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James 5:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
Jesus Christ said,
Matthew 5:33-37 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Counsel on Oaths
33 “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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool of his feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’; anything more than this is from the wicked one.
Jesus Christ was correcting the Jews in their practice of light, loose, and indiscriminate making of oaths. Therefore, Jesus was not prohibiting the making of all oaths, for he himself was under the Mosaic Law, which required oaths at certain times. We may recall that when Jesus was on trial, the high priest put him under oath, which he did not reject. (Matt. 26:63-64) What Jesus was saying is, we should not have two standards. When we give our word, we are to keep it and view that obligation as a sacred duty. We should carry out any oath that we make. Below is a deeper look at the biblical terms from Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.
Oath. Solemn vow or promise to fulfill a pledge. There are two terms in Hebrew that mean “oath”: ’ālâ and šebû‛â. The latter, more general term meant in ancient times to enter into a solemn (even magic) relationship with the number seven, although ancient connections are lost. Even so, when Abraham and Abimelech entered into an oath at Beersheba (the well of seven, or the well of the oath), Abraham set aside seven ewe lambs as a witness to the fact that he had dug a well (Gn 21:22–31). The former term, ’ālâ, often translated “oath,” properly means “curse.” At times the two terms are used together (Nm 5:21; Neh 10:29; Dn 9:11). Any breach of one’s undertaking affirmed by an oath would be attended by a curse. The Lord affirmed that he had established a covenant and a curse with Israel, that is, a breach of covenant would be followed by a curse (Dt 29:14).
An oath was taken to confirm an agreement or, in a political situation, to confirm a treaty. Both in Israel and among its neighbors, God (or the gods) would act as the guarantor(s) of the agreement and his name (or names) was invoked for this purpose. When Jacob and Laban made an agreement, they erected a heap of stones as a witness and declared, “The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us” (Gn 31:53). If either party transgressed the terms, it was a heinous sin. For this reason one of the Ten Commandments dealt with empty affirmations: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex 20:7). The people of Israel were forbidden to swear their oaths by false gods (Jer 12:16; Am 8:14). To breach an international treaty where the oath was taken in the Lord’s name merited death (Ez 17:16, 17). It was one of the complaints of Hosea that the people of his day swore falsely when they made a covenant (Hos 10:4). Judgment would attend such wanton disregard of the solemnity of an oath. Certain civil situations in Israel called for an oath (Ex 22:10, 11; Lv 5:1; 6:3; Nm 5:11–28). This practice provided a pattern for the Israelite covenantal oath of allegiance between God and his people.
Christ taught that oaths were binding (Mt 5:33). In the kingdom of God oaths would become unnecessary (Mt 5:34–37). At his trial before Caiaphas, Jesus heard an imprecatory oath from the high priest (Mt 26:63–65), and Paul swore by an oath on occasion (2 Cor 1:23; Gal 1:20). God himself was bound by his own oath (Heb 6:13–18) to keep his promise to the patriarchs (Gn 50:24; Pss 89:19–37, 49; 110:1–4).
Vow. Serious promise or pledge. The making of vows to God is a religious practice which is frequently mentioned in Scripture. Most references to vows are found in the OT, especially in the psalms, but there are a few in the NT as well.
Unlike tithing, sacrifices and offerings, Sabbath-keeping, and circumcision, vow making was not something commanded by the Mosaic law. There are rules regulating the carrying out of vows which have been taken (even to the possible cancellation of a woman’s careless vow by a discerning father or husband—Nm 30:5, 8), but the making of them seems to be more a traditional and personal matter.
For example, Psalm 50:14 says, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay your vows to the Most High.” The command is to “pay,” that is, to keep or fulfill a pledge that has already been made. No order is given to make such promises in the first place. The practice is accepted and regulated, but not demanded.
The purpose of a vow is either to win a desired favor from the Lord, to express gratitude to him for some deliverance or benefit, or else simply to prove absolute devotion to him by way of certain abstinences and non-conformities.
The NT information about vows sets the stage for reviewing the background information concerning what was by then a long-established custom. The term “vow” occurs just twice in the NT, both times in association with the apostle Paul (Acts 18:18; 21:23, 24). But the same principle is involved in the case of the word “Corban” (Mk 7:11–13; cf. Mt 15:5, 6). The Lord in these two passages severely rebukes those who have made a vow that served as a clever escape from meeting obligations to care for aged parents. A monetary figure was involved in such a “gift” or “offering.” But Jesus declares that God does not want a gift which is designed to deprive someone.
In the case of Paul, he may have entered into his vows for the very purpose of forestalling objections which either antagonistic Jews or Jewish Christian believers had to his removing the yoke of Mosaic regulations from the shoulders of Gentile believers. At least he did not despise this practice of OT piety. This is especially true of the second of the two passages cited above. Paul was in Jerusalem under the keen surveillance of Jewish authorities. He made it a point to join with four other Jewish believers in the payment of vows in the temple. This action, however, was misconstrued by his enemies, who charged that he was bringing Gentiles into the holy temple.
Although vows seemed to be an important expression of spiritual commitment in OT times, there is little information and no real stress on vows in the NT. Spirituality is elevated to a higher plane for the Spirit-filled NT believer. Demonstration of devotion to the Lord is not an occasional thing. The all-pervasive reason for and measure of dedication to God in Christ is well summed up in 1 Corinthians 6:20: “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
The opening verses of Psalm 132 afford an excellent example of the expression of unselfish devotion on the part of David. He calls upon God to remember his strong determination to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant, his determination to do something that expresses love for his great Redeemer. David exclaims, “I will not enter my house or get into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Ps 132:3–5).
Dedication of self and separation to the Lord is the primary feature of the Nazirite vow. Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist are the most familiar examples of this type of vow. Numbers 6:1–8 prescribes the conditions of this commitment, and verses 13–21 tell how release may be obtained by fulfillment and certain sacrifices. Women as well as men might take this vow of separation which could be of limited duration. The Rechabite clan pledged themselves to an ascetic and nomadic life. They constitute a compelling illustration of loyalty to the God of Israel (Jer 35).
Frequently, however, vows were taken as a type of bargain with God. At Bethel Jacob promised God worship and the tithe if he would protect him and supply his needs. Jephthah vowed to sacrifice whatever first met him on his return home victorious over the Ammonites (Jgs 11:30, 31). Hannah offered to return her son to God (1 Sm 1:11, 27, 28). In the psalms, payment of vows is often associated with thanksgiving for deliverance from danger or affliction (e.g., 22:24, 25; 56:12, 13).
Most important is that once a vow is made, the obligation is serious. To refrain from making any vow is no sin (Dt 23:22), but once declared, the vow must be kept (Dt 23:21–23; see also Nm 30:2; Eccl 5:4–6).
 Lit., yours is to be yes, yes, and no, no
 A quotation from Lev. 19:12
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Oath,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1573–1574.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Vow,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2127–2128.
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