Swear Not At All…and the Alleged Exceptions

No oaths. No promises. No swearing. Just you at your word.

An oath is swearing or making a promise about something, whether it be made to or by God, or man.

Some who defend the swearing of oaths define it as, “calling God to witness to the truth of a statement”.1

Webster2 defines it as: Oath: a formal and serious promise to tell the truth or to do something; something (as a promise) corroborated by an oath.3

Vow: a serious promise to do something or to behave in a certain way;

a solemn promise or assertion; specifically: one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or condition

Synonymspromise, pledge, troth, vow, word

Jesus addressed the subject of oaths in the most influential sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount.

Book of Matthew, chapter 5:

5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Does God forbid His children to swear oaths?

Jesus made it crystal-clear the profound new standard which He was requiring of those in His Kingdom no oaths ever, for any reason or purpose, in any way. “Swear not at all,” has nothing unclear about it.

So what we see here is that we are to never swear an oath, make a promise or take a vow. Our communications should always remain at a yes or no basis. We should never declare, “I swear to God, it wasn’t me”! or, “I promise, I’ll be there!” For who are we, that we should be omniscient and KNOW, without a doubt, that we will surely do this or do that. Swearing and oathing are analogous to going against the will of God in that one claims or asserts to have the power over the outcome, or the control of themselves, the environment and the events.

Let’s look at what James says about this:

James, chapter 4:

4:13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

[4:15 For that ye ought to say, IF THE LORD WILL, we shall live, and do this, or that.“] (Emphasis; brackets mine)

Then James has this to say to us:

5:12 But [above all things], my brethren, SWEAR NOT, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by [any other] oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” (Emphasis; brackets mine)

Again, in these verses, we find the answer to the question “does God want or forbid His children to swear oaths?” James proclaims to us “swear not,” and then instructs us to avoid swearing even by heaven, earth or “by any other oath.” “Any other” would include swearing by God Himself.4 It seems that he too was covering all the bases.

Jesus says, “swear not AT ALL“! Anything other than just a yes or no when it comes to answering is going against His precept, for example, “I promise” and “I swear”, etc. Christ says that it comes from evil. James exclaims that anything more than yea or nay results in condemnation.

Logically speaking, if we have to generate promises and swears, vows and oaths, then we must not be very reliable at our word. Some estimate that they communicate in this manner because people do not believe them otherwise, and so these statements are thus convincing ‘proofs’ that they are serious, and that they mean business; they imply that they are ‘more trustworthy‘ when they vow an oath or promise something.5 But the bible maintains that we are uncertain of the events that will take place from second to second or minute to minute, etc. So, God-willing, we will do this or do that. Or buy this and buy that. Or say this or say that. Let our yesses be yesses, and our noes, be noes.

Despite the unequivocal instructions given by Jesus and James, there are many today and there have been several throughout history who asseverate that the swearing of oaths is permissible, and even highly delightful to God. They insist that what Jesus and James were indeed forbidding were only false and frivolous oaths not any oath at all. This position possesses some serious dilemmas.

First, if they intended to forbid only false and frivolous oaths, why did they not convey that they were forbidding only false and frivolous oaths?

Secondly, why did they employ such absolute and exclusive language: “Swear not at all,” “swear not … by any other oath” and “above all things”? Thirdly, Jesus was clearly following the pattern of the other segments in the Sermon on the Mount where He elevated the standards of the Law of Moses (“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time … but I say unto you”).

The Law of Moses forbade false oaths, as we have seen; if Jesus only forbade false oaths, He would not have elevated the standard at all. Let’s meander over and take a peek into what some of these ‘great men’ wrote and promoted:

I disagree with Matthew Henry when he states in, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary” the following:

“There is no reason to consider that solemn oaths in a court of justice, or on other proper occasions, are wrong, provided they are taken with due reverence. But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, must be sinful, as well as all those expressions which are appeals to God, though persons think thereby to evade the guilt of swearing. The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them. Our Lord does not enjoin the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, but such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary.”

The first sentence above claims that there is NO reason to consider oath taking in “certain situations” as wrong. It also contains a lot of ‘begging the question’. For instance, what are these “proper occasions” and how does one effectively identify them? It leaves the objective command by our Lord to be determined subjectively.

This, and other commentaries, which I will share with you momentarily, all claim these supposed “exceptions” that allow us to disobey the Lord, conscience-free. Futhermore, Matthew Henry states,

“But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, MUST be sinful…”

Again, Mr. Henry leaves subjectivity to be the determining factor in deciding when vowing and oathing are to be considered sinful. He then communicates to us his idea of when it becomes sinful, as if Christ proclaimed it with ambiguity. Let’s take another look at what our Lord Jesus and His brother James, the apostle, said:

Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

James 5:12 But [above all things], my brethren, SWEAR NOT, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by [any other] oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. (Emphasis; brackets mine)

Jesus explicitly and plainly says, “Swear not AT ALL.” He does not then proceed to list several ‘exceptions’. Nor does He infer or imply any exceptions. James declares, “ABOVE ALL THINGS, swear NOT…” He likewise does not proceed to list any ‘exceptions’, or even allude to them. The statement, “by any other oath” (5:12) definitely leaves out any possibility, or room, for exceptions.

This next commentary, titled, “Pulpit Commentary“, has a reference to Augustine that quotes him as saying,

“Paul took oaths in his writings (2Cor. 1:23; 11:31) ; and our Lord Himself did not refuse to answer when put upon His oath” (Matt. 26:63,64).

Right up front, just because X commits Y in the bible does not mean that it’s necessarily pleasing to the Lord, nor is it necessarily by definition acceptable to imitate. David was a man after God’s own heart, but DID commit sins, sins we should not entertain. If it is true that swearing (promising, oathing, vowing) is sinful, then just because X did it does not make it justified. Peter did it in Matthew 26:72 when he denied that he knew the Lord, “with an oath”. The next series in the article states that our Lord took vows and made oaths. But He is God. There is no one or nothing greater by which to swear, and so He swears by Himself.

Just because God can do something does not mean that we can, or are permitted, to perform it.

Did Paul swear?

Earlier in the sermonette, I made mention that some who defend the swearing of oaths often define an oath as:

calling God to witness to the truth of a statement”.

Our opponents who contend that the swearing of oaths is permissible point to the epistles of Paul, claiming that he swore several times in the course of his writings. The verses quoted here are used to support this fallacious claim:

  • For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers (Rom. 1:9).
  • I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 9:1).
  • But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay (2 Corinthians 1:18).
  • Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:23).
  • The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not (2 Corinthians 11:31).
  • Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not (Galatians 1:20).
  • For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:8).
  • For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness (I Thessalonians 2:5).
  • Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity (1 Tim. 2:7).

What is it in these verses which lead some to believe that the Apostle Paul swore oaths? If you remember, those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling on God for confirmation, or to witness to the truth of a statement”. In all of these verses, Paul calls on God to confirm what he is saying. Those who defend oaths, then, take these statements as oaths, and as confirmation that it is perfectly acceptable to God to swear oaths. But God is not of confusion.

As we pointed out before, their definition of the word “oath” is faulty and fallacious, and thus their rationale regarding these verses is also faulty and fallacious. Although Paul did call on God to confirm his words, he did not use oaths (saying “I swear”)6.

Whenever a teaching of Jesus ‘seems’ to be contradicted by Paul, we must find a way to reconcile the two which leaves Jesus’ words supreme and uncompromised not the inverse. Jesus is the King, and the servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20) even if that servant is the great Apostle Paul. Though of course, Paul’s writings never do repudiate or contravene Jesus’ words.

In the commentary known as, “John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible“, he states the following:

“But I say unto you, swear not at all,….which must not be understood in the strictest sense, as though it was not lawful to take an oath upon any occasion, in the affair of moment, in a solemn serious manner, and in the name of God; which may be safely done: but of rash swearing, about trivial matters, and by the creatures…”

Really? Let’s look again at those verses and see if that’s the intended conclusion by God Himself and the apostle James:

Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for [whatsoever is more than these] cometh of evil.

James 5:12 But [above all things], my brethren, SWEAR NOT, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by [any other] oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Mr. Gill says that the Lord’s commands are not to be interpreted “in the strictest” sense. James says, “[above all things], swear not“. Jesus, our Saviour, proclaims and commands us to, “swear not [AT ALL]” (all exclusive). What does “at all” mean?

Mr. Gill says that it is not unlawful (meaning not sinful) to take an oath when it’s an exception. Where are these exceptions in the NT? When and where did James and Jesus give to us these exceptions? Jesus and James both declare that anything more than a simple yes or no when communicating, is sinful (unlawful). An oath or a vow is more than a yes or no, when affirming or denying.

The website, vftonline, has an article titled, “Does the Bible Forbid Taking an Oath?7 Upon reading it, it states the following:

“The Bible says it’s OK to take an oath. In fact, the Westminster Confession of Faith says, ‘it is a sin to refuse an oath touching any thing good and just, being imposed by lawful authority.'”8

When I have more time, I will deal with the WCF, but first let’s see what else this article has to say:

“There are some Christians who understand the bible to teach that it is wrong to take any oath at any time. I don’t understand the bible to say that. [Not at all.”](brackets mine)

Here the article writer expresses to us what HE feels that the phrase “not at all” means. His use of the term implies exactly it’s intended meaning – “not at all”; ie, “never” and “do not ever”. But when Jesus and James use the term, it’s not to be interpreted to mean “in the strictest sense“, according to Mr. Gill.

It then becomes subjective and allows for “unspoken exceptions“, exceptions that are subject to our judgment, bias and interpretation.

Below is an amalgamation of Christ’s words with the commentators assertions. Let us see if they contrast or agree with the written word, even spoken word. I start out with Christ’s words and then insert the commentators words after the conjunction.

1. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for [whatsoever is more than these] cometh of evil. ButThere is no reason to consider that solemn oaths in a court of justice, or on other proper occasions, are wrong, provided they are taken with due reverence. But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, must be sinful, as well as all those expressions which are appeals to God, though persons think thereby to evade the guilt of swearing. The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them. Our Lord does not enjoin the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, but such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary. But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, MUST be sinful… (Christ vs. Matthew Henry)

2. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for [whatsoever is more than these] cometh of evil. Butwhich must not be understood in the strictest sense, as though it was not lawful to take an oath upon any occasion, in the affair of moment, in a solemn serious manner, and in the name of God; which may be safely done: but of rash swearing, about trivial matters, and by the creatures…(Christ vs. John Gill)

3. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for [whatsoever is more than these] cometh of evil. ButThe Bible says it’s OK to take an oath. There are some Christians who understand the bible to teach that it is wrong to take any oath at any time. I don’t understand the bible to say that. Not at all. (Christ vs. VFTonline)

4. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for [whatsoever is more than these] cometh of evil. Butit is a sin to refuse an oath touching any thing good and just, being imposed by lawful authority. (Christ vs. The WCF)

I could have also included James’ words, which reinforce the same idea as Christ’s. If Christ truly spoke in this manner, no one would be able to make heads or tails as to why He would speak without using the law of non-contradiction. Furthermore, if we exegete all scripture in the same manner that these men have with these verses, then we would find ourselves in a lot of trouble, namely hell, and the wrath of God.

I recently came across a few websites about this subject and at the bottom of one of them a person commented with an interesting statement. I will call him, “Q”.

(Q) “There are no laws for Christians. Rember [sic] Paul said Christ is the end of the law for those who believe? Follow your heart. If you need to be sworn in before testifying, I see nothing wrong with that. I think what the bible is referring to was a common practice back then that people had of swearing oaths to God in order to validate certain things.

The following is my dissection and rebuttal of his comment:

(Q): “There are no laws for Christians.

(ME) ( Ever heard of the Law of Christ; law of love; of liberty, etc…)

(Q): “Rember [sic] Paul said Christ is the end of the law for those who believe?”

(Me) So anything Christ says now (commands and lawfulness) is not to be followed because there are now NO laws?

(Q): Follow your heart.

(ME) Follow our hearts? Jeremiah 17:9 says,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

(See also Gen 6:5, Psalms 10:3, Proverbs 3:5)

(Q): “If you need to be sworn in before testifying, I see nothing wrong with that.”

(ME): He sees nothing wrong with that. So now we are to judge the word with subjectivity.

(ME) Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

James 5:12 But [above all things], my brethren, SWEAR NOT, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by [any other] oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

(Q): “I think what the bible is referring to was a common practice back then that people had of swearing oaths to God in order to validate certain things.”

(ME): He thinks. Look, even if this is true, it is also widely practiced today, and maybe even moreso. If Jesus wanted to command something in reference to it ceasing, then so be it. I contend that we should listen to Him.)

Christians should not need to make oaths promising certain acts or behaviors. Simply saying, “I will” should be enough. It is sad that a man’s word is no longer considered enough, and Christians are going to court against one another over such things.

We are to speak plainly and truthfully. The passages of Matthew and James tell us that anything more than yes or no comes from evil. It comes from the deceitfulness that is in us all; all men are liars. When we feel we must swear by heaven, by our own head, by any other thing, then I think we are really pushing something.

I am content.”

A twenty-four-year-old young man stood before the city council of colonial New York City and said these words. What was he content with? He was content to be put back in jail. For what cause? For refusing to disobey the words of Jesus.

Early in 1745, young David Zeisberger had set off with Christian Frederick Post to learn the language of the Mohawk Indians. The two young Moravian missionaries were arrested and charged with refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the King of England. The colony of New York had a new law which stated that “Every Vagrant Preacher, Moravian, Disguised Papist [Roman Catholic], or any other person presuming to reside among and teach the Indians” who had no license and had not taken the oath “shall be treated as a person taking upon him to seduce the Indians from his Majesty’s interest.”

The council read the new law to David, and asked him if he would take the oath. He replied, “I hope the honorable Council will not force me to do it.” They said, “We will not constrain you; you may let it alone if it is against your conscience; but you will have to go to prison again.”

I am content,” David told them. So back into jail he went, with his companion, for a total of fifty-one days. “We count it an honor to suffer for the Saviour’s sake,” David wrote.

These two Moravians sat in a New York prison for standing against the swearing of oaths. For others, refusal to swear has led to death. How does God view the swearing of oaths? Is swearing really that bad – or might it be, as some suggest, an act of worship which is highly pleasing to God? What does Jesus say?

Matthew, chapter 12:

12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 12:37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Romans 3:4

let God be true, but every man a liar;

NOTE: We as humans would have to add clause after clause in order to even think we could perform a vow/oath. For example, here is a scenario: John Q. has a son who is having a baseball game at 5:00 EST. John may be getting off of work in time to see the game, but isn’t really sure he can do it because it is going to depend on his speed and the number of batches he has left to put together. But his son says, “dad, will you be at the game tonight?”

John Q. says, “Yes son, I will be there.”

Son says, “but you said that last time, and you didn’t show up.”

I know, I know”, says the father. “But I swear…I promise I’ll be there this time!”

See anything wrong with this? In order for his dad to say that he promises to be there, AND perform it, he would have to be omniscient..and even omnipotent.

Otherwise we would have to say something like this: “If my work gets done, if my orders don’t back up, if my car starts, if I don’t have a heart attack or stroke, if my legs do not break, if another car doesn’t hit me, if I do not run out of gas, if I don’t get robbed and killed, if you, son, don’t get caught up in any of these scenarios, or your mother, or if it doesn’t rain your game out…so on and so forth. It would take all of that working out, amongst many more things that are possible and out of our control, for it to happen. So for someone to promise and swear and vow things when they have no knowledge or control over the outcome from second to second, is evil and ignorant.9

The “marriage covenant” argument is rendered ineffective because there is no formal oath or vow. You say, “I do” and not “I swear”. If your pastor, preacher or whomever it is that marries you, mentions swears, vows and oaths, do not take them. A normal marriage has words like, “do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, for better or worse and in sickness and in health…” the other party says of his own words, “I do”. This is just you at your word, which is what it should be. Some contend that a marriage covenant is a promise, or a swearing or an oath. No. It is an AGREEMENT. Nothing more. You both agree to be married. No one has sworn that they promise these things mentioned, nor does one vow it or oath it.

God is the only being that is able to both keep an oath and perform a vow faithfully.10

Lastly here, regarding the commentaries, I am going to delve into what Calvin said regarding oaths. I do this because he is the only one of the early writers who has done an extensive treatment on the subject. This is taken from, John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 22-27, pgs 240-244

THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN.

22. The purport of this Commandment is, that the majesty of the name of God is to be held sacred. In sum, therefore, it means, that we must not profane it by using it irreverently or contemptuously. This prohibition implies a corresponding precept—viz. that it be our study and care to treat his name with religious veneration.

True

Wherefore it becomes us to regulate our minds and our tongues, so as never to think or speak of God and his mysteries without reverence and great soberness, and never, in estimating his works, to have any feeling towards him but one of deep veneration. We must, I say, steadily observe the three following things:—First, Whatever our mind conceives of him, whatever our tongue utters, must bespeak his excellence, and correspond to the sublimity of his sacred name; in short, must be fitted to extol its greatness. Secondly, We must not rashly and preposterously pervert his sacred word and adorable mysteries to purposes of ambition, or avarice, or amusement, but, according as they bear the impress of his dignity, must always maintain them in due honour and esteem. Lastly, We must not detract from or throw obloquy upon his works, as miserable men are wont insultingly to do, but must laud every action which we attribute to him as wise, and just, and good.

This is to sanctify the name of God.

Again, very true.

When we act otherwise, his name is profaned with vain and wicked abuse, because it is applied to a purpose foreign to that to which it is consecrated. Were there nothing worse, in being deprived of its dignity it is gradually brought into contempt. But if there is so much evil in the rash and unseasonable employment of the divine name, there is still more evil in its being employed for nefarious purposes, as is done by those who use it in necromancy, cursing, illicit exorcisms, and other impious incantations.

I agree.

But the Commandment refers especially to the case of oaths, in which a perverse employment of the divine name is particularly detestable; and this it does the more effectually to deter us from every species of profanation.

That the thing here commanded relates to the worship of God, and the reverence due to his name, and not to the equity which men are to cultivate towards each other, is apparent from this, that afterwards, in the Second Table, there is a condemnation of the perjury and false testimony by which human society is injured, and that the repetition would be superfluous, if, in this Commandment, the duty of charity were handled. Moreover, this is necessary even for distinction, because, as was observed, God has, for good reason, divided his Law into two tables. The inference then is, that God here vindicates his own right, and defends his sacred name, but does not teach the duties which men owe to men.

When pertaining to oaths and swearing, the above statements should be all the more reasons to not do it, AT ALL.

23. In the first place, we must consider what an oath is. An oath, then, is calling God to witness that what we say is true.

Not true. If I call three men in who were witnesses to an incident, my calling them to witness and to tell their story, or back up my claim to the incident, is not an oath. That is having someone to verify that what you say is true and accurate, or to deny that what you said was true and reliable. If I call on God to be a witness as to whether or not what I say is true, this is nothing near an oath, or swearing or vowing. For example, If I say to someone, “As God as my witness, I did’t hit the man!”, it is not the same as saying, “I swear (or even worse, I swear to God), I did not hit the man!”. Oathing and vowing are promising to perform something in which you really have no control over in the first place. Swearing is exclaiming something other than just a yes or no, and further condemns the one who is lying. Many people lie while at the same time swearing the opposite, and therefore condemn themselves (especially if they bring God’s name into it) further than the original lie, for they put an emphasis on the truth allthewhile deceiving those who are listening.

Execrations being manifestly insulting to God, are unworthy of being classed among oaths. That an oath, when duly taken, is a species of divine worship, appears from many passages of Scripture, as when Isaiah prophesies of the admission of the Assyrians and Egyptians to a participation in the covenant, he says, “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts,” (Isaiah 19:18). Swearing by the name of the Lord here means, that they will make a profession of religion. In like manner, speaking of the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom, it is said, “He who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth: and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth,” (Isaiah 65:16). In Jeremiah it is said, “If they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, The Lord liveth; as they taught my people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built in the midst of my people,” (Jer. 12:16).

Old Testament. Also, a red herring.

By appealing to the name of the Lord, and calling him to witness, we are justly said to declare our own religious veneration of him.

I see no problem here. This is not oathing or vowing or swearing though. I can just as easily say, “I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.” And another could say, “Jesus is NOT my Lord and Saviour”. No vowing or oathing or swearing involved, and it is just as condemnatory.

For we thus acknowledge that he is eternal and unchangeable truth, inasmuch as we not only call upon him, in preference to others, as a fit witness to the truth, but as its only assertor, able to bring hidden things to light, a discerner of the hearts. When human testimony fails, we appeal to God as witness, especially when the matter to be proved lies hid in the conscience.

Yes, and people still will lie regardless of whether or not they have sworn or vowed or oathed. God discerns the heart regardless of whether you oathed or not. Even worse perhaps, because one DID make an oath or swore, or vowed.

For which reason, the Lord is grievously offended with those who swear by strange gods, and construes such swearing as a proof of open revolt, “Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods,” (Jer. 5:7). The heinousness of the offence is declared by the punishment denounced against it, “I will cut off them that swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham,” (Zeph. 1:4, 5).

I agree.

24. Understanding that the Lord would have our oaths to be a species of divine worship, we must be the more careful that they do not, instead of worship, contain insult, or contempt, and vilification.

Maybe we should listen to Christ and James so that we never fall into this condemnation. Maybe we should re-read those verses again. And since the Lord is the discerner of hearts, I can say at any time “yes” or “no” when someone asks me anything, even of my allegiance. If I say “no” that God is not my God, then I will be judged for those words, even though I used no oath or vow, and it will still be just as much of an insult as if I had sworn that He was, but really in my heart He was not.

It is no slight insult to swear by him and do it falsely: hence in the Law this is termed profanation (Lev. 19:12). For if God is robbed of his truth, what is it that remains? Without truth he could not be God. But assuredly he is robbed of his truth, when he is made the approver and attester of what is false.

And for this reason, James and Christ condemn this act of swearing, not only falsely and frivolously, but at all. For how can you know what you will do, or say, or what circumstances will keep you from performing what you promised?

Hence, when Joshua is endeavouring to make Achan confess the truth, he says, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel,” (Joshua 7:19); intimating, that grievous dishonour is done to God when men swear by him falsely.

And no wonder; for, as far as in them lies, his sacred name is in a manner branded with falsehood. That this mode of expression was common among the Jews whenever any one was called upon to take an oath, is evident from a similar obtestation used by the Pharisees, as given in John (John 9:24); Scripture reminds us of the caution which we ought to use by employing such expressions as the following:—“As the Lord liveth;” “God do so and more also;” “I call God for a record upon my soul.” Such expressions intimate, that we cannot call God to witness our statement, without imprecating his vengeance for perjury if it is false.

When I say, “God is my witness, I didn’t hit the man”, but really I did hit the man, the only thing that happened was I called God to witness my telling of a lie that I just spoke, or conveyed. For God sees all, and nothing is hidden from Him. He witnesses ALL THINGS. An oath and a vow are different in that you are promising to perform something you cannot control, as if you were omniscient and knew that things would work toward the end of your goal. It could be that which you promised or vowed was in direct oppositon to God’s will for that situation and you just vowed to not let A happen, or to arrive at time B, but God had purposed otherwise. But you just promised, even swearing by the Lord’s name. We should always say, “God-willing, we will do this or do that” or just say yes or no when asked something.

25. The name of God is vulgarised and vilified when used in oaths, which, though true, are superfluous.

I agree. So does Jesus and James.

This, too, is to take his name in vain.

Yes it is. I again agree.

Wherefore, it is not sufficient to abstain from perjury, unless we, at the same time, remember that an oath is not appointed or allowed for passion or pleasure, but for necessity; and that, therefore, a licentious use is made of it by him who uses it on any other than necessary occasions.

What necessity? What exception? Where did Christ and James give us these necessities and exceptions? How does one determine these necessities? Empiricism? Subjectivism?

Moreover, no case of necessity can be pretended, unless where some purpose of religion or charity is to be served. In this matter, great sin is committed in the present day—sin the more intolerable in this, that its frequency has made it cease to be regarded as a fault, though it certainly is not accounted trivial before the judgment-seat of God. The name of God is everywhere profaned by introducing it indiscriminately in frivolous discourse; and the evil is disregarded, because it has been long and audaciously persisted in with impunity.

Yes…hence the first and second commandments of the decalogue.

The commandment of the Lord, however, stands; the penalty also stands, and will one day receive effect. Special vengeance will be executed on those who have taken the name of God in vain.

Good. That is why we say “yes” and “no” instead vowing, swearing and oathing.

Another form of violation is exhibited, when, with manifest impiety, we, in our oaths, substitute the holy servants of God for God himself, thus conferring upon them the glory of his Godhead. It is not without cause the Lord has, by a special commandment, required us to swear by his name, and, by a special prohibition, forbidden us to swear by other gods. The Apostle gives a clear attestation to the same effect, when he says, that “men verily swear by the greater;” but that “when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself;” (Heb. 6:16, 13).

Men verily swear by the greater because no one trusted them at their word, and so they bring God into the mix, in hopes that they will be taken seriously. It certanly doesn’t mean that it is okay for them to swear, it just states that they do these things and why they do them.

26. The Anabaptists, not content with this moderate use of oaths, condemn all, without exception, on the ground of our Saviour’s general prohibition, “I say unto you, Swear not at all:” “Let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil,” (Mt. 5:34; James 5:12).

And I commend them for their stance, although I am not Anabaptist. If they had only one thing right, this would be it.

In this way, they inconsiderately make a stumbling-stone of Christ, setting him in opposition to the Father, as if he had descended into the world to annul his decrees.

Absolutely not. There is no stumbling-block with Christ’s words, except to those whom it is meant. Did not Christ abolish the sacrifices? Did not God decree the sacrifices?

In the Law, the Almighty not only permits an oath as a thing that is lawful (this were amply sufficient), but, in a case of necessity, actually commands it (Exod. 22:11).

Sure. In the Old Covenant. Just as in the Old Covenant, Israel had to make sacrifices as a shadow of Christ’s sacrifice, but now it is NO LONGER PERMITTED.

Christ again declares, that he and his Father are one;

True.

(continued)…that he only delivers what was commanded of his Father;

True.

…that his doctrine is not his own, but his that sent him (John 10:18, 30; 7:16).

True.

What then? Will they make God contradict himself, by approving and commanding at one time, what he afterwards prohibits and condemns?

Nope. Not at all. Will you do the same thing, allthewhile not acknowledging that things DO change, but God Himself does not? God did condemn murder, but He thought it permissable to have Abraham kill his own son, just because God commanded it. It matters not that He stopped it. What matters is that your question should’ve been answered yourself. We see God condemning murder. We see that God approved of it with Abraham (or many other instances in the bible where people are killed at God’s command), and then we see God stop Abraham.

But as there is some difficulty in what our Saviour says on the subject of swearing, it may be proper to consider it a little.

Yes.

Here, however, we shall never arrive at the true meaning, unless we attend to the design of Christ, and the subject of which he is treating. His purpose was, neither to relax nor to curtail the Law, but to restore the true and genuine meaning, which had been greatly corrupted by the false glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees. If we attend to this we shall not suppose that Christ condemned all oaths but those only which transgressed the rule of the Law.

Then why didn’t Christ and James state this as the case? I distinctly recall James saying, “ANY OTHER OATH”. I distinctly remember Jesus saying, “SWEAR NOT AT ALL”, and not just, “don’t swear lightly”. We already knew that. And at the time Jesus spoke these words, He was elevating the standards of the Law.

It is evident, from the oaths themselves, that the people were accustomed to think it enough if they avoided perjury, whereas the Law prohibits not perjury merely, but also vain and superfluous oaths. Therefore our Lord, who is the best interpreter of the Law, reminds them that there is a sin not only in perjury, but in swearing. How in swearing? Namely, by swearing vainly.

Yet, He and James said none of that. They said, “any and all oaths” (paraphrase).

Those oaths, however, which are authorised by the Law, he leaves safe and free.

Where did He do this?

Those who condemn oaths think their argument invincible when they fasten on the expression, not at all.

Whatever Jesus says IS invincible. So yes, we do think as such.

The expression applies not to the word swear, but to the subjoined forms of oaths.

Not so. Otherwise, He could’ve just left out the words, “not at all” and the command, as you interpret it, would still be intact.

When Christ mentions, “neither by…” He is expounding on the various forms and conveying that ALL forms are invalid.

For part of the error consisted in their supposing, that when they swore by the heaven and the earth, they did not touch the name of God. The Lord, therefore, after cutting off the principal source of prevarication, deprives them of all subterfuges, warning them against supposing that they escape guilt by suppressing the name of God, and appealing to heaven and earth.

This is true as far as why it is still profanity to swear by other things. Yes, I agree. Also, this is why Christ and James forbid them. None at all shall be spoken, to avoid CONDEMNATION.

For it ought here to be observed in passing, that although the name of God is not expressed, yet men swear by him in using indirect forms, as when they swear by the light of life, by the bread they eat, by their baptism, or any other pledges of the divine liberality towards them. Some erroneously suppose that our Saviour, in that passage, rebukes superstition, by forbidding men to swear by heaven and earth, and Jerusalem. He rather refutes the sophistical subtilty of those who thought it nothing vainly to utter indirect oaths, imagining that they thus spared the holy name of God, whereas that name is inscribed on each of his mercies. The case is different, when any mortal living or dead, or an angel, is substituted in the place of God, as in the vile form devised by flattery in heathen nations, “By the life or genius of the king”; for, in this case, the false apotheosis obscures and impairs the glory of the one God.

This is true as far as why it is still profanity to swear by other things. Yes, I agree. Also, this is why Christ and James forbid them. None at all shall be spoken, to avoid CONDEMNATION.

But when nothing else is intended than to confirm what is said by an appeal to the holy name of God, although it is done indirectly, yet his majesty is insulted by all frivolous oaths.

And now, offended by ALL oaths.

Christ strips this abuse of every vain pretext when he says “Swear not at all”. To the same effect is the passage in which James uses the words of our Saviour above quoted (James 5:12). For this rash swearing has always prevailed in the world, notwithstanding that it is a profanation of the name of God. If you refer the words, “not at all”, to the act itself, as if every oath, without exception, were unlawful, what will be the use of the explanation which immediately follows—Neither by heaven, neither by the earth, &c.? These words make it clear, that the object in view was to meet the cavils by which the Jews thought they could extenuate their fault.

When Christ mentions, “neither by…” He is expounding on the various forms and conveying that ALL forms are invalid. Also, this is why Christ and James forbid them. None at all shall be spoken, to avoid CONDEMNATION.

27. Every person of sound judgment must now see that in that passage our Lord merely condemned those oaths which were forbidden by the Law.

Yet Christ never said that. Nor did James. Sound judgment? Hmm.

For he who in his life exhibited a model of the perfection which he taught, did not object to oaths whenever the occasion required them; and the disciples, who doubtless in all things obeyed their Master, followed the same rule.

All while the testator lived. See Hebrews 9.

Who will dare to say that Paul would have sworn (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23) if an oath had been altogether forbidden?

See definition of oaths at the beginning of this article. Paul didn’t make oaths when he said things like, “as God as my witness…etc.” Bad definitions for terms can cause a lot of serious problems in understanding.

But when the occasion calls for it, he adjures without any scruple, and sometimes even imprecates.

What occasions and when? How do we effectively and objectively identify them?

The question, however, is not yet disposed of. For some think that the only oaths exempted from the prohibition are public oaths, such as those which are administered to us by the magistrate, or independent states employ in ratifying treaties, or the people take when they swear allegiance to their sovereign, or the soldier in the case of the military oath, and others of a similar description. To this class they refer (and justly) those protestations in the writings of Paul, which assert the dignity of the Gospel; since the Apostles, in discharging their office, were not private individuals, but the public servants of God. I certainly deny not that such oaths are the safest because they are most strongly supported by passages of Scripture. The magistrate is enjoined, in a doubtful matter, to put the witness upon oath; and he in his turn to answer upon oath; and an Apostle says, that in this way there is an end of all strife (Heb. 6:16). In this commandment, both parties are fully approved. Nay, we may observe, that among the ancient heathens a public and solemn oath was held in great reverence, while those common oaths which were indiscriminately used were in little or no estimation, as if they thought that, in regard to them, the Deity did not interpose. Private oaths used soberly, sacredly, and reverently, on necessary occasions, it were perilous to condemn, supported as they are by reason and example. For if private individuals are permitted, in a grave and serious matter, to appeal to God as a judge, much more may they appeal to him as a witness. Your brother charges you with perfidy. You, as bound by the duties of charity, labour to clear yourself from the charge. He will on no account be satisfied. If, through his obstinate malice, your good name is brought into jeopardy, you can appeal, without offence, to the judgment of God, that he may in time manifest your innocence. If the terms are weighed, it will be found that it is a less matter to call upon him to be witness; and I therefore see not how it can be called unlawful to do so. And there is no want of examples. If it is pretended that the oath which Abraham and Isaac made with Abimelech was of a public nature, that by which Jacob and Laban bound themselves in mutual league was private. Boaz, though a private man, confirmed his promise of marriage to Ruth in the same way.

Obadiah, too, a just man, and one that feared God, though a private individual, in seeking to persuade Elijah, asseverates with an oath. I hold, therefore, that there is no better rule than so to regulate our oaths that they shall neither be rash, frivolous, promiscuous, nor passionate, but be made to serve a just necessity; in other words, to vindicate the glory of God, or promote the edification of a brother. This is the end of the Commandment.

Conclusion:

Matthew 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

James 5:12 But [above all things], my brethren, SWEAR NOT, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by [any other] oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Endnotes –

Even though I rebutted on Henry, Gill, Calvin, etc. it doesn’t mean that I disagree with all of their beliefs. And even though most of their theology is correct, these points refuted here in this essay are incorrect. I am in no way stating that they are unGodly or are intentionally dishonest. That being said, these are not only poor treatments, but they are dishonorable at best.

It has also been brought to my attention that I may be going to far when I claim that saying, “I promise, I’ll be there” is wrong, because just the statement “I’ll be there” could be just as wrong. I agree – to a certain extent. The purpose of my article was to show the fallacy of promises and swears as “ensuring that which cannot be controlled by men” and is not the same as stating, “I’ll be there” simply because we have to communicate. My problem is with the overemphasis of assurity that swearing and promises entail.

The intent of the teaching, as much as it is to stop the swearing, is for people to tell the truth. The apparent need for swearing was partly because people lie so much. If they had to be compelled on special occasions to tell the truth, it remained that they were liars. Then, because they were still liars, even when they were swearing they would make up rules to go around the pressure that swearing placed on them to tell the truth, by suggesting that it does not count if you swear by such and such (Matthew 23:16). So the Lord wanted everybody to just stop swearing and tell the truth all the time. “ ~ Vincent Cheung via correspondence.

Footnotes

1We will see why they define it in this manner later on in the sermonette

2Merriam-Webster website

3Abridged

4 This verse also gives us the answer to the question “is the subject of swearing really all that important?” The letter of James discusses many topics—responding to the trials of life, partiality, the relationship of faith and works, controlling our tongues, strife, separation from the world, wealth, etc. These are undoubtedly important issues. Nevertheless, when he arrives at the topic of swearing, he begins with “But above all things, my brethren” … in other words, this one topic is more important than anything else discussed in the entire book!

5 Also, there are situations where others require of you an oath or vow (promise), before they will ‘trust’ or ‘believe’ you.

6 Some claim Paul did take a vow – a vow of the Nazarite, but nowhere is it explicitly stated that it was Nazaritic. The person who paid the expenses for the poor devotees who could not afford the necessary charges shared the vow so far as that he was required to stay with the Nazarites until the time the vow had expired. For a week, then, Paul, if he accepted the advice of James and the elders, would have to live with the four paupers in the chamber of the temple which was set apart for this purpose; and then to pay for the sixteen sacrificial animals and the accompanying meat offerings. He must also stand among the Nazarites during the offering of the sacrifices, and look on while their heads were shaved, and while they took their hair to burn it under the cauldron of the peace offerings, and while the priest took four sodden shoulders of rams, and four unleavened cakes out of the four baskets, and four unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and put them on the hands of the Nazarites and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord.” Paying the expenses for terminating the vow of these four certainly did not equate that Paul was also taking the vow. By accepting James and the elders proposal, Paul is simply becoming a Jew to the Jew that he might win some (1 Cor. 9:20-21). For the sake of others he acted. After all, that was what he was encouraged to do, “that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing” (Acts 21: 24). ~~Truthmagazine.com/Rickie Jenkins

7One day, God-willing, I will dissect the entire article.

8 Westminster Confession Of Faith, chapter 22.

9These things also have to play out even if you simply affirm yes or no. But the point is that one cannot promise and assure without knowing or controlling these things.

10 Some will say that they themselves have successfully performed a vow. I contend that they only succeeded because it was God’s divine will. The truth is that God is the only one who can faithfully perform all of it and every time.

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