Bearing The Name Of The Lord With Honor -- By: Daniel I. Block

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 168:669 (Jan 2011)
Article: Bearing The Name Of The Lord With Honor
Author: Daniel I. Block


Bearing The Name Of The Lord With Honor

Daniel I. Block

Daniel I. Block is Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.

The Decalogue’s command concerning the name of the Lord has been variously interpreted. I grew up thinking that the command “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exod. 20:7, KJV) was concerned primarily with the flippant use of epithets for God in profanities and swear words. And so to this day I am appalled when Christians use expletives like “Oh, my Lord!” and “Oh, my God!” for surely this is taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Traditional Jewish understanding of the second command of the Decalogue1 is reflected in the Tanakh translation, “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.” By this interpretation this command bans the use of the divine name in false oaths to back up assertions in court or otherwise.2 But another

Jewish tradition dating to the Second-Temple period based the avoidance of pronouncing the name of YHWH on this command. “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain” then means either “You shall not mispronounce it” or “You shall not pronounce it in a wrong context (outside the temple),”3 thereby bringing on a person the curse of God.4 The fact that יהוה continued to be used in names found in extrabiblical texts until the Exile5 and in biblical texts well after the Exile6 suggests that the name was regularly pronounced with its vowels well into the fifth century B.C. However, by the time the Septuagint was translated in the third century B.C., Jews had developed such fear of misusing God’s name that they stopped speaking the name aloud, for fear of death should they mispronounce it (cf. Lev. 24:16).7 Therefore they replaced it with אֲדֹנָי. This meant that when the translators encountered the tetragrammaton (YHWH) they rendered it as Κύριος,8 which carries over into New Testament ci...

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