Just exactly what is "the name of the Lord"? In most Bible translations, the title "the Lord" (or usually "the LORD") is substituted for the unique name of the Hebrew god, יהוה, commonly known as the Tetragrammaton. Therefore, יהוה is the "name of the Lord" which is not to be taken in vain.
In Judaism, this commandment is taken so seriously that the uttering of God's name is forbidden, lest it somehow be used in an improper way. Thus, in the reading aloud of scripture or in prayer, it is replaced with Adonai ("My Lords", commonly rendered as "The Lord"), though occasionally replaced with "Elohim" (GOD). Other written forms such as י (yod) ה (heh) (YH or Yah) are in fact pronounced during prayer. Ironically, because of this practice, no one today knows exactly how God's name is to be properly pronounced today.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God is one of the Ten Commandments, which are widely understood as moral imperatives by legal scholars, Jewish scholars, Catholic scholars, and Post-Reformation scholars. The Book of Exodus describes the Ten Commandments as being spoken by God to Moses, inscribed on two stone tablets by the finger of God, and later written on tablets by Moses.
You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.
– Exodus 20: 7 (NJB)
The revelation of a personal name to Israel - “I am the Lord your God|I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” - invited relationship and revealed something of the character of Yahweh. God’s name was called upon and blessed; it was not to be blasphemed or cursed. The holiness of the name was not meant to remove it from use but from abuse. There are numerous examples in the Hebrew Bible and a few in the New Testament where God’s name is called upon in oaths to tell the truth or to support the truth of the statement being sworn to, and the books of Daniel and Revelation include instances where an angel sent by God invokes the name of God to support the truth of apocalyptic revelations. God himself is presented as swearing by his own name (“As surely as I live …”) to guarantee the certainty of various events foretold through the prophets.The Hebrew words variously interpreted “take in vain,” “misuse,” or “swear falsely,” are “Lo tissa,” literally meaning “to carry.” Some have interpreted the commandment to be against perjury, since invoking God’s name was considered a guarantee of the truth of a statement or promise. Other scholars believe the original intent was to prohibit using the name in magical practices. Old Testament passages also refer to God’s name being profaned by hypocritical behavior of people and false representation of God’s words or character. Many scholars also believe the commandment applies to the casual use of God’s name in interjections and curses. To avoid coming under guilt by accidentally misusing God’s name, Jewish scholars do not write or pronounce the proper name in most circumstances, but use substitutes such as “Adonai (the Lord),” or “HaShem (the Name).” In English translations of the Bible, the name Adonai is often translated “Lord,” while the proper name Yahweh represented by the tetragrammaton is often indicated by the use of capital and small capital letters, LORD.
== Ancient Understanding ==
The ancients considered the name as expressing the nature or function, almost the very being, of a person or thing. Therefore, the revelation of a personal name to Israel,“I am the Lord your God|I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” invited relationship and revealed something of the character of Yahweh. The holiness of the name was not meant to remove it from use but from abuse. There are numerous examples in the Hebrew Bible where God’s name is called upon in oaths to tell the truth or to support the truth of the statement being sworn to. However, the name was not meant to be used as a magic word. “Far from man being able to use the name to control God, it is the name which controls man both in worship ... and in service [to one’s fellow man].”According to the account in the Torah, a review of the Ten Commandments was publicly proclaimed by Moses as the people of Israel ended their 40 years of nomadic wandering and prepared to enter the promised land. In Deuteronomy 5:11, the Israelites are commanded not to swear falsely by the name of Yahweh; yet in the subsequent chapter they are instructed to swear only by the name of Yahweh (as opposed to other gods). Thus, there was an expectation for calling God as a witness to dealings between people, with serious consequences for those who would misuse the name of God. Invoking God’s name as proof of truth was not restricted only to human dealings. In one of Daniel’s visions, the angel that appears to him swears by God to the truth of the apocalyptic message. In a number of passages, Yahweh is quoted as swearing by his own name to emphasize the definitive truth of accompanying statements.The truth of assertions in court, as well as the trustworthiness of commitments in public and personal affairs were often supported by oaths or self-curses that would take effect if the assertion proved false or the promise was unfulfilled. There are numerous examples in the Book of Samuel of people strengthening their statements or promises with the phrase, “As surely as Yahweh lives …” and such statements are referred to in Jeremiah as well. The value of invoking punishment from God was based on the belief that God cannot be deceived or evaded. For example, a narrative in the Book of Numbers describes how such an oath is to be administered by a priest to a woman suspected of adultery, with the expectation that the accompanying curse will have no effect on an innocent person.Such oaths may have been used in civil claims, regarding supposed theft, for example, and the commandment is repeated in the context of honest dealings between people in Leviticus 19:12. Theft may lead to deceit, denial and cover-up; these are likely to be aggravated by false oath, thus profaning the sacred name of God – so God becomes a party for what began as a purely civil matter. At one point of the account of the dedication of the Temple of Solomon, Solomon prays to Yahweh, asking him to hear and act upon curses uttered in a dispute that are then brought before his altar, to distinguish between the person in the right and the one in the wrong.The prophet Isaiah rebuked Israel as the Babylonian Captivity drew near, pointing out that they bore the name of God, and swore by him, but their swearing was hypocritical since they had forsaken the exclusive worship of Yahweh for the worship of idols. The Israelites had been told in Leviticus that sacrificing their children to idols and then coming to worship God caused God’s name to be profaned, thus breaking the commandment. According to the Book of Jeremiah, Yahweh told him to look around Jerusalem, asserting that he would not be able to find an honest man – “Even when they say, ‘As Yahweh lives,’ they are sure to be swearing falsely.” Jeremiah prophesies to the people that they are mistaken to think they can break the commandments, “steal and murder and commit adultery and swear falsely,” and expect to be safe because they go to the Temple that bears the name of Yahweh. Jeremiah also refers to a situation in which Israelites repented and took oaths in God’s name – only to renege by reclaiming as slaves persons they had freed as part of their repentance. This hypocritical act was also considered profaning God’s name. The reputation of Israel was linked to God’s reputation, since they were “his people,” – therefore God was not going to tolerate the misuse of his name. After a time of punishment, however, he promised to restore them for the same reason – the sake of his name. In Jeremiah 12, an opportunity is also described for Israel’s neighbors to avoid destruction and prosper if they stop swearing by their idol and swear only by the name of Yahweh.
== In Judaism ==
Lo tissa et shem Ha-Shem Eloheikha la-shav
Joseph Telushkin, a Modern Orthodox rabbi, wrote that the commandment is much more than a prohibition against casual interjections using God’s name. He pointed out that the more literal translation of Lo tissa is “you shall not carry” rather than “you shall not take”, and that understanding this helps one understand why the commandment ranks with such as “You shall not murder” and “You shall not commit adultery”. God has chosen to use people who bear his name to represent him and bring knowledge of him into the world. When a person who bears God’s name commits an evil act, he or she discredits God as well.In Jewish tradition, the word translated “Name” (shem) powerfully refers to the character or reputation of the one who bears it. The revealed name of God (Yahweh) thus can be understood as the invocation for the very presence of God himself to show Himself to those who are praying. Thus, it is considered a serious matter and not to be taken lightly.One of the first commandments listed by Maimonides (Rambam) in the Mishneh Torah is the responsibility to sanctify God’s name. As the purpose of creation is to demonstrate the greatness and unity of the Creator, this responsibility belongs to the entire Jewish nation, not only to the scholars or religious leaders. Maimonides thought the commandment should be taken as generally as possible, and therefore he considered it forbidden to mention God’s Name unnecessarily at any time. Jewish scholars referred to this as motzi shem shamayim lavatalah, “uttering the Name of Heaven uselessly.” To avoid guilt associated with accidentally breaking the commandment, Jewish scholars applied the prohibition to all seven biblical titles of God in addition to the proper Name, and established the safeguard (geizerah) of circumlocution when referring to the Name of God. In writing names of God, a common practice includes substituting letters or syllables so that the written word is not exactly the name, or writing the name in an abbreviated manner. Ultra-Orthodox Jews will not even pronounce a name of God unless it is said in prayer or religious study. The Sacred Name (Tetragrammaton), is never pronounced by these Jews but always read as “Adonai (the Lord),” “HaShem (the Name),” or sometimes “AdoShem”.
May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
– from the Kaddish
The Kaddish (literally – “sanctification”) is an important prayer in a Jewish prayer service whose central theme is the magnification and sanctification of God’s name. Along with the Shema and Amidah, it is one of the most important and central prayers of Jewish liturgy. A version of the Kaddish is used as a prayer of mourning.
== In the New Testament ==
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that a person’s word should be reliable and one should not swear by God or his creation, nor even by their own head, “because you cannot make even one hair white or black.” In his letter, the Apostle James reiterates the instruction to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and keep your word, “so that you may not fall into condemnation.” Some scholars understand this teaching to mean that every oath involves a reference to God and that God's presence and his truth must be honored in all speech. Discretion in calling upon God is allied with a respectful awareness of his presence, which all our assertions either witness to or mock.Appeals to various authorities or collateral to validate the truth of a promise or claim had expanded in Jesus’ day, and a hierarchy had been established by tradition that was not in line with the original commandment. Jesus is quoted as warning that they were blind and foolish who gave credibility to such arguments: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.”The Lord’s Prayer, which is portrayed in the gospels as a model for prayer, begins “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …” The first few lines are reminiscent of the Kaddish – an important prayer in a Jewish prayer service whose central theme is the magnification and sanctification of God’s name.According to the Gospel of John, Jesus made appeals to the power of the name of God and also claimed the name of God as his own, which constituted blasphemy if it were not true. The Gospel of John relates an incident where a group attempts to stone Jesus after he speaks God's name: “I tell you, before Abraham was, I AM.” They interpret his statement as a claim of divinity. Since they do not believe that he is God, they consider this blasphemy, which under Torah carries a death penalty. In the account of Jesus’ questioning by the Sanhedrin in the Gospel of Matthew, the high priest charges Jesus “by the living God” to tell the truth and answer whether he is the Messiah. Jesus says that he is the Messiah, and makes parallels between himself and the “Son of Man” referred to by the prophet Daniel, which evokes an emphatic response that he has blasphemed (broken the commandment) and deserves death. When giving the Great Commission, Jesus claimed authority from
God and equated his name with that of the God the Father and of the Holy Spirit:
Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
– Matthew 28:18-19 (NIV)
The Paul the Apostle|Apostle Paul occasionally invokes God’s name in his letters, calling God as witness to the purity of his motives and honesty of his dealings with the churches to whom he ministered.The author of Hebrews reviewed God’s promise to Abraham as assurance that outstanding promises will yet be fulfilled. “Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute.” In the case of the promise of God to Abraham, God swore by his own name to guarantee the promise, since there was nothing greater for him to swear by. Philo pointed out that it is natural that God would swear by himself, even though this is “a thing impossible for anyone else.”Similar to the events described in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation includes a description of an angel who swears by God to the truth of the end-time events being revealed to John.
== In the Catholic Church ==
Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the world!
– Psalm 8:1 (NJB), Catechism of the Catholic Church 2160
The Catholic Church teaches that the Lord’s name is holy and should be introduced into one’s speech only to bless, praise or glorify that name. The name should be used respectfully, with an awareness of the presence of God. It must not be abused by careless speech, false oaths, or words of hatred, reproach or defiance toward God, or used in magic. Since Jesus Christ is believed to be the Messiah, and “the image of the invisible God,” this commandment is applied to the name of Jesus Christ as well.
The sentiment behind this commandment is expressed in the Lord's Prayer, which begins, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." According to Pope Benedict XVI, when God revealed his name to Moses he established a relationship with mankind; Benedict stated that the Incarnation was the culmination of a process that "had begun with the giving of the divine name." Benedict elaborated that this means the divine name could be misused and that Jesus' inclusion of "hallowed be thy name" is a plea for the sanctification of God's name, to "protect the wonderful mystery of his accessibility to us, and constantly assert his true identity as opposed to our distortion of it."
Taking an oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one’s own truthfulness.
Promises made to others in God's name engage the divine honor, fidelity, truthfulness, and authority. They must be respected in justice. To be unfaithful to them is to misuse God's name and in some way to make God out to be a liar. (1 John 1:10)
– Catechism of the Catholic Church 2147
For the same reason, the Catholic Catechism teaches that it is a duty to reject false oaths that others might try to impose; an oath may be made false because it attests to a lie, because an illegitimate authority is requiring it, or because the purpose of the oath is contrary to God’s law or human dignity.
== Reformation and Post-Reformation Views ==
Matthew Henry described five categories of actions that constitute taking God’s name in vain: 1) hypocrisy – making a profession of God’s name, but not living up to that profession; 2) covenant breaking – if one makes promises to God yet does not carry out the promised actions; 3) rash swearing; 4) false swearing; and 5) using the name of God lightly and carelessly, for charms or spells, jest or sport. He pointed out that though a person may hold himself guiltless in one of these matters, the commandment specifically states that God will not.The Lutheran Witness, a doctrinal document representing the Lutheran faith, supports the view that oaths should not generally be taken at all, except “for the glory of God and the welfare of our neighbor.” Specifically, it states that proper use of God’s name includes administration of oaths in court, and in swearing-in a spiritual or political leader to their respective offices, which include responsibilities toward God and fellow human beings.In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin sets the stage for discussing this commandment by noting that an oath is calling God to witness that what we say is true, and that an appropriate oath is a kind of worship of God in that it implies a profession of faith. When human testimony fails, people appeal to God as witness, as the only one able to bring hidden things to light and know what is in the heart. False swearing robs God of his truth (to the observer), and therefore it is a serious matter. With regard to the casual use of God’s name, Calvin summarized, “remember that an oath is not appointed or allowed for passion or pleasure, but for necessity.” He wrote that the frequency of casual use of the name of God has dulled the public conscience but that the commandment, with its penalty, still stands.
== References ==
== External links ==
The Third Commandment in Masoretic Hebrew, Septuagint Greek and several English versions
Aseret Hadiberot on the commandment not to take (or carry) the name of God in vain (emptiness).