Sunday, May 23, 2021

Speaking His Name

It was August 1927, and the Baptist church in Wilmington was packed. Plenty of people wanted to hear the 73-year-old traveling preacher and his latest warnings. This was no ordinary preacher, in his own eyes – or, for that matter, in his own. “I am endowed with the Holy Ghost beyond millions of others!” he proclaimed. “I am the prophet of God, and I see things in a dream like a camera.” Here, people in the audience thought, was God's prophet of the twentieth century. Born into slavery in Virginia as one of his mama's eighteen children, it was the end of the war that won freedom for Andrew Jackson Jones. He'd made his way to Pittsburgh, got a job as a coachman, took up gambling. Then, he often said, in late May 1883, he was suddenly stricken blind, like Paul on the Damascus Road. His sight came back after he repented and prayed and was converted, and the following April, he started having visions of what was to come – or so he claimed.

Taking on himself the title of missionary, he began traveling through the states, foreseeing disaster on every side. He foretold Pittsburgh engulfed in flame, Boston toppled to the earth, Philadelphia blown to bits, Chicago “swept by the mighty hand of God from off the earth,” and the onset of a great famine in 1905, with “no water to drink and no bread to eat.” As the nineteenth century closed, his prophecies took on more pointed shape. He prophesied that the McKinley presidency would end with the United States in deep poverty, the government hanging by a slender thread. In 1900, William Jennings Bryan would win the presidency, leading to financial war. The famine of 1905 would last years, killing most Americans. Times would be hard until 1931.

As the twentieth century dawned, the so-called 'Prophet Jones' foresaw Atlantic City destroyed in August 1902. But that never happened, and neither had the rest. Then a world war began in Europe. Jones prophesied the United States would go to war with England and Japan, that the war would last until 1931, that few would be left alive, and that it'd take 150 years for the world to recover. But in the real world, the war ended much sooner. Jones kept pushing back the famine. Yet he kept prophesying. A second world war would begin by the end of the decade, he said, pitting the nations of the earth against the United States. “In the great conflict, the United States will be reduced to a state of subordination. France will be her only reliable ally,” while Germany would be most reluctant to fight America, having to be pressured into it by the other nations. Japanese planes would bombard the continential United States; Japanese soldiers would march in victory up Broadway. “The termination of the bloodshed will find Japan the leading power of the world,” he prophesied. The war would be over, he insisted, by 1931, when a great cataclysm would kill two-thirds of all people on earth.

Which brings us back to August '27. “I am the prophet of God,” he insisted, “and I see things in a dream like a camera. I see now a great war brewing in the house of the nations in which all nations will array themselves in battle against America to crush and humiliate her. I see three million people lying dead in New York in streets red with blood; Boston, totally destroyed; the Atlantic Ocean ripped up; every city for 500 miles around annihilated in the greatest earthquake the world has ever known.” So spoke the self-appointed prophet of doom. He said he spoke in God's name. But he was a false prophet time and again – taking God's name in vain.1

We've been journeying, these past few weeks, into the Ten Commandments. And there it is written, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). You might more literally translate it, “Do not lift up the name of the LORD your God in unreality,” or 'in emptiness.' Down through the centuries, as people have probed this commandment, we've seen it covering a wide range of things, and today we're going to look at five, with one more next Sunday.

First, one way of taking God's name in vain should be pretty obvious: blasphemy.2 Blasphemy is from the Greek word for 'slander,' to speak blame – specifically, to speak insults against God, against Christ, against the holy. God declared to Moses: “Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the Name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:15-16). God considered blasphemy an especially terrible way to take his name in vain. Insulting God, cursing God – that was a horrible crime.

The early church had to deal with blasphemy from plenty of corners. Outsiders, whether Jewish or pagan, could blaspheme the Christians' God. Paul himself confesses that, in ignorance, “formerly I was a blasphemer” of Jesus (1 Timothy 1:13). Our oldest picture of the crucifixion is by a pagan making fun of it: on the wall of a boarding school in ancient Rome, some student scratched graffiti with the words, “Alexamenos worships his god,” showing a young man hailing a donkey-headed man on a cross.3 Looking out at the world around them, Christians readily said that “by their tongues..., they've blasphemed the way of righteousness.”4

There were also movements in the church that came up with such kooky ideas that they were labeled as insults to God. One early heretic was famous for hating the Old Testament, describing its God as “the creator of evils, desirous of wars, inconstant in his thoughts and contradicting himself,” and saying those things was enough to get that man labeled “a blasphemer against the one real God.”5 Some movements that claimed to have a corner on the Holy Spirit were said to be “blaspheming against the Lord and the apostles and the holy church.”6 By the early fourth century, when people started coming up with the idea that Jesus was far below God, that too was seen by the church as “blasphemy” against Jesus.7

But just as bad, there was the risk in the early church that Christians themselves could be pressured into sinning with blasphemy. That was one of the motives behind some of the persecutions of early Christians: “Satan strove to have some word of blasphemy proceed from their lips.”8 Pagan authorities might demand that Christians on trial should blaspheme Jesus, revile Jesus, curse Jesus; then they'd be free to go, too hopelessly compromised to pose a threat to the status quo.9 But it didn't always take so much pressure. One early Christian recorded that he was warned that his children, who'd stopped practicing their faith, had “rejected God and blasphemed the Lord.”10

Today, things aren't so much different. The world frequently thinks it's fun or trendy to blaspheme our God, as a way of hurting us; and us, as a way of hurting him. Some of the most famous atheist authors made their name by taking the Lord's name in vain, connecting it with their various insults and parodies. In so much modern media, God is portrayed flippantly and slanderously. In today's media, Jesus is increasingly made the butt of dirtier and dirtier jokes. Blasphemy is popular in the world, and we do have to be on our guard against those forms of it, that we don't stew so long in a blasphemous culture that we become desensitized to it. But we also have to be on our guard against blaspheming God by swallowing or spreading ideas that insult him. And we especially have to be on our guard that neither we nor our children slide away from their faith, scorning the holiness to which we once were introduced. The temptations of blasphemy become greater in seasons of doubt or moments of anger, when we might be tempted to say things insulting to God, skeptical of Jesus, or demeaning to holy things that bear his touch, his presence, his name. It's easy for our pain and confusion to hear the voice of Job's wife, saying, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). But the psalms were written precisely to help us process all our hardest feelings without blasphemy.

A second way people have taken God's name in vain, throughout history, is by using it as a magical incantation.11 This one might seem pretty out of our experience, but we've found lots of magic papyri from the ancient world, and a lot of them routinely sprinkle various Hebrew words for 'God' alongside the names of pagan gods and an assortment of nonsense words – producing a mishmash meant to manipulate God's name like a battery, a power source we can aim where we want it by just saying the right words. From what we've found, we know that in the ancient world, some people tried to conjure the Greek god of love, to put a love spell on somebody, by binding him with the name of the God of the Bible.12 And some people tried to control demons by conjuring them with God's name.13 The Bible even tells us about Jewish exorcists in Ephesus who tried to use Jesus' name to cast out a demon; but the demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” – and then the demon cast out the exorcists (Acts 19:13-16)! They were trying to use the name of Jesus as a tool. Didn't work.

Although various forms of witchcraft are becoming trendy again in America, most of us probably are not very tempted to whip out magic spells and sprinkle God's name into them, are we? But this temptation does come in some modern forms we may not recognize – and that form is sometimes known as the 'prosperity gospel' you'll get from more than just a few preachers on TV. In the Victorian era, some people practiced what one historian calls 'mental magic.'14 A man named E. W. Kenyon infused his preaching with it, arguing that Christians could use Jesus' name not to ask but to demand that the world conform to their thoughts and wishes, and so in that way could guarantee the curing of diseases and the casting out of demons. Kenyon's influence seeped into the early phases of the Pentecostal movement, leading some to start using Jesus' name as a tool, as a talisman, as magic.15 And all these sorts of prosperity preachers are, one way or another, downstream from that. If you hear people talk about 'naming' blessings and 'claiming' blessings, that influence is there. But what this is doing – throwing around God's name like a tool to be used instead of as a prayer to the One we love – is taking God's name in vain, taking Christ's name in vain. His name is not our magic talisman. He did not tell us his name so we could control him, but so that we could know and love him. Not our will, but his be done!

A third way people take God's name in vain is through frivolous use – using it thoughtlessly in everyday talk.16 There are a lot of truly empty ways we might use words like 'God' or 'Lord' in our speech without seriously intending them to refer to him. Think of the person in surprise or exasperation who cries out, “Oh my God!” Think of the person who, faced with something shocking, shouts or mutters “Good Lord!” or “Jesus Christ!” Think of the person who, voice dripping with sarcasm, says, “Well, thank God” – or, on the other side, “God forbid...” Think of the phony “Hallelujah!”, a holy word dropped into a mundane world like a common thing. And, of course, that's to say nothing of casually invoking God and damnation upon every minor annoyance. We commonly label all these things as 'curse words.' But what sets these apart from other foul language is that they take the Lord's name in vain. Whether malicious or thoughtless, they reduce God's name and titles to ordinary words that can be thrown around and mixed with just any words. It treats God's name as if it were empty. This habit of speech takes God's name onto our lips pointlessly. If he were to answer us as though we were serious, we'd be at a loss. And Jesus warns us that “on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). If any of us have these habits of speech – habits of frivolously mentioning 'God' without meaning God – now is the time to confess, repent, and bring it to God for healing.

A fourth way people take God's name in vain is in our oaths and vows.17 In the ancient world, people in court would have to swear to God they were telling the truth, but even in the marketplace, a seller might swear to God in a customer's presence that his fruit is good, a person might swear to God that a certain thing is true, a person might promise God that they'll do a certain thing. God doesn't say we can't swear oaths or make vows – in fact, he commands that “by [the LORD's] name you shall swear” (Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20), and promises to bless nations that learn “to swear by my name, 'As the LORD lives'” (Jeremiah 12:16). But when we do swear oaths or make vows in God's name, God takes them very seriously. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God – I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:12). “Love no false oath, for these things I hate” (Zechariah 8:17). “I will be a swift witness against... those who swear falsely” (Malachi 3:5).

God takes it just as seriously today. In our modern American courts, we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God – which is really the same as swearing to God. But even outside of court, we might thoughtlessly put emphasis on our words by saying, “Swear to God, it's true!” Or we might make promises to God – “O God, if you heal me from this, I promise I'll go to church every Sunday!” – and then, when the danger passes, we pretend it was no big deal.

During Jesus' ministry, oaths were getting out of control, because people had gone hunting for loopholes to the law instead of appreciating its spirit. That's why Jesus says, “Do not take an oath at all... Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No': anything more than this comes from the Evil One” (Matthew 5:34, 37). Our Mennonite neighbors take these words as absolute, cancelling out the Old Testament command to swear to God in certain situations.18 The Church has historically taken these words not as absolute, but said that swearing to God has to meet three conditions. For one thing, the oath has to be just: it has to be something you're allowed to promise. Swearing to God that you'll worship an idol – that's off the list from the very start. For another thing, the oath has to be prudent: it has to be a proper and necessary occasion for it. Swearing to God all the time – that's a no-go. Swearing to God should be reserved for the most solemn occasions. And finally, the oath has to be truthful. Swearing to God that something's true when really it's false – that's what God will not take lightly. These are powerful things we deal with when we swear oaths or make vows or promise promises.19

But there's a fifth way people take the Lord's name in vain, and it's the last one we'll talk about today. And that way is false prophecy.20 Obviously, this was a big concern in the Bible – people going around like prophets who are either deluded or making things up, but pairing their words with God's authority, dragging his name behind their every idea and their every dream. Moses heard God say, “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak..., that same prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20). To Jeremiah, God says, “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions” (Lamentations 2:14); “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name: I didn't send them, nor did I command them or speak to them; they're prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14). To Ezekiel, God warns about people who “prophesy from their own hearts, 'Hear the word of the LORD!' … Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:2-3).

Of course, it isn't just an Old Testament thing. A hundred years ago, we had Andrew Jones hurrying from city to city, prophesying falsely. Last year, all around the country, self-described prophets confidently said that God had shown them the outcome of the 2020 election.21 But what they said God had shown them – it wasn't true. Since Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the gift of prophecy may crop up here and there down through church history to today, but that doesn't mean we should by default trust those who lay claim to its use.

In the circles we move in, we might not run into too many self-styled prophets. But 'false prophecy,' more broadly, is using 'God-talk' as a mask for a personal agenda, for our own whims and wishes. Maybe some of you remember the story, back in '87, of the famous televangelist who caused a stir during his fundraising drive by announcing that God had revealed to him that, if he didn't raise $8,000,000 by March, he was going to die.22 Talk about manipulation! But in less flamboyant ways, any politician knows how to sprinkle some extra references to God into a speech when trying to appeal to religious voters. And many in our churches will do effectively the same. Whatever we want, we find ways of dressing it up in more spiritual language – that way, we have a better chance of convincing the pious people around us. We don't say, 'I want'; we say, 'I feel led.' In saying such things, often we end up taking God's name in vain – using his name as a tool, representing him and his authority as the source of the ideas and desires that, really, we dreamt up ourselves or got somewhere else.

Over again all of these ways of taking the Lord's name in vain, the Bible calls us to treat the Lord's name in better and higher ways. Instead of attaching it to insults and curses, we can attach it to praises and blessings to God. Instead of treating it like a talisman, a magic tool to demand what we want, we can use it in humble prayer to the God who remains sovereign and wiser than us. Instead of thoughtlessly and frivolously emptying it of its meaning, we can speak it reverently and seriously, turning our thoughts directly to God every time we lift up his name on our lips. Instead of swearing falsely by his name, we can swear in truth, good judgment, and justice, or not at all. And instead of prophesying falsely and using his name to advance our own agendas, we can simply declare the gospel – “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).

The bad news is how many ways we can be tempted to abuse God's name – and when we look at all these ways, I don't know if any of us here can say we've never taken the Lord's name in vain. But the good news is always bigger than the bad news. And the good news is that, through Jesus, all these kinds of abuses of God's name can be forgiven. “Truly, I say to you: All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter (Mark 3:28). On the cross, Jesus bore all our blasphemies, all our false prophecies, all our manipulations and fraudulent oaths. Run to Calvary, plunge beneath the fountain that pours from his side, and be washed from them all. And in the resurrection, Jesus invites us into his own life, a life of perfect reverence for God's name. “Father, glorify your name!” he prays (John 12:28). “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6). “I kept them in your name” (John 17:12). “Holy Father, keep them in your name” (John 17:11). Jesus' mission was to perfectly revere God's name, and to give rise to the same in us by pouring out his Spirit into our hearts. Let us be faithful in how we treat God's name on our lips. Amen.

1  For the 'prophetic' career of Andrew Jones, see newspaper articles such as the following: “The Prophet Departs From the Land of Milk and Honey,” The Carlisle Weekly Herald (11 December 1886): 1; “Plunged in the Waters,” The Latrobe Advance (9 February 1887): 1; “A Prophet of Evil,” The Arlington Enterprise (18 December 1891): 1; “God Told Me,” The Boston Daily Globe (9 March 1892): 2; “Claims to Be a Prophet,” The Scranton Republican (7 October 1892): 1; “Calling the Turn,” The Cincinnati Enquirer (14 January 1894): 1; “Slugged in Front of the Sanctuary,” The Cincinnati Enquirer (5 February 1894): 1; “The Prophet Arrested,” The Cincinnati Enquirer (7 February 1894): 4; “Disaster for Chicago Foretold,” The Chicago Chronicle (1 May 1897): 7; “Chicago Doomed,” The Muncie Daily Herald (1 May 1897): 1; untitled clipping, The Unionville Crescent (14 May 1897): 5; “A Prophet in the Land,” The Argos Reflector (24 June 1897): 1; “Dr. Jones the Prophet in Town,” The Washington Bee (26 June 1897): 5; “Andrew Jones the New Prophet,” The [Washington] Evening Times (1 December 1898): 5; “Earthquake Predicted,” The Hartford Daily Courant (28 July 1899): 7; “Prophet Jones Here,” The Scranton Republican (5 May 1902): 3; “Jones' Sad Tale of Dire Disaster,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (1 June 1902): 8; “Scranton Doomed,” The Scranton Tribune (28 July 1902): 3; “Tidal Wave Missed,” The Baltimore Sun (19 August 1902): 1; “Andrew a Truly Prophet,” The Baltimore Sun (19 August 1902): 1; “Sad in the Spirit is the Seer,” The Scranton Tribune (4 September 1902): 3; “Calamity Predicted,” The [Washington] Evening Star (17 March 1904): 16; “Prophet Jones Makes Many Dire Predictions,” Asbury Park Press (7 July 1904): 1; “Negro Foretells Doom,” The New York Times (11 February 1907): 9; “Prophet Jones Gets Into Action,” The Washington Herald (3 April 1911): 2; “Predicts New York's End,” The Pittsburgh Press (23 June 1914): 5; “Prophet Didn't Predict a Fire In His Own Home,” Evening Public Ledger (24 December 1914): 2; “Boston Earthquake in Jones' Forecast,” The Boston Daily Globe (8 May 1915): 12; “A Prophet of Long War,” The Wall Street Journal (30 July 1915): 2; “War In View, Says Colored Prophet,” Asbury Park Press (11 August 1915): 2; “Predicts Famine For the Whole Country,” Norwich Bulletin (22 September 1916): 5; “Fourteen Years of War,” The California Eagle (19 May 1917): 6; “Famine, Storm, War, and Quake on Way?,” The Long Beach Daily Record (2 November 1921): 3; “Rev. Andrew Jones at Messiah Baptist,” The Yonkers Herald (19 April 1922): 6; “Prophet Jones Foretells War,” The Scranton Republican (2 January 1925): 9; “Prophet Flays Dances and Shows,” The Scranton Republican (5 January 1925): 5; “Evangelist and Prophet Here,” The Mount Union Times (12 June 1925): 4; “Colored Prophet Says Predicted Earthquake Was Only Warning Here,” The Scranton Times (5 November 1925): 4; “New York City To Perish In 1931, Declares Race 'Prophet of Disaster,'” The Pittsburgh Courier (8 January 1927): B4; “'Prophet' of Doom Sees Earthquake,” The [Wilmington] Evening Journal (27 August 1927): 1, 12; “Prophet Sees More Disaster,” The [Wilmington] Evening Journal (9 November 1927): 8; “Predicts Disaster,” The Monmouth Democrat (2 August 1928): 1; “Negro Evangelist Predicts Destruction of New York Because of Its Wickedness,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (7 April 1929): 10F; “A New Jeremiah,” The Hartford Daily Courant (26 October 1930): 2A; “Andrew Jones, Prophet of Woe, To Speak Here,” The Plainfield Courier-News (2 May 1931): 9; “'Prophet' Jones Begins Revival,” The Plainfield Courier-News (4 August 1931): 9; “Bayonne, N.J.,” The New York Age (21 April 1934): 9.

2  Blasphemy is specifically included under this commandment by Martin Luther, Large Catechism §55 (1529); John Cosin, A Collection of Private Devotions... (R. Young, 1627), 32; James Durham, The Law Unsealed; or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments..., 7th ed. (John Bryce, 1777 [1665]), 147, 175-180; Robert Gillan, The Decalogue: A Series of Discourses on the Ten Commandments (Thomas Murray and Son, 1856), 84; Richard Tudor, The Decalogue Viewed as the Christian's Law... (Macmillan & Co., 1860), 247-249; and various other writers, including David L. Baker, The Decalogue: Living as the People of God (InterVarsity Press, 2017), 65.

3  The famed Alexamenos Graffito, dated anywhere from the late first century to the early third century. For discussion, see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (William B. Eerdmans, 1993 [1987]), 559-561 (reproduction of graffito on 560). See photograph of the graffito at <>.

4  Apocalypse of Peter 7 (mid-second century) – see J. K. Elliott, ed., The Apocryphal New Testament (Clarendon Press, 1993), 603.

5  The heretic in question is Marcion of Pontus. For these phrases of description, see Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 1.27.2 and 3.11.7 (late second century). Translations taken from Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (Routledge, 1997), 95, 131.

6  Apollonius of Ephesus, lost anti-Montanist work (late second or early third century), excerpts preserved in Eusebius of Caesaria, Ecclesiastical History 5.18.

7  Alexander of Alexandria, Henos somatos 14 (an ante-Nicene encyclical letter to all bishops, and preserved in Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 1.6), declaring Arius of Alexandria's views a “blasphemous assertion.” See also the Council of Nicaea I, Letter to the Egyptian Church 3-5 (preserved in Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 1.9), referring to Arius' “blasphemous expressions” and “blasphemous words” and “their impiety and blasphemy.”

8  Letter of the churches of Vienne and Lyons (late second century), preserved in Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 5.1; see translation in Herbert Musurillo, ed., Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Clarendon Press, 1972), 67.

9  E.g., in Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.2-3, the pagan governor Statius Quadratus demands that Smyrna's second-century bishop Polycarp “recant” his faith by “swear[ing] by the genius of Caesar” and that Polycarp “curse Christ,” but Polycarp refuses to “blaspheme against my king and savior.” See translation in Herbert Musurillo, ed., Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Clarendon Press, 1972), 9.

10  Hermas, Shepherd, Vision 2.2.2 (mid-second century)

11  This is included under this commandment by Jochem Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life (P&R, 1996), 74-75; Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today's Moral Crisis (Crossway Books, 2003), 88; Mark Rooker, The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century (B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 63; David L. Baker, The Decalogue: Living as the People of God (InterVarsity Press, 2017), 65. But already by the 1600s, John Durham noted “charming” as one form of taking the Lord's name in vain – see his The Law Unsealed; or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments..., 7th ed. (John Bryce, 1777 [1665]), 147.

12  See love spell at PGM XII.14-95, translated in Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1986]), 154-156.

13  See two exorcism spells at PGM IV.1227-1264 and PGM IV.3007-3086, both translated in Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1986]), 62, 96-97.

14  Catherine L. Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (Yale University Press, 2007), 7.

15  For discussion of the prosperity gospel's descent through strains of early Pentecostalism from Essek William Kenyon's adaptation of New Thought, see Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford University Press, 2013), 20-25.

16  Theophilus of Antioch, in the late second century, observes that “it is not right to mention God idly and in vain” (Ad Autolycum 2.10). Theodoret of Cyrrhus, in the early fifth century, urges that “the Law of God forbids invoking the divine name outside of teaching or prayer or apart from some urgent need,” and especially forbids “the habit of uttering the august name quite casually, even when joking and jesting” (Questions on Exodus 51). In the nineteenth century, Richard Tudor likewise notes that the commandment is broken “when the name of God is used as an exclamation, in common discourse, to give point or emphasis to what is said” – see Tudor, The Decalogue Viewed as the Christian's Law... (Macmillan & Co., 1860), 258. Modern Jewish commentator Nahum Sarna also observes that this command is broad enough to encompass “the unnecessary or frivolous use of the divine Name” – see Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 111. See examples also in Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today's Moral Crisis (Crossway Books, 2003), 94-95.

17  Improper oath-taking is included under this commandment by Philo of Alexandria, Decalogue 82-95; Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Mekhilta 54 (in W. David Nelson, trans., Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai [Jewish Publication Society, 2006], 242-243); Thomas Aquinas, Exposition on the Ten Commandments 4; John Cosin, A Collection of Private Devotions... (R. Young, 1627), 32; John Durham, The Law Unsealed; or, A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments..., 7th ed. (John Bryce, 1777 [1665]), 147; and, practically, any other writer one could imagine.

18  See., e.g., the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 20.

19  This three-part schema is inspired by Jeremiah 4:2, ordering people to swear “in truth, in justice [or judgment], and in righteousness [or justice].” Philo of Alexandria, writing in the early first century, already employs his own form of the schema, by requiring that any oath be judged on “whether it has actually happened” (truth), on “whether his soul is pure from lawlessness,” and on “a suitable time and place” (judgment) – see Decalogue 93-94. In On the Special Laws 2.12-14, Philo also discusses the problem of oaths made to unjust purposes, i.e., the criterion of righteousness/justice. See further development of the three-part schema on oath-taking in Thomas Aquinas, Explanation of the Ten Commandments 4: “One cannot, therefore, swear to a falsehood, or without good reason, or in any way against justice: 'And you shall swear: As the Lord lives, in truth and in judgment and in justice' [Jeremiah 4:2].” See also then Guido of Monte Rochen, Manipulus curatorum 3.3, translated in Anne T. Thayer, ed., Handbook for Curates: A Late Medieval Manual on Pastoral Ministry (Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 297.

20  False prophecy is specifically mentioned in this context by, e.g., Jochem Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life (P&R, 1996), 74-75; Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today's Moral Crisis (Crossway Books, 2003), 88-89; William Johnstone, Exodus 20-40 (Smyth & Helwys, 2014), 33.

21  See, e.g., compilation of video clips at <>.

22  “Oral Roberts on TV: Contribute or I'll die,” The Allentown Morning Call (7 January 1987): 7; “Oral Roberts plans to begin fasting for funds,” St. Joseph Gazette (1 March 1987): 3A; “Oral Roberts' supporters begin $$$-life countdown,” The Brattleboro Reformer (5 March 1987): 9; “Roberts appeal reaps harvest of criticism,” The Miami Herald (8 March 1987): 1A, 8A. See also a piece mocking Roberts in Carl Hiassen, “God finally speaks to Oral Roberts,” The Miami Herald (25 March 1987): 1B.

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