“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.” Exodus 20:7
This is a verse that many people are familiar with; one of the Ten Commandments. There are a few different views on how this verse should be understood and applied, but most Christians hold this view: In order to uphold the instructions of this commandment, it tis not proper for a Christian to say things like “Oh my God” or “Oh Lord.” That is using God’s name in vain, right? And we should not mention God in such phrases unless we are directly and intentionally speaking to or in regards to God. Maybe that’s true. But here’s the issue with that: that may be all good and dandy, but that’s not what the verse says.
The verse clearly says to not take the LORD’s name in vain. In the Old Testament, the use of LORD is the accepted English translation of what was believed to be God’s name, which we understand from translation to be the equivalent, from Hebrew, of the English letters YHWH. Many people pronounce this name as Yahweh (Yah-way). So, this means that saying “God” and “Yahweh” are two very different things. It’s the difference between saying “Oh brother” and “Oh Johnny,” for example. Brother is not a name. Neither is God. It is the word we have assigned to designate any supernatural deity, essentially.
Now, I am not saying that I condone phrases like “Oh my God.” But what I am saying is that God never said to not say things like it. I am simply encouraging us to examine context and what was actually said, not what we think it means or what we have been taught growing up, or what people tell us. There is fuller truth imbedded in many things, especially religious text such as the Bible.
While we’re on this topic, let us examine some similar things. For example, let’s look at the Commandment that reads in the King James “Thou shalt not kill.” Now, what exactly is being said here? This is a topic of controversy, though it seems to come up less than a lot of other verses. Let’s look at it from this perspective: if we take this verse entirely literally and completely obey it, then a few things are wrong in any context: The death penalty. Killing in self defense. Killing animals for food (the verse definitely does not specify humans). Squashing bugs and spiders. Euthanizing sick pets.
Obviously, the verse does not apply to all of these situations. In other places in the Bible, God definitely condones killing animals for food and clothing as well as the death penalty in certain situations. And actually, this verse reads as “Thou shalt not kill” in very few English translations of the book of Exodus. But that is how it is quoted far more often that not when in fact most translation use the word “murder” rather than kill. The NIV, the Amplified, and even the New King James versions are examples that use this word instead. Now, that completely changes the meaning of the verse. Murder carries entirely different connotations and context. It’s a different situation, and a different commandment altogether now.
This forces of to do a few things if we wish to have fuller, more complete understanding. One is to examine different translations of the Bible, as no one translation can be perfectly accurate. Also, this shows how important it is to understand that Bible verses exist in dialogue with other verses, even ones in different books of the Bible. If there were no examples of God mentioning eating animals or consequences for certain crimes, then there might be a stronger argument that we are meant to take this commandment more literally. We must examine the big picture of what the text is communicating in conjunction with other parts of itself and with what God is still speaking today, if you believe that He is still speaking new things. But that raises an entirely different set of questions that we will not explore in depth until another time: What about Holy texts not found in the canon of what we call the Bible? What about things that God is still communicating through writing and through his people, especially prophets, that are not found or addressed in the Bible? There are definitely changes between the Old and New Testament, even if some are understood to be symbolic to illustrate a point. What if things have changed since the near two millennia that the books found in the Bible were written? Doesn’t the Bible have examples of God changing his plans because of the prayers of his people? What if the prophecies in the Bible, especially in the book of Revelation, are no longer applicable?
And one last things to look at while we’re still examining parts of Exodus 20. But this time, let’s look at context in the sense of audience. Near the beginning of the chapter, there is a verse that reads: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
Now last time I checked, I was not a slave in Egypt that God delivered. Now, we could understand this to be symbolic of the individual bondages that God delivers each of us from. But then why mention Egypt explicitly? And if it is symbolic and not literal, then we must acknowledge that, perhaps, other passages are not literal as well.
And even beyond that, does this mean that these commandments are for the Israelites at the time? Or for all believers in the God of Abraham and Moses? If we, today, are observing these commandments, why is it not a problem not to observe all of the rules and laws that God outlined to Moses and Aaron around that same time period? Why do we observe the Ten Commandments, but not Passover? Hanukkah? Growing up in Jewish culture, it is highly likely that even Jesus observed the Jewish laws, customs, and holidays growing up. If not, it seems that there would have been enough controversy about it that it would’ve made it into at least one of the four accounts of the Gospel.
And of course, there’s the whole Sabbath issue. We won’t go too far into this either, at least not this time. But a few quick notes in the form of questions: Why do we take this Commandment more lightly than the others? The day, as observed by early believers was from sunset the previous night to the next sunset (at least, from what I understand through researching the culture of the people and the way some of the terms were translated), so why do we observe a “Sabbath” from morning to night and not from sunset to sunset?
Some things to consider. And I hope and pray that you will walk with me on this continued journey toward actual truth and a wider view, not just the opinions, perspectives, and accepted beliefs that we have been spoon fed all of our lives.
Welcome to Life Through This Window
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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.” Exodus 20:7...