The Third Command

What is the third command?

לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא׃פ

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

What is meant here by “take”?

The word translated “take” 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 Exodus 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.  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 Christians are those who bear the Name of Christ.

 

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

It certainly does; Christians carry and display the Name of God all the time and in every place, coming and going, whether they are speaking 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. See very bottom of left column p807.

 

What does this command mean more broadly?

This command teaches us the holiness of God’s Name.  We must carry the Name of God in a way that is consistent with what it 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 and yet live sinfully, we bring contempt and reproach on God.

 

Is there a connection between the second and third commands?

There surely is.  We could say that the second command teaches us how not to approach God.  The third command teaches us how to approach God.  In other words, we should not approach God by or through any visual representation but by a holy use of His Name which He has revealed to us for that purpose.  Henry writes:

Yahweh’s stern disapproval of any visible material representations dramatizes the centrality and indispensability of his self-presentation in his own way—that is, by the audible disclosure of his name. His followers dare not dilute this invisible presence and audible presentation into visible material forms. The entire religious history of the Hebrews is shaped by the prohibition of material images representing God the invisible and immaterial Spirit. The audibly given divine Name and revelation of God in his Word replaces for the Hebrews the need for a visible material image to identify the living God. A material representation could only denigrate the self-revelation of God who makes himself known by his own personal manifestation in his audibly spoken Word. The Hebrews knew that the spatially localized and perishable idols, man-made and man-named, are antithetical to the invisible God who himself speaks his own Name and Word.  God, Revelation, and Authority, 2.152.

 

Where in Scripture are we taught the significance of God’s Name?

In the Bible, it is clear that a name is more than just an identity marker.  Names give us clues as to the character of the person.  This is also true of God where His Name is a revelation of who He is.  God loves His people and is willing to come down to them and to tell them His Name.  Consider what happened at the burning bush where God met Moses.  Notice that God does not show Moses His physical appearance. (cf Deuteronomy 4:12)  Instead, He gives Moses His Name.

Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”  But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?”  And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”  Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I am I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”  God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever, and this is My Memorial-Name to all generations.” (Exodus 3:10-15)

Initially, Moses does not know God’s Name.  God, however, tells Moses His Name; and now, Moses can go to Israel and tell them who God is.  The connection between God’s Name and His character is clear.  Consider also what God says to His people at Mount Sinai:

Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.  Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.  Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst.  But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim–for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose Name is Jealous, is a jealous God– otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.  You shall make for yourself no molten gods. (Exodus 34:10-17)

Notice here that God says His Name is “jealous” which does not mean that God’s personal Name is “jealous,” but rather, this tells us something of the character of God.  The sum of all this is that God has a unique relationship with Israel; and therefore, He tells them His Name.  He did not do this with any other nation.  About this relationship, God speaks:

“Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it?  Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?  Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?  To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.  Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.  Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power… (Deuteronomy 4:32-37)

Again, we see this idea in Exodus 6:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.”  God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.  I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned.  Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.  Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'” (Exodus 6:1-8)

 

Why does God say here that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know His Name YHWH when this Name is used repeatedly in Genesis?

This is a difficult verse to understand since the stories given us in Genesis certainly imply that the patriarchs knew and used the Divine Name YHWH.

  1. Some say that Moses used the Name YHWH in writing the history of Genesis but did not mean thereby to imply that the patriarchs knew and used this Divine Name.  So when we read that YHWH said to Abram, “Go forth from your country and from your relatives…” (Genesis 12:1) this does not mean that Abraham would have called God YHWH.  In writing Genesis, Moses knew that God’s Name was YHWH; but at the time, Abraham did not.  Thus this verse would be understood to mean that the patriarchs called God “El Shaddai” but not “YHWH.”  Carpenter:  “The view taken here is that the name Yahweh was not known to the patriarchs. but that does not mean that the author of the Pentateuch could not have inserted the name into some passages in Genesis and Exodus when he composed these books.” see on Exodus 6:3
  2. Some say that the last part of v3 should be understood as a question.  “…and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, and by My Name, YHWH did I not make Myself known to them? (Exodus 6:3)  This implies that the patriarchs did know and use the Name YHWH.  See Gill (top of right column p510) and Wilson (p116).
  3. Others say that the patriarchs did know the Name YHWH, but they did not know it yet in the sense of actually having experienced the truth of what it represented.  Now YHWH is a Name that focuses on God’s faithfulness to His promises.  Thus, the patriarchs knew this Name but did not yet fully grasp its true significance since they had not yet seen the fulfillment of what God had promised them. (Hebrews 11:39)  This was especially true for the Israelites at this time who were suffering terribly under the heel of Egyptian oppression. (Exodus 5:23)  Thus, God now tells Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh…” (Exodus 6:1)  In other words, now you will see what is meant by My Name YHWH when you see what I am about to do to the one who is oppressing My people and thus bring in the fulfillment of what I had promised My people.  Gill (p510): “…that though the name Jehovah itself was known to the patriarchs, by which they were assured that God is eternal, immutable, and faithful to his promises; yet He was not known as to the efficacy of this name, or with respect to the actual performance of His promise, as He now would be by delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt, and bringing them into the land of Canaan;”

 

What then do we learn about God’s Name from this passage in Exodus 6?

Whichever of these options may be correct, we see in all of them that God’s Name is directly linked to aspects of His character.  The Name YHWH meant far more than just an identity marker.  By it, Israel was mean to understand something of who God is.

 

What else does Scripture teach us about God’s Name?

We often read in Jeremiah’s prophecy that God’s Name was called over certain things.  Consider the account given us in Jeremiah 7:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, “Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house and proclaim there this word and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!'”  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.  Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’–that you may do all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD.  “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.  And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the LORD, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. (Jeremiah 7:1-14)

 

Why was Israel trusting in the temple?

They were trusting in the temple because they knew that God’s Name dwelt there.  They were terrified because the Babylonian armies were drawing closer, and they knew that Nebuchadnezzar was resolved to destroy the city.  There reasoning was, however, that since God’s Name dwelt in the temple in Jerusalem, no harm could come to them.  God would surely not let anything happen to the city in which was the temple where God had made His Name to dwell.  This, of course, was a wicked presumption which God quickly corrects.

 

What does God mean when He says that His Name dwelt in the temple?

The actual expression in Hebrew is אֲשֶׁר נִקְרָא־שְׁמִי עָלָיו which is more literally translated over which My Name is called. (note the resumptive)  This expression means that God takes ownership of this house (Jeremiah 32:34; 34:15) or city (Jeremiah 25:29) and thus brings it under His Fatherly care and protection as was written in Psalm 132:

For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His home. “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread.  Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy.  There I will cause the horn of David to spring forth; I have prepared a lamp for Mine anointed.  His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown shall shine.” (Psalm 132:13-18)

Calvin (very bottom of p286): 

God’s name is called on a people, when He promises to be their guardian and defender, and His name is said to be called upon men, when they betake themselves to His guardianship and protection.  But we must notice the real meaning,—that God’s name is called on a people, when they are deemed to be under His guardianship and keeping; as God’s name is called on the children of Abraham, because He had promised to be their God; and they boasted that they were His peculiar people, even on account of their adoption. So God’s name was called on Jerusalem, because there was the Temple and the altar; and as God called it His rest or habitation, His name was there well known, according to what we say in French, Se reclamer, il se reclame d’un tel, that is, such an one claims this or that as his patron, so that he shelters himself under his protection.

 

Why do you say that this expression means that God takes ownership of that thing over which His Name is called?

This was the way this expression was understood in those days.  Consider what Joab did at the battle for the city Rabbah.

Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the sons of Ammon and captured the royal city.  Joab sent messengers to David and said, “I have fought against Rabbah, I have even captured the city of waters [the city’s water supply].  Now therefore, gather the rest of the people together and camp against the city and capture it, or I will capture the city myself and it will be named after me.” (2 Samuel 12:26-28)

Clearly, Joab understood that if he conquered the city, his name would be called over the city.  He would take ownership of it and be in charge.  Since he wanted David to have that honor, he called David to come quick and finish the job of taking the city, so it would be named after David, not Joab.

 

Do we find similar teaching in the New Testament?

We do indeed.  Paul wrote to Timothy.

Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

“Naming the Name of Christ” in this verse is the equivalent of bearing or carrying the Name of God which we have in the third command.  Paul calls on all those who name the Name of Christ to abstain from wickedness because the Name of God is the opposite of all such behavior.

 

Above, you said that when we bear the Name of God and yet live sinfully, we bring contempt and reproach on God.  Explain this.

We read in the prophets of how jealous God is for the honor of His Name.  Consider these words from Isaiah:

For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, And for My praise I restrain it for you, In order not to cut you off.  Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.  For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9-11)

Here God promises to rescue His people and to restrain His anger against them, but note the reason given.  It is for the honor of His Name that He does this for His people.  The same thought is found in Ezekiel.

But they rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me; they did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.  Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.  But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made Myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.  So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.  I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live.  Also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.  But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them.  But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out.  Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols.  Yet My eye spared them rather than destroying them, and I did not cause their annihilation in the wilderness. (Ezekiel 20:8-17)

Note again that God acts for the sake of His Own Name.  Then in the same book:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.  I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.  For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.  You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.  Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you.  I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field, so that you will not receive again the disgrace of famine among the nations.  Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations.  I am not doing this for your sake,” declares the Lord GOD, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!” (Ezekiel 36:22-32)

Notice that God very explicitly says that He is not doing this for His people.  He is doing this to vindicate the honor of His Own Name.  Finally, note the repeated language in Ezekiel (68 times) of something like, “…that you may know that I am the LORD.”  or “…that I am YHWH.”  All of God’s mighty acts in history are a manifestation of the glory of His Name.

 

Explain the words “…for the LORD will not leave him unpunished…” in the third command.

The word “leave unpunished” here is a word that means to justify or to acquit.  This means that in God’s courtroom, a person who profanes God’s Name will surely be declared guilty and will not escape his just punishment.

 

How is this command broken?

As we said previously, obedience to this command can be interpreted more strictly as well as more broadly.  In its narrowest meaning, this command forbids perjury.  More broadly, it forbids any misuse of the Name of God.  In its broadest application, this command condemns all those who profess allegiance to the Name of God and yet live a lifestyle that contradicts it. (James 2:17)

 

Where else in Scripture do we find this command?

Consider the following places:

  • You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:12)
  • He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:4)
  • 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. (Isaiah 1:13)
  • Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

 

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.  Those who tell lies will surely not enter into the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:27)  Dwight (p187):

To call Him then, in this solemn manner, to witness a falsehood, is to laugh at His love of truth, His disposition and power to support it, and that glorious purity of His character, before which the heavens are unclean, and the angels charged with folly.

 

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.

 

What is a sinful oath?

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

 

What is a rash oath?

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?

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. (Matthew 5:33-37)

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…” (Matthew 26:63-64)

We also read in Galatians 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:

  • You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. (Deuteronomy 6:13)
  • You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. (Deuteronomy 10:20)
  • 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. (Psalm 63:11)
  • Because he who is blessed in the earth Will be blessed by the God of truth; And he who swears in the earth Will swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight! (Isaiah 65:16)
  • Then 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, they will be built up in the midst of My people. (Jeremiah 12:16)

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

  • I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. (Isaiah 45:23)
  • For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, (Hebrews 6:13)

 

How then are we to understand Jesus’ words here?

We conclude that Jesus 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 the church, 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 place 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 foolish and thoughtless 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?

Yes.

 

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 not to make 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 make this 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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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