The Third Command

What is the third command?

The third command is found in Exodus 20:7: You shall not bear the Name of YHWH your God in vain; for YHWH will not justify anyone who bears His Name in vain.  Or in Hebrew:

לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְהוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא׃

What is meant here by “bear”?

The word “bear” here is a translation of the Hebrew word to lift up, to bear, or to carry; see here.  It is the same word found in Ex 19:4 where it is translated “bore” – You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.


What does it mean to bear God’s Name?

This means that we, as God’s people, bear or carry God’s Name wherever we go.  Hence, we are said to “carry” or “bear” it.  Christians have the Name of God written all over them so to speak, and we display it to the watching world.  This is most obvious in the title “Christian” (Acts 11:26) where we clearly see that we are those who bear the Name of Christ.


Does “bearing God’s Name” involve more than just speaking God’s Name?

It does; christians bear the Name of God all the time and in every place, coming and going, whether they are speaking God’s Name or not.


What is meant by bearing God’s Name “in vain”?

In this particular context, the meaning is “utter not the name of Jehovah upon a falsehood” i.e. do not commit perjury. source


How is this applied today?

We understand this more broadly as when we bear the Name of God in any way which is inconsistent with what this Name represents.


What does the Name of God represent?

The Name of God represents the perfect and spotless holiness of God Himself.  When we bear the Name of God as Christians and yet live sinfully, we bring contempt on God Himself.


Where in Scripture are we taught this connection between the Name of God and holiness?

First, consider Paul’s words in “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” 2 Timothy 2:19 and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Second, consider the teaching in Jeremiah 7 where Israel thinks that the Name of God will somehow magically protect them from the advancing Babylonian army.  God, however, tells Israel repeatedly that the Name of God will do them no good when they continue to ignore His commandments.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. “Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. “Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. (Jer 7:3-8)

Israel was the people of God and lived near the temple in which the Name of God dwelt.  God tells them, however, that if they think the Name of God in the temple will protect them while they continue in sin, then they are trusting in deceptive words which would finally end in their own destruction.


What does it mean that God will not “will not justify” the one who bears His Name in vain?

This means that in God’s courtroom, such a person will be found guilty and condemned for his sin.


How is this command broken?

Obedience to this command can be interpreted more strictly as well as more broadly.  In its narrowest meaning, this command forbids perjury.  As we think more about this command, we see it’s prohibition of any misuse of the Name of God.  In its broadest application, this command condemns those who profess allegiance to the Name of God and yet live a lifestyle that contradicts it.


Where else in Scripture do we find this command?

Consider the following places:

  • Lev 19:12 “And you shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the Name of your God; I am the LORD.”
  • Psalms 24:4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, And has not sworn deceitfully.
  • Isaiah 1:13 Bring your worthless offerings [מִנְחַת־שָׁוְא “lying sacrifices”] no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
  • Matt 6:9 Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your Name


What is perjury?

Perjury is a lie confirmed with an oath.  We commit perjury when we swear an oath to the truth of what we know to be false.  Perjury is a crime against the law of our country and a terrible sin before God.


How is it a sin against the third command?

Because we appeal to God for the truth of what we are saying.  Hence, we call on the Name of God, who cannot lie, to confirm the lie we are asserting.  By doing this, we make a mockery of God assuming that He does not notice and will not punish us for this blasphemy.


What is an oath?

An oath is when you assert something to be true and then add to it an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed.  By this appeal to God, it is implied that God also may punish us if we do not speak the truth.  For example, the US requires its officials to swear an oath when they assume their office; see here.


When is an oath sinful?

Oaths are sinful when they are either rash, untruthful, unjust, or unnecessary.


When is an oath rash?

An oath is rash when we are unsure of the truth to which we are swearing or when we swear an oath without mature consideration.


When is an oath without truth?

When one affirms on oath what he knows to be false (i.e. perjury) or when one promises under oath to do what one has no intention of doing.


When is an oath without justice?

When one makes an oath to do something unjust or unlawful, as when someone swears to take revenge, or to steal, or some other sinful act.


When is an oath unnecessary?

An oath is unnecessary when there is no good reason for taking it.


What constitutes a good reason for taking an oath?

An oath may be required when we are called upon to defend our own or our neighbor’s property or good name or when we are required to give testimony that will enable the lawful authorities to discover the guilt or innocence of a person accused.


Does not Jesus forbid all oaths in Matt 5:33-37?

Jesus said this:

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. “Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil.

James repeats this teaching:

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12)


This seems pretty clear.

It does seem quite clear, and yet we find other Scriptures which cause us to revise our initial understanding of this verse.


Which Scriptures?

For instance, Jesus testified under oath.

But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure (εξορκιζω; see here) You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself…” (Matt 26:63-64)

We also read in Gal 1:20 where Paul swears an oath to the truth of what he is saying: Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying. Note the words “before God” which indicates the oath he is taking.  Furthermore, there are several places in the Old Testament where the people of God are commanded to swear only by the Name of God:

  • Deuteronomy 6:13 You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name.
  • Deuteronomy 10:20 You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.
  • Psalms 63:11 But the king will rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him will glory, For the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped.
  • Isaiah 65:16 Because he who is blessed in the earth Shall be blessed by the God of truth; And he who swears in the earth Shall swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight!
  • Jeremiah 12:16 Then it will come about that if they will really learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, ‘As the LORD lives,’ even as they taught My people to swear by Baal, then they will be built up in the midst of My people.

Finally, God Himself swears an oath in the following verses:

  • Isaiah 45:23 I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth
  • Hebrews 6:13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself


How then are we to understand Jesus’ words here?

We conclude that Jesus (and James) is forbidding all rash and unnecessary oaths as described above.  Evidently, the people to whom Jesus was speaking only felt obligated to tell the truth when they were under oath.  Jesus commands them to repent of this, to speak the simple truth on all occasions regardless of the context.  Then all such oaths would be rendered unnecessary.


How is an oath usually taken?

An oath is usually taken by laying the hand on the Bible or by lifting the hand towards heaven as a sign that we call God to witness that what we are saying is, to the best of our knowledge, really true.


Which people have the right to require an oath from us?

All persons to whom the law of our country has given such authority have the right to require an oath from us. These are people like judges, magistrates, and public officials, whose duty it is to enforce the laws. In religious matters, the elders of a church have the right to require an oath.


Sometimes Christians join societies which require them to swear an oath of loyalty or obedience to the will of the society.  Does this violate the third command?

Yes, since this is both an unnecessary and a rash oath.  By such an oath, we put ourselves in an impossible position.  Suppose the society should require us to do something that we know to be sinful.  Now we must sin no matter what course of action we take.

  1. If we refuse to do the sinful act, then we sin by breaking the vow we originally made to the society.
  2. If we do keep the vow we made to the society, then we would commit sin and bring even more guilt down upon ourselves.

God, however, commands us to avoid even the occasions of sinning (1 Corinthians 15:33; Romans 13:14).  Hence it is extremely foolish to join any society which would require such an oath of us.


What kind of societies should Christians avoid?

Any society:

  • which has sinful or unlawful goals or which uses sinful means to obtain lawful goals,
  • in which the rights and freedom of our conscience are violated by rash or dangerous oaths, and
  • which makes use of religious ceremonies or rituals not commanded in the word of God.


What is the difference between a vow and an oath?

When we swear an oath, we are swearing to the truth of some statement or testimony. When we make a vow, we are swearing an oath that we will perform some act which is pleasing to God.


Is it a sin to fail to fulfill our vows?



What if the vow is itself sinful or in some way unlawful?

In this case, it is sinful to keep such a vow.  Of course, it is also true that we are guilty for making such a vow in the first place.  This shows us the importance of mature reflection before entering a vow and to not enter them rashly.


When is a vow sinful?

Vows are judged in much the same way as oaths. Vows are sinful when they are either rash, untruthful, unjust, or unnecessary. A vow is rash when we make it without mature reflection; it is untruthful when we know we have no intention of actually doing what we vow to do; it is unjust when we vow to do something that is in itself sinful; and it is unnecessary when we vow to do things that are already required of us.


Are the vows which a Christian makes in joining the membership of a church lawful?

There is no direct Scripture which speaks to this question.  In light of the above principles, we conclude that joining oneself to a body of believers is significant enough to expect such a person to make an oath.  If any Christian disagrees, it should not be required;  more.


What about some Christians who make a vow of celibacy?

Celibacy is recommended by the apostle Paul if a person can do it (1 Corinthians 7:32–34).  To add to this choice a vow of permanent celibacy, however, is rash and should never be done.  A person cannot possibly know where the providence of God may lead them in the future.


Did not Jesus commend highly those who had made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God?

Jesus says in these verses:

The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:10-12)

Here Jesus is stating the truth that there are some men and women who are able to accept celibacy in order to better commit themselves to the work of the kingdom of God. Jesus says that this kind of life is a gift of God “…but only those to whom it has been given.”  Those who do not have this gift are not inferior for marrying.  Jesus’ teaching here shows that it is rash to make a vow of permanent, lifelong celibacy.  Few people are able to live this way, and Jesus affirms that only those who are able to accept this lifestyle should even attempt it.


What then does Jesus mean by those “who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”?

Jesus speaks of three categories of eunuchs here.  The first two involve a physical or biological impossibility:

  1. The first are eunuchs from birth.  These are people who, for whatever reason, have no desire for marriage or sexual activity or perhaps are not even physically able to engage in it.
  2. Second, are those eunuchs who were made so by men.  This refers to men who were castrated to enable them to oversee the women of the court or the royal harem without any fear that they might become sexually involved with those whom they looked after.
  3. Third, are those eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs.  Likely, this does not mean that these men actually castrated themselves but that they had voluntarily renounced marriage in order to labor more effectively for the kingdom of God.

Edersheim writes here:

For there were three cases in which abstinence from marriage might lawfully be contemplated. In two of these it was, of course, natural; and, where it was not so, a man might, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake’—that is, in the service of God and of Christ—have all his thoughts, feelings, and impulses so engaged that others were no longer existent. For, we must here beware of a twofold misunderstanding. It is not bare abstinence from marriage, together, perhaps, with what the German Reformers called immunda continentia (unchaste continency), which is here commended, but such inward preoccupation with the Kingdom of God as would remove all other thoughts and desires. It is this which requires to be ‘given’ of God; and which ‘he that is able to receive it’—who has the moral capacity for it—is called upon to receive. Again, it must not be imagined that this involves any command of celibacy; it only speaks of such who in the active service of the Kingdom feel, that their every thought is so engrossed in the work, that wishes and impulses to marriage are no longer existent in them. source


Is it wise for Christians to make vows to God as a response of gratitude for some blessing that God had given as when one is preserved from some terrible accident or restored to health after contracting a terrible disease?

So long as the above rules pertaining to vows are observed, there is nothing sinful in this.  The same principles would apply as apply to any vows.


In what other ways, are we in danger of misusing the Name of God?

When we claim the Name of God in support of some evil cause as when Southern slave-owners quoted Scripture to justify their oppression and abuse of other humans.