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.
Thus the Reformed confessions added a chapter addressing this issue. In paragraph 3, 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
- 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
- Deut. 10:20; Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; 2 Chron. 6:22-23; 2 Cor. 1:23
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 considered...