The Bible teaches that God’s name is special and that all people should revere it in common speech. Yet the English language contains certain phrases and figures of speech that include the word “God” but aren’t a direct reference to him. Many of these sayings aren’t necessarily considered cussing akin to four-letter words, but they aren’t upholding the majesty of God’s name either.
Saying the phrase “oh my God” as an unreverential figure of speech is sinful because it doesn’t convey that the name of God is holy and honorable. The Third Commandment says to not use God’s name in vain. The Hebrew word for vain means empty or useless. The phrase “oh my God” fits this description.
Why is God’s name so important? What is the result of using God’s name in vain? Is the third commandment only for Old Testament times? Should people speak God’s name at all? What are some Bible verses that teach about the use and misuse of God’s name? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Is Cussing A Sin in the Bible? to learn more.
The 3rd Commandment: Don’t Take God’s Name In Vain
The use of God’s name is so important it’s one of the 10 Commandments. After the first commandment regarding worshipping God alone, and the second commandment to not make false idols, comes the third, which warns people not to take God’s name in vain.
|ESV||You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.|
|NIV||You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.|
|KJV||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.|
|NKJV||You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.|
|NASB||You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.|
Why is God’s name so important? Many people ask this question, not because they are being disrespectful, but because they recognize that this commandment is unique. Some people today name their children after a family member or give them a name for sentimental reasons. Yet many people choose a name simply because they like the sound of it. Names today are seen as more like labels, but in Bible times they signified identity.
How is God’s name more than a label? God’s name is a revelation of who he is. It reflects his nature and character. God’s name communicates truth about him, so when people misuse it, they damage his self-disclosure. When people say “oh my God” they aren’t speaking in a way that highlights or praises God’s nature or character, but are uttering the word in an empty and useless (i.e. “vain”) manner.
R.C. Sproul writes, “Perhaps nothing is more commonplace in our culture than the expression that comes from people’s lips on many occasions, when they say simply, ‘Oh, my God’… It should be a priority for the church and for every individual Christian to make sure that the way in which we speak of God is a way that communicates respect, awe, adoration, and reverence.” (Our Father, Tabletalk magazine, June 2007)
What is the result of using God’s name in vain? Damaging God’s self-disclosure tarnishes his reputation because it inaccurately reflects him. Saying “oh my God” implies that his nature and character aren’t worth preserving for holy use alone, but can be flippantly spoken for selfish purposes like exclamation or for humor. The third commandment adds that people who misuse God’s name will be punished “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless” (Ex. 20:7).
What is an example of someone being punished for misusing God’s name? A story is told in Leviticus 24 of a man who “blasphemed the Name, and cursed” (v. 24). God told Moses to stone the man for his sin. In obedience to the third commandment, the story’s end clearly states its point: “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death” (v. 16).
Is the third commandment only for Old Testament times? No. Jesus taught his followers to revere God’s name in the first line of the Lord’s Prayer: “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9; emphasis added). God’s name is holy in all cultures, at all times, all over the world. The word “hallow” is an older English word meaning holy, as seen in the NLT translation of the phrase: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy” (NLT).
Also see Does the Bible Say That Jesus Sinned? to learn more.
Should people speak God’s name at all?
The Bible doesn’t forbid the use of God’s name, only the abuse of it. Historically, some traditions don’t use the word “God” at all in speech or in writing in an attempt to preserve its sacredness. Yet God never commandment such a restriction and the authors of the Bible and even Jesus himself didn’t adhere to such strictness.
Philip Graham Ryken writes, “God wants us to use his name! This is proven by the Old Testament, where God’s sacred name is used all over the place — almost 7,000 occurrences in all. God gave us his name so that we would be able to address him personally. Calling him by his name strengthens our love relationship with him.” (Exodus, Preaching the Word series, p. 539)
“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” ~ Philippians 2:10
Also see Is Fear A Sin? to learn more.
9 More Bible Verses About the Power and Sacredness of God’s Name
- Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”
- Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
- Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, I am who I am. And he said, Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.”
- Revelation 1:8, ““I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
- Job 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
- Philippians 2:10-11, “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
- Psalm 61:8, “So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.”
- Isaiah 7:4, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
“Not taking the Lord’s name in vain, then, is not limited to cursing or something like that, but it means to treat God with irreverence, superficiality, insincerity, or phoniness, or to bring to God empty worship, hypocritical worship or honor.” ~ John MacArthur
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