Queries And Answers
Dear bro. Turner:
Does Jas. 5:12 prohibit taking oath for an elective office or in court? If all oath-taking is wrong, why did God swear? (Heb. 6:13-f)
Space will not permit a full study of oath-taking, but (tighten seat belts) in its early form it indicated faith in the presence of Almighty God. It said, "I know God hears me, and holds me accountable for my words. I promise thus and so, aware that I am in His presence. I acknowledge Him as witness, etc., etc."
Note Paul's "oath": "Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." (Gal. 1:20) Or in 1 Thes. 5:27 "I charge (adjure,rt) you by the Lord that this epistle he read unto all the holy brethren." The difference in an oath and "cursing" should be apparent, despite the fact that the terms are sometimes confused (cf. Herod's oath, albeit a foolish one; and Peter denying Christ with an "oath" (curse). (Matt. 14:7-9; 26:72) The degeneration of the oath kept pace with loss of genuine respect for God and absolute faith in His presence. None who are deeply aware of God's presence could, acting impassionately, call upon God to witness their foolish words and deeds. But as God is taken less seriously, an oath calling upon God as witness is considered less important.
God "swore by Himself" i.e., called upon Himself as witness, "because He could swear by no greater." (Heb. 6:13) The indications are that if there had been one greater. He would have sworn by Him. Taking an oath is a serious business, and imposes grave responsibility.
But Jesus said, "Swear not at all" (Matt. 5:33-37) "let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay..." Here, in our day by day communications, our integrity should be such as to call for no "witness." Jesus does not question the use of God as witness, per se; but strikes at the moral decay -- lying, cheating, and dishonor -- that had developed specious "rules" concerning oaths (see Matt. 23:16-22) and made a mockery of calling God to witness our casual transactions.
When Jesus said, "Whatsoever is more than these (yea, nay, rt) cometh of evil." (Matt. 5:37) He asserts that Satan and his influence establish the clime that produces, in reaction, all guarantees, certifications, and calling to witness. If nothing but truth were known in the world, neither God nor Paul would have used an oath. It was for a world made skeptical by the lies which abound -- not because of weakness on God or Paul's part -- that a witness was called. Christ teaches a series of lessons (Matt. 5:20-ff) that delve beneath the overt act, and get to the heart of matters.
Lenski says, "The man whose heart is true to God utters every statement he makes as though it were made in the very presence of God before whom even his heart with its inmost thought lies bare." Taking a required oath to satisfy legal procedure adds nothing to the word of one already wholly honest, "before God and man."