Taking God’s Name in Vain

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“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exod. 20:7, ESV) This is one of the Ten Commandments and we usually interpret it to mean we shouldn’t use God’s name as a profanity or swearword. If we examine two key words, however, we might come to a different conclusion.

The Hebrew word translated “vain” primarily refers to vanity, futility or worthlessness; it also can mean falseness or emptiness. Overall, it describes an absence of intended or expected results.

The Hebrew word translated “take” has various meanings, such as lift up, carry, honor, exalt, desire, and support. There are several Old Testament references to taking oaths in God’s name, revealing a wider use of this word than simply physically lifting or carrying something.

Consider a practice that spans cultures and time: taking an oath and a name in marriage. If a bride pledges herself to her husband and takes his name, the groom expects her to renounce all others. If she then engages in relations with others, she’s not doing what her new husband expected. That is, she made a false pledge and took his name in vain.

In that sense, it’s possible for us to take God’s name in vain by considering ourselves Christians, but not doing what he expects of us. Consider Jesus’ perspective on this:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23, NIV).

Notice he said, “I never knew you,” which means he had no intimate relationship with them. It’s possible for us to take God’s name in vain by calling ourselves Christians or God’s children, even doing religious works, but failing to honor our relationship with him.

Taking God’s name in vain isn’t about using it as a profanity or swearword. Instead, it’s calling ourselves Christians but continuing to live like the world.

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  1. You are right! I have taught like you state for 26 years. I have not known anyone else write it like this in my 63 yrs. of a devout Christian. Years ago, a man’s reputation included his kids well being. A prodigal son would cause the dad’s reputation to be affected. So, the son took his father’s name in vain!

  2. I agree with you Larry! I noticed how even in the New Testament we are told to not even eat with one who claims to be a brother while carrying out immoral acts. The Lord seems to reserve more harsh judgment for such! Thank you for this solid breakdown of the scriptural principles involved here. I have wondered myself having heard the comment that God’s name isn’t G-O-D anyway.

  3. Wow what an eye opener! This article gave me food for thought. It was always taught that “taking the Lords name in vain” meant swearing or using His name as an expletive, but this article highlights a different meaning. I think most of us are guilty of taking the Lords name in vain without realizing it – thanks for highlighting this. We will all be judged according to the knowledge of the truth we have access to. May we go forward being more aware of our words and actions.

  4. OUCH!!!

    I’m thankful for our Lord leading me to read this solid truth- you opened this scripture in a vivid way, showing me it’s high time to be about redeeming the time and doing what “thus says the Lord”. I appreciate you, your wisdom, insight and ability to make the WORD vivid and broad.

    May the Blessing of the Lord remain upon you and your household!

  5. Amazing insight into the deeper meaning of scripture! As always, I thank the Lord for your teaching.

    We are Christ’s bride — what eyeopening insight!!

  6. This is a very good and different perspective about God’s Word. As always, your perspective is aligned with His Word. Love ya brother.


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