Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Attaching God's Name to Our Decisions--A Violation of the 3rd Commandment?

Dr. Daryl Eldridge is the President of Rockbridge Seminary, a fully-online seminary built on the five purposes of the church. He served as the Dean of the School of Educational Ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and on the faculty of SWBTS from 1984 through 2003. He is the editor of the textbook, The Teaching Ministry of the Church and is the author of numerous articles and curriculum materials.

Recently, Dr Eldridge wrote me an enlightening email about Christians attaching God's name to what we do (i.e. "God spoke to me and said," or "God led me to do this," or "God called me to go," etc...) and how this is, at least in the Jewish mind, taking God's name in vain. I am reprinting his email here, with permission, to provoke some thoughtful consideration on how often we are careless using God's name:

I read with enjoyment your blog on how we use God to justify our reasoning and actions. I had a life changing discussion with a rabbi a couple of years ago about the 3rd Commandment, “Thou shall not use the Lord’s name in vain.” We typically interpret that commandment as a prohibition against cursing or profanity--which is only a portion of the meaning. The rabbi explained the Jews see this commandment as a legal term. In other words, it forbids you using God’s name to win an argument. If you say, “God told me,” then it ceases all discussion.

The rabbi could not understand why any preacher, from the pulpit, would ever say, “God told me that we should do……” The rabbi believes that statement, or one similar, would be a violation of this commandment.

God’s name is never to be used as a trump card. Judaism and Christianity are both founded on a dialogical faith. Faith is something to be passionately argued, debated, or discussed. Unfortunately, I believe we have made it monological. We have the answers. Christians leaders are no longer “seekers,” of truth, but those who have all of the answers.

Conservatives, by the nature of the word, “conserve.” They protect or conserve the status quo. A heretic, on the other hand, challenges the status quo. We forget that Jesus was a heretic, as was Paul and the disciples, Luther, and Calvin. Baptist come from a long line of heretics. Thanks for being a heretic in the finest tradition, by challenging the status quo.

Good word Dr. Eldridge.

In His Grace,



Ramesh said...

The only person for whom the above would not apply was Our Lord Jesus Christ. As you read the OT and coming into NT, you will realize the nature of Jewish thought and the consequences of it.

To me it points to the crucifixion of Our Lord. Yes, it was ordained by God. But to me, Jewish thinking led to this too. I honestly do not blame the Jews. For God made provision for their thinking.

That is what makes me wonder about Our Lord and the greatness of. For He was able to see. Of course He is God.

But returning to the post, if God did speak to a person, they how are they to speak it? Should they do as in the OT prophets? Only to be persecuted by the sinners (Jews, then). What is to the standard then if God did speak to a person? Just wondering.

Chris Ryan said...

At a church I interned, I had the privledge of hearing Dr. Eldridge preach and give several lessons in a certain discipleship course. He's a man of great intelligence and faith. I hope we hear his words.

And I'll second his thanks to you, Wade, for being a world-class heretic. :)

Christiane said...

The following may not be understood by Southern Baptists.
It uses the word 'heretic' in a different sort of way.
What follows is best understood as a 'paradox':

" Heresy in G-d's Name: By Tzvi Freeman
They asked the Baal Shem Tov,
"The Talmud tells us that for everything G‑d forbade, He provided us something permissible of the same sort. If so, what did He permit that corresponds to the sin of heresy?"

The Baal Shem Tov replied,
"Acts of kindness."

Because when you see a person suffering, you don't say,
"G‑d runs the universe. G‑d will take care. G_d knows what is best."
You do everything in your power to relieve that suffering as though there is no G‑d. You become a heretic in G‑d's name."

These words are a 'strange' teaching to our ears, yes.
In order to understand them better, it helps to read Isaiah 58:6-7
and to remember the words of the Lord's Prayer.

Christiane said...


Isaiah 58:6-12

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator* shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

anon said...

"The rabbi could not understand why any preacher, from the pulpit, would ever say, “God told me that we should do……” The rabbi believes that statement, or one similar, would be a violation of this commandment."

Dr. Eldridge is my former prof!

It is a good word to remind us to guard ourselves from being presumptuous in our speech. At the same time, however, we also need to be cognizant that God, the Holy Spirit, indwells every believer and actively leads each life yielded to His leadership.

Possibly the rabbi is not in this position in his life? Maybe if he were, his perspective would be different.

The rabbis of Jesus' day wanted to stone Him for making Himself equal to God as He spoke. Jesus was correct, of course, and they were wrong. I wonder how Dr. Eldridge’s rabbi friend would have responded if he heard Jesus speak in person.

In total, I dare say that far more unsettling than the thought of some speaking presumptuously for God is the fact that great numbers of church members really don't care that much about what God has to say at all and aren't even trying to listen.

John Fariss said...
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John Fariss said...

I don't know Dr. Eldridge, nor have I ever heard him. But I wish I did! Well said! This resonates with me and with what I believe is Biblical. Thanks Wade, and thanks Dr. Eldridge.


Jeff said...
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Strider said...

Dr. Eldridge was a prof of mine at SWBTS. I thought he was a great godly man then whom I learned much from.
In answer to some of the queries here about how we should communicate what God is saying to us I have two thoughts.
One, We are His sheep, we do hear His voice. We must obey it boldly.
Two, Many times in my life it has been demonstrated to me that God speaks through His Church. Time and again I have had a thought I thought was from the Lord but it was not to be. Again and again I have discussed what the Lord was teaching me among a group of believers and found many of them thinking similar thoughts. Together we find the truth that He is leading us to. This is His design. Instead of us coming together to pronounce how spiritual we are and declare the Word of the Lord let us come in humility and seek the Lord's face. Our relationships, our ministries, and our communities will be much changed if we do.

Kelly Reed said...


I really like the concept, because the practice is something we far too often abuse.

However, with the Holy Spirit inside us, we should be able to say that with confidence--though perhaps we should take the point that we say it far too often, far too trivially, and far too often to justify our own desires.

I would also like to add that by such reasoning, an upstanding Jew could accuse prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and others of violating the 3rd commandment b/c God did tell them something, they acted upon it and spoke/wrote about it.

I wouldn't want to be the guy who went up to Amos, Elijah or Isaiah to tell them to stop violating the 3rd Commandment with all of their "Thus sayeth the LORD"'s. Would you?

Kerygma said...

The LORD told me to comment on this posting.

Aussie John said...


What welcome words these are. I agree with them absolutely.

Jeff said...

Wade, Thanks for this post. I need to read and put these truths into my life.

willoh said...

The"God Told me" line alienates seekers like nothing else.
It also frustrates other believers, who wonder what they have done wrong , as God is not speaking so clearly to them.

I always point to Acts, where the apostles and company, while making a decision said, "it seems right to us and the Holy Spirit." Seems.

Bryan Riley said...

I often think of taking the Lord's name in vain as putting His reputation in disrepute.

As for using God as a trump card, I tend to agree; however, I do think God speaks clearly to people and, while they can use discernment and wisdom in how they communicate that, there may be times where it is perfectly appropriate to say God said. Many a Jewish prophet spoke "Thus saith the Lord."

Anonymous said...

"Anon" brings up a good point: "Possibly the rabbi is not in this position in his life? Maybe if he were, his perspective would be different."

The use of the terminology, "God has told me" can be abusive when using it to close discussion so as to conserve an individual's position on any issue by claiming divine insight. Who can argue with God?

But at the same time, Scripture, particularly John 14-17 as well as 1 Peter 2:9 and many more references, makes it clear that all followers of Jesus Christ have an indwelling of God's Holy Spirit that counsels, corrects and leads us. To express our position as we feel led by Him by saying, "I believe that God is leading me to do this and that" should not be interpreted as an abusive use of God's Name but rather a reflection of the Pentecostal Age introduced by the anointing of God's Spirit upon all those that are born again by Him.

But Wade's point made in his post just prior to this one also addressed what we could all agree is an abuse of God's Name for un-Godly and selfish purposes. That surely could be interpreted as blasphemy.

Rex Ray said...

You’re the first person I’ve ever heard to quote a very disputed able subject with “it seems right to us and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 15:28)

What translation did you use?

The accepted translation chosen now over King James is the Holman which says:

“For it WAS the Holy Spirit’s decision…”

The question arises; WHO wrote this to the Gentiles which is exactly on the subject of Wade’s post?

I believe the responsibility of the letter lies with the one that declared the “judgment” – James.

Of course, Peter did about the same thing when he said:
“…are you now testing God…” (verse 10 Holman)
“…challenging God…” (NLT)
“…temp ye God…” (KJ)
“…correct God…” (Living)

I believe it’s as old as the hills for people to use God to support THEIR decisions; especially when their decision is wrong or is based on weak reasoning.

In Acts 15, I believe Peter was right and James was wrong.

On the same subject, do people break the third commandment when they leave a church saying, “It’s the Lord’s will”?

Jon L. Estes said...

There are many times in my life that God has used me to speak for Him. These events usually happen every time I stand to preach His word to His people and others who happen to be in attendance.

Yes, I admit that not every sermon I have preached has been of God (and I praise His name He has forgiven me). yet, more times than not the sermons I preach are a result of time spent with Him, studying His word and coming to an understanding that the words I use are to be His, not mine.

It frightens me to think pastors are not preaching His word, as he directs, every time they are permitted to stand and proclaim.

I guess it boils down to this... If we are not preaching what God has led us to preach each time we preach, what are we preaching?

Do we need to start hearing... I hope what I am about to say is from God... but so as not to speak His name in vain, I will not say so absolutely.?

Jeff said...

Jon, I think we need to preach with conviction, but we also need to realize that we might just be wrong. I talked about this topic last night at church.

Jon L. Estes said...


Although I agree that we should preach with conviction, we are to preach the word. If we preach what the word says we are preaching what God says since the word is God's word.

Anything less, IMPO, would not be preaching but opining. I can't stop others opining from a pulpit, but I would prefer not to go there.

Doesn't Paul tell Timothy to preach the word. why did Paul not tell him to preach his opinion of the word?

Jeff said...

Jon, Preaching the Word is a given. What I mean by preaching with conviction is that we are to preach the Word with conviction. Alex Montoya Book's "Preaching With Passion." is an excellent resource. You must believe what you preach, but believe with it humility.

Jon L. Estes said...


My struggle is with preaching and in the back of my mind thinking - I might just be wrong - your terms.

It is hard to have conviction if that is the mindset.

Where the Bible not clear, I preach it that way. I understand there are some mysteries not yet revealed. I look at that as a different subject.

Jeff said...

Jon, I have no answer but to say you have never heard me preach. I preach with passion, conviction, and humility--and that is not my evaulation of my preaching. This is what people have told me. I think you are misunderstanding what I am writing. However, I know that I could be wrong. I do not think I am wrong, but I could be wrong. I have review sermons that I preached years ago and concluded that I was wrong in my understanding of that text.

Jon L. Estes said...


Maybe the misunderstanding is that I don't see where you left any room for absolute truth being shared while you are preaching.

i.e. = I preach, as I believe you do, that Jesus is the only way to heaven. That there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved.

I simply can't preach that and be thinking I could be wrong in the back of my mind. if it is not an absolute, it is not worth preaching and we are in trouble.

Again, in what you have shared, i don't see that you left any room for absolute truth to be proclaimed.

Maybe I am misreading you, that is not my intent.

Jeff said...

You have misread me. I believe in absolute truth.

willoh said...


KJV For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit
NIV It seemed good to the Holy Spirit
NASB it seemed good to the Holy Spirit
You said,
"The accepted translation chosen now over King James is the Holman which says:"

Accepted and chosen by whom? We use Holman in my church because they were cheap. Hard cover $3.00
Other than that they let me down a lot. If 5 or six translations say "seems" I say seems.
Dokeois translated 1) to be of opinion, think, suppose
2) to seem, to be accounted, reputed
3) it seems to me
a) I think, judge: thus in question
b) it seems good to, pleased me, I determined

If you use the Holman long enough you willfind a few of these! Shalom friend

Stephen Garrett said...

"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call." (Acts 2: 39)

The word "call" (Grk. proskaleĊ) means to call personally. Christ speaks directly and personally to the sinner when he regenerates them. They hear his "voice."

The abuse of a thing does not negate the thing.



Stephen Garrett said...

That should be "him," not "them."


Rex Ray said...

Regardless if translations MEAN “seems” or “was”, the bottom line is both Peter and James used God or the Holy Spirit to ‘stop’ further debate.

In Peter’s case, “Then all the multitude kept silence…” (verse 12). With James; how do you argue with a letter referring to the Holy Spirit?

The Holman has been chosen by the SBC. Our church has a choice of KJ or Holman from Lifeway for our SS material.

I quote Holman or any translation as I believe every believer to be a ‘priest’ with the freedom to do so.

I assume you believe the same. :)

willoh said...

Rex Ray, I am SBC, but did not get to vote on the whole Holman thing. The good news about us is that we do repent when wrong, it just takes us a 100 years or so!
Some how there is a definite difference in the Apostles making this statement and some guy saying" I have a word from the Lord!"
At some point the definition of spiritual abuse is, "you will know it when you see it."

Unknown said...

One of the challenges of any writing is the limitations of communication. The reader must always interpret what the writer is saying. In every communication there is interpretation. Without a personal relationship and history with the writer, his or her words may be misunderstood. That’s why faith is dialogical. It is back and forth; a discussion to clarify concepts with the parties that are engaged in the search for truth. That’s why I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts. They’ve helped to clarify mine.

I am pleased that so many people have responded to a discussion on the 3rd commandment. The only "name of G-d" in the Bible is Yahweh, which is the English rendering of the Tetragrammaton YHWH. All other terms are titles or descriptions. The scribes so revered the name that they would pause before copying it. The name was not allowed to be uttered outside of the Temple.

The Jew’s reverence for His name is in stark contrast to the public prayers of Christians that use the name of G-d as a comma. [Example: Oh G-d, we praise you, G-d for your goodness, G-d.] The ancients of the faith would be appalled at how we’ve trivialized the name of Most Holy. We can approach our Father in intimate language, as Jesus referred to Him (a title) as “Abba” or “Daddy.” When you use G-d’s name, are you pausing and speaking in reverence?

G-d does speak to us today. He speaks through his Word, through the Holy Spirit, through circumstances, and others. Some might say he has spoken to them in more dramatic means. The Bible contains many accounts in which the great “I Am” spoke to prophets who then communicated his Word. As a reminder, prophets were stoned when their teaching/prophetic words did not come to pass. This should serve as a reminder that should make sure we received a word from the Lord and not from our own subjective heart before we speak.

Before I teach, I study his Word, pray, and seek His counsel, and the counsel of others. I try to do my best to present what I believe G-d would have me say. While G-d’s Word is infallible, I am not. I am human. I make errors. I misinterpret. I can be wrong. Therefore I must approach my teaching with humility. However, because G-d has communicated this to me, I can speak with passion and conviction. G-d’s Word doesn’t allow me the option of not acting upon it. In other words, what I believe G-d is telling me through His Word, I must act on it.

It may be the second part of this communication that is the most important for those who speak about sacred things. People respond when they see us responding to G-d. If I speak of injustices in the world and do nothing about them, I deny the power of the Holy Spirit to transform my life. So I speak with humility and conviction. What I believe G-d has taught me, I must respond to His Word. To do one without the other may limit the effectiveness of the teaching.

I confess I have spoken Truth, but spoke with wrong motives and in wrong ways. I spoke the Truth, but not in love. I pray that in my remaining days, I’ll be humble and gracious with my words. Speak the Truth, but in ways that allow for dialogue and discourse. I pray I will seek the Truth as I seek the Truth.

If we must throw down G-d’s name as a trump card to prove G-d spoke to us, are we not denying the power of the Holy Spirit to teach the truth to that person? If what we are saying is from G-d, G-d will bring it to pass. We can trust that our Lord, the Truth, will speak into the lives of those in ways we never can. I am humbled and amazed that our Lord takes the words of an unworthy, common, and inadequate speaker, to reveal Himself to others. And, if what we are saying is not of G-d, He will hold us accountable.

We don’t have to invoke His Holy name to win our argument or prove our interpretation is right. We don’t need to swear by heaven or hell, but keep our words to “yes” or “no.” We speak with humility and conviction.

P M Prescott said...

Coming to you by way of Mainstream Baptists. I was in Norman and heard you preach this past summer it was a pleasure.
Think what the word vain means. Isn't it vain to think that what we do or say is attributable to God? The Rabbe's have a point.

Gene S said...

The preaching of the Word is serious business.

I once heard a preacher use endlessly "God told me this" when it was evident his CD-Rom concordance was the source. For me, it cheapened his sermon and gave it a false importance.

In my preaching, I always started with the passage. In many cases, what I intended to say, using it, could not be said because the Scripture was not backing my presupposition.

No matter how it backs of does not back my theory, what the Bible says is important and should never be "used" to put out a proof text version of something the Scripture as a whole does not really say.

St. Upid said...

when i was at swbts dr timothy pierce was teaching ot survey and when we got to the 3rd command he pointed out the language offers itself to mutliple meanings. then he explained the prohibition of profanity as well as the idea of using god to win an argument.

there was another way it could be read as well which may apply as well. the third way is that it can be read to say: "do not take my name to no effect" meaning do not take on my name and call yourself my people then turn around and act as if you are not. do not betray my namesake.

this helped me understand the point of the command especially for a people coming out of slavery and forging a new nation. and i think its an understanding that would benefit us as well.