Saturday, April 3, 2010


Yesterday we read about false oaths being an offense to God and a way that people take the Lord's name in vain.  What about idle oaths?  Oaths that are true, but needless are idle oaths.  According to Calvin, this is also an example of breaking the third commandment.  Calvin states, "no other necessity can be pretended than to serve either religion or love."  We have become so accustomed to people swearing all the time about the most trivial things.  Calvin says that this is just an example of how depraved man has become, but God's law has not changed.  In this same section he also speaks against swearing by anything besides God, whether it is by a holy servant, strange gods, or frankly anything else.  When we must take a solemn oath, it is right to swear in God's name: "You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name" (Deuteronomy 6:13, cf Deuteronomy 10:20).  Even in the New Testament, we are instructed to take oaths by something greater than themselves - God (Hebrews 6:16-18).

All this talk about taking oaths, but Jesus told us not to swear at all, right?  Matthew 5:33-37 records Jesus' words during the sermon on the mount, "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one."  James echoed this passage in James 5:12.  Personally, I have struggled with this for years and have hoped to never end up in court where someone would be asking me to swear.  Calvin's main argument (and the one that makes the most sense to me) is this: "It was not his [Christ's] purpose either to slacken or tighten the law, but to bring back to a true and genuine understanding what had been quite corrupted by the false devisings of the scribes and Pharisees."  Calvin is absolutely right.  Christ came not to abolish the law, nor did he come to make it even more difficult, but he came in support of the law.  Therefore, we must examine more closely what Christ meant by this passage in Matthew.

Calvin suggests that Christ is instructing his followers not to swear in vain.  Christ does stipulate not to swear by heaven, earth, or Jerusalem and this substance is what Christ meant by "at all".  Calvin says that this is not to correct superstition but "he is refuting the wily sophistry of those who see nothing wrong in idly tossing about indirect oaths - as if they spared God's sacred name."  These are all benefits of God.  By swearing by these things, they are being elevated up to or even higher than God.  We must be careful not to deify anything that is not God.

Once again, Calvin states that Christ "disapproved only of those oaths forbidden by the law."  Paul certainly invoked the name of God in his oaths.  Romans 1:9 begins, "For God is my witness..." and II Corinthians 1:23 begins, "Moreover I call God as witness against my soul..."  Calvin asks why Paul would have done this if Christ has utterly forbidden it.  There are those who argue that only judicial, public oaths are permitted under the law.  Calvin states that this too is not a correct interpretation but that private oaths may be used when necessary.  In I Samuel 24:12, God is called upon to be the judge between two people.  This is a private oath, not a public oath.  Calvin cites other examples where the name of God is called upon in private matters.

Calvin sums it up by stating, "Thus I have no better rule than for us so to control our oaths that they may not be rash, indiscriminate, wanton, or trifling; but that they may serve a just need - either to vindicate the Lord's glory, or to further a brother's edification."  Oaths are serious business and they should not be taken trivially or lightly.  As Calvin said before, they should only be used for religion or love.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.28-2.8.34

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