Swearing by God’s Name

Is it wrong to swear to God or is it wrong to swear by God’s name? That’s a question that comes up on the heels of my message from this last Sunday. I hope you had a chance to watch it, where we have been working through the Sermon on the Mount and we came to a section where it talks about taking oaths. And I just want to read the passage again and we’ll get into this a little bit. Starting in verse 33 of Matthew, chapter five, jesus is saying, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.

But I tell you, Jesus is saying, do not swear an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is God’s throne or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply yes or no. Anything else or anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Again, that’s from Matthew chapter five.

So what was happening is, in the Old Testament, when the Ten Commandments came out and the law, the Old Testament laws came out, the 600 plus laws that God had given to Israel, one of the things that the people of Israel were mindful of is not taking the name of the Lord in vain, not taking God’s name lightly. And so people stopped swearing by using God’s name, the equivalent of saying I swear to God. They would stop doing so because to associate God’s name with our sinfulness and our unrighteousness is to tarnish God’s name in a sense. And so people though over time until Jesus came on the scene, began looking for loopholes, so to speak, about how they could swear or make formal oaths or promises without specifically swearing by God’s name. But maybe by picking things that were associated with God’s name, the specific words that Jesus uses there, that people would swear by heaven or by their head or whatever, the specific words in the oaths is not what’s important, it’s the specific things underneath the words that people would use.

Because externally, and this is the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that Jesus was speaking about, externally, people could swear by certain things, and if they used careful terminology, they could get away with stretching the truth a bit or perhaps exaggerating if their inward righteousness was perhaps not matching up with their external righteousness. So Jesus was not simply concerned with external words, he was concerned with the inner motivations of our heart, that we would have not only external righteousness, but an internal righteousness of the heart. So he’s saying be careful about the words that you choose. Yes, but also what is underneath those words because people were again looking for loopholes, stretching the truth, exaggerating, manipulating other people. And so the question is again, is it wrong to swear by God’s name, or is it wrong to swear to God?

So let’s think about this. There is nothing in Scripture that prohibits a Christ follower from making a formal oath or from making a solemn promise or from signing, say, a contract. We are never discouraged in Scripture from making promises that are careful and that are well thought out, like maybe a wedding vow or testifying in court and you put your hand on the Bible and you swear before God to tell the truth and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. What Jesus is saying is that people who are citizens of God’s kingdom should be people of the truth, and people who revere God’s name. And so saying specifically, I swear to God in those particular situations, whether it’s a wedding vow or in a court of law, seem proper and acceptable.

They are. What we should not do, though, is use God’s name in jest, and we should not take God’s name lightly. We should not use it in a flippant manner. And if we are to make a solemn promise, again, it’s not so much the external words as what’s underneath that we need to be people as citizens of God’s kingdom who mean what we say and say what we mean as citizens of God’s kingdom. What Jesus is pointing to here is that we would be people who people can assume that what we say in everyday conversation should be taken truthfully without us having to swear by this or by that, and certainly not having to swear by God’s name.

Jesus is saying just a simple yes or no should do the trick for more formal oaths. Sure, there may come a time that we are making a vow, but again, it’s not simply the external vow, but what is our motivation in that moment? Ultimately, the goal should be that we are seeking to honor and revere the greatness of God’s name. The reverence with which God’s name should be held should be foremost in our mind as people of God. But in our everyday conversations, a simple yes or no.

Following through on our commitments is what God is after. And anything other than that is incongruous with somebody who calls themselves a citizen of the kingdom of God. Well, I hope that answers your question. And we’re so grateful for these questions that come in each and every week. Join us next time as we deal with more of your questions.