I’ve stayed away from the oft debated topic of cussing in Christian fiction—until now. Since there are several facets of it to explore, I figured it needed more than one article to hit the key points.
I’m going to start with an obvious one: taking the name of God in vain.
At least, it seems like it would be obvious. The restriction comes from Exodus 20:7 . . .
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.
The common understanding is that we should not use God’s name in an empty manner like as part of an expletive. Most people who use “God” or “Jesus Christ” as an expletive are not intending to talk about God or address Him. Therefore He is being referenced in an empty way.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, who among us would be happy to have our named used as an expletive? If I’m in a room and hear, “Rick Copple! Watch where you put that thing!” but it is obvious they are talking to George, that would be degrading to me.
Yet, it may not be all that obvious. Here is a different take on its meaning (warning–cussing used in what some would consider using God’s name in vain):
Though I’d quibble with a point or two, he does make a good central argument about the verse’s meaning. To explain that, let’s take a closer look at the verse.
The Hebrew word translated “vain,” according to Strongs, indicates:
evil (as destructive), literally (ruin) or morally (especially guile); figuratively idolatry (as false, subjective), uselessness (as deceptive, objective; also adverbially, in vain):–false(-ly), lie, lying, vain, vanity.
To use God’s name in vain doesn’t mean simply in an empty way, but in a deceptive, idolatrous, false way.
We who are Christians bear the name of Christ. Are we giving honor to His name or making it meaningless and desecrated by our words and actions? Do we take God’s name upon ourselves in vain?
The one other instance in Scripture referring to vain usage, aside from the second giving of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy, lends support to this understanding:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: 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.
It is the act of stealing which Solomon identifies as taking God’s name in vain, not the use of it in an expletive.
This understanding makes more sense as well. We’re talking the Ten Commandments here—the top ten categories of sins God wanted to highlight and us to follow. Are we to believe that out of all the sins He could pick from, using His name as an expletive would be sin number three? Yeah, not a good thing, but in the top ten?
Within the correct context of being vain, it fits very nicely with the first two. Taking God’s name upon us as one of His, then not dishonoring that name, goes right along with making Him first and not worshiping any idols.
Now let’s take a step back. Does this mean using God’s name in an expletive isn’t what this is talking about, or is it also included?
After all, for the Christian, using God’s name when you are not addressing Him is a false use of His name—one of the meanings of the Hebrew word for vain. It is a false witness about God to call on Him without the intent to do so. If you are addressing God or Jesus Christ, that is one thing. Using His name purely as an expletive, bearing false witness of who He is, is another.
While using God’s name as an expletive may not be the primary meaning of the third commandment, neither is it true that it is excluded from the meaning of that commandment. Rather, it is not the only meaning.
But God is a title, not a name. That term doesn’t apply to the third commandment.
Strictly speaking, this is true. The KJV, as do many translations, use the term “Lord” in place of the Hebrew name for God. In the Hebrew, Exodus 20:7 literally says:
Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God in vain . . .
It is the name Yahweh that is not to be taken in vain. God is merely His title, as is Lord.
Two problems with this approach.
One, a name is what we call a person. A title can become a name through usage as such. When reporters call out, “Mr. President!” do you think they believe “President” to be his name? When I shepherded a parish, did my parishioners think my name was “pastor” because they addressed me that way constantly?
Is it too much of a stretch to understand that Christians in the West understand God to be our name for Yahweh because we’ve used it that way for hundreds of years? A name refers to a person, no matter what name is used. God equals Yahweh. Both terms point to the same reality.
Two, if the third commandment only referred to using God’s name as an expletive, this argument would have more of a basis. Since we have shown that the third commandment goes much further than that, but refers to taking on God’s name as His child, we are referring to the same reality whether we call Him Lord, God, Yahweh, or Jesus Christ. We represent Yahweh no matter which title or term we use.
It is no longer the term for Yahweh we use in conversation that matters, but to honor the One the name points to.
Any name that points to Him, used as an expletive, violates the intent of not honoring God with our words and actions, degrades His person, and makes the name we bear vain.
Agree or disagree with my conclusions?