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A6. Using God's Name Lightly or Falsely.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to use God's Name lightly or falsely.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

You are not to use lightly the name of ADONAI your God, because ADONAI will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly. (Complete Jewish Bible)

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain ... (King James Version)

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God ... (New International Version)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God ... (New Revised Standard)

Thou shalt not idly utter the name of Jehovah thy God ... (Darby translation)

Do not use the name of the LORD your God profanely ... (Revised Berkeley)

Leviticus 19:12 (Maimonides RN63; HaChinuch C295)
Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai.

Leviticus 22:32 (Maimonides RN63; Meir MN155; Chinuch C295)
You are not to profane my holy name; on the contrary, I am to be regarded as holy among the people of Isra'el; I am ADONAI, who makes you holy ...

Deuternomy 13:2-4(1-3) (Maimonides RN28; Meir MN22; Chinuch C456)
If a prophet or someone who gets messages while dreaming arises among you and he gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder comes about as he predicted when he said, 'Let's follow other gods, which you have not known; and let us serve them,' you are not to listen to what that prophet or dreamer says. For ADONAI your God is testing you, in order to find out whether you really do love ADONAI your God with all your heart and being.

Deuteronomy 18:20 (Maimonides RN27; Meier MN175; Chinuch C517)
But if a prophet presumptuously speaks a word in my name which I didn't order him to say, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet must die.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 (Maimonides RN29; Chinuch C519)
You may be wondering, 'How are we to know if a word has not been spoken by ADONAI?' When a prophet speaks in the name of ADONAI, and the prediction does not come true - that is, the word is not fulfilled - then ADONAI did not speak that word. The prophet who said it spoke presumptuously; you have nothing to fear from him.

Matthew 6:9
You, therefore, pray like this: 'Our Father in heaven! May your Name be kept holy.'

Ephesians 4:29
Let no harmful language come from your mouth, only good words that are helpful in meeting the need, words that will benefit those who hear them.

Supportive Scriptures

Acts 17:11
Now the people here were of nobler character than the ones in Thessalonica; they eagerly welcomed the message, checking the Tanakh every day to see if the things Sha'ul was saying were true.

1 Corinthians 14:29-33
Let two or three prophets speak, while the others weigh what is said.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Don't quench the Spirit, don't despise inspired messages. But do test everything - hold onto what is good, but keep away from every form of evil.

1 John 4:1-3
Dear friends, don't trust every spirit. On the contrary, test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Here is how you recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges that Yeshua the Messiah came as a human being is from God, and every spirit which does not acknowledge Yeshua is not from God - in fact, this is the spirit of the Anti-Messiah. You have heard that he is coming. Well, he's here now, in the world already!


Exodus 20:7 is best known for it being the third of the "Ten Commandments", rendered in the King James Version as:

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.

This translation and others like it, causes many to think that the Commandment is only about improperly invoking God's name in the course of communicating verbally (e.g. cussing). That would mean not using the word "God", or one of his proper names, or "Yeshua", or "Ruach HaKodesh" in profane, disrespectful, or trivial expressions, either orally or in writing.1

Doing so is indeed an obvious prohibition, but one less frequently talked about is profaning God's Name by conducting our lives sinfully while, at the same time, professing to be a believer. Two common sayings (not in the Bible) apply here; "It is not so much what we say as what we do", and "Actions speak louder than words." It is the responsibility of all those who profess belief in God (and Yeshua) to represent God properly by conducting their lives in a holy manner. This responsibility falls especially on Jews (even Jews who do not profess belief in God) because the Jews are widely considered to be "God's chosen people", and are therefore seen as representing God in all that they say and do. Sinful conduct by a Jew or a Gentile believer in God brings discredit, shame, and disgrace to His Name. Virtuous and holy conduct, on the other hand, brings Him honor and glory.

Another and more obvious way of violating this Mitzvah is by prophesying in God's Name falsely. The most common way of prophesying falsely is by declaring that God said something that He did not in fact say. A false prophecy can result from an innocent mistake or from an intentional deception, and it is not always preceded by a stylized announcement such as "Thus says the Lord." A prophecy is a serious declaration because anyone who hears it and believes that it originates with God is duty-bound to act on it or to conform his or her life to it. So, if an alleged prophecy is false (i.e. did not originate with God), it is capable of causing considerable damage, including to the reputation of prophetic words in general. That is why we must test all prophecies against Scripture, and exercise spiritual discernment through prayer.

So serious was false prophecy considered under the Mosaic Covenant and Mosaic Law, that prophets who prophesied falsely were put to death (Deuteronomy 18:20). This "zero tolerance" standard was demanded because, in those days, only certain persons called "prophets" were given the Ruach HaKodesh, so all of Israel was dependent upon them for their communication with God. That is not the case today in the New Covenant, however, because today the Ruach HaKodesh is available to all believers in Yeshua, and therefore, to one extent or another, all believers are able to hear God and prophesy.

1. Orthodox Jewish tradition seeks to respect God's Name by making substitutions when writing or speaking of Him. Examples are substituting "G-d" for "God" in writing, or using substitute words (e.g. Hashem) or manufactured words (e.g. Adoshem and Elokeynu) in the course of ordinary speech.

Commentary by Daniel C. Juster

I would say in addition, that the most foundational meaning of the third of the "Ten Commandments" is to not swear an oath in God's Name and then fail to perform it (hence "in vain"). However, all Jewish and Christian commentators also see the broader meanings as brought out in their commentaries and in this Mitzvah.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch do not cite or refer to the third of the "Ten Commandments" (Exodus 20:7), nor do they write about improperly using God's name lightly.2 They do, however, cite Leviticus 22:32 that warns against desecrating or profaning the Divine Name which, they say, is a very serious sin - especially if committed in public. HaChinuch echoes Maimonides on this, and Maimonides goes further to give some specific examples, through which it is clear that he agrees with the premise of this Mitzvah, that swearing by God's Name falsely or engaging in sinful conduct, even without mentioning God's Name, violates Leviticus 22:32. He says that this is especially so if it is committed by a person of known or presumed piety.

Meir refers to the sin of conspicuously profaning or desecrating the Name of God (including when one is coerced to change his religion) as chillul HaShem3, and says that a man must even surrender to death rather than commit this sin. He says that even the power of repenting on Yom Kippur is not enough to atone for chillul Hashem, and therefore the sin remains with the offender for his entire life.4

Prophesying falsely is another way that God's name can be used wrongfully. Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch each wrote mitzvot (RN27, MN175, and C517, respectively) codifying Deuteronomy 18:20, that says it is an offense punishable by death for a prophet to prophesy falsely. Maimonides and HaChinuch point out that the offense is not dependent upon whether the prophet's statement is true, but whether God actually told the prophet to speak it. So, for example, if God gave a word of truth to a first prophet, a second prophet to which the word was not given would be in violation were he to invoke God's Name in speaking the same word. All the classical commentators agree that the false prophet should, according to the Mosaic Law, be put to death by strangulation.

Maimonides and HaChinuch (but not Meir) wrote related mitzvot (RN29 and C519, respectively) that seek to interpret Deuteronomy 18:22. Maimonides states that we are forbidden to take pity on a false prophet or, out of fear, neglect to put him to death. HaChinuch says the same, and adds that the fear spoken of in the Scripture is fear of our being punished for conducting the execution of a prophet. That notwithstanding, verse 22 alludes neither to executing false prophets, nor to our being punished for it; it merely says that we have nothing to fear from the false prophet.

2. Although Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch do not reference Exodus 20:7 in any of their mitzvot, they do warn against speaking God's Name in vain in RP4, MP4, and C432 respectively (See Mitzvah #G6 of this compilation).

3. Public or conspicuous misbehavior that discredits or disgraces Gods's Name.

4. Suggestive of Matthew 12:31-32.


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