Lesson 30. The Avoidance Of Oaths James 5:12

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple "Yes" or "No." Otherwise you will be condemned.

Commentary on James 5:12

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple "Yes" or "No." Otherwise you will be condemned.

The original readers of James’ letter are themselves under challenging circumstances. They are suffering under economic, legal, and even violent persecution. Their trials are very much unresolved and current. In love for them, James has driven home the point of the greatness of God – that God is great in righteousness, unchangeableness, and most of all faithfulness to give good gifts in compassion and mercy. Now in the concluding section of the letter, James concludes his message with three particular things to do in light of the greatness of God: do not swear; instead pray, and finally, keep bringing each other back to the truth. These are his three encompassing instructions.

Do nor swear. There is agreement among commentators that the basic point of the instruction in 5:12 is to insure the integrity of one’s speech without having to rely on oaths. “Let your ‘yes’ be true and your ‘no’ be true,” Additional issues surrounding be true. Additional issues surrounding this verse have to do with (1) the relationship of 5:12 with Matthew 5:33-37, (2) the relationship of 5:12 with the rest of James’s text and (3) the specific ways James would intend the verse to be applied.

James remembers Jesus’ teaching about OATHS in the Sermon on the Mount. In that teaching Jesus confronted the Pharacitic practice of using various formulas to create different levels of oaths, some of which were considered less binding than others (Mat. 23:16-22). The pharisees could therefore bind themselves to their promises in various degrees and so excuse themselves from keeping commitments they had made with lesser oaths. They could use the oaths to sound exceedingly pios and to justify themselves as deeply religious while being in fact hypocritical. Jesus commanded His followers not to swear but to invest their simple words of yes or no with complete integrity. James follows that; we might conclude he is simply prescribing honesty in speech.

Throughout the letter, James has been concerned with encouraging his readers' patience and perseverance in the midst of trials. It is clear that he anticipates in their suffering the temptation to compromise their moral standards, and so, become polluted by the world. He has just been telling them about the need for patience in the face of suffering. In the immediate subsequent context we will see James prescribing prayer as the proper recourse for Christians in trouble. This context does in fact provide a redilly understandable possible reason for Christians swearing with oaths. They would be tempted to strike bargains with God, swearing to do one thing or another if only God would rescue then from their persecutors. Religious people have tried this kind of bargaining all through the centuries; men such as young

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