Even though the ancients in Old Testament times did swear, the New Testament tells us that we should not do so today.
We read Christ’s words in Matthew 5:33-37: “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 adds in James 5:12: “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.”
We note that Jesus, when here on earth as a human being, did not swear. We read in Matthew 26:63 that the high priest attempted to have Christ swear, when he said: “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
Note HOW Christ responded, in verse 64: “It is as you said.” He did not answer by saying, “I swear,” but He confirmed–or we might say, “affirmed”– the accuracy of the high priest’s statement.
It is therefore correct that a Christian is permitted by God’s Word to affirm the truth. For instance, we read that Paul used a strong “affirmation” for the accuracy of his statements in Romans 9:1-2, when he said: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and a continual grief in my heart.”
He even called “God as witness against his soul,” when affirming the truth of his statement in 2 Corinthians 1:23: “Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.”
Paul made a similar statement in Galatians 1:20: “Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.”
However, as we can clearly see, Paul did not “swear” when he made those statements. Nor do we read that he raised his right hand in connection with his statements.
We do read, however, that angels, who are mightier than man and who are allowed to swear in the New Testament, raise their right hand (or even both hands) when they swear. This shows that raising the right hand is considered as a part of the act of swearing.
We read in Revelation 10:5-6 (New Revised Standard Version): “Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever…”
The following commentaries confirm the fact that the right hand is raised in conjunction with swearing:
The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown gives the following explanation to Revelation 10:5-6: “It was customary to lift up the hand towards heaven, appealing to the God of truth, in taking a solemn oath.”
John Gill’s “Exposition of the Entire Bible” concurs and adds the following remarks to Revelation 10:5-6: “… lifted up his hand to heaven; the Oriental versions read, ‘his right hand’; and so [do][ some copies, and the Complutensian edition… the lifting up of the hand was a gesture used in swearing… so the Jews say… ‘the right hand’, or by the right hand… ‘this is an oath”, according to [Daniel 12:7] or whether the right hand or the left, is an oath, according to [Isaiah 62:8].”
Albert Barnes writes in his “Notes on the Bible” to Revelation 10:5-6: “… Lifted up his hand to heaven–The usual attitude in taking an oath, as if one called heaven to witness.”
The Jewish Tanakh rendition adds an interesting footnote to Genesis 14:22, where Abram said, “I swear to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth (Tanakh).” The footnote reads in regard to the word “swear”: “Lit. ‘lift up my hand.'”
Based on the foregoing, members of the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates may affirm to tell the truth, but they should not swear or raise their right hand. We would also advise against including words in an affirmation that appeal to God, such as “so help me God,” or something to that effect, as to do so could lead to a violation of the Third Commandment (“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…”, compare Deuteronomy 5:11). It is much safer to abide by the clear instructions of Jesus and James, telling us not to swear (or affirm) by heaven or earth or Jerusalem, as all of these are in some way related to God, or not even by our own head, “nor by any other oath.”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link