3

In Deuteronomy 10:20 (NASB)

You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.

In Matthew 5:34-37

34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:

35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

In James 5:12 (NASB)

But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you do not fall under judgment.

2

The simplest well-known explanation here is offered by the summary of Ellicott -

(34) Swear not at all.—Not a few interpreters, and even whole Christian communities, as e.g. the Society of Friends, see in these words, and in James 5:12, a formal prohibition of all oaths, either promissory or evidential, and look on the general practice of Christians, and the formal teaching of the Church of England in her Articles (Art. xxxix.), as simply an acquiescence in evil. The first impression made by the words is indeed so strongly in their favour that the scruples of such men ought to be dealt with (as English legislation has at last dealt with them) with great tenderness. Their conclusion is, however, it is believed, mistaken:

  1. Because, were it true, then in this instance our Lord would be directly repealing part of the moral law given by Moses, instead of completing and expanding it, as in the case of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments. He would be destroying, not fulfilling.

  2. Because our Lord himself answered, when He had before been silent, to a solemn formal adjuration (Matthew 26:63-64), and St. Paul repeatedly uses such forms of attestation (Romans 1:9; 1Corinthians 15:31; 2Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8).

  3. Because the context shows that the sin which our Lord condemned was the light use of oaths in common speech, and with no real thought as to their meaning. Such oaths practically involved irreverence, and were therefore inconsistent with the fear of God.

The real purpose of an oath is to intensify that fear by bringing the thought of God’s presence home to men at the very time they take them, and they are therefore rightly used when they attain that end. Practically, it must be admitted that the needless multiplication of oaths, both evidential and promissory, on trivial occasions, has tended, and still tends, to weaken awe and impair men’s reverence for truth, and we may rejoice when their number is diminished. In an ideal Christian society no oaths would be needed, for every word would be spoken as by those who knew that the Eternal Judge was hearing them.

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