03 December 2006

Swear not at all: Christians and the oath of office

A Christian who believes in the Bible shouldn't swear on one.

The Bible, of course, is worse than useless when it comes to consistent advice on morality. But the New Testament (to avoid confusion, ignore the Old Testament on this one) is pretty clear about one thing: Christians shouldn't swear. Not to God and not on the Bible or on anything else.

Here's what Jesus (supposedly) said about it:

But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven for it is God's throne; Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:34-37

And the Book of James condemns swearing "above all things." I guess that'd make it the worst possible sin.

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12

But what about Muslims? Is there anything in the Quran that forbids them from swearing on it? Well, not that I know of, but let me know if there is and I'll note it in the SAQ.

Of course this shouldn't be an issue. The swearing-in ceremony doesn't require the use of the Bible, Quran, or any other religious book. So Representative Elect Keith Ellison shouldn't have a problem getting sworn-in, although he should leave his Quran at home.

But what about Christian representatives? Since the Bible forbids them ("above all else") to take any type of oath, they can't take the oath of office without renouncing their faith.

Oh well, that shouldn't be a problem for them. Most are just pretending to believe for political purposes, and the rest are mostly just hypocrites.


steward said...

Beliefnet's links to Islamic scripture seem to indicate that there is no general problem with oath taking in Islam, but a verse from the Sunnah at http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/sunnah/bukhari/093.sbt.html#009.093.538 indicates two false oaths for which Muslims will be condemned:

"Narrated Abu Huraira:

"The Prophet said, "(There are) three (types of persons to whom) Allah will neither speak to them on the Day of Resurrections, nor look at them (They are):--(1) a man who takes a false oath that he has been offered for a commodity a price greater than what he has actually been offered; (2) and a man who takes a false oath after the 'Asr (prayer) in order to grab the property of a Muslim through it; (3) and a man who forbids others to use the remaining superfluous water. To such a man Allah will say on the Day of Resurrection, 'Today I withhold My Blessings from you as you withheld the superfluous part of that (water) which your hands did not create.' "

Anonymous said...

All you are doing is ignorantly using the modern interpretation of "swearing" to back up your silly, incorrect theory.
And in doing so, YOU look stupid, not the people you are trying to put down. Nice job.

Feodoric said...

Anonymous, I hate to break it to you, but you are the one who is looking stupid.

The original post is clearly making a point NOT to use the modern interpretation of swearing (uttering profanities) and is instead using the more original meaning of the word, which is making an oath. Such as "I swear on my momma's grave."

The verses quoted from the Bible are pretty explicitly talking about this kind of swearing - don't swear in heaven's name, instead just make sure that you mean it when you say yes and no.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so...what's the "right" definition of swearing, o wise one? (I hate when people say someone's wrong without telling them *how* they're wrong...)

Anonymous said...

Utter nonsense. Grow up and start reading and judging with honor. Those words are read entirely out of context. They are "not... but" statements which are never intended as absolutes. The contextual point of each (and, the book of James, btw, is essentially a practical commentary on the sermon in Matthew 5-7) is that one should consistently be honest in every circumstance - as opposed to seeking integrity and honesty to occasions when one "swears" by something. Criticize the Bible all you want - but do so with integrity rather than this a-contextual nonsense.

JudahGabriel said...


If you look at Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew 5, you'll see the translation read differently:

"But I say to you, do not swear falsely; neither by the heaven, because it is the throne of God, nor by the earth, because it is His footstool, nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of David, nor by your head."

It would appear this verse in Matthew is saying not to swear falsely.

Benjamin Schellack said...

Yo Judahgabriel. If you seriously have seen a Hebrew manuscript of Matthew 5, you should publish it. It'd be the first one ever found, and I bet you could make a pretty penny. Make sure you copyright the photos and the translation, and don't forget, if you got it from Egypt or Israel, they might want you to give it back.

And now I seriously need to quit wasting time!

JudahGabriel said...


Hebrew manuscripts exist all over the place; perhaps you're misunderstanding what the term manuscript means. :-) Google for Shem Tov's Hebrew Matthew, or Arabic Hebrew Matthew. Both didn't go through the Hebrew->Greek->Old English->Modern English translation lossy conversions.

FWIW, the early gentile Christian Church heads -- Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and friends -- wrote about the original New Testament gospels, especially Matthew's, being originally written in Hebrew, not Greek.

The reason we lost those texts, ironically, is most likely to the Christian anti-Semitism that took over the religion some 200 years after Christ.

Chris said...

To everybody who has posted on this blog,

Thank you for a good laugh! The only person here who is credible is judahgabriel who is supplying actual evidence from the original writings. However i would still question whether Matthew was written in Hebrew... yes, it is addressed to the Jews, but the most common language at that time was Aramiac (i believe), even amongst the Jews. The presence of a single language which everybody spoke is what allowed such a rapid spread of the Gospel around the known world at the time. (please correct me if i'm wrong in making this assertion! i'm a little rusty on my New Testament history.)

Everybody else has made a complete idiot of themselves by acting smart and being stupid!! Congratulations...

Secular humanism fumbles again. I suggest that if anybody is going to mock my faith and my God... do it intelligently so i can at least respect your effort.

jake3988 said...

But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12

NEITHER BY ANY OTHER OATH. If that ain't as explicit as it gets, I don't know what is.

It says what it says, don't deny it.

Nice finds Steve

Andrew said...

Hey, if there's a discrepancy between the Hebrew version and the other (presumably greek or latin) version of Matthew 5, then which is correct? How do good Christians know which one to follow? How can we trust this most holy document of our faith?

Sorry, Chris, it is the bible that fumbles.... again and again and again....

Quaker B said...

Presumably there are bible versions in every language but the Hebrew version is unlikely to have any primacy. If you insert the word "false" in any of the quoted versions it would render the whole idea meaningless. Of course it is not ethical to swear falsely but over emphasizing the truth by reference to a deity or a dead person or any other source is superfluous. There should not be two standards of honesty. One sworn and the other a simple statement of truth.
According to wikkepedia, "The essence of a divine oath is an invocation of divine agency to be a guarantor of the oath taker's own honesty and integrity in the matter under question. By implication, this invokes divine displeasure if the oath taker fails in their sworn duties. It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one's duty, such as in testimony to the facts of the matter in a court of law".

This is what is objectionable aboiut Oaths.