“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.”
– Exodus 20:7 (KJV)
It’s not about cursing
Most of us were taught that the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” meant not using the name of God or Jesus as a curse word. But this could be one of the most misunderstood Commandments in the Holy Bible.
Many Bible scholars say it means something else, including Dr. Michael Heiser, who says this passage would be better translated as: “Do not misrepresent the name.”
Many Bible translations are starting to present this commandment from the same viewpoint that Heiser expresses. For example:
“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (New International Version)
“Thou dost not take up the name of Jehovah thy God for a vain thing, for Jehovah acquitteth not him who taketh up His name for a vain thing.” (Young’s literal translation).
A big part of the problem is translating the Bible into the English language, which loses the subtleties of the original Hebrew. For example, Heiser points out that, if you compare the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 against Deuteronomy 5, you will find differences in language. Did God get mixed up? No. English is responsible for the differences in what we read.
Misrepresenting the name of God
Christians are named after Christ. They are his followers and representatives of his teaching.
When we don’t follow the teachings of Christ and do not act as Christians – we are misrepresenting his name. We are not behaving in a way that is congruent with being one with Christ.
Christ himself represents the name of God, for he possesses the Holy Spirit of God and is God himself.
Even in Exodus 23:21, God tells Moses the reason the angel he sent has authority is because, “my name is in him.”
Therefore, as Christians, Christ’s name is in us. When we misrepresent the Gospels, we are misrepresenting the name of Christ.
The power of a name
God gives the Israelites his name in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” In Hebrew, “I am” is YHWH (which we call Yahweh).
It’s important to understand that the name Yahweh is not solely a personal pronoun. The name of God also signifies the presence of Yahweh.
This concept can seem complex, but Dr. Michael Heiser breaks them down bit by bit in his book “The Unseen Realm.”
The definition of “vain”
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, vain has several meanings:
- Having no real value.
- Characterized by futility or ineffectualness.
- (Archaic) foolish, silly.
The dictionary also defines “in vain” as:
- Without success or result.
- In an irreverent manner are blasphemous (it refers this usage to the Bible).
Applying the definitions of vain to representing the name of God:
Therefore, considering the above definitions of vain, we can also see that we could misrepresent the name of God out of our own conceit. We could misrepresent his name in ways having no real value. As representatives of his name, our ineffectiveness or futility in our Christian walk could misrepresent the name of Christ.
To say that we are a practicing Christian, but then we show no success or result of doing so, misrepresents the name of Christ and what it means to be a Christian.