horter Catechism Qs 53–56: The Third Commandment
Q53: Which is the third commandment?
A: The third commandment is, 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.
Q54: What is required in the third commandment?
A: The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names (Ps. 29:2), titles, attributes (Rev. 15:3, 4),
ordinances (Ecc. 5:1), Word (Ps. 138:2), and works (Job 36:24).
Q55: What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A: The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning and abusing of any thing whereby God maketh himself known (Mal. 2:2).
Q56: What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A: The reason annexed to the third commandment is, That however the breakers of this commandment may escape
punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment (Deut. 28:58).
I. Opening comments: as the first commandment respects the object of worship, and the second commandment
the means, so this third has respect to the right manner of worship.
A. Negatively: this commandment is so expressed to strike men with the reverence of God’s awful and glorious name.
1. To take this name in vain signifies to call Him to witness falsely or to use His name lightly.
B. Positively: implied, the hallowing of God’s name (Isa. 8:13; Matt. 6:9b).
C. Reason annexed: punishment is certain.
II. Required in this commandment is the reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, words, and works. By God’s “name” is meant whatever He uses to reveal His being.
A. Reverent use entails: in thought and speech, the using of such in faith (Heb. 11:6). “[B]e zealous and careful to honor His name with godly reverence” (John Calvin, Institutes, II.8.22), as it is the purpose of the third commandment to “hallow” God’s name (Matt. 6:9).
1. To “hallow” is to consecrate, set apart for a sacred use, i.e., to preserve for the purpose of praise and worship.
B. Names: “thy Lord,” unlike the first two commandments, God here refers to Himself in the third person to call attention to His special covenant name, Yahweh.
1. Yahweh signifies God’s identity (Ex. 3:14), and when we use God’s name we are therefore
referring to His divine essence.
a. We think of a name as a label, but the Hebrew viewed a name as inseparable from the person
(cf. 1 Sam. 25:25).
2. The “name” of God represents His whole character
a. Creation emphasis: David praised God’s “name” for making all for His glory (Ps. 8:1, 3, 9).
b. Redemptive emphasis: Psalmist refers to God’s “name” in a redemptive context (Ps. 106:8; cf. 111:9).
(1). Israel reaching Sinai knew God’s “name” communicated His glory in creation and
3. Names of the Trinity: Jesus, Holy Spirit, etc.
C. Titles: “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14), etc.; attributes: His perfections and properties (e.g., Ex. 33:19; cf.
34:6-7); ordinances: prayer, praise, sacraments; word; works: creation, providence.
D. Psalms direct us in honoring God’s name: ascribe glory to (29:2); praise be to (72:19); sing the glory of (66:2); also call on (Gen. 4:26), trust in (Isa. 50:10), and revere this glorious name (Deut. 28:58).
III. Forbidden in this commandment is the misusing of God’s name: “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God for nothingness” (Ex. 20:7, literal translation).
A. “Lifting up”: oath, use in general.
B. “Nothingness”: vain, empty; carelessly, thoughtlessly, flippantly.
C. Three ways God’s name was profaned in the OT era.
1. The occult: ancient world people believed they could access supernatural power by using divine
names in magical incantations.
a. Egyptians especially: to foretell, heal, give victory.
b. God refused to be manipulated (Deut. 18:10-12).
2. False prophecy: an attempt to use God’s name to advance own agenda (Jer. 14:14-15).
3. Swearing false oaths (e.g., Jer. 5:2), calling God as witness to confirm falsehood (cf. Lev. 19:12).
D. Other ways God’s name is profaned: not using it as required, using it ignorantly, irreverently, in
exclamations in a way of foolish wonder, formally and lightly; blasphemy, when we give no testimony against the evil speaking of others or smile or laugh at it; by our deeds give occasion for men to blaspheme (Rom. 2:24).
1. When God’s people are abused God is blasphemed, as they bear His name (Ps. 74:10, 18; Isa. 57:5; Matt. 25:40; Ja. 2:7).
E. Forbidden also is formalism (Isa. 29:13-14; 2 Tim. 3:5) and traditionalism (Mk. 7:7, 13).
1. Ordinances profaned when we do so unprepared, without fervency, or without understanding what we are singing, heart-wandering, or failing to wait upon the Word attentively.
IV. Reason annexed: condemnation will not be escaped.
A. Precise punishment unspecified. This convention is called a “meiosis,” in which less is said but more is intended: e.g., “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” (cf. Prov. 10:2).
1. Profaning name brings judgment upon a land (Hos. 4:1-3) and wrath upon families (Zech. 5:3-4)
B. Examples of condemnation for breaking the third commandment.
1. Leviticus 24: fight, one combatant blasphemed Name with a curse (v. 11), and assembly ordered by Lord to stone him (vv. 13-16).
2. Seven sons of Sceva.
a. First mission to Ephesus Paul performs mighty miracles (Acts 19:11-12)
(1). Paul did all in Jesus’ Name.
b. Others thought to work their own wonders in this powerful name (vv. 13-16).
(1). Sons of Sceva profaned Name by trying to manipulate (v. 15).
c. God revealed He was not like pagan gods; He would perform miracles when, and by whom He desired.
(1). Fear gripped the people (v. 17), who turned from evil (vv. 18-19).
(2). Word spread (v. 20).
(a). Honor God’s name and His kingdom will extend.
C. Punishment so severe because of the glorious greatness and infinite majesty of that dreadful Name (Mal. 1:14).
A. Use, of knowledge.
1. God’s Name includes everything that reveals Him as He is.
B. Use, of testing.
1. Don’t: make mild oaths, e.g., “Oh my God,” etc.; use God’s name to advance our own agenda, e.g., “God told me to…” or “God told me to tell you…”; use clichés without meaning, e.g., “Blessed”; be careless in worship, e.g., hearts wander during prayer.
2. Do we tactfully remind others about breaking this commandment?
C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.
1. Sinners. God’s name must not just be on the lips but in the heart (cf. Matt. 7:21-23), for the final judgment will also reveal Jesus truly praised, and given the exalted name “Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11).
2. Saints. To honor God’s name is to “use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to,
praise and give thanks to God” (Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, 1529).