Lawful Oaths and Vows
Rev. Angus Stewart
In response to “Should Courts
Drop Swearing on the Bible?” (English Churchman
7886), it should be noted that lawful oaths were not only
made in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 24:2-9; Deut. 6:13;
10:20; Isa. 65:16) but also in the New Testament.
The apostle Paul made oaths to
God to attest the truth of his claims (Rom. 1:9; 9:1; II
Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20). The mighty angel from heaven swears
“by him that liveth for ever and ever” (Rev. 10:6). Jehovah
delivered the gospel promise by swearing by Himself (Gen.
22:16-17; Heb. 6:13-14). Being abjured by the high priest,
the Lord Jesus affirmed under oath that He was “the Christ,
the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63-64). The next day, because of
His own oath and the gospel promise that God swore, He died
on the cross as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins to bring
us the blessings of salvation. Moreover, God swears by
Himself that on the judgment day every knee shall bow and
every tongue shall swear that Jesus Christ is Lord to the
glory of God the Father (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:10-11). This
oath will involve billions of people, the reprobate wicked
as well as elect believers!
The Saviour's words (Matt.
5:33-37) do not cancel the third commandment (Ex. 20:7),
reducing the Decalogue to the Ennealogue, or contradict
other Old and New Testament Scriptures or condemn His own
testimony (Matt. 26:63-64). They forbid swearing by that
which is not God and thoughtless or profane swearing by His
name in causal conversation or on trifling occasions.
Thus, contrary to the
Anabaptists (e.g., Quakers), the Reformed have always
confessed that there is an appropriate time, place and
manner for assertory oaths and promissory vows (e.g.,
baptism, church membership, church office and wedding vows).
The last of The Thirty-Nine Articles states, “As we confess that
vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our
Lord Jesus Christ, and James His apostle, so we judge, that
Christian religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may
swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and
charity, so it be done according to the prophet's teaching,
in justice, judgment, and truth” (cf. Heidelberg
Catechism, Lord's Days
36-37; Westminster Confession