A subscriber writes: “How can we obey the authorities of our nation (which the Bible commands) by swearing on oath to tell the truth, and yet not swear (which Jesus prohibits)? You have no doubt had to deal with this in your legal profession, and I am curious how we can resolve it.”
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Although I am an attorney, I am first of all a Christian committed to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. Some very devout Christians take Jesus’ language in Matthew 5:33-37 in an unrestricted sense as forbidding oaths of any sort. However, the context suggests a more limited point. In this passage, the Lord was responding to people who took elaborate oaths, but who then rationalized not telling the truth based on various technicalities. Jesus denounced such practices, insisting that his disciples speak the truth under any circumstance. Yet Jesus himself responded, in his Sanhedrin trial, when placed under judicial oath (Matt. 26:63-64). The Apostle Paul often called God as his witness that he was telling the truth (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thes. 2:5). Surely he was not violating Jesus’ command in doing that.
In the United States at least, even the person who believes that Jesus forbids judicial oaths can still comply with the law and the rules of court, since state and federal jurisdictions alike normally provide witnesses with the options of swearing to tell the truth or simply affirming to do the same. If faced with some contrary circumstance, one who for conscience’s sake objects to taking an oath may respectfully state that conviction and generally will be accommodated.
We follow the One who is called “the Truth” and God’s “Yes” — by whom we are emboldened always to say “Amen” to every promise that God may make (John 14:6; 2 Cor. 1:18-20). Let us therefore be careful to be people of our word — and to be rightly known as such. With that reputation, our word of affirmation will carry full weight whether bolstered by an oath or not.