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A5. Swearing Oaths Only in God's Name.    [Make a Comment]

We are to swear oaths only in God's name.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 20:7 (Maimonides RP7; Chinuch C435)
You are not to use lightly the name of ADONAI your God, because ADONAI will not leave unpunished someone who uses his name lightly.

Leviticus 5:21-23(6:2-4) (Maimonides RN249; Chinuch 226)
If someone sins and acts perversely against ADONAI by dealing falsely with his neighbor in regard to a deposit or security entrusted to him, by stealing from him, by extorting him, or by dealing falsely in regard to a lost object he has found, or by swearing to a lie - if a person commits any of these sins, then, if he sinned and is guilty, he is to restore whatever it was he stole or obtained by extortion, or whatever was deposited with him, or the lost object which he found

Leviticus 19:12 (Maimonides RN249; Meir MN30)
Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am ADONAI.

Deuteronomy 6:13-15 (Maimonides RP7)
You are to fear ADONAI your God, serve him and swear by his name. You are not to follow other gods, chosen from the gods of the peoples around you; because ADONAI, your God, who is here with you, is a jealous God. If you do, the anger of ADONAI your God will flare up against you and he will destroy you from the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 10:20 (Maimonides RP7, Chinuch C435)
You are to fear ADONAI your God, serve him, cling to him and swear by his name.

James 5:12
Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths - not "By heaven", not "By the earth", and not by any other formula; rather, let your "Yes" be simply "Yes" and your "No" simply "No," so that you won't fall under condemnation.

Supportive Scriptures

Exodus 22:9-10(10-11)
If a person trusts a neighbor to look after a donkey, ox, sheep or any animal, and it dies, is injured or is driven away unseen, then the neighbor's oath before ADONAI that he has not taken the goods will settle the matter between them - the owner is to accept it without the neighbor's making restitution.

Leviticus 5:4
If someone allows to slip from his mouth an oath to do evil or to do good, and he doesn't remember that he clearly spoke this oath, then, no matter what it was about, when he learns of it, he is guilty.

Numbers 30:3(2)
... when a man makes a vow to ADONAI or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do.

Matthew 5:33-37
Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, 'Do not break your oath,' and 'Keep your vows to ADONAI.' But I tell you not to swear at all- not 'by heaven,' because it is God's throne; not 'by the earth,' because it is his footstool; and not 'by Yerushalayim,' because it is the city of the Great King. And don't swear by your head, because you can't make a single hair white or black. Just let your 'Yes' be a simple 'Yes,' and your 'No' a simple 'No'; anything more than this has its origin in evil.

Matthew 23:16-24
Woe to you, you blind guides! You say, 'If someone swears by the Temple, he is not bound by his oath; but if he swears by the gold in the Temple, he is bound.' You blind fools! Which is more important? the gold? or the Temple which makes the gold holy? And you say, 'If someone swears by the altar, he is not bound by his oath; but if he swears by the offering on the altar, he is bound.' Blind men! Which is more important? The sacrifice? Or the altar which makes the sacrifice holy? So someone who swears by the altar swears by it and everything on it. And someone who swears by the Temple swears by it and the One who lives in it. And someone who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and the One who sits on it. Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! You pay your tithes of mint, dill and cumin; but you have neglected the weightier matters of the Torah - justice, mercy, trust. These are the things you should have attended to - without neglecting the others! Blind guides! - straining out a gnat, meanwhile swallowing a camel!

Hebrews 6:13-17
For when God made his promise to Avraham, he swore an oath to do what he had promised; and since there was no one greater than himself for him to swear by, he swore by himself and said, "I will certainly bless you, and I will certainly give you many descendants"; and so, after waiting patiently, Avraham saw the promise fulfilled. Now people swear oaths by someone greater than themselves, and confirmation by an oath puts an end to all dispute. Therefore, when God wanted to demonstrate still more convincingly the unchangeable character of his intentions to those who were to receive what he had promised, he added an oath to the promise


A vow is a promise uttered with deliberate solemnity. An oath is an utterance added to a vow that invokes an authority capable of enforcing the vow, and punishing the oath-maker if the vow is breached. When a person adds an oath to his vow, he is giving an assurance that is in addition to his personal honor. He is essentially saying that if he reneges on his promise, he invites the invoked authority to enforce his compliance and/or mete out punishment.

It is clear from many Scriptures in the Tanakh (e.g. Deuteronomy 10:20) that God endorses the swearing of oaths, but in His Name alone. That makes perfect sense since if a vow is serious enough to require the added assurance of an oath, no authority other than God can be counted upon to enforce it (Deuteronomy 6:13-15). Also, when we swear an oath by God's Name we invoke His Honor; therefore, if we swear falsely we profane His Name (Leviticus 19:12).

The Tanakh contains many examples of oaths sworn in ancient times, and even God has been known to swear an oath on occasion (e.g. Hebrews 6:13-17). In more recent times, oaths are most commonly sworn ancillary to giving legal testimony in a court of law. When oaths are sworn outside of a court proceeding they are called "notarizations", and are generally for attesting to the accuracy of a legal document or for affirming the authenticity of a signature.

There are some who refuse to swear oaths based on their interpretation of Matthew 5:34 and James 5:12 that contain the words "But I tell you not to swear at all ..." and "Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths ..." respectively. Their explanation for how this can be in light of God's teaching and the many examples in the Tanakh, is that Yeshua changed the rules for the New Covenant in order to raise the standard of truth-telling to a higher level. That is not correct for, if one looks at the Matthew and James "statements" that were taken out of context, when each one's entire verse and adjacent verses are returned to them, one sees that there is no contradiction at all. In fact, Matthew 5:33-37 affirms the importance and legitimacy of oaths made in God's Name by warning that we should not swear by "heaven", by "earth", by "Jerusalem", by one's "head" or, by extension, by anything else that is not "God". Similarly, James 5:12 admonishes the reader to stop swearing oaths by "heaven", by "earth", or by "any other formula". These verses of Scripture are apparently intended to stop a common practice of invoking meaningless authorities for their effect in enhancing the oath-taker's appearance that he is telling the truth (when he would never promise the same thing if he was swearing in God's Name). Instead, a man should be able to put forth his reputation that his "yes" and his "no" (i.e. whatever he says) can be relied upon without reinforcement.

The Scriptures prohibit using God's Name lightly (Exodus 20:7), but do not, in any way, prohibit swearing oaths in God's Name in appropriate situations. Matthew 23:16-24 explains this especially well, and infers a warning to the oath-taker that he deludes himself if he thinks that his oath is not binding just because it does not invoke God's Name directly. Yeshua scolds the teachers and Pharisees for using "oath formulas" that create the appearance of enforceability, while their secret intent is to not honor their vows. It is intentional casuistry, and they will be held to their word by God nevertheless.

Commentary of Daniel C. Juster

I do think that, in his "Sermon on the Mount", Yeshua preaches a higher standard for truth-telling and for verbalizing oaths than the one commonly practiced in his day; his exhortation is to return us to the standard that was always implied in the Torah. Yeshua is saying that our truthfulness as believers and our commitment to doing what we say we will do should have such integrity, that oaths become unnecessary among us. This would limit our oath-taking to public law contexts where it is required for testifying in court and for entering into certain contracts. As Yeshua-believers, we should become known for our trustworthiness even beyond the New Covenant community.

Classical Commentators

The corresponding mitzvot of Maimonides and HaChinuch are completely consistent with this Mitzvah, and emphasize that we must not swear an oath by anything that is created. Maimonides adds to this by saying that if we swear an oath by any created object in the belief that it has, in itself, sufficient truth to support the oath, we have put that created object on an equal footing with the Creator, which is sin. There is no mitzvah written on the subject by Meir.


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