Article XXV - Of a Christian Man's Oath
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 the 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.
In Matthew 5 while arguing with the Pharisees, Jesus went on a rant about people swearing by this and that all the doggone time.
“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. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5: 33-37)
“For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had said that the devil “is a liar and the father of it” (John 8: 44).
Anything beyond the simple truth is lie.
Therefore “whatever is more than these” simple truths is from the devil.
So, Jesus ranted, don’t swear by this or that. Just tell the doggone truth.
Without the simple truth, an oath is just a ritualized lie--- bearing false witness.
Jesus didn’t prohibit Christians from taking oath and then telling the truth. He condemned taking an oath and then telling a lie. We know this because Jesus Himself testified under oath in a court of law.
Matthew 26 explains that after being betrayed by Judas, Jesus was put on trial before the Sanhedrin Council. Initially, Jesus refused to speak but then He was “sworn in” by the high priest.
But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” (Matthew 26: 63)
The tribunal Jesus faced was illegally assembled, improperly conducted, and corruptly concluded. Jesus response wasn’t about the integrity of the court or the 1st century Judean justice system.
The official oath in that court didn’t compel Jesus to tell the truth; Jesus always told the truth. The court couldn’t compel Jesus to violate God’s law; Jesus also always kept God’s law. But, Jesus did answer when the high priest put him “under oath by the living God.”
Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26: 63-64)
Jesus’s actions demonstrate the application of His words.
Like Christ, Christians should speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth without embellishing our words with “I swear,” “I promise,” “I put that on my mama/daddy/grandma/life..” Like Christ, Christians should just say what we mean and mean what we say.
Like Christ, Christians can also speak the truth under oath, in court, in response to a judge’s request. Like Christ, our testimony doesn’t depend on the integrity of the legal system. We tell the truth because that’s what Christ-followers are supposed to do.
An oath itself isn’t necessary, but it also isn’t a sin.
---Anderson T. Graves II is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.
Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama; executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO); and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).
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