A reader asked about my pronouncements on the Second Commandment. It started with the discussion of the numbering, because different traditions do divide them differently, and I use the Lutheran numbering just from habit. I think my children use the numbering common to the Reformed churches.
He wondered about my sources for the ideas, as it has some bearing on a related discussion he is involved in. That set me back. I can usually identify where I first encountered such ideas, but could not think of anything. It seemed to have been part of the furniture for a long time. Here is the more difficult part of this: therefore, I don’t know who else teaches this.
I still assert it. I consider the main idea behind the command not to take the Lord’s name in vain to be a warning against false teaching, claiming that God said something that he actually didn’t. “Don’t put God’s signature under your ideas,” is my favorite metaphor for that. However, I think the common interpretation has some value. Most cultures, and certainly Hebrew culture, placed a lot of importance on words as words, and even more on names as names. To treat God’s name(s) with reverence is consonant with the whole style of taking off your shoes on holy ground, or not touching the Ark of the Covenant. I think that is also a meaning. The set of ideas around vows and swearing by what is on the altar is referenced by Jesus and is also part of the commandment, though it doesn’t seem to have much utility in our culture now. I see this teaching as related to idolatry and graven images, of confusing in our minds (or misleading others) who God actually is and the importance of his voice as opposed to his appearance.
I can’t imagine I’m the first person to come up with this idea. If I am, then I would have to declare it wrong. It is beyond credibility that God would leave an important main idea lying around for a few thousand years without poking someone to pick up the threads. We can safely assume that the collective wisdom of the church exceeds the wisdom of an assistant village idiot. I have thought of this as a neglected interpretation, which people have avoided because it is uncomfortable to the point of being frightening. But if it’s new, then it’s invalid.
I have certainly thought it for many years. My associations with the idea are from Genesis and Exodus, from the first chapters of the prophet Isaiah, from the Revelation to John, and from the words of Jesus. Those are also the areas I would point to as evidence for the idea that the commandment focuses on not misrepresenting God. The idea shows up at the beginning of Scripture and the founding of Israel - it is prominent right out of the gate; neither adding nor subtracting from the scripture is also one of the last things said in the Bible; when Jesus comes on the scene we would expect him to focus on main points, and he does devote a lot of energy to criticising scribes and Pharisees not so much for their personal behavior (though that is there), but for misleading others about what God is telling them to do. Blind guides, weightier matters of the law, millstones around the neck and all that. As for Isaiah, I think I take that as a synecdoche of all those discussions in the prophets of “Thus saith The Lord.”
So be cautious. I think it’s valid, but it’s not common, and people aren’t going to recognize it when you bring it up at Bible study.