Updated: Apr 30
What does someone yell after stubbing their toe or smashing their finger? “Jesus Christ!”
This is what many think it means to blaspheme – to use a name or title of God as a cuss word. And most Christians take it pretty seriously. I used to think a person couldn’t possibly be a Christian if they did this.
Is that really what the Bible says though?
“Blasphemy” in the Bible, as you probably know, is just the English translation of Hebrew and Greek words, but not all of them are always translated as “blasphemy”, because they’re used in a wider range of ways.
The basic meanings of the Hebrew and Greek usage behind “blasphemy” are:
To insult someone
To slander someone’s reputation
To make someone look insignificant, “to curse”
These all sound like things you say, but this isn’t the whole picture. How do we know? By the context and stories of people who “blasphemed”.
Interesting Case Study of Blasphemy
“I'm about to punish his house forever”, Yahweh says about Eli the priest, “because his sons blasphemed God” (1 Sam 3:13). There would be dire consequences on Eli’s family because of what his sons did.
His sons were priests serving in the temple. Part of their job was to take the people’s offerings and properly sacrifice them, with only certain portions allotted for themselves. But “they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:12), which was evident by how turned their service of YHWH and the people into a greedy, free-for-all serving their own bellies.
They liked roasted meat so they would grab whatever they wanted, as much as they wanted, from whoever they wanted. They even bullied the people into getting it, and when someone refused to cooperate, they threatened them, saying, “I will take it by force” (1 Sam. 2:16).
This is the equivalent to pastors robbing their congregation to pay for vacations.
This is what God calls “blasphemy”, and it had nothing to do with their speech about God. It was about their treatment of people on behalf of God. How much more of a crime is this than saying “Jesus Christ” irreverently? A big difference. And a big deal.
Paul said, “I was formerly a blasphemer” (1 Tim. 1:13). Was he sprinkling irreverent usages of God’s name in his sermons? Not with his mouth!
He was persecuting and assisting in executing Jesus’ followers – as a Pharisee, a leader of God’s people (see Acts 7 and 9). He wasn’t using swear words, he was a “persecutor, and insolent opponent” of God’s Messiah (1 Tim. 1:13). He was a thug in God’s name.
How To Blaspheme Jesus’s Name
In Romans, Paul’s great letter on how Jews and Gentiles are united under the gospel, he first makes the point that all people are on equal sinful grounds: the Gentiles (chapter 1), but the Jews too (chapter 2).
He charged the Jews with rebelling against God’s revelation the same way non-Jews do, but it’s more serious because they’re representatives of the character of God. For this reason, Paul says, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2:24). “Name” meaning someone’s reputation or character.
Paul was saying to the Jews that “non-Jews look at your violence, your rampant immorality, your self-centered greedy, other-condemning lifestyles and conclude that your God must be a scumbag like you.”
The first-century church exploded in growth because Christians took care of unwanted babies, divorced women, crippled men, and anyone who was in need or an outcast. They loved all people ferociously with their measly money and time, unconditionally, even blessing their enemies who put them to death.
Just read “Fox’s Book of Martyrs”. This isn’t the reputation of the American church though.
What is the reputation of Christians today? Look at how the media represents us, how our neighbors talk about us, how history portrays us, how people don’t like us.
No wonder. This is how they see us:
Caring more about rules than people
Valuing tradition over reason
Promoting hatred, prejudice, and sexism
Only interested in them as convert material
Being judgmental, critical, angry people
Serving a hateful, vindictive bully of a god
Don’t believe me? Ask them. I've literally heard it thousands of times. I used to shrug this off as, “that’s just because they’re blind to the truth and hate righteousness.” But often the reasons they don’t like us are true and righteous.
If this is the case, then as a society bearing Jesus's name, we’ve insulted him, slandered him, and made him look insignificant. We’ve blasphemed the reputation of the Son of God.
Not that all do this all the time – we don't. But none of us are without guilt. Not me or you.
Because of us, Jesus’ name is uglier than a cuss word to the pagan next door.
Think of someone you love. Now imagine if you couldn’t directly talk with them, so you hire a mediator. You pay them to give your loved one kind letters you wrote, to help them with chores, to assist them with their bills, to take time investing in their lives – to love them on your behalf.
Now imagine you find out that person spent all your money on McDonald's and movies for themselves, and instead only saw them to borrow their car and money to support their appetites – then said you told them to do it on their behalf. How would you feel?
Maybe now you can see how Jesus might feel about American Christianity.
We need a change.