Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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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 22).