Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 37
Lord's Day 37
But may we swear an oath
by the Name of God
in a godly manner?
Yes, when the government demands it
of its subjects,
or when necessity requires it,
in order to maintain and promote
fidelity and truth,
to God's glory and for our neighbour's
Such oath‑taking is based on God's Word
and was therefore rightly used
by saints in the Old and the New
May we also swear by saints
or other creatures?
A lawful oath is a calling upon God,
who alone knows the heart,
to bear witness to the truth,
and to punish me if I swear falsely.
No creature is worthy of such honour.
It is necessary to speak about the oath in this context. The oath is a special invocation of the name of God. In the oath we call God to witness to the truth of what we declare or promise. In it we pray that he, who is holy, omniscient and all-powerful, will punish us if we speak a lie, but will bless us if we speak the truth. When we use the oath, therefore, we purposely place ourselves before God as our witness. This was unnecessary in Paradise, for man was always aware that he walked with God. But in a sinful world the oath is necessary to confirm fidelity and truth. But it is intolerable in the church. The believers are expected always to associate with each other in God's presence. Among them, each word and promise must be the equivalent of an oath!
We may not take unnecessary oaths, nor commit perjury. That would be a misuse of God's name. Nor may we swear by something or someone other than the only God. He, only, is omniscient and holy. He, only, is entitled to receive the honour of being the witness accepted by all, and who will reveal the truth now or on the last day.
Some persons are of the view that one may not take the oath and refer to Mt 5:33-37 and Jas 5:12 in support. But in those places Scripture prohibits the misuse of God's name and unnecessary oaths. Moreover, Jesus does not say in Mt 5:37 that the oath is evil, but that it exists because of sin and that, for that reason, it is no longer appropriate among those who are his, who have been delivered from sin and who flee from sin. In fact, taking the oath is based on Scripture, which shows us how God's children use it correctly (e.g., Gen 22:16; Ps 110:4; 2 Cor 1:23; Jesus' oath before the Sanhedrin). We may use the oath when the government demands it of us, or when necessity requires it. And then we must use in accordance with Jer 4:2a (KJV): in truth, i.e., speaking just as one thinks; in judgment, i.e., knowing what one does (hence, not by children or those who are mentally incapacitated); and in uprightness, i.e., not in unjust and evil matters.
- The government, as God's servant (Rom 13:4), which exercises judgment over public life, has the duty to punish all public misuse of God's name.
- All kinds of substitutes for religion, such as Spiritism, Theosophy, and Scripture criticism.
- The Anabaptist rejection of the oath and avoidance of the world.
- What does the phrase, “the Name of God,” denote? What does the separate declaration of punishment that accompanies the commandment indicate?
- What does the commandment forbid? What does it command?
- What do we do when we swear an oath? Did the oath exist already in Paradise? May we use it in our association with other believers? How should that association be governed? May we swear by anything or anyone other than God? Why not?
- Which texts do people appeal to in support of their objection to the oath? Do the texts support their position?
- Prove that the use of the oath is based on Scripture. By whom and when may the oath be demanded? How must it be used when it is demanded?