Is it Wrong to Take an Oath?

Yesterday’s post, An Ironic Absence of the Bible, was about newly elected Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema refusing to take the oath of office by placing her right hand on the Bible. Instead she used a law-book.

One of our readers questioned whether or not it was right to take an oath and cited Jesus’ statement in His famous Mountain Message.

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt 5:33-37)

Numerous times the Old Testament speaks of God’s people taking oaths, including Abraham, Moses, David, the Priests, and the entire nation of Judah. Taking an oath was serious as evidenced by this warning.

“If a man vows a vow to the Lord or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Num 30:2

However, by Jesus’ time, two problems had developed among God’s people. (1) Frivolous swearing. Taking an oath when there was no need. And using sacred things in a loose and unholy manner. (2) Evasive swearing. The Jews had developed a practice of making loopholes in their oaths. They said if an oath contained the name of God, it must be kept. But if it not did, the oath was not binding.

Jesus’ answer was that everything belongs to God. It makes no difference if you swear by heaven, the throne, Jerusalem, or the very hair of your head, it all belongs to God. Jesus’ point is that one’s character should make taking an oath unnecessary. Inner righteousness demands that we be truthful. Our “yes” should mean yes. And our “no” should mean “no.”

In fact, Jesus adds, “anything more than this comes from evil.” In a perfect world where everyone was honest, there would be no need for taking an oath. Yet, the evil in the world sometimes requires for people to “swear under oath” that they are telling the truth, or agreeing to the obligations placed upon them. A person of character doesn’t need to take an oath, yet the evil in the world often requires it.

Is it wrong to take an oath or to answer under oath in a court of law?

Jesus did. When he was on trial before the Sanhedrin court the high priest demanded, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” In the next verse, Jesus answered under oath.

Paul often spoke under oath in his writings. In Galatians 1:20 he wrote, “Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.”

In 2 Corinthians 1:23, he affirmed, “Moreover I call God as witness against my soul.” Similar affirmations are also used in other passages Rom. 1:9; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thess. 2:5,10).

Furthermore, God Himself is portrayed in Scripture taking an oath (Gen. 22:16; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 6:13-18). The Hebrew writer said that God made His promise to Abraham “because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.”

Some Christians conscientiously feel that they cannot “swear to the tell truth” under oath in a court of law. And, such are allowed to “affirm” that their testimony is truthful. We respect their decision. However, in reality, being put “under oath” to “swear” or to “affirm” is no different.

Bible Commentator Guy N. Woods noted that oaths that are condemned involve the “flippant, frivolous and profane” use of God’s name. Woods correctly pointed out that Jesus’ prohibition has no reference to sincere judicial oaths.

Jesus’ point in the sermon is for us to be people of honor and honesty. Always keep your word. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t mislead. Don’t flippantly use God’s name in vain.

An honest man will tell the truth whether he’s under oath or not. A dishonest man will equivocate, evade, and perjure himself even under oath.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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