Do Not Swear

swearing 1

Q. The third commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Ex 20:7) What about saying “oh my gosh” or “oh my goodness” instead of “oh my God”? Does that take the name of God in vain?

A. Dear Teacher:

Your elementary school kids’ question is about using substitute words for God’s name in swearing, whether they are permissible. There are two meanings to “swearing” – positively to make an oath, negatively to curse. Interesting while your students are asking about cuss words, the answer is found in what the Bible teaches about making vows:

Mt 5:34-36 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
• Mt 23:16, 18 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’
• Mt 23:20-22 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
• Jas 5:12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

The Jews in Jesus’ days were scrupulous in trying to avoid breaking the third commandment, so much so that they would use substitute names when referring to God directly or indirectly, in order not to utter God’s name inadvertently. For example, they would swear by heaven, or the temple, or the altar, and feel that since they did not use God’s name, technically they are safe. Even if they did not keep their promise by fulfilling the vow, they believed they are ok because they were not bound. But they were fooling only themselves, because God looks at the heart, not the technicality. They were self-deceived, condemned without realizing it.

Similarly, nowadays people use euphemism like “gosh”, or “geez/jeez” and feel that since they did not pronounce the actual name, they are on safe ground. But God is not fooled. He knows their intent, whether they have used His name as a cuss word. The right thing to do is “do not swear at all”, because what we say has an impact on others. The principles are given in:

Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
• Php 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Teach your class to focus on the positive rather than trying to weasel out under a technicality. They will be better people for it.

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