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Doctrine of Lawful Oaths and Vows

December 4, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Matthew 5.33, James 5.12, WCT 22.1-4


Last week we concluded our study of Chapter 21 on religious worship.

We’ve looked at most of that chapter before, so this was an abbreviated study focusing upon

  • the regulative principle
  • the use of music in Scripture.


Many of us have taken vows

  • of church membership
  • of marriage
  • of promise to tell the truth in a court of law
  • of service with various governmental or civil positions
  • of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States

We will not talk about whether or not we can take those oaths rightly today

  • but we will talk about the lawfulness of oaths and vows generally

However, some of those practices might seem to be at odds with this statement of our Lord Jesus Christ

  • When he said: Thou shalt not forswear thyself
    • To forswear means to swear to that which is false, or to break your oath
  • And the Lord says, but thou shall perform unto the Lord thine oath

Notice, You've heard it said by them of old time

  • This is the standard pattern that the Lord uses in the Sermon on the Mount.

When he says, You have heard that it has been said by them of all time, thou shalt not forswear thy self, but shall perform thy unto the Lord, thine oaths, but I say to you,

  • this is where we learn about Christ's authority

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the people were amazed because he spoke not as one of the scribes. (Matthew 7.29)

  • What did the scribes do?
  • How did the scribes speak?
    • they said, Rabbi So-and-So said this
    • they said Rabbi Such-and-Such said that
  • How did Jesus speak?
    • Jesus said, But I say to you
    • He did not speak like one of the scribes
    • He spoke as having authority Himself
  • This was indeed something new to the Jews

A cursory reading of Matthew 5.33 sounds like…

  • when we take vows
    • of marriage
    • of church membership
    • of service
  • like we are violating the principle
  • like we are committing evil

Upon a cursory reading

  • it seems like we are forbidden to take any oath

But is of that Jesus is saying here?

  • No, I don’t think so
    • It is not part of the judicial or ceremonial laws

But there are those in the church today telling us we should never take any oaths at all

  • citing James 5.12 and Matthew 5.33

It's interesting, isn't it?

  • because a cursory reading of Matthew 5.33 does indeed lead one in that direction

But this is why we must be “Whole-Bible-Christians”

Before we continue, talk about what is involved as a “Whole-Bible-Christian”

Very often in our Christian culture, we tend to content ourselves with what makes us comfortable

  • in order to maintain a particular practice and avoid change
    • no matter what the practice
    • no matter what the command
  • in order to satisfy ourselves that what we are doing is really ok and acceptable to the Lord
    • like taking a proof text and setting one scripture over another

This is what sometimes happens with these verses

When we talk to people about taking vows

  • folks might reply with “Oh, but I'm standing on Matthew 5.33”
  • they'll turn to Matthew 5.33, read it, and then go on as the point has been settled

But, as Whole-Bible-Christians

  • we should go to Scripture
  • and then we should go to another Scripture
  • and so on until we have looked at what the “Whole-Bible” says about a topic

As we do this, we will come into contact with some godly people taking oaths in godly ways

As “Whole-Bible-Christians”

  • it behoove us to bring these things together
  • it behooves us so that we can come to a fuller understanding of Scripture
  • it behooves us because often our presuppositions and emotions and personal comforts influence and change the teaching of Scripture so that it suit us

However, our presupposition here is

  • that there is but one divine author of Scripture and that divine author never contradicts Himself
  • that one divine author of Scripture is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ
  • that one divine author is the one to whom we are to obey and keep in our mind with everything we do

It is important that we rightly understand Matthew 5.33 & James 5.12 in the light of the rest of Scripture

  • and not simply point to one scripture that seems to give us that makes us content

But as to the question of lawfulness of oaths

  • this is what we will examine today

Old Testament Examples

We will see godly men make oaths in a godly fashion

Genesis 50.22-25 (a positive example of an oath)

  • the last chapter and after the death of Jacob

Who is this chapter about?

  • Joseph, mostly

Joseph is old and is getting ready to die

  • We see he took an oath of the children of Israel
  • He proves himself to be a man of the covenant
    • He knows Egypt is not his home.
    • He has lived as almost a king in Egypt
    • He has been the administrator of the affairs of Pharaoh
    • He has stored up grain and taken pledges of the property of the people in exchange
    • He has been wise and truthful and righteous throughout his whole life

Joseph is presented to us a righteous example.

Would we say then, here at the end of his life

  • He suddenly he throws off all restraint and all righteousness and takes an oath of the children of Israel against the command of God.
    • Probably not the right understanding

Remember the confession spoke about certain times of weight and moment, certain things of great importance?

This is one of those times of great weight & moment

  • Joseph confesses himself to have the mindset of a man of eternity.
  • Joseph knows that the land of Israel is a type of that eternal inheritance
  • He brings the heads of the Israelites near to Him
    • And he has them swear to carry up his bones
  • He has them swear to take away his bones from Egypt because he knows Egypt is not his home
  • He wants to make sure he is carried to the lands promised by God, believing in the promise of the inheritance
    • Which Moses does in Exodus 13

We need to ask ourselves, did Joseph, at the end of his life, behave in an unrighteous manner according to Matthew 5.33?

  • No

Maybe the next section will help explain this answer

Exodus 22.10, 11 (a positive example of an oath)

What is Exodus 22 about?

  • It is about the implications and applications of the 10 commandments

Let’s review what is going on:

  • A man borrows an animal and loses it due to no fault of his own
  • God commands an oath to be taken between them.
    • I have not harmed your billy goat
    • I swear by that great and terrible name.
  • The owner of the animal was to accept the oath
    • was to accept the borrower had not acted in dishonestly or unjustly with his property
    • was to accept the oath, as surety
  • In other words, the borrower doesn't have to give up his own goat to the neighbor, to the one from whom we borrowed it

Numbers 30.1,2 (a positive command of an oath)

Chapter 30 explains vows and authority

  • how certain vows are able to be overturned
  • how certain vows are not able to be overturned
  • when vows may or may not be overturned

Notice the Lord is regulating and commanding vows

Deuteronomy 29.10-13

Here we see vows of membership in God's Church, in the Old Testament.

  • This is what Moses is representing here

This is particularly important

  • because these are the same children that stood with their parents at the base of Mount Sinai
    • In Exodus 24 it was the parents of these children that took the oath to do all that was commanded by the Lord
    • Remember they said all that the Lord has commanded we will do

Now. these children have grown up and are coming into their own, as the people of the Lord

  • These children, being a part of the oath with their parents, now also take a similar oath, having come of age
    • in similar covenantal fashion we baptize our children
    • when our children are able to express faith for themselves
      • they too are to make a profession of faith before the church
    • then they're brought to the table of the Lord as professors
    • as those who have vowed to the Lord
    • but until that time, they are still considered as part of the church (unless they are to be considered as not part of the church and not under the mediatorial kingship of Christ and the same as the heathen outside the church)

1 Samuel 20.1

Did David ever take an oath?

Maybe the question we should seek to answer is was David a godly man?

  • Well, of course, he was.

And here we see David, a godly man, swearing a statement to Jonathan

1 Samuel 24.16-22

The king, with whom the authority of the nation resided, required that David take an oath.

  • David swore unto Saul that he would not cut off the seat of Saul
    • and he did not.
    • He took Saul's grandson, Mephibosheth, and brought him to his table and fed him there day by day.

Is David being unrighteous here?

Has David somehow transgressed the command of the greater David?

2 Samuel 3.33-37

Who was Abner?

  • He was a mighty warrior
  • He had the distinct position of being the enemy of Joab

Joab feigned friendship with him and killed him.

And David lamented

  • The people of Israel wanted to know if David commanded the killing of Abner
  • They came to David and said, Comfort yourself and have some food
  • David, swore by the Lord God
    • do the same to me and more also, if I eat anything until the sun goes down

It was through this that the kingdom understood the death of Abner was not David will

So, David took an oath that day

  • We see an oath being used in a righteous cause

Kings 1.28

Remember Adonijah had lifted himself up to be king

  • but David had sworn that Solomon, his son would be king

Psalm 119.106

What does the psalmist say?

  • That with regard to the commandments of the Lord, the judgments, the statutes
    • the psalmist swears that he will keep them

The psalmist, endued, with the Spirit of the Living God

  • is not capable of writing down something that could be sinful at that point.

Nehemiah 5.7-12

After the restoration, things are going badly because the Jew are taking advantage of each other

  • they have been exacting usury from one another such that none of them are landed men anymore
  • they've given up all of their property
    • so that they could live in the land
    • so that they could pay tribute
  • and it was their Jewish Brethren that received these gifts of them

Nehemiah takes an oath of them that they should restore all the houses, the lands, the corn, the wine, the money, and all the other stuff that they took

  • He took an oath of them
  • the righteous magistrate Nehemiah required an oath that the restoration may go forward.


You might say, this is all Old Testament stuff

You might say Jesus changed all of that in the Sermon on the Mount

  • But that isn’t a proper understanding

To address this, let us look to the New Testament

New Testament Examples

Hebrews 6.13-19

The Apostle is speaking to Hebrew Christians

  • we understand that those Hebrew Christians had a profession of faith in Christ
  • we understand many of them were looking back to the ways of the Old Testament

Notice that the writer speaks extensively

  • about the practice of taking vows
  • about the giving and swearing of oaths.

Notice that the writer uses the Lord God Himself as an example of the swearing out of that oath

  • he explains men swear by something greater
    • that is the great name of God
  • he explains an oath is for a confirmation
    • for the end of strife

Can you hear the echoes of Exodus 22?

  • The strife is around the lost my goat
  • There we found that an oath would substitute for making it good.

Here the writer of Hebrews 6 says

  • an oath for confirmation brings about the end of strife
  • an oath for confirmation brings about the end of the issue

Oaths and vows are brought into the days of the NT

Romans 1.9 / Romans 9.1

What does Paul mean, God is my witness?

  • He is taking the great name of God as a part of an oath.

What does Paul mean, God is my witness?

  • This is also an oath

Galatians 1. 10-20

What is the apostle doing here?

  • He is affirming His truth telling
    • by invoking the great name of God
    • he is taking a vow of telling the truth

Philippians 1.8

  • For God is my record

2 Corinthians 1.23; 11.10; 11.11; 11.31

  • I called God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet to Corinth.

This is the same kind of oathtaking on the part of the Apostle Paul

1 Thessalonians 2.5

God is witness

1 Timothy 2.7

I speak the truth

Similar to Christ speaking throughout the Gospels

  • Verily, verily, I say unto you

Hebrews 7.17 & Psalm 110.4

  • the Lord has sworn and will not repent
    • thou are a priest forever

We see there are all kinds of oaths in Scripture

  • even in the New Testament

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