Oaths and Vows

As a notary, I am often called to preside at oaths. The discussion came one day as to whether or not an oath was the same as a vow. They are not the same. Neither an oath or a vow should be entered into lightly, in fact many faith groups refuse to take an oath.

Through the years, some Christians have taught that the third commandment in particular and Scripture in general forbid all oaths. To bolster this contention, they marshal forth passages such as Matt. 5:33-37 and James 5:12 wherein we find the oft-quoted command, "swear not at all." And at first blush, these passages appear to forbid all oaths.

By carefully interpreting these passages, however, we will see that Christ was merely correcting Pharisaical and scribal abuses and misinterpretations of God's standards when it come to oaths. When interpreted in light of the general context of Scripture as a whole and in light of the particular context, we will see that far from forbidding all oaths, Christ (and James) forbade only unlawful (unbiblical) oaths.

An oath may be of various lengths of time, while some are binding forever (ie. an oath of enlistment). A vow is made forever, and is usually only ended by death (ie. marriage vow).

Briefly an oath is a statement which is sworn to as true and God is called upon to act as a witness to the statement. Violation of an oath is therefore a grave sin because God was asked to verify that something was true. Since God is all good, a violation is a sin against the third commandment, "Thou shall not use God's name in vain".

A vow on the other hand while similar to an Oath is a promise made to God to render a service, or a gift to God. most often when we as Catholics think of vows marriage vows and religious vows come to mind. "Breaking" a vow is breaking a promise made to God.

In this state (North Carolina) is is possible to swear an oath on any book and it will be legal. I occasionally have Muslims swear an oath over the Qu'ran, and Protestants on a King James version of the Bible, (I keep a copy of both in my office for the purpose). Theoretically if someone worshiped "Archie" he could swear an oath on a comic book. I have thankfully not had to do that yet. As a Notary in this state I do not have to administer my services if I think something is amiss. I am pretty sure that the comic book would fit into that category.

In the end God is still the King.

de Brantigny

(1)Center for Reformed Theology and Ethics. This is not a Catholic site.

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