Is it Okay to Perform Oaths in Court?

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Please tell me your teaching in regard to performing oaths (swearing) as in court or on a notary form. Jesus said, “Do not swear at all . . .” (Matt. 5:34).

Although this sounds like a universal prohibition against oaths, other texts apparently permit them in some cases. Jesus, for example, allowed Himself to be placed under oath “by the living God” and then answered the ensuing question without correcting the oath concept (Matt. 26:63, 64).

Twice the apostle Paul invoked God as his witness — clas­sic examples of biblical swearing (2 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20). Angels of the Lord swore (Dan. 12:7; Rev. 10:6), and God him­self used an oath to secure our gospel hope (Heb. 6:13-18; Ezekiel 47:14).

How, then, are we to interpret Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12? We think that Jesus spoke thus to correct a cur­rent practice of playing word-games during oaths. The Jews had distorted and abused the Old Testament’s provision for oaths, making a mockery of something sacred. Some felt that if they invoked earthly objects (rather than God’s name) in swearing, it would be no problem if they broke the oath. But this was merely a charade for their basic dishonesty (see also Matt. 23:16-22).

Swearing calls upon a witness that we are telling the truth, and it seems to be permitted when we stand before public magistrates (Ex. 22:10-12). But if our word can’t be trusted without a witness, then we have a problem. Jesus teaches that if our word is not good, using God (or the Bible) for a witness only magnifies the problem. Our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no. If we need to add more weight to what we affirm, then our integrity does not reflect what a Christian should be. A person is only as good as his word.

The Bible teaches that oaths are sacred and must be used sparingly.

— Elder Carl Palmer

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