When I was growing up, I was told to use God’s name in church, prayer, or other spiritual contexts, but to say “God” in an irreligious way—after stubbing a toe or losing a game—was to break the commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exod 20:7). While I still refrain from saying “God” outside of religious discourse, this verse doesn’t mean what I was told growing up. When the Bible proscribes taking the Lord’s name in vain, it does not refer to saying “God” as an exclamation or expletive; instead, it prohibits invoking the divine name in an oath, and then failing to fulfill that oath.

In ancient Israel, an oath was a solemn statement that began חי־יהוה (chai Adonai)—“as the Lord lives”—and meant: “If I don’t fulfill the following oath, may the Lord who lives strike me dead!” For example, after Jonathan convinced Saul not to kill David, “Saul swore, ‘As the Lord lives (חי־יהוה; chai Adonai), he shall not be put to death’” (1 Sam 19:6). Saul’s oath means that if David dies at Saul’s hand, then Saul also deserves to die.

The Hebrew word commonly translated “take” in Exod 20:7 is נשא (nasa), meaning to “bear” or “lift up.” Invoking God’s “name” (שׁם; shem) means bearing it, just like Aaron was to “bear” (נשא; nasa) the names (שׁמות; shemot) of the Israelites” on his breastplate (Exod 28:29). As a bearer of God’s name, the oath-taker must accomplish the sworn oath, or else…. Yeshua protected his followers from taking God’s name in vain when he said to “not swear at all” (Matt 5:34) – that way, you’ll never swear an oath that you might not fulfill, so you can rest assured that you’ll never break the commandment!

The Bible can provide us with truth, but it can also be difficult to decipher! Whether you're looking for some biblical direction, stumped on scriptural questions, or just want to confirm that you're already on the right track, join the growing community of faculty and students at Israel Bible Center! (Click here to begin your journey of discovery).

64 COMMENTS

  1. I love the idea of Yeshua protecting us like that! I also think of not taking in vain as not carrying His Name as His followers and then misrepresenting who He is by our behaviour and words. Since we are His image carriers.

  2. Indeed we must be careful with oaths or any promise, but the command in Exodus 20:7 certainly includes using God’s name reverently. Sometimes we need to look beyond technicalities and look at the bigger picture to see God’s intent and the principles He has in mind. In Leviticus 24:10-16 God commanded the death penalty for the improper use of His name. So it seems that those who were warned about using God’s name wrongly were given good advice!

    • Thanks, Donald. I certainly agree that people should use God’s name with reverence, and that Lev 24:10-16 describes the punishment for “blaspheming” (נקב) God and “cursing” (קלל) the divine name. However, Exodus 20:7 is specifically referring to the problem of using God’s name in oath-taking, rather than using God’s name irreverently. Lev 24 cautions against the irreverent use of God’s name, but Exodus 20:7 is saying something different than Lev 24.

  3. I was told that it meant that you should not profess to love the Lord and then live like a heathen. What you say seems to make sense though.

  4. That’s interesting! I learned to identify as the sinner or liar in 1 John 4:20 (due to replacement theology). I would not say “I Love the Lord” (L_OVE) because sometimes I get angry and anger was translated as hatred. I thought it would be like lying under oath. 🙂 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must love …

  5. Thankful for a more accurate translation. One less religious burden to carry around, worrying about whether we are doing something wrong. I believe the heart of the Father is that we not be so burdened down by religious mindsets that we lose sight of Him. That said, though, ever mindful that we are Christ’s heart and hands to all people groups.

  6. Should we not be looking at what God’s name is in this commandment? Looking at the phrase, “the name of the LORD thy God in vain” in Hebrew, don’t we come up with “shem Yahweh elohiym shav”? There are many “gods” listed in the Bible, but only one God who’s name we are not to take in vain. Isn’t Lord and God just titles that the English translations have used to water down the commandment? One related question – What is your pronunciation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton – Yahweh or Jehovah? Thank You for thoughts and answer. Shalom

  7. Very interesting! I am ever so grateful to know the ‘true’ meaning of taking GODs Name in vain! Thank you for the TRUTH!!

  8. Doesn’t scripture say not to mention the names of other gods rather than not mention the name of the one true God? Exodus 23:13 To me, although I grew up with the tradition of just saying God, or Father, it would imply that using the revealed name gives Him glory.

  9. An alternative opinion may be : to take God’s name in vain may mean to not attribute His name to the things that He has done and conversely to attribute His name to the things that He has not done.

  10. Dennis Prager states, “The Hebrew verb in the commandment, tisa, means ‘carry.’… And who carries God’s name in vain? Any person who claims to be acting in God’s name while doing the opposite of what God wants-evil. …When any person commits evil, it reflects badly on the person. But when a person commits evil in God’s name, it reflects badly on God as well. …examples include Islamist terrorist who shout, Allahu Akbar when they murder innocent people; or a priest or any other clergy who, utilizing the respect engendered by his clerical status, molests a child. …y’nakeh- ‘cleanse.’ “

  11. I like to extend the teaching of Jesus on things like adultery (where he extends the commandment to include ANY kind of sexual misbehavior) in a similar fashion on the other commandments. I think that was what he was trying to teach was – don’t just look at the words, look much deeper to reveal the root of what God desires of us. So the commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain, extended to a much deeper understanding, would include ANY kind of misuse of God’s name – including casual use as an exclamation (“OMG!”)

  12. At times people use God’s name to invoke their own will. I am surely not against knowing the will of God and saying ‘This is God’s will’. The problem is that some people use this continually and it sure loses the value of what God would truly do or say. Eg. God will give me a parking space ‘because I asked’. I think this is using God. So it goes to using His name in vain.
    That’s a hobby horse of mine, but thank you for your teaching. I appreciate it.

  13. Thank you Dr Nicholas for a most interesting article. How careful we must be in our vows and prayers before the Almighty. If we pray for revival blessing we must be sure we desire it for God may answer our prayer and bring us into a state of greater obedience. As you state we must treat all that is our God with great respect and reverence. Good post. thank you.

  14. I read with interest all the comments of using G d name in vain.Thanks I under stand the command better know, I also wonder about using Jesus name in vain or the popular OMG phrase or in novels or conversation the use of CHRIST’S name to make a point.
    I feel it’s wrong as well!
    Greetings and blessings.

  15. חי־יהוה (chai Adonai) – Hang on though, as you mention above that isn’t the name of the Lord! Although what you say is correct, surely it is immaterial, as the pronunciation of His name has been forgotten. The Lord’s command wasn’t to never use His name, but to never misuse it. This is a great shame as the name of the Lord is a fortress to those who use it correctly (and reverently). As for building fences around the law, if the law of the Name is perfect, surely adding to it insults the Name?

    • You’re right, the ancient oath formula would have included the correct pronunciation of God’s personal name (rather than the circumlocution, “Adonai”), and that proper usage of God’s name was always allowed (that’s not what Exodus is prohibiting). Building fences around the Law is not the same as “adding to” the Law. For example, to say that one should not get angry is not to “add to” the commandment: “You shall not murder” (cf. Matt 5:21-26). “No murder” is still the command that should not be transgressed; “don’t get angry” is a helpful way to ensure that one never goes as far as to murder another person. To use the “fence building” metaphor: think of the Law as a garden — to build a fence around the garden would not be to add to the garden, but rather to protect from intruders “taking away from” the garden.

  16. I am very interested to hear the correct interpretation of this. But I am equally interested to hear the variety of interpretations which people have learned. I am a bit concerned with the ones that say we ‘shouldn’t say we love God or profess his name and then live in a way that dishonors him’ because this would mean that every time we sinned or fell short in some way we would have to disown him as a convoluted way of honoring him. I cannot see how this is so and it seems burdensome and rather self-righteous

    • Thanks, Christopher. Yes, the kinds of interpretations that you cite here would constitute going overboard. People used God’s name and referred to their love and honor of God all the time in the Bible — if it were taboo to use God’s name in this way, we wouldn’t have the Psalms 🙂

  17. Blessings. While I agree with your position on fulfilling oaths, I’ve found another position to be more compelling, which has to do with following Christ. If somebody takes upon them the name of Christ; that is, if they claim to be a believer, yet don’t obey the King at all, 1 John tells us they are false converts, for they never came to faith in the first place. These people have taken God’s name in vain.

  18. People use God’s name so freely
    And our saviours name too a swear word.
    One day they will face him and no words can retract it .

  19. God is covenant keeping God, his people should be covenant keeping as well. These days, people tend to say, read, write and even sign agreement/covenant which they do not intend to keep from the beginning. Same attitude is carried to the Church where people sing, pray, recite covenants/pledge/litany without weighing the words contained there in, offering the sacrifice of lip without the heart. Each of us needs to be watchful, lest we take the name of God in vain.

  20. Dr N Doesn’t the using of the name of God in vain include using the compound names of God as well? if so then haven’t all who are “called by HIS name” used it in vain? for instance, isn’t someone living in need be taking the name of God in vain when HE has declared that HE is our provider? or someone experiencing sickness be in the taking the name in vain because HE is the Lord God that heals? If so, then I don’t know how to get there yet but I hear faith calling me to come higher…

    • Hi, Randy. I’m afraid I don’t quite understand your question. Could you explicate it a bit further for me? It seems like you’re wondering if we can expand the taking of God’s personal name in “vain” to taking the descriptors of God (as ‘healer,’ ‘provider’, etc.) in vain. The command in Exodus does not include these descriptors. The commandment is limited to taking God’s personal name in an oath and then failing to fulfill that oath.

  21. I understand what you are saying I will greatly enjoy to know what in the Hebrew Bible but it is to dear for me i am a poor pensioner Thank you

  22. Thanks for this message. One situation where this has, at least in Europe and the Americas, been an issue, is in not keeping wedding vows.

  23. Jesus is in the image of God, so anyone who misuses Jesus name could be said to be “taking the Lord’s name in vain”?

    • Thanks for your question, Keyonni. “Taking the Lord’s name in vain” is not just a misuse of the divine name — it is a declaration in God’s name that you will accomplish something specific (and if you don’t accomplish it, may God strike you dead). I’m not familiar with the practice of invoking Jesus’ name in an oath, and when Jesus discusses oath-taking (see Matt 5:33-37) he talks about God’s name, rather than his own. In short, “misuse” of Jesus’ name is not the same thing as taking God’s name in vain.

  24. You all are missing a very important point. Our God is a spirit and we as believers in Yeshua are to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). When the ten commandments were given to Moses the Jews would invoke the (demonic) power of the “gods” of Egypt by calling on their names. To have their names and invoking them is a form of worship and these demons (who possessed supernatural power) would answer their prayers by giving them what they wanted. In Exodus 20:2 God would not give Moses a typical name like the other “gods” of Egypt had. Instead He said in Exodus 3:11-15 that all Moses could tell the Egyptians and the Jews that He was to be referred to as “I AM” (All sufficiency or “I will be what I will be”) . He would not give anyone a “name” by which they could invoke Him and try to force Him to give them what they wanted. His perspective was/is that if a person or a people believed in Him that He would be their “all sufficiency” ….. there would be no need for anyone to try and force Him to submit to them and their fleshly selfish wishes. The ten commandments are not arbitrary rules but explanations on that theme (If one believed that God was their all sufficiency and that He supplied all their needs (the same as in Philippians 4:19) then there would be no need for any of them to steal, commit adultery, etc…or to covet ((want something other than what God had already supplied them)). In Ex.20:3-6 He lays the foundation for this by telling them they are not to have any other gods (idols, etc. who were empowered by demonic beings who wanted to deceive people into believing in them instead of God.), just Yahweh Himself , and if they would do that He would show them His love for a thousand generations IF they would only obey His commands (John 14:15, Deut. 6:5, Lev 19:18). The entire Word of God is all about a spiritual God in a spiritual kingdom and He has given us a great deal of information we who are spiritual beings created in His image (John 3:1-21, Gen 1:28). Modern society has relegated a spiritual God and His existence along with the daily battle we are engaged in (Eph.6:12) to the foolishness of ones imagination. The vast number of churches and synagogues will not even consider a spiritual dimension called The Kingdom of God and the spiritual battle we are in. They do not recognize that this is a spiritual battle they we should defeat satan with the weapons of the word of God and the cross and the shed blood of Jesus. Because of such ignorance the church will be defeated and forfeited to satan before Christs return. (Read Revelation 13 for an eye opener…. and by the way…. there is no such thing as The rapture)

  25. Since the New Testament or New Covenant is an oath do we take the Name in vain if we say we are a Christian and do not live up to the name of Christ accordingly?

    • Thanks for your question, Ivan. It’s best not to conflate the new covenant with oaths to God in the Hebrew Bible; these are two different phenomena. More, the term “Christian” only appears three times in the entire New Testament, where it is never a self-designation (i.e., followers of Jesus don’t call themselves “Christians”; cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). Therefore, I wouldn’t equate using the name “Christian” improperly with not living up to an oath made to God.

  26. A great thanks to Prof, and Dr’s, can not wait to enroll, we were taught so much false doctrines from inglis and afrikaans Bibles.
    BUT: I was annointed with special blessing when YESHUAH visited me in 2004 and had a out of body experience, without knowing all the truth’s

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your name here
Words left: 50
Please enter your comment!