Q. 101. But may we swear an oath in God’s name if we do it reverently?
A Yes, when the government demands it, or when necessity requires it, in order to maintain and promote truth and trustworthiness for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good. Such oaths are approved in God’s Word and were rightly used by Old and New Testament believers.
Q. 102. May we swear by saints or other creatures?
A No. A legitimate oath means calling upon God as the one who knows my heart to witness to my truthfulness and to punish me if I swear falsely. No creature is worthy of such honor.
These two questions from the catechism betray their historical settings. During the 16th century and before, it was common for every citizen to swear an oath to their king and to take various other oaths for government and judicial proceedings. Until recently, such oaths were normal, but now they have been replace by simple declarations or promises to tell the truth or to defend a cause or nation without any reference to God. Given the two, the Lord seems to prefer that his name be referenced as the one who ensures the veracity of the oath. Read Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20.
The author of Hebrews gives us a great definition of oath making. Read Hebrews 6:16-18. The making of an oath is a declaration of truth and is assured by appealing to something greater than oneself. As the highest order of creatures, the only one higher than a human is God and so an appeal to his name ensures our conviction and steadfast resolve to press on with a task. Let us always remember that God used this same reality to bring us salvation from the promise through the oath.
Read Genesis 21:22-24. Abraham swore an oath to Abimilech to treat his house kindly. Here is an example of one of the oaths an Old Testament believer made which God honored and never spoke about poorly.
Read Joshua 9:1-16. Because of the truthfulness of speech which an oath ensures, even rash oaths uttered without all the details are still binding. Joshua and Israel find out quickly how dangerous it is to make and oath when their enemies trick their hands. Read 2Samuel 21:1-5.
Paul makes a number of references to God as the one who confirms his words or acts as his witness. These are round about ways of referring to an oath. And they are in accord with Christ’s words to let our words be truthful. In fact, every believer must live and speak as though every word and action they do or say is being doing before God and in an act of testimony to his greatness. Read 1Corinthians 1;9, 9:1 and Matthew 5:34-37.
Read James 5:12. James draws upon Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount. Again this is a way of declaring that our lives must be lived in consistency to our profession of faith. The author of James is drawing upon all the biblical understanding of living in the presence of God and being a living sacrifice and example of God’s reign and rule in one’s life. By declaring all speech sacred, James is reminding every believer that God hears and sees all and witnesses and judges every action. Read Romans 2:16.