A husband and wife who are both gracEmail subscribers ask for help in finding a common understanding of the meaning of the Third Commandment of the Decalogue, which says: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (KJV).
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The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press) translates the Hebrew text of Exodus 20:7 as “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the LORD your God; for the LORD will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.” It then explains in a note that the command forbids the taking of a false oath, which would “show contempt for God by implying that the swearer does not fear His punishment.”
The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament nearly always used by the New Testament writers and the earliest church) stated it a little more broadly: “Do not take the name of the Lord your God lightly, for the Lord will not cleanse the one taking His name lightly.” This is the same sense most English Bibles have traditionally given the verse. The New Century Version says: “You must not use the name of the LORD your God thoughtlessly; the LORD will punish anyone who misuses his name.” Technically, as Gentile Christians, we are not under the Ten Commandments as such (they were God’s core Law for the theocratic nation of Israel, never given to Gentiles living outside the Promised Land), but the moral principles which they express are timeless.
For that reason, many of us grew up with the teaching — which many of us passed on to our children, and are now passing on to our grandchildren — that proper reverence for God (his “name” stands for his person) prohibits us from making any reference to him in a flippant, offhanded or less-than-intentionally-serious manner. That happens, for instance, when we use such common expletives as “God!”, “O my God!”, “Gosh!”, “Jesus!”, “Jesus Christ!”, “Gee!”, “Lord!”, “Good Lord!,” etc. I acknowledge that I am going beyond the literal language of the Third Commandment, but in our culture of total irreverence, I believe this is one sound and appropriate application of its intent.