“Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
Most of us have heard those words dozens of times on “Perry Mason” or “Law and Order.” Not many of us hear those words in person. I’m almost at the end of my sixth decade, and I’ve never been asked that question! During the first 245 years of America it’s been a safe bet that if you keep your nose clean, you’ll not stand before a judge…. But times they are a’changin’ my friends! The truth we are mandated, by The Highest Authority, to proclaim may very soon become illegal, at which time some of us could end up being asked those words, which leads us to the question:
Does Jesus absolutely forbid oaths?
“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, take no oath at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God, nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you take an oath by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. But make sure your statement is, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil origin.(Matthew 5:33-37)
Clearly, Jesus wants us to be people of our word. Clearly He does not want us to frivolously be swearing that we will keep some promise or fulfill some obligation. Remember, “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye?” But did He forbid us from swearing to His name in court?
If all He ever said was here in chapter 5, it certainly would seem that way. Fortunately for us, the issue Jesus was confronting wasn’t so much seriously binding court testimony as it was a practice scholars today call “casuistry,” which was an elaborate hierarchy of things by which to “swear.” He brings it up again in Matthew 23 and, in that series of woes, He deconstructs their hierarchy and says in the end that all oaths are to God and God alone. While it doesn’t leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy, it does leave one feeling that in a very formal setting (i.e., a court of law) swearing an oath to God is acceptable. That said, it’s not to be part of our everyday life!