Did We Do the Right Thing (Taking an Oath)?

I usually write these posts as I learn something, or once I have been putting what I have learned into action, and seeing the results. This was I can encourage others when the lesson is still fresh in my mind. This post is different. This time I want to know what you think (although I do always welcome your thoughts and comments). My wife and I have both recently been in situations that have called for some ‘uncommon’ actions on our part. We believe that we have done what is biblically correct, but I’m not 100% sure yet, so I would like to see what all of you think.

My wife became a British citizen as I was already a British citizen, and after some time living in the UK, she became eligible to become British. There was a ceremony to swear allegiance to the Queen. Naturally, they ask you what religion you would classify yourself as, and they pull out the respective ‘holy’ book (Bible, Qur’an, Torah etc). They then proceed to ask you to swear allegiance on the ‘holy’ book of your choice.

Before I explain what my wife did, let me tell you about my story. I recently went to court as a witness in a case. Other than being quite intimidating, I found the whole experience quite fascinating. Again, they asked my which religion I belonged to. I resisted the urge to explain that it is not a religion, but a faith and relationship with the risen Lord, and gave them my answer. They then pulled out a Bible and asked me to swear on it that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

My wife and I both gave the same answer. “No, we won’t swear on the Bible”.

Fortunately for us, we live in such a ‘politically-correct’ society, that they had an alternative ‘swearing in’ process for ‘non-religious’ people. No mention of God, you just promise to uphold the British law, or to tell the truth. We opted for that option. Why?

Jesus said this in Matthew Chapter 5 – Teaching about Vows

33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne.35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

This seems pretty clear to me. I don’t understand how people could have been swearing on the Bible for so many years, without someone questioning this. Have I misunderstood this passage? I have looked it up in various translations, and some are even clearer than this (NLT). I know that some people say silly things like, “I swear on my children’s lives”, and other really stupid things like that. I would definitely say that that is covered by this verse, but were our situations? It seems odd that the courts would ask someone who believes a Book, to swear on that Book, when the Book they believe in tells them not to.

I am interested to hear your views. Have you thought about this? What would you do if asked to take an oath? Let me know, comment below or on the social media posts.

By the way, if you are swearing on your children’s lives (or anything else like that), word of advice. Stop.

Richard

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5 thoughts on “Did We Do the Right Thing (Taking an Oath)?

  1. I was just starting reading the New testament when I was obliged to swear by the Bible as the Bible club president in high school…I was like: What now? haha Matthew 5 was not clear to me back then but I still refused because what if, right?

    And wow, same views here in religion- I hate it when people asks for my religion, especially on those college application thingy :/ I always want to leave it blank -.-

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  2. Interesting thoughts Richard. I have often wondered about the legal practice of swearing on on the Bible as an assurance you will be truthful. However, remember when this verse was written there was not a Bible. And the verse says not to take any oath / vow weather made on the Bible or not. – We would also have to throw in the mix the fact that many of us took an oath when we got married. –
    Note that the comments are just my own wondering.

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    1. Interesting Jon. The immediate difference that I see is that it says that you should let your yes be yes and your no be no. Marriage is different to that, it is a covenant. I see what you’re saying, but I think this is specific to ‘swearing that you are telling the truth’. I hear people ‘swearing on their children’s lives’ and all sorts of other stupid things, to try and get the point across that they are telling the truth. I would strongly advise against that. As for being ‘sworn in’ in court, I took the option without the Bible as then all that I really said was that I promised to tell the truth, which is what I would have done anyway. I didn’t have to swear on the Bible that I was telling the truth. I think marriage is different than just swearing to tell the truth. What about doctors who take the hippocratic oath? I would imaging lawyers do something similar. Although that may be more like the wedding oath than just promising to tell the truth? Very interesting. I don’t want to make this into a ‘religious practise’, that is why I am trying to understand the point that Jesus was making, so that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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      1. Be aware that my comments were just me rambling. – My son on this past Friday had to take an oath as a firefighter. (No Bible was involved). I guess the heart of the issue is that our own word should be strong enough assurance.

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  3. I know you were just rambling, it was interesting though. I think you’re right, it is just a matter of always telling the truth and not having to do anything to ‘prove’ it. I would err on the side of caution and leave the Bible out of any oaths in the future, and definitely stay away from swearing on my or anyone else’s life. We can’t avoid marriages and other such oaths, and I don’t think that is what Jesus was referring to anyway.

    Thanks for your comments!

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