“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.” – Exodus 20:7 (KJV)
Taking the Lord’s name in vain has often only been associated with using it as an expletive or in combination with another inappropriate word. Although this is correct, using God’s name in vain means so much more. Anytime the name of God is used in a profane manner, it violates the third commandment. This undoubtedly includes professing to follow Christ yet living a life that isn’t in accordance with the Word of God. Unfortunately, Christians take the “Lord’s name in vain” more often than they realize.
Most of us were taught that the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” meant not using the name of God or Jesus as a curse word. But this could be one of the most misunderstood commandments in the Bible.
Many Bible scholars say it means something else. Dr. Michael Heiser says this passage would be better translated as, “Do not misrepresent the name.” Many Bible translations are starting to present this commandment from the same viewpoint that Heiser expresses.
“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)
“Thou dost not take up the name of Jehovah thy God for a vain thing, for Jehovah acquitteth not him who taketh up His name for a vain thing.” (Young’s Literal Translation).
A big part of the problem is translating the Bible into the English language, which loses the subtleties of the original Hebrew. For example, Heiser points out that if you compare the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 to what is recorded in Deuteronomy 5, you’ll find differences in language. English is responsible for the differences in what we read.
Christians are named after Christ. They are his followers and representatives of his teachings.
When we don’t follow the teachings of Christ and do not act like Christians, we are misrepresenting His name. We are not behaving in a way that is congruent with being one with Christ. Christ himself represents the name of God, for he possesses the Holy Spirit of God and is God himself.
Even in Exodus 23:21, God tells Moses the reason the angel he sent has authority is that “my name is in Him.” Therefore, as Christians, Christ’s name is in us. When we misrepresent the gospel, we are misrepresenting the name of Christ.
God gives the Israelites his name in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” In Hebrew, “I am” is YHWH (which we call Yahweh).
It’s important to understand that the name Yahweh is not solely a personal pronoun. The name of God also signifies the presence of Yahweh. This concept can seem complex, but Dr. Michael Heiser breaks it down very succinctly in his book “The Unseen Realm.”
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, vain has several meanings:
The dictionary also defines “in vain” as:
Therefore, considering the above definitions of vain, we can also see that we could misrepresent the name of God out of our own conceit. We could misrepresent His name in ways that have no real value. As representatives of His name, our ineffectiveness or futility in our Christian walk could misrepresent the name of Christ.