As children, most of us were rightly taught by our parents not to call others derogatory names. In today’s world, it is common for people to call others names when they are angry or judging others in an unrighteous manner. Negative words can hurt so easily, and once something hurtful is said, it cannot be taken back. Hurtful words and name-calling can end relationships, and leave an emotional scar on the person receiving this form of verbal abuse.
There are times in which names should be used to help people see their sinful ways, and when used in such a sense, we would not term these “derogatory.” There are cases in the Bible where a person was called or likened unto a negative thing due to their sinful behavior. By looking at examples from the Holy Scriptures, we can see that calling someone a name that fits their actions is not condemned by God. Here are a few terms that were attributed to those in the Bible who were not behaving as they should. These terms were used to accurately describe wrongdoers’ actions or true character. The Bible does not condone giving examples of name-calling where others are being labeled with terms that they do not deserve to have placed upon them. It is wrong for us to label others based on our own judgment and prejudices. Instead, we should always watch what we say, and always use a term to describe someone else in a way that will help that person and others see how that person’s actions is viewed by God, rather than our own thoughts toward that person. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
1. Heifer. In Judges Chapter 14, Samson, who was well known for his powerful strength given to him by God, was betrayed by his first wife. This woman lived in Timnath, and was a Philistine. Samson begged his parents to allow him to marry this woman, and this they eventually did. When it came time for Samson and the Philistine woman to marry, he made a feast for thirty members of the Philistines as well as for his family. Samson offered his Philistine guests thirty sheets and thirty change of garments in exchange for the correct answer to a riddle that he would tell them ( Judges 14:12). The riddle was as follows; “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14). The Philistines could not figure out the riddle, so they came to Samson’s new bride and asked her to get the answer from Samson and relay the information to them.
The Philistine woman did as she was asked, and through much crying and pressing upon Samson to give her the answer to the riddle, Samson finally gave in and did so. The Philistine wife of Samson betrayed her husband’s trust and went straight to her Philistine friends with the answer to the riddle. “And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people” (Judges 14:17).
When hearing the correct answer to the riddle from the Philistines after knowing that his wife had given it to them without his consent, Samson replied to the Philistines regarding his wife by saying, “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle” (Judges 14:18). This was to say that if the Philistines had not worked through Samson’s wife, they would not have gotten the correct answer to his riddle.
Understandably, Samson was very angry with his wife for betraying him. He likened her unto a heifer, or cow, so as to make the point to the Philistines that they used her for their own purposes, and that she followed her orders just as a cow attached to a plow would follow the orders of the person controlling the plow. Samson’s wife did wrong toward her husband, and Samson reflected this fact with the term he used to describe her.
2. Fox. Yes, there is even an example in the Bible where the Son of God called someone a name. When Jesus was ministering in Jerusalem, certain members of the Pharisees came to Him and told Jesus to get out of that area. They warned Jesus that if He did not stop preaching and teaching, that king Herod (Antipas) would kill Him (Luke 13:31). Jesus responded to the Pharisees in Luke 13:32 by saying, “Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected”.
A fox is often used to describe someone who is clever and crafty. Jesus used the term to describe Herod because it must have fit the king’s character. Jesus would not have wrongfully called someone else a name, so therefore, the term of “fox” when attributed to Herod was a true statement. We can look at Jesus’ example in this case to see that using terms to describe another person’s true personality is not wrong.
3. Viper/Serpent. “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33). Jesus gave this description to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew to reveal their sinful behavior. He goes on to elaborate more on this point, “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:34-36).
A viper is a venomous snake that will kill its prey via poison. Likewise, the Pharisees and scribes killed Christians for preaching the Truth, while they preached false doctrine. Also, in the book of Genesis, Satan disguised himself like a serpent, giving this animal’s name a derogatory meaning, which fit the audience to which Jesus was referring. This is another case where a negative term was given to accurately describe those who behaved in sinful ways.
4. Whore. This word is still used in an unfavorable manner today, as it should be. This term is used in the Bible to describe several types of people, all of whom have committed fornication. One group that this word is attributed to are prostitutes, “They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God” (Leviticus 21:7). Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18).
Another way that the word “whore” is used in the Bible is to describe those who commit the sin of fornication. “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). One does not have to be a prostitute to be a whore. A whore becomes involved in the sexual act prior to marriage, or in marriage the sexual act is committed with someone besides that person’s spouse.
The term “whore” or “whoredom” is also used for those in the Bible who practiced idolatry. Just as a person who commits sexual fornication commits whoredom, a person who commits spiritual fornication against God is also given this title. “Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people (Leviticus 20:5).
This term is looked on as more derogatory than the first three terms that were mentioned in this article because it is still often used in a negative way today. It is indeed wrong to call someone any of the names mentioned in this article if that person is not displaying actions or characteristics that the Bible gives for these terms. No matter what is considered politically correct in today’s society, God’s Word reigns supreme over any thought, idea or law that mankind creates. One should not worry about offending others when teaching them what God wants them to know in order to go to Heaven.
Sometimes in teaching those who have hardened their hearts against the Truth, we have to rebuke them. By using our words to rebuke those with hard hearts, it is our hope that their hearts will be pricked, and they will then change their ways, and turn to the Lord. Using terms such as the ones mentioned in this article would not be scripturally wrong in the correct context. “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:” (Mark 9:47). May we all work to help others reach the great reward of Heaven, and to make sure that we go there ourselves!