The Mailbag: When is OMG a 3C violation?

Is it wrong for people to exclaim “Oh my G-d” in various situations? I have heard it said casually as well as in response to a tragedy or cry for protection. I would assume that it could be taking the Lord’s name in vain in certain circumstances (e.g. Oh my G–, look at that cute kitten!) but not in others. How can I discern when it is used correctly in ambiguous situations?

That’s a great question since this phrase and its initials (OMG) are used so frequently in real life, on TV, on social media, in books… it’s everywhere! Bless you for wanting your speech to honor the Lord!

A couple of explanatory points before I give my answer:

I’m including the initials OMG because when people see or hear those initials, they understand it to mean “Oh my G–!”. I’ve heard a few Christians say that when they use the letters OMG, in their minds, the “G” stands for gosh or goodness. That’s great, but that’s not what the overwhelming majority of other people think when they see or hear those letters, and they can’t read your mind, so that’s not what it means to them.

The third commandment (taking God’s name in vain) is not limited to this phrase and its initials. There are many ways to misuse God’s name: profanity or offhand phrases (ex: “Good L-rd!”) that include any of the Trinity’s names, taking a vow or oath in God’s name flippantly and/or not keeping it, misrepresenting God or His Word to others, etc. However, the reader is asking only about this particular phrase, so I will simply answer the question she asked.

The third Commandment is:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Exodus 20:7

Let’s start with a fast and dirty rule of thumb in case that’s what you need: in today’s society in general, this phrase/initials are virtually always used in a way that takes God’s name in vain.

There are only a couple of instances I can think of in which using this phrase is not taking God’s name in vain, and I rarely even hear them in church, let alone on the street, on TV, etc. (Readers, if you can think of others, please comment and let us know.)

There are several verses of Scripture in various books of the Bible that contain the phrase, “O my God”. (I found it interesting that Nehemiah was fond of that phrase, as were the psalmists. Those two books contain the most verses with that phrase.) Here are a couple of examples:

Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Nehemiah 5:19

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.
Psalm 25:2

If you’ll examine all of these verses you might notice a few things about the way this phrase is used in Scripture that sets it apart from the way this phrase is normally used today.

First, this phrase is used to address God directly. The people saying or writing this phrase in Scripture are talking to God, not using God’s name as an exclamatory (like we would use the words Wow! or Cool!) without giving Him any thought at all.

Second, this phrase is used reverently and worshipfully. It is used to honor God and the fullness of His nature and character, not, as you mentioned, to exclaim over kittens or some other paltry earthly happening.

Third, this phrase is used in the context of prayer, much the same way we would reverently address God in prayer with phrases like “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father”.

(One more thing that might be of interest to my fellow grammar nerds: When you see the phrase in Scripture, it always starts with “O”. When you see it written in the common exclamatory usage, it always starts with “Oh”. That’s not an accident. It’s meant to set apart the two discrete usages. Read more here.)

So the first scenario I can think of in which saying “O my God” would not be taking God’s name in vain would be things like: if you are quoting one of these passages, singing a worship song that either quotes one of these passages or uses the phrase in the same way in which it’s used in these passages, or if your pastor uses this phrase in his sermon or prayer in the same way in which it is used in Scripture.

The second scenario is similar: If you feel comfortable using this phrase in your own private prayer time by using it in the same way in which it’s used in Scripture – speaking directly, reverently, and worshipfully to God in prayer – there’s nothing sinful or unbiblical about that.

I would discourage the use of this phrase in public prayer, though, because it could confuse the people who hear it, causing them to think you’re breaking the third Commandment even if you aren’t. Additionally, if they hear you using that phrase in prayer with no explanation they may think you’re using it in the common (OMG!) way and assume that since you’re using it in prayer it’s OK for them to use that phrase in any situation. Sadly, most people are probably not familiar with the proper, reverent way this beautiful phrase is used in Scripture.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 5


Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4

Exodus 20:7

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Leviticus 19:12

You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

James 5:12

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Jeremiah 14:13-14

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” 14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.

Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Psalm 111:9

He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 6:9

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

John 14:6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Acts 4:12

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Romans 10:31

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Questions to Consider:

1. Think about the phrase “in vain.” What does it mean? Sometimes we can get a better understanding of the Commandments if we turn the “thou shalt nots” into “thou shalts.” For example, “You shall not commit adultery,” could be restated, “You shall be faithful to your spouse.” “You shall not bear false witness,” could be restated, “You shall be honest.” How would you restate, “You shall not take God’s name in vain” as a “thou shalt”?

2. What is God’s response to those who take His name in vain (Exodus 20:7b)? Recalling that, at this point in history, God is in the process of setting His people apart from pagan nations and establishing Israel as a nation, why would it have been important for His people to revere and honor God’s name? Imagine you’re an Israelite at this time. Think back on what God has done for you and your people thus far. What should be your heart attitude toward God’s name?

3. Leviticus 19:12 and James 5:12 are cross-references to Exodus 20:7. How do these verses define taking God’s name in vain? How does swearing falsely (invoking God’s name and then lying or not following through with your promise or oath) profane God’s name? What does it say about a person’s esteem or reverence for God when she swears falsely? How would the pagan neighbor of an Israelite have viewed God if an Israelite swore falsely? How might lost people view Christians who swear falsely?

4. Leviticus 19:12 says that swearing falsely profanes God’s name. Examine these Scriptures. What were some other examples of Old Testament behavior that profaned God’s name? What are some ways Christians profane God’s name besides swearing falsely?

5. Examine the Jeremiah 14 and Matthew 7 passages. How did Old Testament false prophets and New Testament false teachers (as well as false teachers of today) misuse, dishonor, profane, and take God’s name in vain? How does their invoking of God’s name (“thus says the Lord,” “I declare ___ in Jesus’ name,” etc.) to give credibility to their message or ministry point to the power of using God’s name and why we are not to use it flippantly or misuse it? Do you think people are more likely to believe or give credibility to something when God’s name is attached to it?

6. Consider the Psalm, Philippians, and Matthew 6 passages. What do these verses indicate about the nature and character of God’s name (and God Himself)? What does this tell you about how we should treat the name of God? Can you think of any other verses that describe God’s name? (Hint- go to Bible Gateway and search phrases such as “name of the Lord,” “Jesus name,” etc.)

7. What do the John, Acts, and Romans verses teach us about the name of Christ as it relates to salvation? What does it mean that salvation is in His “name”? How is the role Christ’s name plays in salvation an indicator that we should treat His name as high and holy?

8. The New Testament says that Christians are “ambassadors for Christ.” We bear His name (Christ-ian) and are His representatives on earth. Colossians 3:17 says we are to do “everything” in the name of the Lord Jesus. Is it fair to say that when we sin while bearing His name and representing Him, that we are misusing His name and taking it in vain? Give some specific examples of how you, as an ambassador for Christ, have taken God’s name in vain by sinning.


Many people think taking God’s name in vain is restricted to using God’s name as profanity, an expletive, or an exclamation (“Oh my G-d!” “J-sus Chr-st!” “OMG,” etc.). As we’ve seen, there are many other ways to take God’s name in vain, but it still includes profanity, expletives, and exclamations. Examine your vocabulary this week. Do you use God’s or Jesus’ name (Interesting how we never hear the Holy Spirit’s name invoked this way, isn’t it? I wonder why.) in any of these ways? Repent, ask God to change your speech, and work on speaking God’s name reverently.