The Third Commandment

I’ve been percolating on the third of the ten commandments [or second, depending on how you count] (Exodus 20:7) for a few weeks now.  Here it is in the King James Version, with which many of us are most familiar…

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…”

And here is the same passage in the New Revised Standard Version, which I think evokes a broader and deeper understanding of the intent of the original text…

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God…”

What I find interesting about this passage is how we look at it.  Many of us (thanks to how King James presents it) see it as a prohibition against swearing with the name of God.  But really, that’s only a tiny part of it, as the Jews demonstrate with their avoidance of using the name of God at all.  (To the point where, for millennia now, no one has known how to say the Lord’s name in the original ancient Hebrew!)

The NRSV version helps us see some of the reason behind this Jewish interpretation of the third commandment: it’s not just about swearing, but that we are not to make wrongful use of it in any form or context.

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