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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 23: Of Lawful Oaths and Vows - Commentary


Chapter 23: Of Lawful Oaths and Vows

What does the Bible say about oaths and Vows? Doesn’t the Bible mention them a lot? What about when Christ said that we should not swear? What is the difference between an oath and a vow?

This chapter should be viewed in the context of the Anabaptists who refused oaths based on their understanding of Matthew 5:33-37. The Anabaptist Mennonite Network writes:

Many [Anabaptists] refused to swear oaths. Oaths were very important in sixteenth-century Europe, encouraging truth-telling in court and loyalty to the state. Anabaptists often rejected these, citing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 and arguing that they should always be truthful, not just under oath. Nor would they swear loyalty to any secular authority.[1]

An example of the Anabaptist stance on oaths and Vows comes from their own mounts. The Schleitheim Confession of Faith comes from 1527 and was written by Michael Sattler in Germany. J. C. Wenger, a translator of the confession, explains:

The Schleitheim Confession was widely circulated. Ulrich Zwingli translated it into Latin and attempted to refute it already in 1527. It was in print in its original German form as early as 1533. John Calvin used a now-lost French translation of the Seven Articles in his refutation of Anabaptism published in 1544.[2]

All this means is that it is a very good representative of Anabaptist teaching. Therefore, it is also representative of what it says on Vows and oaths:

Seventh. We are agreed as follows concerning the oath: The oath is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises. In the Law it is commanded to be performed in God’s Name, but only in truth, not falsely. Christ, who teaches the perfection of the Law, prohibits all swearing to His [followers], whether true or false, -- neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head, -- and that for the reason which He shortly thereafter gives, For you are not able to make one hair white or black. So you see it is for this reason that all swearing is forbidden: we cannot fulfill that which we promise when we swear, for we cannot change [even] the very least thing on us.[2]

The seventh and last article goes on to answer some common objections made against the first statement. A century later (1632), the Dutch Mennonites still confessed the same of what was said by Sattler:

XV. Of the Swearing of Oaths

Concerning the swearing of oaths we believe and confess that the Lord Christ has set aside and forbidden the same to His disciples, that they should not swear at all, but that yea should be yea, and nay, nay; from which we understand that all oaths, high and low, are forbidden, and that instead of them we are to confirm all our promises and obligations, yea, all our declarations and testimonies of any matter, only with our word yea, in that which is yea, and with nay, in that which is nay; yet, that we must always, in all matters, and with everyone, adhere to, keep, follow, and fulfill the same, as though we had confirmed it with a solemn oath. And if we do this, we trust that no one, not even the Magistracy itself, will have just reason to lay a greater burden on our mind and conscience. Matt. 5:34, 35; Jas. 5:12; II Cor. 1:17.[3]


1689 Second Baptist Confession of Faith Highlighted

  • Of the Perseveraance of the Saints
  • Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation
  • Of the Law of God
  • Of the Gospel and the Extent of Grace thereof
  • Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience
  • Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day
  • Of Lawful Oaths and Vows
  • Of the Civil Magistrate
  • Of Marriage
  • Of the Church
  • Of the Communion of Saints
  • Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  • Of Baptism
  • Of the Lord’s Supper
  • Of the State of Man after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead
  • Of the Last Judgement
  • (More) Scriptural references have been added from Sam Waldron’s excellent Modern Exposition of 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

    Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures [Return] [Commentary]

    1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience 1, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable 2; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation 3. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church 4; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary 5, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. 6
      1. Isa. 8:20; Luke 16:29; Eph. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17
      2. Ps. 19:1-3; Rom. 1:19-21, 32; 2:12a, 14-15
      3. Ps. 19:1-3 with vv. 7-11; Rom. 1:19-21; 2:12a, 14-15 with 1:16-17; and 3:21
      4. Heb. 1:1-2a
      5. Prov. 22:19-21; Luke 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:12-15; 3:1; Deut. 17:18ff; 31:9ff, 19ff; 1 Cor. 15:1; 2 Thess. 2:1-2, 15; 3:17; Rom. 1:8-15; Gal. 4:20; 6:11; 1 Tim. 3:14ff; Rev. 1:9, 19; 2:1 etc.; Rom. 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19-21
      6. Heb. 1:1-2a; Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7-8; Eph. 2:20
    2. Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: 
      Genesis Matthew
      Exodus Mark
      Leviticus Luke
      Numbers John
      Deuteronomy Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
      Joshua  I Corinthians & II Corinthians
      Judges Galatians
      Ruth Ephesians
      I Samuel & II Samuel Philippians
      I Kings & II Kings Colossians
      I Chronicles, II Chronicles I Thessalonians & II Thessalonians
      Ezra I Timothy & II Timothy
      Nehemiah To Titus
      Esther To Philemon
      Job The Epistle to the Hebrews
      Psalms Epistle of James
      Proverbs The first and second Epistles of Peter
      Ecclesiastes The first, second, and third Epistles of John
      The Song of Solomen The Epistle of Jude
      Isaiah The Revelation

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 19: Of the Law of God - Commentary

    ...speak slightly and irreverently of His name (Deut. 28:58; and many other places where the name of the Lord is lifted up high);
  • profess His name, but do not live consistently according to that profession (Tit. 1:6; Rom. 2:24);
  • use God’s name in idle discourse and for no reverent purpose;
  • merely worship Him outwardly, but not in our hearts (Matt. 15:8-9; Hos. 4:8; Ezek. 33:31);
  • pray to Him, but don’t believe in Him (Prov. 15:8);
  • profane and abuse His Word and Truth;
  • swear rashly and sinfully by God’s name (Matt. 5:34; Deut. 6:13; Heb. 6:16; see chapter 23);
  • prefix God’s name to sinful actions (2 Sam. 15:7, 10);
  • speak wrongly about God (Num. 21:5);
  • falsify our promises to God and break our oath’s in His Name.
  • Holy is the Name of our God and therefore we should not use it carelessly, but we must be in awe, adoration, and reverence when we speak His Name. We abhor any and all violations of this commandment. We desire that the Name of the Lord not be taken in vain or profaned, but rather honored and glorified. For this is also what this commandment calls us to do. The WLC 112 teaches that to not take the Name of the Lord in vain means:

    That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, Vows, lots, his works, and: Whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.[15]

    To not take the Name of the Lord in vain is to honor and glorify His Name. Aren’t the commands and summons to do that plenty in the Bible? To not take the Lord’s Name in vain is to pray “Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). To not take the Lord’s Name in vain is to glorify Him, speak and honor the truth which He has revealed about Himself. The Bible calls on us to praise the name of our God (Ps. 7:17; 69:30; 113:1-3; 148:5; etc.) and to glorify Him (Isa. 24:15; Ps. 86:9, 12; John 12:28; Rev. 15:4).

    The purport of this Commandment is, that the majesty of the name of God is to be held sacred. In sum, therefore, it means, that we must not profane it by using it irreverently or contemptuously. This prohibition implies a corresponding precept—viz. that it be our study and care to treat his name with religious veneration. Wherefore it becomes us to regulate our minds and our tongues, so as never to think or speak of God and his mysteries without reverence and great soberness, and never, in estimating his works, to have any feeling towards him but one of deep veneration.[30]

    Will Not Hold Him Guiltless

    Watson observes that:

    This prohibition is backed with a strong reason, ‘For the Lord will not hold him guiltless;’ that is he will not hold him innocent. Men of place and eminence deem it disgraceful to have their names abused and inflict heavy penalties on the offenders. ‘The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain;’ but looks upon him as a criminal, and will severely punish him. The thing here insisted on is, that great care must be had, that the holy and reverend name of God be not profaned by us, or taken in vain.[30]

    God will not tolerate those who take His Name in vain. They will certainly be punished, He will not leave them without punishment, either in this life and certainly in the next. Under the Old Covenant, blasphemy was punishable by death (Lev. 24:11-16) because it is a serious sin, even...

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 25: Of Marriage - Commentary

    ...een one man and one woman (Matt. 19:5-6) and only that. It is neither lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time. Monogamy is essential to marriage as defined by the Creator. The question of homosexuality, as it hot now, never crossed the minds of the framers of the Confession as it was obvious that the Bible was against it.

    Marriage is a life-long covenant between a man and a woman wherein God is a witness (Mal. 2:15). It is a life-long vow (see chapter 23 on oaths and Vows). In marriage, the man and the woman call upon God as a witness to the Vows that they make to each other and bind themselves by the vow, in presence of God, to be faithful to each other. Marriage was instituted by God in the Garden, before the Fall on day six. The Lord wanted to find for Adam a mate, so He brought to him all the animals, yet “for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:20). Therefore, the LORD put Adam to sleep and made a woman from his side. The Lord created a human with the same nature as Adam’s, yet, different character and with different parts which complement each other. Then we read:

    Gen. 2:22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 

    Herein we have the institution of marriage. Adam had finally found someone like him and yet, at the same time, not exactly like him. The mate of Adam was to be “a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18, 20). She was to help and assist Adam, completing him. The various translations of this phrase all communicate the idea that Eve was not inferior in being to Adam, but was created to compliment him and complete him. In a sense, Adam was not yet whole without Eve. Verse 20 is translated as follows:

    ESV a helper fit for him
    NIV suitable helper
    ISV companion corresponding to him
    NET companion who corresponded to him
    NASB a helper suitable for him
    LXXE a help like to himself
    HCSB his complement
    KJV an help meet for him
    YLT an helper -- as his counterpart

    Adam and Eve were equal in nature, value, and being. Adam was not superior in being or value to Eve. But authority was given to Adam even before the Fall over Eve, yet this authority was not because Adam was superior in being. Albert Barnes notes on this phrase that it meant “an equal, a companion, a sharer of his thoughts, his observations, his joys, his purposes, his enterprises.”[2] Matthew Henry’s observation is well-known:

    That the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved. Adam lost a rib, and without any diminution to his strength or comeliness (for, doubtless, the flesh was closed without a scar); but in lieu thereof he had a help meet for him, which abundantly made up his loss: what God takes away from his people he will, one way or other, restore with advantage.[3]

    This Hebrew word in vv. 18, 20 means “‘as over against,’ ‘according to his front presence’ - i:e., corresponding to, his counterpart-one like himself in form and constitution, disposition, and affections, and altogether suitable to his nature and wants.”[4] Matthew Poole likewise notes:

    Meet for him; a most emphatical phrase, signifying thus much, one correspondent t...

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 29: Of Baptism - Commentary

    ...mJustification, Rom. 6. Do I see my Sins Pardoned, my Person Justified, God Reconciled, my Person Sanctified, Heaven assured at the Lord’s Supper? I behold the same in Baptism, there I see my Sins Buried in his Grave, as in the other Nailed to his Cross; here I behold my Soul Washed in his Blood, Justified by his Righteousness, Saved by his Death; and is not this a Marriage Feast? And ought I not to have the Wedding Garment now as at the Table of the Lord?[70]

    God’s Initiative and Parental Vows

    I’ve attended Reformed infant baptisms while I went to church with my now-wife. Reformed churches here in the Netherlands read the form for infant baptism wherein all the arguments which we tried to refute above are presented with the regular texts. In this ceremony, infant baptism is presented as something which comes from God and which displays God’s initiative for saving man. For example, the Form for the Administration of Baptism says:

    And although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge, partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ; as God speaks unto Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and therefore unto us and our children (Gen. 17:7), saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”[71]

    This is the typical argument which we hear from our brethren and which we have tried to engage. After the citation above, Acts 2:39 and the example of Christ with the little children are also called upon. Paedobaptists often argue that infant baptism best shows God’s initiative to call man to Himself in that a child is helpless and cannot do anything, yet God calls them to Himself. In fact, as the Form says, without their knowledge they are “received unto grace in Christ” just like they were condemned without their knowledge in Adam. Therefore, infant baptism, supposedly, shows the initiative of God in calling man. The Form even speaks of these children being “received unto grace in Christ.” This kind of language is deeply covenantal and theological. Without reading the rest of what Reformed paedobaptists say we would have to conclude that they believe that children are regenerated in baptism. But Reformed paedobaptists do not believe that. Yet, this kind of language is miles off from “they share in the outward administration of the covenant” or “they share in the outward privileges of the church.” It takes New Testament language speaking of believers and applies them to non-believers. Are children born to Christian parents less depraved than others? The reason infant baptism began being practiced is because people started to believe that baptism forgave original and actual sin. But Reformed writers reject this heresy. What does it mean to speak of children being “received unto grace in Christ” without saying that they are under grace and no longer in the state of sin? What happens when these children grow up and die as unbelievers? Has the grace of God failed? It would seem so. But paedobaptists and the Form are quick to acknowledge that

    Whereas in all covenants, there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we tr...

    Welcome To The Staunch Calvinist

    ...ent-Of-The-Grace-Thereof-Commentary/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Of The Gospel, And Of The Extent Of The Grace Thereof
  • Of Christian Liberty And Liberty of Conscience
  • Of Religious Worship And the Sabbath Day (A case for the Regulative Principle of Worship and the Christian Sabbath)
  • Of Lawful Oaths And Vows
  • Of The Civil Magistrate
  • Of Marriage
  • Of The Church
  • Of the Communion of Saints
  • Of Baptism And The Lord’s Supper
  • Of Baptism
  • Of The Lord’s Supper
  • Of The State Of Man After Death And Of The Resurrection Of The Dead (Intermediate State Hades, Sheol, Heaven; A Case for Amillennial Eschatology; critique of Premillennialism)
  • Of The Last Judgment (Endless punishment in Hell contra Annihilationism)
  • ...

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate - Commentary

    1. Exod. 22:8-9, 28-29; Daniel; Nehemiah; Prov. 14:35: 16:10, 12; 20:26, 28; 25:2; 28:15-16; 29:4, 14; 31:4-5; Rom. 13:2, 4, 6.
    2. Luke 3:14; Rom. 13:4.

    The office of a magistrate is not so worldly that Christians should not take ut. But it is, in fact, lawful for Christians to accept and execute that office when they are called there unto. The Anabaptists, for example, which our forefather were often accused to be, denied the office of a magistrate to a Christian. As we noted in the introduction of the previous chapter on oaths and Vows, so also here, the sixth article of the Schleitheim Confession of Faith says:

    Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christians’ is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christians’ are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, but the Christians’ citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christians’ weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. In brief, as is the mind of Christ toward us, so shall the mind of the members of the body of Christ be through Him in all things, that there may be no schism in the body through which it would be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed. Now since Christ is as it is written of Him, His members must also be the same, that His body may remain complete and united to its own advancement and upbuilding.

    The Confession was not denying the truths here pointed out by the Anabaptists. But it is saying that this is not inconsistent with a true Christian who takes up the office of a magistrate when called there unto. What should the Christian magistrate do? It is interesting that he is not said to enforce Christianity in general or Particular Baptist theology in particular. He is said to maintain just and peace according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom and commonwealth. He is to govern according to the laws of the land and not make a theocracy of the land in which he is allowed to be a magistrate. As we noted in chapter 19:4, Christians are called to submit to the laws of the land in which they live and not reimplement the Israelite theocracy of the Old Testament. The Christian magistrate is not to enforce the laws of God in his government as it was in the times of the Old Testament. But it is without a doubt that a Christian magistrate has a Christian worldview and therefore, justice and peace mean more to him than an unbelieving magistrate. His views of justice and peace will be and should be influenced by the biblical worldview. But principally, he is to enforce and maintain the wholesome laws of each kingdom and commonwealth. This is obviously different than what other Reformed writers had in mind. For many of them, the government had the duty to maintain the Christian religion and not only the Christian religion in general but Protestant Christianity in particular. But the Baptists did not follow with that as they did not see the New Covenant and the regulations under the New Covenant to be just like those in the times of the Old Covenant with the Mosaic laws. The Mosaic judicia...