Our WCF classes have proven to be fun and exciting. Which is a surprise. We were up to Chapter 22 tonight – “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows” – it’s pretty controversial, because it prima facie contradicts instructions from Jesus in Matthew 5, and James, in James 5.
Things got heated. In a pretty good way – but raising a couple of points that I’ll post separately…
I’ve got to say that at this stage I’m with the Westminster assembly on this one. I think oaths are ok – despite the face value instructions not to swear them.
Let me explain.
In Matthew 5 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees – who have completely, and terribly, misunderstood the heart of the law. That’s the problem Jesus has with their approach to everything – from adultery to generosity.
Their problem with oaths is that they’re swearing but trying to get out on technicalities. So they swear on heaven, on Jerusalem, on anything and everything but God, because it gives them a way out. So Jesus tells them that’s not on – but he doesn’t rule out swearing an oath by God – nor does he in Matthew 23, where the issue comes up again. In fact, a natural reading of Matthew 23 (verses 16-22) is to see Jesus encouraging the Pharisees to swear their oaths by God rather than working around the issue with stupid technicalities.
Deuteronomy 6:13 tells Israel to take their oaths “in his name” – not in the name of the kingdom, Jerusalem or the hairs on one’s head.
My understanding of the Matthew passage is that the Pharisees are to aim for honesty (let your yes be yes) so that complicated oaths with easy technical get out clauses are not needed. And when Jesus says “anything more is of the devil” it would seem to be referring to anything designed to obfuscate.
Then the James 5 passage is a direct quote of this one, so should be understood the same way.
I can understand the other side of the argument – but I’ve got to say I’d be pretty comfortable swearing an oath on God’s name to tell the truth provided I then did, and pretty uncomfortable if I swore that and didn’t so not swearing seems to be the safer option anyway…
What say you?