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

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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 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]

Thus the Reformed confessions added a chapter addressing this issue. In paragraph three, a passage from the Westminster and Savoy was omitted in the 1689 which said: “Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching any thing that is good and just, being lawfully imposed by authority.” See the comparison here. Thus, this chapter was added in the Reformed confessions in time of controversy and in order to clarify their stance upon oaths and Vows made in the government and the church.


§1 Lawful Oaths

  1. A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness, and judgement, solemnly calleth God to witness what he sweareth, and to judge him according to the truth or falseness thereof. 1
    1. Deut. 10:20; Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; 2 Chron. 6:22-23; 2 Cor. 1:23[2]

Religious worship is that worship which is instituted by God and revealed by His Word (see chapter 22 especially paragraphs 1 and 5). A lawful oath is an element and a part of God’s holy religious worship. What is a lawful oath? It is wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness, and judgement, solemnly calleth God to witness (2Chron. 6:22-23; 2Cor. 1:23). An oath is a call upon God to be the witness to something or a “transaction” between men. A most basic example of this is in marriage when God is called to be the witness along with the people present. The Confession speaks specifically of a lawful oath. This means that there are unlawful oaths, namely those which contradict the descriptions given here. A lawful oath is taken when a person realizes the solemnity of such an act. The Scriptures warns us against being rash with our words and oaths (Eccl. 5:2; Jas. 5:12). We call upon God with hearts purified and realizing what we are calling God to do in this situation. We are calling Him to be the knower of our heart and intentions. However we may deceive people, we can never deceive God. We are calling Him to judge us according to the truth or falseness (2Chron. 6:22-23) of our oath. We are swearing to something and calling God to be the arbiter of the truthfulness of what we have sworn.


An oath is something honorable. It is something that is solemn. In an oath, a person swears by the name of God that they are telling the truth and nothing but the truth. This is what is often done in court when a person places their hand on the Bible and pledges that they are telling the truth and at the same time calls upon God to be a Witness that they are indeed telling the truth and only the truth. Therefore, when a liar and a deceiver takes an oath by the name of God, he is taking the Lord's Name in vain and he is bringing judgment upon himself (Ex. 20:7).

An oath is cons...


1689 Second Baptist Confession of Faith Highlighted

...aance 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: 
      ...
      OF THE OLD TESTAMENT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
      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
      Jeremiah  
      Lamentations  
      Ezekiel  
      Daniel

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

    ...ightly 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 (2Sam. 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 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, who takes 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 is not profaned by us, or taken in vain.[29]

    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 this is a ser...


    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 25: Of Marriage - Commentary

    ...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 here 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 compliment 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 helper...as his complement
    KJV an help meet for him
    YLT an helper -- as his counterpart

    Adam and Eve were created equally, Adam was not superior in being and value to Eve. But the 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 f...


    Welcome To The Staunch Calvinist

    ...-Commentary/" 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)
  • ...