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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary


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Hebrews 6:16; "an oath for confirmation is the end of strife (contradiction)." Therefore, Christianity sanctions oaths, but they are to be used only to put an end to contradiction in disputes and for confirmation of solemn promises. God, in condescension to man's mode of confirming covenants, confirmed His word by oath; by these "two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." And "because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself": also Hebrews 7:28. Jesus Himself accepted the high priest's adjuration (Matthew 26:63). Paul often calls God to witness the truth of his assertions (Acts 26:29; Romans 1:9; Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8). So the angel, Revelation 10:6. The prohibition "swear not at all" (Matthew 5:34; James 5:12) refers to trivial occasions, not to oaths on solemn occasions and before magistrates. In every day conversation your simple yea or nay suffices to establish your word.

The Jews held oaths not binding if God's name did not directly occur (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb.). "Thou shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths" meant in the Jews' view, which Christ combats, if not sworn to the Lord the oath is not binding. Jesus says on the contrary, every oath by the creature, heaven, earth, etc., is by the Creator whether His name be mentioned or not, and is therefore binding. In the perfect Christian state all oaths would be needless, for distrust of another's word and untruth would not exist. Meantime, they are needed on solemn occasions. But men do not escape the guilt of "taking God's name in vain" by avoiding the name itself, as in the oaths, "faith!" "gracious!" "by heaven," etc. The connection in James 5:12 is, Swear not through impatience to which trials may tempt you (James 5:10-11); in contrast stands the proper use of the tongue, James 5:13.

To appeal to a pagan god by oath is to acknowledge his deity, and is therefore forbidden (Joshua 23:7; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 12:16; Amos 8:14), as in swearing to appeal to God is recognizing Him (Deuteronomy 6:13; Isaiah 19:18; Isaiah 65:16). An oath even to a pagan king is so binding that Jehovah's chief reason for dethroning Zedekiah and giving him over to die in Babylon was his violating his oath to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 17:13-20; 2 Chronicles 36:13). Jewish criminal procedure admitted the accused to clear himself or herself by oath (Numbers 5:19-22; 1 Kings 8:31); our Lord, Matthew 26:63. Oath gestures were "lifting up the hand" (Deuteronomy 32:40; Genesis 14:22; Isaiah 3:7; Ezekiel 20:5-6). Witnesses laid their hands on the head of the accused (Leviticus 24:14).

Putting the hand under the thigh of the superior to whom the oath was taken in sign of subjection and obedience (Aben Ezra): Genesis 24:2; Genesis 47:29; or else because the hip was the part from which the posterity issued (Genesis 46:26) and the seat of vital power. In making (Hebrew "cutting") a covenant the victim was divided, and the contracting parties passed between the portions, in token that the two became joined in one. (See COVENANT.) In Genesis 15:8-17 Abram was there, and God signified His presence by the burning lamp which passed between the pieces (Jeremiah 34:18). Compare Judges 19:29; 1 Samuel 11:7, where a similar slaughter of the oxen of any who should not follow Saul is symbolized.

The false witness was doomed to the punishment due to the crime which he attested (Deuteronomy 19:16-19). Blasphemy was punishable with death (Leviticus 24:11; Leviticus 24:16). The obligation in Leviticus 5:1 to testify when adjured (for "swearing" translated "adjuration," 'alah ) was that on which our Lord acted before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63). Αlah , from 'Εel "God," is used for "imprecations" (Numbers 5:23). "Shaba," from sheba' "seven" the sacred number, is the general word "swear"; compare the seven ewe lambs given by Abraham to Abimelech in covenanting (Genesis 21:30).

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Oath'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. 1949.

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