Thursday, August 19, 2010

In vain

A little education can be a dangerous thing.

My master's degree program included a class in Old Testament theology. In that class, I learned something that completely upended my previous understanding of one of the basics.

It turns out the third commandment (or second, for Catholics and Lutherans) isn’t just about swearing or exclaiming using God’s name. It’s about attributing our words to Him, representing our own thoughts as if they are actually His.

I was stunned when I heard that. Stunned.

[I don’t know how believing households treat that commandment. I came to faith at 18, from an unbelieving family that was well-versed in every manner of swearing (including — especially — exclaiming using “God” and “Jesus”). As a result I had developed a mouth like a sailor (trucker? longshoreman? Pick your favorite simile…), so after my conversion I needed this and other language-related verses pointed out to me. Frequently.]

Christianity Today recently ran an article on this topic:
The third commandment doesn't just mean we should avoid cursing or swearing in God's name. It's possible to violate it even if we never utter a curse word... false doctrine taught by those who claim to speak for God is worse than the crudest and most profane comedy special ever to air.

The article talks about false preaching. I’d suggest the commandment includes (mis)using scriptures as prooftexts, pulling verses out of context to support a pet opinion.

The author refers to Martin Luther’s comment on that commandment, which includes the following statement:
...God's name cannot be misused worse than for the support of falsehood and deceit... But the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters, which pertain to the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God's Word. Behold, all this is decking one's self out with God's name, or making a pretty show, or claiming to be right, whether it occur in gross, worldly business or in sublime, subtle matters of faith and doctrine.

Maybe if that understanding of the commandment were more widely known, we’d see a lot less prooftexting.

As it is, it’s a common occurrence, even among those who would never utter the Lord’s name as an expletive.


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