Swearing By God (No. 32)
(Edition 1.0 20010804-20010804)
Should a Christian swear by the Bible or by anything else: What does the Bible say about swearing and oath taking?
Christian Churches of God
PO Box 369, WODEN ACT 2606, AUSTRALIA
(Copyright ã 2001 Wade Cox, Ron Proposch, Andrew and Dale Nelson, Storm Cox)
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Swearing By God
Throughout the Old Testament there are numerous examples of people swearing that they will undertake to do a task on behalf of another.
An example is Genesis 24:37-41:
And my master made me swear, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife to my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my father's house, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son. And I said unto my master, Peradventure the woman will not follow me. And he said unto me, The LORD, before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father's house: Then shalt thou be clear from [this] my oath, when thou comest to my kindred; and if they give not thee [one], thou shalt be clear from my oath.
And Genesis 50:5-6:
My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again. And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.
There are numerous examples of people swearing/promising/taking an oath (sometimes to their own hurt) to do something in return for an action they wish to be taken by God to assist them in some way. Often the desire was contrary to the express will of God and prophecy, as expressed through His servants the prophets.
An example of this type of action willed by a man contrary to the will of God and in judgment contrary to His law, is found in the strange and enigmatic text in Judges 11:29-40:
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over [unto] the children of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. 32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, [even] twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
Here we see that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon Jephthah and God had used Jepthah to subdue Ammon before the children of Israel. Jephthah misconstrued that subjugation as a desire on God's part to eliminate Ammon when that was never to be the case. The Moabites because of their idolatry were removed from the congregation of the Lord and it was only as sons of Ammon could they enter the nation of Israel and be absorbed as God had foretold would happen in the last days. Ammon would obey Israel in the last days as we see from Isaiah 11:14. In Jeremiah 49 we see the prophesied destruction of the nations of Esau and Edom but 6 shows the captivity of Ammon in Israel. They are not destroyed and God's will was misconstrued. We continue in Judges 11 at verse 24 we saw that Ammon was worshipping Chemosh that was forbidden to the sons of Abraham (see The Golden Calf (No. 222). In verse 34 we see:
34And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she [was his] only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
This text is not well understood. Jephthah had vowed to destroy Ammon. If they were delivered into his hands then whatsoever came out of his house on his return would be for the Lord as a special vow. Now provision exists in the Law for this vow, but it is specifically qualified in the case of a female to thirty shekels of silver (cf. Lev 27:1-8). There is no provision whatsoever to sacrifice a human. In fact it is forbidden under the Law and qualified by this text. Jephthah was applying the same ideas and law of the worship of Chemosh to his own people in spite of God's Law and he was to be judged by that fact. It was evident that his daughter from her conduct went to the mountain, as was the custom with the worship of the system of the calf within Ammon.
36And she said unto him, My father, [if] thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away [for] two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her [according] to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 [That] the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
In this case she was not to know any man and was set aside. Whether he killed her or she was set aside from marriage and dedicated to the Temple service we do not know, but from this act his progeny in his daughter were cut off, as he had desired to eliminate the sons of Ammon. There are four fast days mentioned in the Bible as fasts amongst Judah. The custom for each of the days may have some connection, but the process was prior to the occasions of the fasts.
We are to find out through the prophets that the sons will not be punished for the sins of the fathers and each man shall be punished for his own sin.
From this text we see the following:
The oath did not need to be sworn.
Sacrificing is forbidden.
The concept of "going to the mountains" has connotations associated with the systems related to fertility in those days.
The custom of pagan worship had not been eliminated from Israel for the entire period of occupation. In the days of Christ, Herod kept the custom of birthdays. Job's sons and daughters had been killed for this practice. In Roman times they killed captives and the Jews were taken captive and used for this purpose on emperors birthdays at the fall of Judea and the rebellions.
And Mark 6:21-28:
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief [estates] of Galilee; 22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give [it] thee. 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give [it] thee, unto the half of my kingdom. 24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; [yet] for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
In this text he was in breach of Exodus 23:2 as well. He was afraid of the multitude before him and he wrested judgment to do evil so as not to displease the multitude.
In all of these examples we see a trend to the concept of Christ being the sacrifice for each and every one regardless of the circumstance or vow.
When one swears one is doing so by a higher authority than oneself. He or she is also bound by that oath as stated in Numbers 30:2.
Numbers 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth
In all of the above it was a common social practice and a cementing of a verbal contract. A version of the same thing in today’s society would be to "shake on it" i.e. shake hands or in a court of law to swear by the authority of the Bible.
An interesting extension of the above is God’s covenants with man. This too is a verbal contract that He confirms with a promise and an oath.
Deuteronomy 7:8 But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Obviously God does not change from one day to the next and is not going to break a promise He has given whether He swears an oath or not. It is for our benefit only that He confirms His promise with an oath. It is the way we are used to hearing a promise validated.
For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation [is] to them an end of all strife. 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed [it] by an oath:
Do the scriptures of the NT negate this practise of swearing as was obviously done in the OT?
Woe unto you, [ye] blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
This scripture points out that the Jews were swearing. However, the issue is not that of swearing but that the Scribes and Pharisees were so spiritually blinded that they were missing what was spiritually valuable and what wasn’t. The evidence of their misdirection is that when they were swearing they would do so by the item of lesser value. The injunction is for the Scribe and Pharisee to look at their spirituality. In this text we also see the plan of God as the establishment of the Temple of God as the elect. In this the concept is escalated to the Throne of God.
They should have had their mind on spiritual things but they did not. They used the Holy of Holies to store gold as Pompey found when he entered the Temple. To his credit he left it there.
This practice of false swearing has been condoned by mainstream Roman Catholic thought over the centuries. They taught, contrary to the express teaching of the Bible, that they were not bound by oaths to non-Roman Catholics and their ministry were able to commit any number or type of sin to murder and treason due to their oaths to the papal system. They held that their oath was overriding all other morality and they were then empowered to make false oaths in any other circumstance. This view is contrary to the Bible and the Laws of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
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.
James 5:12 (as is Mat. 5:33-36) is a scripture which on first glance does appear to be in direct contradiction to all other scriptures on this matter. Looking at it more closely we see that James is pointing out that if a Christian says she/he will do or not do something, or that something is so, we must mean what we have said, i.e. we must mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as the case may be. There should be no requirement to back it up with an oath to further state our conviction. The fact of the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should suffice of and by itself. If it were not so we would be blaspheming God every time we said yes when we did not mean it. We would be breaking the commandment to not bear false witness. Hence, the oath or promise is or should be obsolete and unnecessary in the case of the elect.
This is consistent with the injunction not to swear falsely. See Leviticus 19:12; Matthew 5:33-36 and Numbers 30:2.
There is also the strong admonition to avoid swearing to our detriment (Jdg. 11:29-40 and Mark 6:21-28). In both of these cases the swearer regretted he had done so, but in all cases was to honour what was promised. (There is an exception to this rule; see Num. 30:10-13. The matter also relates to the annulment of vows by women under the authority of their fathers or husbands).
In conclusion, the argument at times used that God does not allow us to swear on the Bible to confirm that we will tell the truth, or in other words that our ‘yes’ will mean ‘yes’ and ‘no’ ‘no’ is not altogether accurate. For this world understands that confirmation is necessary by the referring to a higher authority. God also accommodated for this in the law. The point is it should not be necessary, as we should stand for what we say with no need to swear that we are doing so. If we swear we are no more or less accountable for our speech or actions than if we did not. Whatever comes from our mouths should be the equivalent of an oath.
God’s Law provides for the giving of oaths. The recommended method of making an oath within Christian Churches of God is by affirmation. However, it is permissible to make an oath where facilities are not otherwise available.
Christian Churches of God
PO Box 369 Woden, ACT 2606 Australia
E-mail: CCG Secretary
Copyright: The papers on this site may be freely copied and distributed provided they are copied in total with no alterations or deletions. The publisher's name and address and the copyright notice must be included. No charge may be levied on recipients of distributed copies. Brief quotations may be embodied in critical articles and reviews without breaching copyright.
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