Translating Ex. 20:7a לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לַשָּׁוְא
I had never paid attention before to newer translations of this commandment. I was just familiar with the traditional "in vain" phrasing. So I checked several English versions and, sure enough, there was that more descriptive, more comprehensible, more contemporary word "misuse" in a number of them: NIV, TNIV, NLT, CEV, ISV, and HCSB. The REB wording is synonymous, "not make wrong use of the name of the LORD your God," as is the NRSV "not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God." The traditional wording is retained by RSV, ESV, NASB, and NET. There is nothing wrong with the traditional wording. I would not consider it inaccurate. It just probably does not communicate the original meaning as clearly as does the more contemporary wording "misuse."
Knowing only the traditional wording of "take God's name in vain," I always assumed that the prohibition was against cursing which includes the word "God." But the newer wording of "misuse" required me to wonder if the prohibition of Ex. 20:7 was broader than what I have always assumed. What might it mean to misuse God's name? Apparently, it is any careless, thoughtless, or inappropriate use of God's name for any purpose, but especially when making oaths (such as legal promises), or referring to God in a frivolous way.
I find the NET Bible note on Ex. 20:7 helpful:
... The command prohibits use of the name for any idle, frivolous, or insincere purpose (Driver, 196). This would include perjury, pagan incantations, or idle talk. The name is to be treated with reverence and respect because it is the name of the holy God.Also helpful is the footnote for Ex. 20:7 in the CEV:
Probably includes breaking promises, telling lies after swearing to tell the truth, using the LORD's name as a curse word or a magic formula, and trying to control the LORD by using his name.I always enjoy getting a better understanding of biblical truth. That happened today when a question was raised about the traditional wording of Ex. 20:7 and I needed to look at other translation wordings. As far as I can tell, wordings which speak of "misuse" of God's name are more communicatively accurate than the traditional wording. The traditional wording was accurate, I think, for previous stages of English, but I suspect that the newer wordings are more accurate for today's Bible users. And, notice, it is not a matter of Dynamic Equivalent or more idiomatic translations using the newer wording. The HCSB is a quite literal translation. I think most Bible analysts today would consider it "essentially literal" along with the ESV. Even though the NRSV has been updated in its syntax and vocabulary, it is still quite a literal translation, as are the NIV and TNIV.
I am thankful for translators who are willing to use newer words in English Bibles when they believe that they convey the biblical meaning more accurately and clearly. The result is better Bibles.
Categories: Bible translation, translation accuracy, contemporary English, Hebrew, REB, ISV, NRSV, HCSB, NIV, TNIV, CEV, NLT