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Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters

Carmen Joy Imes
IVP, 240 pages

Last spring I heard Carmen Joy Imes being interviewed on the Bible Project podcast. She confessed that as a child she grew up understanding the second commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” as a commandment not to say “OMG!” or even the minced oath “Oh my gosh.” I’d received the same guidance as a child and have taught my own kids to be careful about how they speak God’s name. But hearing her teach on this commandment opened my eyes to a more robust interpretation of the text.

As it turns out, I’ve been overlooking a major biblical theme of what it means to avoid taking God’s name in vain. And though I’ll still toe the line when it comes to how my kids and I speak God’s name, I’m learning that there’s more to this commandment than most of us have been taught.

In Bearing God’s Name, Imes’s thesis is that this commandment, which she calls “the Name Command,” is about the mission of the people of God—not simply what we say when we hit our thumb with a hammer. In Hebrew, Imes emphasizes, Exodus 20:7 reads, “You must not bear (or carry) the name of Yahweh, your god, in vain, for Yahweh will not hold guiltless one who bears (or carries) his name in vain.” And just as the High Priest Aaron bears the names of the 12 tribes of Israel on his breastplate as he represents the people to God, so too are God’s people called to bear God’s name—to represent him well—to the rest of the world.

The theme of representation of God is developed throughout Scripture in both how God’s people live up to this call and also how they fail. But Jesus is able to bear God’s name and fulfill what God’s people didn’t. In the Lord’s Prayer, Imes notes, “Jesus does not focus on his own name. Instead, he magnifies the name of his father….He fulfills Israel’s vocation to bear Yahweh’s name with honor.”

Yet the story of the responsibility and privilege of bearing God’s name does not end with Jesus. The church is now the name-bearer. Like God’s people in the wilderness, we too have been given the divine task of bearing God’s name—now we are empowered to do so through intimate knowledge of God through the person of Christ.

In Bearing God’s Name readers will see the foundation of the story of God through the Hebrew Scriptures. In a time when some Christian communities may have neglected the Pentateuch for the sake of accessibility or a desire to remain relevant, we recall that 1 Timothy 3:16-17 was written about the Hebrew Scriptures, as the New Testament had not yet been canonized. Imes deftly illustrates that the first five books of the Bible—law and all—are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

This book also offers a corrective. I regularly interact with Christians who believe that the “Old Testament God” is harsh and angry, while the “New Testament God” (Jesus), is the polar opposite. This view, which reflects the ancient heresy of Marcionism, still needs to be addressed in the church. Imes reminds us that God’s character is consistent throughout Scripture.

Finally, Bearing God’s Name will elicit delight in God’s word in readers. Imes’s affection for the Bible is inescapable. Her winsome tone and hermeneutic of love rooted in linguistic, historical, and cultural exegesis is a model for all of us.

This book is conversational and accessible, even to readers who have spent little time in the Hebrew Scriptures. It includes a discussion guide and video recommendations to accompany each chapter and would be ideal for small-group or individual study.

About the Author

  • Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Hinsdale (Illinois) Covenant Church. She and her husband, Justin, have two lively children and a lot of young trees. Her favorite book of the Bible right now is Ecclesiastes.

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