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The Strange Silence Around the Third Commandment

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series

"Mind Your Manners: Rude to God"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

This command is universally understood to mean that God’s name is not to be used as a curse-word, or as a mere exclamation. And who would deny that? To use the very name of God to express irritation or surprise, to add verbal oomph to a promise, or to simply use His name as a joke would surely violate this command.

How do we know that? Is there anywhere in the rest of the Law of Moses that explains and applies the Third Commandment? Not explicitly, anyway. Apparently, this command supplies a principle, to which believers were, and are, supposed to supply applications. We somehow feel that the most popular applications of this command are correct, though we don’t have many cross-references to back them up.

What is the principle? Since one’s name represents one’s person and character, the name of God represents more than simply the verbal pronouncement or written letters of God’s names or titles. The name of God represents God’s person. To take His name in vain, is to take His person, character and reputation in vain. “To take in vain” is to treat as light, empty, or worthless. It is to misuse something in a fashion that trivializes its dignity, devalues its import, or profanes its uniqueness. The timeless principle of the Third Commandment seems to be: do not treat God in any way that trivializes, devalues, or profanes Him. Positively: fear God, and give Him the glory due His name (Ps 29:2).

One can easily see how using God’s actual name as a swear-word would profane God. But are there not other lawful applications of this command? What about treating His Supper as common? What about treating His Day like any other day? What about making light of God’s Word in a sermon? What of Sunday School songs that make God into something comical or amusing? What about methods of evangelism that ‘theme’ the gospel after some form of entertainment or leisure? What about worshipping God with forms used for revelry, narcissism and entertainment? Are there forms of speech, song, poetry, prayer, dress that would portray God as lightweight, inconsequential or unimportant? Could a certain kind of behaviour drag God’s reputation through the mud, particularly by those who name Him?

We’re probably only getting started with possible applications. The point is, the Third Commandment, like most of them, gives a command which is timeless, and therefore generalized. “Treat God’s Person With Respect”, might be a paraphrase. This broad principle then needs to be worked into differing ages, cultures, and situations. God gives us the etiquette – treat Me with reverence – and expects us to apply it.

And there’s the rub. We can take God’s relative silence about how to flesh out the Third Commandment two ways. We can assume that the only moral aspect of the Commandment is the timeless principle, while the applications, because they may differ from culture to culture, are amoral. What becomes moral, in this way of thinking, is the desire, or the sincerity with which a person wishes to reverence God. The actual forms, habits, speech, dress and musical forms contain no meaning except insofar as they give a moral agent an opportunity to express his sincere desire to revere God.

The other approach is to see morality extending from the timeless commandment through to the applications, even when these applications are not spelt out by Scripture. The applications are moral insofar as they carry meanings. These meanings can communicate, in a given culture, reverence for God or its opposite. This meaning comes about in several ways, but since it is present in every culture, what is needed to keep the Third Commandment is more than sincerity, but discernment. Every moral agent needs to grow in knowledge, to judge the meaning, in his culture, of his acts, habits, gestures and responses to God. I’d like to defend this second approach in the next posts.

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

7 Responses to The Strange Silence Around the Third Commandment

  1. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. Proverbs 30:9

    This is not in the law of Moses, but apparently the Hebrews understood taking God's name in vain to go beyond our words to our actions that dishonor Him as well.

  2. Indeed, they did – Ez 20:39, Malachi 1:6.

    It's modern believers who seem to have the problem making that connection.

  3. The Jews were told not to disrespect or use Yahweh (Jehovah) name in a worthless way. He did not tell them not to use it.

    Even today, people use titles to substitute using his name. Some do it out of ignorance while others do it on purpose. And there is this teaching that Jesus is Yahweh (Jehovah).

    They will use Jesus name all day long and never mention the name of his God, the one whom he prayed, the one who anointed him with Holy Spirit, the one that sent Jesus to earth and the one that resurrected Jesus and appointed him King over all his (Yahweh (Jehovah)) belonging which include the earth.

    So disrespectful!!!

  4. By far the greatest disrespect that could possibly shown to the Father would be to claim that His Son, the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, is not Yahweh.

    Compare Isaiah 45:23-24 and Philippians 2:9-11.

    John 5:23 "that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

  5. By honoring both the Father and Son does not mean they must be one in the same.

    And yes, God (Yahweh or Jehovah), not Jesus, exalted Jesus to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name. But it is "to the glory of God the Father" as verse 11 points out, not to Jesus's glory . This passage does not mean that since only God (Yahweh or Jehovah) has a name absolutely above every other name, Jesus must be the same person as God. Jesus received his elevated name after his resurrection. Before that, he did not possess it.

    On the other hand, Yahweh/Jehovah has always been supreme, and his position has never changed. The fact that Jesus received a name higher than the name he had before his earthly service proves that he is not the same as Yahweh/Jehovah. When Paul said that Jesus was given a name above every other name, he meant that Jesus now has the highest name of all God's creatures.

    His high name is directly related to his elevated position. Isaiah 9:6 tells us "And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

    Every knee is commanded to bend to Jesus in recognition of the high position of authority that Yahweh/Jehovah has given to him, a position of authority higher than that given to any other creature for his faithfulness.

    This is what I understand the Bible to teach.

  6. Steve,

    You may well understand it as such, but someone rarely comes to believe as you do without influence from Unitarians, Christadelphians, or the Watchtower Society.

    For all the way people of your stripe try to wrangle around John 1:1, the facts remain: the Logos was a pre-existent person, having eternally existed with God the Father, and who became incarnate (v14).

    And unfortunately for your theory, the one thing Yahweh said He would never do is give His glory to another. No creature, angelic, human, or virgin-born can share God's name, be given that name, or be promoted to that name. He either has that name intrinsically, or God made 'an exception' in the case of Jesus, as all Arians like to believe.

    This is my last word on this matter. This site, as the statement of faith makes clear, assumes the full deity of Christ, and argues for biblical worship amongst Christians who share the trinitarian faith and the Protestant Gospel. There are other sites and forums that debate the deity of Christ, this is not one of them.

    You need to repent of this catastrophic error and embrace the God-Man as your Saviour, for only the God-Man can be a true mediator between God and man.

  7. Lets stay on subject. We are not discussing religion. We are discussing Bible truth.

    You have already introduced a point of view Comparing Isaiah 45:23-24 and Philippians 2:9-11 as your support. I asked a simple question:

    By honoring both the Father and Son does not mean they must be one in the same? Can you answer objectively?

    Also, I demonstrated using the same scripture Philippians 2:9-11 that your argument is in contradiction with the scripture. In verse 9, it clearly states God exalted him (Jesus) to a superior position. And verse 11 states the God did this to his (God) glory.

    How is God (Yahweh or Jehovah) the same as Jesus using Philippians 2:9-11. Clearly, someone is subordinated to the other. If Jesus is Yahweh or Jehovah, why does he need to exalt himself to a superior position? Doesn't God already rest in the superior position?

    This is where the conversation need to come back to. If what you believe is the truth, up me to understand. I think my questions are legitimate.

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