… anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death. Leviticus 24:16
“Blasphemy” is not a concept the 21st century is very familiar with. In earlier centuries, to “blaspheme” would be:
- to describe the name or character of God inaccurately,
- to use God’s name in a way other than worshipfully,
- to accuse God of acts or behavior God has not done,
- to bring dishonor to the name or character of God.
Blasphemy is slander directed at the Creator and Ruler of the universe. By this definition, millions of tweets, texts, and bumper stickers blaspheme God. So do hundreds of false prophecies offered in the name of God. This is why under Old Testament law, false prophets were to be stoned to death. The act of claiming God had spoken a word that was not from God was presumptuous. It claimed for one’s own words the authority that belonged to God alone.
Blasphemy and Prophecy
In the 21st century, those in charismatic and Pentecostal churches are inclined to be very merciful to those “learning” how to use “prophetic” gifts. Words spoken as from God are rarely publicly corrected, even when they offer potentially dangerous encouragements – for instance, to cease medical treatment in favor of a promised Divine healing. “Schools of Prophecy” attempt to help guide the young and over-enthusiastic.
In a similar way, silent Quaker meetings have, for several centuries, allowed any individual to speak who believes God has given them words for the congregation. Those who speak learn, over time, to “test the spirits” as their words are confirmed or not by other members. At the meeting’s end, members quietly approach speakers whose words seem to follow God’s leading, affirming them with the same language the group has used for hundreds of years: “Thou speakest to my concern, sister.”
Blasphemy and Church Disunity
But blasphemy, as used historically, would not just refer to these kinds of claims of direct inspiration. Sometimes I wonder what God would make of the interchurch disputes we spawn “in His name.” I wonder what God would make of some of the teachings we hear. Will God consider us blasphemers for claiming that God wants to bless everyone with lots of material things? For claiming that God is responsible for every tragic event in our lives? For suggesting that human sin has more influence in this world than God’s power?
Blasphemy and the Fear of God
I wonder. And I tremble. This is grounds for fearing God.
Yes, I have been rescued from darkness by Jesus. Yes, God the Father has adopted me into the same family as Jesus.
But I don’t really want my heavenly Father to hear me bad-mouthing or mischaracterizing him – even if it’s because I’m too stupid to understand Him very well.