We read in Lev 22:32 (NRSVCE):

Thus you shall keep my commandments and observe them: I am the Lord. You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel: I am the Lord; I sanctify you

And we read in Ex 20:7:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Israel addressed God in different ways: Lord, God, Yahweh, Redeemer, Almighty, etc. But does any of those terms really stand for 'Name of the Lord' as referred to in Ex 20 and Lev 22? In other words, does the term 'Name' imply much more than its literal meaning, given that the heathens also used the same or similar words? My question, therefore, is: Does the term 'Name of the Lord' in Ex 20 and Lev 22 refer to more than its literal meaning? Inputs from any denomination are welcome.

2 Answers 2


Note immediately that:

  • Lev 22:32 uses the word, חָלַל (chalal) = "profane" (literally "pierce")
  • Ex 20:7 (and Deut 5:11) uses the word, שָׁוְא (shav) = "emptiness, vanity

Further, it is clear that while Lev 22:32 alludes to Ex 20:7, and uses a different word, the meaning is the same. There are other places as well:

  • Lev 18:21 - You must not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane [חָלַל chalal] the name of your God. I am the LORD.
  • Lev 19:12 - You must not swear falsely by My name and so profane [חָלַל chalal] the name of your God. I am the LORD.
  • Lev 21:5, 6 - Priests must not make bald spots on their heads, shave off the edges of their beards, or make cuts in their bodies. They must be holy to their God and not profane [חָלַל chalal] the name of their God. Because they present to the LORD the offerings made by fire, the food of their God, they must be holy.
  • Lev 22:2 - “Tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect the sacred offerings that the Israelites have consecrated to Me, so that they do not profane [חָלַל chalal] My holy name. I am the LORD.
  • Prov 30:9 - Otherwise, I may have too much and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, profaning [תָּפַשׂ taphas] the name of my God.
  • Eze 20:39 - And as for you, O house of Israel, this is what the Lord GOD says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you. But afterward, you will surely listen to Me, and you will no longer defile [חָלַל chalal] My holy name with your gifts and idols.
  • Eze 36:20 - And wherever they went among the nations, they profaned [חָלַל chalal] My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, yet they had to leave His land.’
  • Eze 36:22, 23 - Therefore tell the house of Israel that this is what the Lord GOD says: It is not for your sake that I will act, O house of Israel, but for My holy name, which you profaned [חָלַל chalal] among the nations to which you went. I will show the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned [חָלַל chalal] among the nations—the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when I show My holiness in you before their eyes.
  • Eze 39:7 - So I will make My holy name known among My people Israel and will no longer allow it to be profaned [חָלַל chalal]. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.

From this bried survey, we observe several things:

  • the OT uses several words to describe the breaking of the commandment to hold the name of the LORD sacred
  • It is possible to take the name of the LORD in vain, or defile it, or profane it simply committing any act of sin that degrades the reputation of LORD done by the people of God who are "called by My Name".

That is, when God's people behave badly, observers who know that are God's people think less of the Holy God; that is, God's reputation is diminished and thus, God's name is profaned, taken in vain, or defiled.

"NAME", Heb: שֵׁם (shem)

The above is consistent with the basic meaning of the word "name" (Heb: שֵׁם shem) as having essentially two aspects in Hebrew idiom (see BDB lexicon):

  • the label of an object or person
  • the reputation of a person or God

It is primarily in the second category that the word is used in the OT. We see this illustrated rather dramatically in the prophet Nathan's divinely ordered and inspired rebuke of David after his murder of Uriah, adultery with Bathsheba and attempted cover-up

2 Sam 12:14 - However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”

That is, as the representative of the LORD's people and the moral principles that formed the basis of Israel's government and polity, David's appalling actions had caused the enemies of God to blaspheme - God's reputation (ie, "name") had been diminished which broke (inter alia) the third commandment.

  • Excellent answer! Taking the Name in vain is so much more than saying Jesus Christ when I stub my toe. +1 Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 13:20
  • 1
    @MikeBorden That may have been the intent, but many traditions are based on it referring to speaking the name. That's why there are so many euphemisms that are used in place of saying "God" (e.g. "gosh") and "Jesus Christ" ("Jeepers").
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 16:00
  • @Barmar Many traditions have strayed from the intent. Commented Feb 24, 2023 at 12:26

Christ in His instructions to His disciples did point out that they should approach in His name (Jesus' name). In doing so, it does give us a hint of what direction to take when looking for this answer. Reputation is like a passport that allows you entry into a place but it is permission sought from one government to another. We have access or gain entry based on the reputation of the one who sends us. As explained broadly in the previous answer, the Name of the Lord is a broader statement of the reputation of the Lord than just a noun.

In Deuteronomy 14:23 it says;

Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.

God's need for a relationship with man did not seem to me to be benched on Him being given a definite name but rather a relationship built on the knowledge of who He is to us over time, thus the statement "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be" to Moses in the burning bush.

I know my answer may not get to the particular verses that you laid out for exegesis but I gave what I have in my heart for now. For am neither a Greek nor a Hebrew scholar. :-)

My secondary question to this one question would be, does it make a difference between praying 'in the name of Jesus' vs 'praying through the name of Jesus'? Both to me are correct as they still speak to the reputation of the one who gives us access.

The essence of reputation is what makes us walk in ways that please Him, for we carry in us, the very presence of God, in word and deed.

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