This continues a series on the Ten Commandments. In the last post we discussed the The 4th Commandment. With object of demonstrating that we base our laws upon the Bible, in this post we will discuss the relationship between the 3rd commandment and government.
What is the 3rd commandment?
Exodus 20:7 The New Revised Standard Version
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Note that for reasons we discussed in PART 2 of this series Catholics consider the requirement to honor God’s name 2nd commandment.
The first through the third commandments require us to respect God. And to us, these commandments are the most strange. Because God is beyond our understanding, it takes considerable thought to understand what He might want from such as us.
Why Is The Lord’s Name Significant?
The term “name” can either be a noun or a verb. That is, we can refer to something or someone using a name or we can name something or someone. For example, once we name a baby, we begin referring to that baby by its name.
Now consider what happens when we name a baby. Throughout that baby’s life, don’t we associate that baby with his or her name? As we grow older, doesn’t our name become precious to us? Don’t we want people to associate our name with someone they love and respect?
Were we not made in the image of God? Doesn’t He want us to love Him? Search the Bible for the words love and God, and these words occur together a great many times in the Bible. Even in the Old Testament, that supposedly speaks of a harsh God, He tells He loves us (Exodus 34:6), and He asks us to love Him (Deuteronomy 6:5).
The Book of Hosea says:
Hosea 6:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
And the Book of Micah states what God wants from us even more plainly.
Micah 6:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
How do we show our love for God? In chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis, we have the story of creation. Chapter 3 tells man’s disobedience to God, and chapter 4 speaks of the first killing, the murder of Abel by Cain. Nonetheless, chapter 4 ends with a positive statement.
Genesis 4:25-26 Good News Translation (GNT)
Seth and Enosh
25 Adam and his wife had another son. She said, “God has given me a son to replace Abel, whom Cain killed.” So she named him Seth.[a]26 Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. It was then that people began using the Lord’s holy name in worship.
“It was then that people began using the Lord’s holy name in worship.” We worship God by calling upon His name, and if we do not show a high regard for the His name, He knows we do not either love or respect Him. Matthew Henry offered this commentary.
To Seth was born a son called Enos (Enosh in Hebrew), that general name for all men, which bespeaks the weakness, frailty, and misery, of man’s state….The worshippers of God began to stir up themselves to do more in religion than they had done; perhaps not more than had been done at first, but more than had been done of late, since the defection of Cain. Now men began to worship God, not only in their closets and families, but in public and solemn assemblies. (from here)
Hence, Genesis speaks of a revival, perhaps the first.
How Can We Use God’s Name Wrongly?
Ordinarily, I believe The Message aids our understanding of the Bible, but no translation is perfect.
Exodus 20:7 The Message (MSG)
No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
Here The Message offers essentially the same meaning as The New Revised Standard Version (a more literal translation). Therefore, when I read the following, I decided to consult the King James Version.
The question is this: What does it mean to use God’s name in an empty or vain way? What does the third commandment really mean? It is hard to tell from a simple word study on the Hebrew term naqa (vain). As well, our understanding of a “name” and what it signifies is much different than what it meant in the context in which this commandment was given. What we have to do is to try to understand what it meant then, so that we can understand what it means now. It does us no good to anachronistically impose our understanding upon an ancient text. This is eisegesis (reading into the text what we presuppose), not exegesis (letting the text speak on its own terms).
Briefly, here is what I believe your studies will show. The nations to which the Israelites were going had many gods. They were highly superstitious. Their prophets would often use the name of their god in pronouncements. The usage could be in a curse, hex, or even a blessing. They would use the name of their god to give their statements, whatever they may be, authority. To pronounce something in their own name would not have given their words much weight, but to pronounce something in the name of a god meant that people would listen and fear. They may have said, “In the name of Baal, there will be no rain for 40 days.” Or “In the name of Marduk, I say that you will win this battle.” This gave the prophet much power and authority. But, as we know, there is no Baal or Marduk. Since this is the case, they did not really make such pronouncement and therefore the words of the prophet had no authority and should neither have been praised or feared.
God was attempting to prevent the Israelites from doing the same thing. God was saying for them not to use His name like the nations used the names of their gods. He did not want them to use His name to invoke false authority behind pronouncements. In essence, God did not want the Israelites to say that He said something that He had not said. (from here)
Here is the King James Version of Exodus 20:7.
Exodus 20:7 King James Version (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.
And because we associate the name of God with God Himself, some suggest Exodus 20:7 demands still more of us, that we revere God. The author of the excerpt below preceded that text with the example the marriage of his mother to his father. When his mother married his father, she made a commitment. She took his name, and she conformed her life around her marriage. Similarly, the Bible speaks of the marriage the Church, committed Christians to Jesus.
If you take the name of God, at a ceremony, and tell the world that you are now part of the ‘bride of Christ’ as the church is called, yet you do not live like a ‘bride of Christ’, you have taken His name in vain, and you will not be considered guiltless. Live with Jesus as if you are committed to Him for life, not as if He is a friend. A spouse is supposed to be an intimate friend, companion, confidant, friend and a lifetime commitment. To treat Jesus as anything less than that, is to take His name in vain. Ouch. Are you ‘guilty as charged’? (from here)
When we are baptized and confirmed in Christ, we take His name. We become “Christians.” If we do not strive to renew ourselves in Christ Jesus — if we are not reborn — then we have taken His name in vain.
How Does The 3rd Commandment Affect Government?
Wikipedia provides an interesting article on the 3rd commandment, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Two references are applicable here. The article says the 3rd commandment is a is a prohibition of blasphemy, and it references what Jesus (Matthew 5:33-36) and the Apostle James (James 5:12) had to say about swearing an oath.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that a person’s word should be reliable and one should not swear by God or his creation. In his letter, the Apostle James reiterates the instruction to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and keep your word, “so that you may not fall into condemnation.”
Here is what FindLaw.com says of blasphemy.
pl:-mies: the crime of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God or a religion and its doctrines and writings and esp. God as perceived by Christianity and Christian doctrines and writings see also Amendment I to the Constitution in the back matter NOTE: In many states, blasphemy statutes have been repealed as contrary to the First Amendment.
The laws of the United States no longer prosecute blasphemers. Nevertheless, on occasion we do expect people to take an oath.
1: a solemn attestation of the truth of one’s words or the sincerity of one’s intentions;
specif: one accompanied by calling upon a deity as a witness
2: a promise (as to perform official duties faithfully) corroborated by an oath compare perjury
under oath: under a solemn and esp. legal obligation to tell the truth (as when testifying)
Generally, when people take an oath in the United States, they place their hand upon the Bible, indicating that they are telling the truth in the name of the Lord our God.
Were it not for the fact that the Bible records that even Abraham took an oath before God (Genesis 14:22-24), and God thought his conduct praiseworthy, what Jesus said (Matthew 5:33-36) might be construed to mean we should never take an oath. Matthew Henry says, however, that that was not Jesus’ intent.
Not that all swearing is sinful; so far from that, if rightly done, it is a part of religious worship, and we in it give unto God the glory due to his name. See Deu. 6:13Deu. 10:20 ; Isa. 45:23 ; Jer. 4:2 . We find Paul confirming what he said by such solemnities (2 Co. 1:23 ), when there was a necessity for it. In swearing, we pawn the truth of something known, to confirm the truth of something doubtful or unknown; we appeal to a greater knowledge, to a higher court, and imprecate the vengeance of a righteous Judge, if we swear deceitfully. (from here)
Thus, Christian leaders thought it appropriate that the Constitution require the taking of oaths.
–From Article I, Section 3
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
–From Article II, Section 3
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
–From Article VI
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
–From Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
–From Amendment XIV, Section 3
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Much is made of the fact that the word God is not in our Constitution, but the requirement to take an oath puts God into the Constitution. So it is that since our nation’s founding, President George Washington being the first, men have sworn on the Bible before God to support and defend the Constitution. In fact, Washington kissed his Bible (here), and he reportedly appended the words “so help me God” (see here and here).
When I investigated the oath George Washington took in 2009 (CULTURAL ROT AND THE OATH OF OFFICE: UPDATE 5), two government web sites affirmed that Washington had added “so help me God.” Now that piece of information has been purged. In fact, one of them says Chester A. Arthur was the first to add the phrase (here).
Consider this observation.
First, there was a myth that the tradition of adding God to the oath began with George Washington. It didn’t, say experts at the Library of Congress, the U.S. Senate Historical Office and the first president’s home, Mount Vernon.
Although the phrase was used in federal courtrooms since 1789, the first proof it was used in a presidential oath of office came with Chester Arthur’s inauguration in September 1881. (from here)
Is it only a coincidence that Washington took the oath in 1789? Possibly, but it seems far more likely that when we elect the political correct to record our history, the history that the politically correct record will be politically corrected.
After first publishing this post, it occurred to me that the government is huge and that it has a large number of web servers. To amuse myself I decided to see what they had published with respect to that phrase Washington appended to his oath of office.
- There are still webpages related to President Bill Clinton tour in the White House. See The Presidential Inauguration in History. This website affirms that Washington first said “so help me God.”
- The National Archives provides an Inaugural Quiz! (for teachers to give their students). See Where is the oath of office found in the Constitution? This website affirms that Washington first said “so help me God.”
- Up to this point, what I had found reaffirmed that Washington had added those disputed words. Then I arrived at a webpage maintained by the Department of State (I fear that outfit is strongly committed to the “ideals” of the Democratic Party.). Here the author happily retracted his assertion that Washington first said “so help me God.” What is there to be happy about?
- Fortunately, even the State Department still has some purging to do. Here is their January 2013 Foreign Press Center Briefing on Symbolic Aspects of Inauguration. This website affirms that Washington first said “so help me God.”
- And the National Park Service is still running rogue. See Washington to Obama: Inaugural Traditions. This website affirms that Washington first said “so help me God.”