The Third Commandment tells us not to take the Lord’s name in vain. And for some reason, this practice has become strongly ingrained in Mormon social norms — I can easily name a dozen Mormons who cuss like sailors and drop “F-bombs” regularly, but who would never dream of injecting a “God” or “Lord” into the sentence.
But are we really getting it right? Is “God” really the Lord’s name, or is it just a title? And what exactly does the third commandment proscribe?
First of all, is God/Lord really a title? That is, is God’s name really God, or is it a more specific name — Elohim, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus?
Lord seems to be a title. It’s like President, or Sergeant. President Bush’s name isn’t “President” — that’s merely his title. One clue is that it’s typically used after “the” — “the Lord.” We don’t say “the Julie”; we do say “the President.”
God is probably a title too, isn’t it?
We’re supposed to remember that Yahweh/Jehovah is our God, and have no other Gods before him. Is that more like President, or more like a name? Having no Presidents before this President makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to say “I am your Nate, and you shall have no Nates before me.” God seems to clearly be a title, too.
So neither God nor Lord are names; they’re both titles.
And what exactly does the Third Commandment proscribe? I’m not an original-languages guy like Kevin or Julie, but as far as I can tell from the (English) language of Deuteronomy, the proscription seems to be on the use of the actual name. This gets complicated because the KJV translators translated Yahweh/Jehovah as LORD, rather than as the name itself. But look at a translation that kept Yahweh/Jehovah, and you see,
Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain: for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
That doesn’t look like a commandment not to say, “God.” And particularly not the more generic, “Lord.” It looks like a commandment not to say a particular name — the name of the Israelite God, Yahweh/Jehovah.
Does this mean we’re understanding the third commandment wrong? Is it really just a proscription on exclaiming “Yahweh,” and not a more general limit on taking the Lord’s title in vain?