Podcast Episode

Taking God’s Name in Vain?

In this interview with Dr. Carmen Imes, Tim and Jon discuss the command, “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” What does this mean? Carmen discusses how many people miss the point of this commandment all about who we are and what we’re called to do.

Episode 9
Mar 19, 2020
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Show Notes


“[The Israelites are] already free, and the laws are a way of showing them how to live in freedom. And if we re-conceive that, it shifts it in a way that we can begin to see how it might be valuable for us as well—if it’s not meant to earn salvation and instead meant to shape the way we live as a grateful response to salvation.”


  • To not take [carry, lift up] the name of God in vain means to not misrepresent him through our lives. We’re called to carry the name of God wherever we go.
  • Jesus taught us to pray “Hallowed be your name,” which is our way of expressing our desire that God’s character would be honored through the lives of us and others.
  • The Hebrew Scriptures forbade tattoos because they represented other names carried by the Israelites. Even today, it’s a good exercise to ask what we’re communicating about whose name we bear by tattoos today.

Bearing God’s name

In this episode, Tim and Jon interview Carmen Imes, biblical scholar and author of the recent book Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters.

In part one (0:00–23:30), Tim and Jon introduce Carmen Imes and talk with her about her journey in biblical scholarship. Carmen shared much of the same journey as Tim and Jon and decided to focus her work on a commonly misunderstood commandment in Scripture.

Exodus 20:7
You shall not take [carry, lift up] the name of the Lord your God in vain….

Carmen notes that there are 23 different ways to interpret this command from the original Hebrew. As she states, “The command is telling the Israelites not to misrepresent Yahweh.”

Just as Aaron and the priests in Exodus carried the name of Yahweh, so God commanded his people to symbolically carry his name.

Exodus 28:29
Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.

The idea of taking God’s name “in vain” is the idea of representing God’s character to no effect or ill-effect.

Jeremiah 2:30a (NIV)
In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction.

Carmen shares, “[The command] is narrower in scope in terms of who it’s talking to, but way broader, and the stakes are higher.”

Brought into freedom

In part two (23:30–28:00), Carmen talks about the gift that God gave through the commands. Instead of leaving it up to chance, God gives us grace through the laws by showing his people how to live. These laws come after Israel is already brought into freedom. Instead of being used as a way to define salvation, the laws show how Israel can live as changed people in response to salvation.

Hallowed be your name

In part three (28:00-45:45), Tim and Carmen talk further about the idea of God placing his name on key people and places, such as the people, the city of Jerusalem, the temple, and the Gentiles (from the book of Amos).

At the end of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6, God says, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). This phrase is used both about the Israelites and later about the nations.

Tim asks about the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” To hallow God’s name is the opposite of profaning it. Why does God’s name need to be made holy? Carmen points to Ezekiel 36, where God’s name has been profaned and needs to be restored.

Ezekiel 36:23
I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

What does Jesus mean when he says, “Hallowed be your name?” It’s not a vague hope; it’s a reminder and commitment to bear God’s name well. Carmen comments on the first commands of the Ten Commandments and says, “If you get your worship right, and you get your identity and vocation right as God’s name bearer, everything else comes from that.”

Tim also asks about the use of the name and “anti-name” in the book of Revelation. In this moment, John the Visionary describes the invisible name stamped on each person becoming visible—either bearing the name of God or the name of the beast.

Tattoos and identity

In part four (45:45-end), Carmen talks about whether the Hebrew Scriptures’ prohibition on tattoos is related to the command to not bear God’s name in vain. She thinks it is.

Deuteronomy 14:1-2
You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:28
You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.

To our modern culture, the question becomes: Do our tattoos honor God, or do they send mixed messages about who’s name we bear?

Bearing the name is more than a trite command; it’s the answer to the question of who we are and what we’re called to do.

Additional Resources Carmen Imes, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters

Show Music:

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents
  • Hello from Portland by Beautiful Eulogy
  • Levity by Johnny Grimes
  • Tomorrow’s A New Day by SaintSet

Show produced by Dan Gummel.

This month, we launched Classroom—free online graduate-level courses from BibleProject. Learn more and sign up for the beta at bibleproject.com/learn.

Scripture References
Exodus 19:6
Exodus 19:4-6
Leviticus 19:28
Deuteronomy 14:1-2
Numbers 6:22-27
Exodus 28-29
Deuteronomy 7:6
Deuteronomy 14:2
Exodus 28:29
Amos 9:12
Acts 15:13-18
1 Kings 9:3
2 Chronicles 6:20
Ezekiel 36
Ezekiel 36:20-23
Revelation 13:11-18

14 Episodes

Episode 14
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In our final episode of 2023, Tim, Jon, and BibleProject CEO, Steve, celebrate everything we worked on this year and the patrons who made it possible. The guys then talk about everything coming up in 2024 and beyond, including a sneak peek of a special new series coming in 2024 at the end of the show!
54m • Dec 25, 2023
Episode 13
What Is God’s Name?
This episode is a special re-release of an interview we did in 2018 with Dr. Michael Heiser. Mike has been a significant influence to Tim’s own scholarship and, by extension, much of BibleProject’s content, as well as to thousands of other people. Mike is in the final stages of his battle with pancreatic cancer, and we want to honor his incredible life by sharing this episode again.
1hr • Feb 7, 2023
Episode 12
We'll Be Back Next Week!
Today would have been our 287th podcast episode. We haven’t missed a single week in seven years! Unfortunately, we won’t be able to release our next episode until a week from now, Monday, February 7th.
2m • Jan 31, 2022
Episode 12
Happy New Year From BibleProject!
We shared a lot of firsts together in 2022—from launching our first app, to reading the Torah movement by movement as an international community, to experiencing the Bible through new classes and videos. In our final episode of 2022, Tim, Jon, and BibleProject CEO, Steve, reflect on the year behind us and look forward to the years ahead.
48m • Dec 26, 2022
Episode 9
Taking God’s Name in Vain?
In this interview with Dr. Carmen Imes, Tim and Jon discuss the command, “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” What does this mean? Carmen discusses how many people miss the point of this commandment all about who we are and what we’re called to do.
56m • Mar 19, 2020
Episode 8
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Thank you to all our listeners and supporters for joining us in 2019. We're so grateful to be on this journey to experience the Bible with you!
18m • Dec 31, 2019
Episode 7
Did Jesus Really Think He Was God?
Welcome to this special episode in our podcast! Today, Tim and Jon speak with theologian Dr. Crispin Fletcher-Louis. They discuss the Jewish history of Jesus.
1hr 7m • Jul 22, 2019
Episode 6
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Welcome to this special episode of The Bible Project podcast! In this episode, Tim and Jon sit down with theologian and scholar Dr. Haley Goranson Jacob.
57m • Jul 11, 2019
Episode 5
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1hr 8m • Jun 20, 2019
Episode 4
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1hr 1m • May 16, 2019
Episode 3
Book: Jonah - Q+R
A question and response episode on the book of Jonah.
51m • Nov 6, 2017
Episode 1
Story: God and Money
In this episode of The Bible Project Podcast, Jon and Tim explore a story about two Harvard Business School Graduates who are confronted with a biblical view of money that changes their lives. John Cortines and Gregory Baumer were young, successful Christians making more money than most of us dream of. They were faithful Christians tithing to their church regularly, but when they take an elective class at Harvard Divinity school about God and Money their paradigm about money turns upside down. Does the Bible say we have to tithe? How does the Bible ask us to view money? What does it look like when God’s view of money confronts two young Christian businessmen?
1hr 2m • Jul 14, 2016
BibleProject in 2021 and Beyond
In the final episode of the year, Tim, Jon, Carissa, and the CEO of BibleProject, Steve, reflect on our journey together in 2021 and look forward to some exciting plans for 2022 and beyond. Thank you to all of our listeners and supporters for your generosity and for joining us as we experience the Bible together.
19m • Dec 27, 2021
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