What Does The Bible Say About Taking Oaths Or Vows?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Doesn’t the Bible forbid taking an oath or swearing an oath? Why did they do it in the Old Testament?

Old Testament Oaths

Since Jesus said, “Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God” (Matt 5:34), and Jesus half-brother James wrote, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12” (James 5:12), so it would see m we shouldn’t swear at all, so why are there oaths in the Old Testament? Isn’t sweating an oath sinful, as we have read? First of all, the Old Testament has dozens of references of men making vows, but is a vow and an oath the same thing? Not exactly, because an oath is a solemn pledge or promise to either a king or to God, but a vow is a specific promise or pledge to act or behave in a specific manner. You can take an oath of office to promise to perform your duty to the best of your ability, but taking a vow requires that promise must be fulfilled. The thing about making a vow or swearing an oath to God is, it was life if you kept it, but death if you broke it.

Swear Not

The Old Testament has God speaking to Israel, saying, “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear” (Duet 6:13). That’s why our church does not swear in as witnesses because we cannot swear by God’s name for there is none greater. However, God spoke through Jeremiah the Prophet and said, “If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory” (Jer 4:1-2), so do these two contradict one another? No, because Jesus, in referring to the Old Testament period, said, “you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:33-37). Clearly, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, forbids swearing, especially using God’s name.

Jephthah’s Haste

Jesus was always contrasting the old with the new, and during His earthly ministry, He was introducing new wife but the religious leaders still carried old wineskins. Jesus told the crowds, “you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God” (Matt 5 :33-34). In speaking of “those of old,” He could have been referring to Jephthah or any number of other such occurrences where people made vows in the Old Testament. Either way, Jesus said we should not do it. This is why James tells us, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12). James is saying what Jesus is said. Just say yes or no and leave it at that. There is no need to swear you’ll do or not do something. Jesus would have us say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (Matt 5:37a). Why? Because “anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37b). You or I can’t “make one hair white or black” (Matt 5:36b), so why promise or vow to do so?

Said of Old

Jesus was always contrasting the old with the new, and during His earthly ministry, He was introducing new wife but the religious leaders still carried old wineskins. Jesus told the crowds, “you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God” (Matt 5 :33-34). In speaking of “those of old,” He could have been referring to Jephthah or any number of other such occurrences where people made vows in the Old Testament. Either way, Jesus said we should not do it. This is why James tells us, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12). James is saying what Jesus is said. Just say yes or no and leave it at that. There is no need to swear you’ll do or not do something. Jesus would have us say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (Matt 5:37a). Why? Because “anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37b). You or I can’t “make one hair white or black” (Matt 5:36b), so why promise or vow to do so?

Conclusion

Many years ago, I was a witness in a court of law, and I’ve also sat on several juries, but not once have I ever swore to tell the truth. I told the judge that I affirm what I say to be true, and the judge accepted that. They have too. The Bible teaches we should not swear, even in a court of law. It is God we must obey more than man (Acts 5:29). All we are required to do is to say either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ (Matt 5:37a). Nothing less…nothing more, because “anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37b).

Here is some related reading for you: Christian Swearing and Swear Words: A Lesson on Guarding the Tongue

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex February 5, 2018 at 9:06 am

Hello,
My question is, on the title “Become a Pastor” the is a girl in the picture is that mean your ministry approving that women can take pastoral functions, which would be contrary to Paul’s teaching in
1 Timothy 2:12 where he forbid women to teach or have an authority over men?

Reply

Jack Wellman February 5, 2018 at 9:16 am

No, the girl in the picture was an advertisement. Please see what the Bible says about women being elders or pastors at this article and you will see that we agree with you: https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/should-women-be-pastors-or-elders-of-a-church-a-bible-study/

Reply

Jasmine Cannon February 6, 2018 at 12:45 am

Why are the sections about Jephthah and “Said of Old” the same text?

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