the kind of language or words underlying the often-polished presentations of our modern translations.

Truthfully, gauging the language of an ancient culture for what was acceptable and what would be shocking is a tricky endeavor at best. Words themselves change over time. The Old French onomatopoeic "piss" was perfectly acceptable for use by the King James translators just five centuries ago, but today the Latin derivative "urinate" is seen as somehow more acceptable. Why? I really don't know. A lot of factors may determine why one word is acceptable over another over time, even though they essentially mean the same thing. However, if someone today wants to make a strong point, the supposedly crude choice may be chosen over the supposedly more acceptable one.

And in Philippians 3:8, I really believe this is what Paul was doing. I believe he was going for shock value. It's shocking on two levels. Surely his choice of words is shocking, but also his ascribing the term to a list of accomplishments that anyone of his day and peer group would have envied was shocking as well. I believe this particular word was chosen by Paul (and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) for the very purpose of shock effect, but the effect is completely lost in every modern translation I've ever read. And no mainstream translation is going to have the fortitude/courage/nerve to use a truly modern equivalent that will have the same effect.

Saul's words to Jonathan were inappropriate, crude, and hurtful (and I'm still referring to the second half of the verse), and they were meant to be. But he was Saul, so that should not surprise us.

The example that does give one pause is Ezekiel's choice of words. In every one of the 39 instances where the prophet uses גִּלּוּל, I truly believe he was attempting to use the meaning suggested by Bodi in the footnote of Block's commentary. I believe this was not a word that would have been part of acceptable dialogue in a family or worship setting of the day. Yet the word and it's implied meaning was the strongest at Ezekiel's disposal to describe his (and Yahweh's) attitude toward the pagan idols so prevalent in Israel. His use of גִּלּוּל was both harsh and confrontational to his intended audience.

And of course, other than making brief reference to Ezek 16, I did not even go into sexual imagery found in the book (Block uses the word "pornographic" about four times in his commentary to describe certain segments of Ezekiel's imagery). This kind of language and imagery is not only muted in our translations, but it would also be shocking to a lot of people in our churches without proper understanding of context. These instances of highly sexualized language was not meant to titillate, of course, but it was definitely meant to offend.

Thus to answer your question as to whether biblical writers ever use something that is holy and profane it--well, in a sense Ezekiel does. That sexuality and idolatry were so closely aligned in the ancient world is no secret. That which was meant to be a holy (i.e. separate) act between two people joined in marriage had been twisted into something completely different. So Ezekiel confronts the issue of idolatry using language and imagery that would be considered quite "profane" in certain circles--in his day and ours--but gets straight to the point of the issue in an attempt to get his audience to repent.

I never suggested that biblical writers took God's name in vain to make a point, but we could probably find plenty of references in the Bible in which they recorded events in which certain individuals took God's name in vain (especially in the greater sense of the meaning of the commandment).

Honestly, I didn't speak too much to the issue with Lifeway in the post (I used to even work for them in the nineties). I agree that they were probably just trying to prevent controversy without intending to fuel it. Regardless, part of the beauty of the Bible lies in the fact that that it is not a sterilized, politically correct (or "church-correct") presentation of instruction and history. Rather it is just the opposite--often even a bit rough and tumble--whether our translations reflect that sense or not.

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

This sounds like another instance of certain Christian groups going out of their way to build a wall around themselves.

If we completely insulate ourselves from the outside world, then how can we possibly expect to have anything to say that the world would want to hear? I understand we must be in the world but not of the world, but issues like this one take it too far. I'm not even speaking of about the "relevance" buzzword, but just the observation that if we don't experience life in some degree of solidarity with those around us, we really won't know how to speak into their life if given the opportunity.

So, instead of all the "positive and encouraging" stuff we Christians seem to like, maybe those around us would be better served if we were willing to experience a little of the grit in life.

I'm reminded of one of my church friend's attitude towards media: "When you hear cursing in a movie, you know that they are actors who aren't really mad at each other, just playing a part. When you see violence in a movie, it is just actors and special effects, no one was actually harmed. When you see nudity, however, that person is actually naked and by looking at it you are violating something sacred. So, for our family, we can deal with most language and violence (at a certain age, of course), but nudity is non-negotiable."

June 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

My mom works for Lifeway and she didn't even know they were pulling this until I told her about this blog entry. From what I have gathered, sometimes the company may not have such a big problem with an issue, but if enough customers complain, they may pull a product or put a warning label on it. I have personally seen stickers on some DVDs of "Christian" films (no swearing, nothing anyone could object to) telling the buyer that there may be some inappropriate language in a PREVIEW on a DVD. Unfortunately, it seems that in this case (as is the case with many other items), Lifeway as a company may not care whether or not there is a swear word in a film. However, if enough customers complain, they feel compelled to do something about it.

I think the bigger problem here is the fact that Christians seem to want to complain about so many things- like the group of a "million" Christian moms boycotting JC Penney for featuring Ellen DeGeneres in their ads. Is that really the most productive way to spend our time? Probably not. Will that kind of behavior ever convince someone to become a Christian? I doubt it.

June 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

"This sounds like another instance of certain Christian groups going out of their way to build a wall around themselves.

"If we completely insulate ourselves from the outside world, then how can we possibly expect to have anything to say that the world would want to hear?"

I am with you all the way on this, Dave. If our faith is some hothouse flower that needs protection from the Sinful World, then it's worse than useless. We're supposed to be light to the world and salt to the earth. We're the ones who should be going out into the world and infecting it with the love of God, rather than building walls around ourselves to protect some useless purity.

And if our faith isn't strong enough to do that (and I've sure been through a number of times like that in 44 years of this crazy God stuff), then we still shouldn't build walls, because going out into the world and infecting it with God's love is still a thing we should devoutly hope we will someday be strong enough to do. But building walls around our communities will just get in the way of our brothers and sisters who ARE ready to do this.

December 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterlow-tech cyclist

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