What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?


This is one of those commandments that gets overlooked all the time. In fact, I often forget what it really means!

Does it mean we can’t say things like “Oh my God” or “OMG”? Or does it just mean we can’t say “G-d d&mm@%”? Can we just not use God’s name when we are angry? Or is it something else entirely?

Well, first, what does “vain” mean anyway? Here, vain means “useless or lacking substance.” So the commandment is essentially saying not to throw around God’s name lightly. We should never empty God’s name of it’s weight and significance.

Therefore, saying “Oh my God and my Lord Jesus! My leg is on fire, please help me!” is not taking the Lord’s name in vain because we are recognizing God’s supreme power over all things – including over fire and our burning leg.

But if we say “Oh my God, I love your new slap bracelet!” this has emptied God’s name of significance and treated God as a triviality. Not good.

If this is something you struggle with, just say “dad-gum” instead:

Dad gum, that song is stuck in my head now!

There’s a tendency, too, to say that “words are just words. Let’s not get so hung up on mere words.” But words are very powerful. And just as it’s “from the fullness of the heart that the mouth speaks,” our words then also return back to our ears and inform the heart. Every word that we speak changes us (and everyone else who hears it)! Do not underestimate the power of your words.

Bonus challenge: It’s not just God’s name we shouldn’t use in vain. In actuality, everyone’s name is sacred (even your least favorite person’s). It is sacred because each person has the dignity of being a creation of God. So we should treat each person — and their name — accordingly. Do you treat people’s names as sacred?

[further reading]


23 comments Add comment

Key to Life September 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Excellent point!

Fr. Kyle Sanders September 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Matt, I thought it appropriate to be reading this today. I preached to the school kids today about the power of words specifically Jesus’ words (he cast out a demon in today’s Gospel). They effect what they signify.

“And the Word became flesh.” Words were never the same when the Word entered into the life of words. Hence, each word contains within it not just characters like “p” or “l” but actual meanings. They ares symbolic. They point to things past themselves, greater than themselves.

Mark September 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Nice blog Matt

Brian Sullivan September 5, 2012 at 9:36 am

Dad gum or dad gummit is an euphemism for god damn. So maybe not a good choice? Many cleaned-up swear words, like “Jeeze!”, are cleaned-up versions of God’s name. What do you think?

Matthew Warner September 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

Brian – that’s a good point. Golly, Gosh, Darn, Geez, Gee, etc. are all similar in that they are just variations or avoidances of saying the original (God, Jesus, damn, etc.).

However, in the very effort and act of changing/varying the language, we are showing respect to God’s name. So, while they are quite clearly connected and even have roots back to the name of God, it is actually an act of respect of God’s name to make the variation. It implicitly affirms that God’s name should be treated with more reverence. (Kind of like when Jews spell God as G-d.)

That’s what I think anyway. Anyone else have any thoughts?

Brian Sullivan September 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm

A) Wow! I made a good point!
2) I suppose it could be taken as a sign of respect to change the word slightly. Seems like an a attempt to only use God’s name in vain “a little bit.” Still, it might be a big improvement for me!

Matthew Warner September 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Yeah, I thought about that, too! But I actually think it can be viewed as the opposite.

To me, by using half-measured words and variations like Golly or gosh or geez, etc. for those little expressions, actually imply in the very process of doing so the bigness and reverence reserved for God/Jesus. So, in effect, they are inherently reverent and respectful of God. Dad gum I hope so!

Leanne September 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I loved this! I try very hard to think before I speak, especially when throwing God’s name around, but I still take His name in vain far too often.

Daniel Undem September 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I know someone who when ever they hear the Lord’s name spoken in vain politely asks if we are now praying. He told me it is fairly effective. I know it worked on me.

Marty Helgesen September 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

“Hey, son, it’s time for supper. Whar’s my false teeth?

I don’t know, Dad, gum it!

Mark September 8, 2012 at 11:24 am

I agree with everything Matthew said. In fact, I like to think that OMG stands for “Oh my gosh!”

Steve Martin September 15, 2012 at 7:19 am

I’m with Leanne.

I do it too often. I usually realize it when I do it, but it’s done.

I guess it exposes the fact that we really do need a Savior.


Michael September 16, 2012 at 8:41 pm

If you have trouble, a good way to help yourself out of the habit is every time you hear someone else use our Lord’s name in vain to say silently to Jesus that you love Him. That way you’re leveraging the mistakes of many others to help eliminate your own. And you can say a prayer for them too.

Jackie December 26, 2012 at 5:23 am

I don’t agree with you here.
Through extensive study of the Hebrew meaning of that phrase and historical context, to use god’s name in vain would mean to use him as a justification of an action, event, etc.
So, to say “oh my god,” is definitely not using his name in vain, it’s just an expression.
Anyhow, god isn’t really the name of the diety we are referring to here. In the Old Testament, it is explained that god tells Moses his actual name which is spelled in Hebrew. The true pronunciation is unknown, but a close pronunciation is Yahweh. To use the word “god” is just using an english word that was made up by people because the real name is unknown.
I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I believe I have more reasoning to my belief than you have to yours.

matt February 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm

When my son says “That freaking sucks” or “That freak’n car is cool” it sounds to me like he is really skipping around what we all know he could or maybe would like to say and… I don’t care for it. God may feel the same way??? Especially with it referring to him directly or indirectly. Either way, it does not seem to have the reverence that God most certainly deserves.

Some people like Jackie and myself at times, would like to think of the New Testament God as someone different than the Old Testament God. The truth is the most radical examples of God’s wrath are in the New Testament: The Cross and Revelation… Same yesterday, today and everlasting. I think we have lost a healthy fear of the Lord which is clearing weaved throughout the New Testament. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” …just some food for thought:) By the way, I do not judge anyone, I can’t afford too.

Von Davidicus April 3, 2013 at 5:51 am

Even amusing-sounding “curses”, such as “gadzooks” should not be used–that particular one comes from “God’s Hooks”, apparently referring to the nails that went through Christ’s hands and feet.

the girl April 15, 2013 at 9:13 pm

so does vain means not to say omg or is Jackie right?

Mark T April 17, 2013 at 6:15 am

OMG can also mean “Oh my gosh.”

shelia April 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm

What about…“Oh my Lord…you`ve grown“…or “hurry up for Christ sakes“?….In vain or mere excuses to express ones` own feelings?….Power or worthlessness? The Law of Moses states…its wrong….either way…sugar coat none of it…AMEN

Erik June 4, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Um, i was always taught that using god’s name to just say in a sentence like “Oh my God, or “God Damn it!” would be using god’s name as a supreme power over all, however we as humans do not have the power of god, so using his name as a light little comment or remark is, in fact, using it in vain. Also we were taught not to swear as this provokes the 2nd commandment as well

Rebekah June 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm

God, Jesus, Christ, etc. are all names that believers use to refer to our Creator and Savior, therefore using them thoughtlessly, not in prayer or worship are using them in vain. Do you think God wants His name thrown around without proper meaning or use? Is that repectful to misuse His name? God deserves to be treated with utmost respect. My parents never allowed us to say “oh my gosh”, “Jeez”, “Dang-it!”, etc. because of the very reasons given here. Likewise, my children and spouse do not use them either. Those expressions are VARIATIONS. You added or subtracted a letter to change the origianl word or phrase used by society. Why would you want to use variations of phrases that are disrespectful? I am a teacher at a Christian school and we do not allow our students to use the real expressions or the variations. How easy is it to get in the habit of saying “Oh my gosh” and switch it to “Oh my God” once you hear others around you using that? When you’re surprised – you can say “Wow!” Please think about what words are supposed to mean, and if you’re raising kids, think about what habits you are instilling. Is it necessary to respond verbally when you are surprised with an “oh, my gosh!” or an “oh my God!” ? How about when you hurt yourself? Do you have to shout out “dang-it” or “damn-it” or can you just say “Ouch!”? The expression “think before you speak” is one that needs to be better used by society as a whole. Not everything that we do or say is clear cut wrong or right. We do need to make good God pleasing choices and remain respectful and obedient to our Lord as He tells us in His Word and as our God given conscience tells us. The great news is that all sins we commit – even those we are not aware of – have been forgiven by the perfect life, death, and resurrection of our Lord! A-men to that!! ;-)

Marty Helgesen June 29, 2013 at 11:41 am

I rarely exclaim anything, but if I do, I say “Raskolnikov!! I figure if it was bad enough for Boris, it’s bad enough for me.

Younger readers probably will not understand that unless they were fortunate enough to have seen reruns.

lucy August 25, 2013 at 2:06 am

As previously stated in this thread, “God” is not God’s name. It’s what he is. It’s not his name any more than “woman” is my name. The commandment not to take his name in vain means not to impute false authority to words that God didn’t actually say, as in, “God is saying this and that” or “God wants you to blah blah blah” when God may NOT be saying that at all. Many pastors who would never dream of saying “God damn it” have no problem standing behind their pulpit saying, “God is saying today that if you send this money to this ministry, he will bless you with this and that.” THAT is taking God’s name in vain. Why? Because it puts words in His mouth that he didn’t say and misrepresents him. Christians have a deep-seated misunderstanding of what this commandment actually means and it keeps them mired in legalism and all the while *actually* breaking the commandment by running around with “God said this and that” too easily coming from their mouths.

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