Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. Philippians 3:8 (NLT)
One of the books on my summer reading list is a fascinating treatise entitled Holy Sh*t, A Brief History of Swearing, by Melissa Mohr. I am intrigued by the subject matter on a number of levels. At least part of my motivation when I picked up the book sprang out of my role as President of our local community theatre. Most popular plays and musicals contain at least some swear words. Our organization regularly engages in conversation weighing the options of presenting a script as written (knowing that we will offend some of our audience members) or changing the script to eliminate some or all of the offensive words (knowing that in doing so we are breaking the law and our contractual obligations to the playwright and publisher). When people hear certain words they get offended. Then, they write letters. It’s my job to respond.
What most modern Americans do not realize is that the Bible is full of language that most people would consider harsh or obscene. After studying it for over thirty years, I’ve always understood this. In her book, Mohr does a great job of laying it out in a literary, social and historical context. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The authors sometimes used words, phrases and euphemisms which, literally translated, would offend most religious people today. The verse above (Philippians 3:8) from today’s chapter is a great example. Paul was trying to make a strong point. All of the things that he once thought worth-while (e.g. being extremely religious, keeping all of the Jewish laws and customs, zealously persecuting anyone who didn’t agree with his religious view, and etc.) he now considers worth-less. But, Paul didn’t write it that way in his letter.
When Paul wrote that all of his former religiosity was “worthless” he used the Greek word that is transliterated in English: skubalon. It is the only place in the New Testament this Greek word is used. Literally translated in today’s language it means “shit.” When translators write this verse in English they choose to use a more acceptable English word such as “rubbish” or “worthless” so as not to offend. But make no mistake about it, Paul considered all of the religious trappings of his life prior to meeting Jesus as nothing more than a pile of shit. And, he wasn’t afraid to say so.
Today, I’m thinking about words, phrases and euphemisms. They are little metaphors. A sound we make or symbols we write which represent something else without using “like” or “as.” One of the little known, rarely taught aspects of God’s Message is that it often uses words and word pictures that are offensive to those with fragile social sensibilities. Truth offends, and Paul clearly understood that sometimes Truth must be spoken in words that communicate its harsh realities.