Third Commandment and Swearing Oaths

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cultureshock

Puritan Board Freshman
The Heidelberg Catechism says:

99. Q. What is required in the third commandment?

A. We are not to blaspheme or to abuse the Name of God by cursing,[1] perjury,[2] or unnecessary oaths,[3] nor to share in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders.[4] In short, we must use the holy Name of God only with fear and reverence,[5] so that we may rightly confess Him,[6] call upon Him,[7] and praise Him in all our words and works.[8]

[1] Lev. 24:10-17. [2] Lev. 19:12 [3] Matt. 5:37; James 5:12. [4] Lev. 5:1; Prov. 29:24. [5] Ps. 99:1-5; Is. 45:23; Jer. 4:2. [6] Matt. 10:32, 33; Rom. 10:9, 10. [7] Ps. 50:14, 15; I Tim. 2:8. [8] Rom. 2:24; Col. 3:17; I Tim. 6:1.


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100. Q. Is the blaspheming of God's Name by swearing and cursing such a grievous sin that God is angry also with those who do not prevent and forbid it as much as they can?

A. Certainly,[1] for no sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name. That is why He commanded it to be punished with death.[2]

[1] Lev. 5:1. [2] Lev. 24:16.


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101. Q. But may we swear an oath by the Name of God in a godly manner?

A. Yes, when the government demands it of its subjects, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote fidelity and truth, to God's glory and for our neighbour's good. Such oath-taking is based on God's Word[1] and was therefore rightly used by saints in the Old and the New Testament.[2]

[1] Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Jer. 4:1, 2; Heb. 6:16. [2] Gen. 21:24; 31:53; Josh. 9:15; I Sam. 24:22; I Kings 1:29, 30; Rom. 1:9; II Cor. 1:23.



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102. Q. May we also swear by saints or other creatures?

A. No. A lawful oath is a calling upon God, who alone knows the heart, to bear witness to the truth, and to punish me if I swear falsely.[1] No creature is worthy of such honour.[2]

[1] Rom. 9:1; II Cor. 1:23. [2] Matt. 5:34-37; 23:16-22; James 5:12.

How does this jive with Matthew 5:33-37?

"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil." (ESV)

I have my own ideas how this works out, but I am interested to hear how others understand this text.

Brian
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Jesus is correcting a habit common in his day where people would make promises and not fulfill them, and the reason they said was, "I wasn't serious. If I had been I would have confirmed it with an oath." But it got worse. An oath was considered more binding if you swore by the gold on the altar, and not just the measly old altar. So, the whole society was consumed with prevarication, and no one felt bad about it. No one cared about the commandment against lying because they had got out from under it. They had nullified the law of God by their traditions.
 

cultureshock

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Bruce. I agree with what you say. Yet, I would like to press the issue farther. On what basis do we say that "Jesus is correcting a habit common in his day"? Why not say that Jesus is setting up a law that is new to the New Covenant? Please be as thorough as possible.

Brian
 
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