Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Exodus 20:7 (KJV)

As an example of a work of fiction pertaining to my question, I submit One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the 1975 film adapted from the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. Specifically, the character of Randle McMurphy as portrayed by Jack Nicholson, who doesn’t seem to go a single scene in this movie without using “God” or our Lord Jesus Christ’s name as an expletive.

On the one hand, I cringe. On the other hand, I see the characterization of sinners as a useful tool in a Christian writer/performer/director’s creative arsenal. As an aspiring screenwriter, I’m especially pressed to find an answer to this question.

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    Why do you think saying the name Jesus as a swear is even what the commandment is talking about? I think it makes much more sense to see it as condemning people who falsely swear by God's name, or who falsely claim an allegiance to him, falsely claiming to follow him.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 1:47
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    I suppose it’s because I’ve never known a Christian who consciously uses God’s name flippantly or as an expletive without seeming to feel repentant or at least weary about it.
    – Katechonic
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 2:06
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    Good question. I have a feeling most people feel less problems depicting other sins, e.g. murder (because they are fiction) but feel when swears etc. are included that it's actually them, the author, swearing.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 8:06

1 Answer 1


For many years I misunderstood what "taking God's name in vain" actually meant. Using the name "Jesus Christ" (both or either), or "God" as an expletive or 'cuss' word was not actually the subject of one of the Ten Commandments.

Think about the phrase "take the name", then insert "on" so it reads "take on the name". Compare the traditional/Christian/Biblical institution of marriage, and the practice of the bride "taking on the name of" her new husband as they wed.

"Taking the Lord's name" was really about the people advertising to the world that they were "God's people who lived by God's law". To paraphrase, what God was saying is basically this: "Do not take on My name [call yourselves My children], then live like you belong to the Devil (or the world, or any of the other tribes or nations you see around you, who practice wickedness)."

It was/is about living out their/our profession. We call ourselves Christians...but to the world, do we live as Christians?

Of course the speech/language which exits our lips is a sign of what's inside ("out of the mouth the heart speaks" - Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45), but it was/is about behaviour and how that aligns with profession.

We could therefore say that the colloquial term 'nominal Christian' might refer to those who take God's name in vain.

I have certainly been guilty of this on many occasions...as we have all been.

Does that help?

For a more in depth understanding, study the act, and importance, of naming in the Old Testament, especially naming a person. Yehoshua (Joshua), Yeshua (Jesus) and Jabez are cases in point. It was much more than a labeling mechanism, contrary to what our modern scientific world view would have us relegate it to.

Listen to the following podcast for a Scholar's take on this: "What is God's Name? Feat. Dr. Michael Heiser".

And here is something that is quite mind bending, and dare I say difficult for atheists to explain, which kind of illustrates the importance God seems to place on names: Genesis 5 genealogy.

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    Welcome to Christianity! Please consider citing source(s) for your claims, e.g. by quoting a Biblical scholar who shares your claim that 'taking God's name in vain' means to call oneself a Christian but live sinfully.
    – Null
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 16:11
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    Interesting answer! Thanks! I’m with Null in that I’d love to see your sources in scripture or tradition.
    – Katechonic
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 23:51
  • Edited: added link to interview with Scholar. Dr. Michael Heiser. He is not the first/only person to hold this view.
    – skeetastax
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 0:02

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