Do we really even need to discuss this? Everybody knows that this commandment can be basically translated into saying, "Don't Cuss!"
Well, if I agreed with that, I wouldn't be writing this. I agree that 'cussing' is not the best use of our gift of language, a gift that we have in far greater complexity than any other animal on this planet. And there may be places where the Bible tells us that God is not in favor of cussing. I believe that this commandment has very little to do with cussing.
I think that the issue is not what we say, but how we live. But first, to lay the foundation for what I believe, let's look at different translations of the original Hebrew, as taken by people over the years. (Bold face is mine.)
"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." - King James Version (KJV)
"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain." - New King James / Revised Standard / New American Standard
"Thou shall not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain." - English text from Hebrew TORAH as published in 1977.
"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 (NIV)
"You shall not make wrong use of the name of the LORD your God; the LORD will not leave unpunished the man who misuses his name." - The New English Bible
"You shall not use the name of Jehovah your God irreverently, nor use it to swear to a falsehood. You will not escape punishment if you do." - The Living Bible
"Do not use the name of the LORD your God profanely; for the LORD will not regard him innocent who uses His name profanely." - Revised Berkeley
"Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name." - Good News Bible
"You shall not use or repeat the name of the LORD your God in vain [that is, lightly or frivolously, in false affirmations or profanely]; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." - Amplified Bible
"You shall not utter the name of Yahweh your God to misuse it, Yahweh will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it." - The Jerusalem Bible
That's 12 different translations, done over a period of 360 years or more, and 9 different sets of words. Let's look at it now. Note how the first five are translated into English, while the last seven have changed the words, and in my belief, they have changed the meaning as well!
First, let's assume that the traditional view is correct: we are not to use God's name to cuss. If that is true, then note how people have tried to get around it! "Dog gummit", "Gosh Darn", "Jiminy Cricket" and "Jumping Jehosaphat" are all ways of 'cussing' without 'cussing'.
Am I supposed to believe that by mispronouncing something I get away with it? This commandment has an additional warning attached to it, which most don't. To me that gives this one special additional meaning, which makes me want to make sure that I do not unknowingly violate it. After all, I don't want to be 'not regarded guiltless' when this is all over.
I propose that this commandment has nothing to do with what we say, and everything to do with how we live. That is why the additional comment about 'not being regarded guiltless' makes so much sense. First, a question: What does it mean to say "in-vain"?
When I read a story in the newspaper that says something like, "They searched the swamp for the missing child in vain", or "He chased the bus in vain", I conjure up words of failure. Of not accomplishing or doing the thing that was desired. So taking a "name in vain" may be some kind of failure, too.
Next an analogy: When my mother married my father, in Germany back in the 1940's after World War Two, she took my father's name. At that time, in their culture, that was traditional. She forsook her parent's name, and took her husband's name. The taking of the new name, reflected a change in life, and change in status and a change in priorities. She was no longer a single woman, she was married. She no longer dated men, she was mated to one. She no longer was a young woman, she was a changed woman. She was now responsible for a family and a relationship that would last over 50 years (so far!).
If her lifestyle did not change from that day forward, she would have been ostracized by her community. Few, if any, cultures or societies encourage their married women to live in the same way after the marriage as they did before they married.
In other words, if my mother had taken my father's name, but not changed her lifestyle, she would have taken my father's name "in-vain". She would have had a ceremony, but not a new life, and boy would my father have been . . . upset, to put it mildly.
When we put on a uniform, we take the name of those whose uniform it is. Whether it is a sports team uniform, a work uniform for that employer or a military uniform. When we choose a career, we take the name of the best of everyone in that career field. When we take on a title, we take the name of the best o everyone with that title.
If you take the name of God, at a ceremony, and tell the world that you are now part of the 'bride of Christ' as the church is called, yet you do not live like a 'bride of Christ', you have taken His name in vain, and you will not be considered guiltless. Live with Jesus as if you are committed to Him for life, not as if He is a friend. A spouse is supposed to be an intimate friend, companion, confidant, friend and a lifetime commitment. To treat Jesus as anything less than that, is to take His name in vain. Ouch. Are you 'guilty as charged'?
For more on how important it is for you to have a personal relationship with Jesus, read this!
God would rather set you free than charge you as guilty, but the choice is yours to make.
A wonderful response to this article follows:
I was glad to find your essay about the Third Commandment. I�ve been wondering for a while if anyone else would ever construe this text the way I have. Your marriage illustration is especially helpful.
You may have noticed, but didn�t include it in your presentation, that there is a very helpful passage further on in Exodus that confirms our understanding of �take the name of �� If not, I pass this along for your edification: Your first question regarded the nature of the word often translated "in vain." My question regarded what it means to "take the name of" someone. I found that the word "take" primarily indicates "carry" or "bear" as in "bear a burden." So I searched for other passages in which it is used with "name." I found oneIt is in Exodus 28. Part of this chapter describes the construction and use of a �breastplate of judgment� which Aaron must wear when he enters the holy of holies in the tabernacle. Verse 29 states that �Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel � for a memorial before the Lord continually.� This is the same phrase that�s used in Exodus 20:7 regarding bearing the name of the Eternal. This parallel structure is what convinced me that the original recipients of the commandment would have construed God�s meaning to be a warning against identifying themselves as in a relationship with the Eternal and living contrary (falsely) to their claim; or as you say, a warning about how one lives, not about how one talks.
"For your progress and joy in the faith,"
Doug Knigthon, Ch Col USAF (Ret)
Promises for the Battle
Other articles about Christians and confusion:
- The Apostle's Doctrine (March, 2003)
- The Battle Between Good and Evil (January, 2003)
- Heaven's Boot Camp (January, 2003)
- Cancer Cells of the Body (January, 2003)
- Born Again/Saved? (January, 2003)
- Harmony in the Orchestra (October, 2002)
- Carpenter's Tools (October 2002)
- Serve the Bride or Love the Groom (June 2002)
- David Seceded Saul (May 2002)
- Personal Relationship With Jesus? Hah! (April 2002)
- Literal reading of the Bible? (March, 2002)
- The Parable of the Sower (December, 2001)
- But Coach, you don't understand!
- A Light in Darkness is supposed to be surrounded!
- How are piles of manure and ships in harbor related?
- Should we educate using mass production techniques?
- Lenses stained by blood are red!
- Who is responsible for my salvation?
- What does the 3rd commandment really mean? (Updated Nov, 2010)
- If Satan is present in your life, what does that mean?
- Are you focusing on your spiritual growth? Oops!
- Daddy, why does an iron get out wrinkles?
- Why did John baptize people?
- True, but not helpful!