Against swearing oaths
A common feature of the teaching of the prophet Yeshua`, Jacob the Pious and the Emissaries, was that they all taught against the swearing of oaths. There is a commandment to swear oath’s in the Name of YHVH (Deut 6:13), that is, not to swear oaths in the name of any other god, only in YHVH’s name.
Now, there was always the danger that God’s Holy Name would become a profanity, so the 3rd commandment warned against this. Of course, if you bring God’s Holy Name too often into daily conversation, it demeans it and makes it into something common, and on the lips of insincere people it loses its holiness. There came a time when people would lie, and still swear by God’s Holy Name that they were telling the truth.
This issue must have come to a head, because Hosea (4:15) says, ‘Do not swear, ‘As surely as YHVH lives’. The Pharisees, because they forbade the saying of the Holy Name, made it acceptable to swear by other things, like the gold of the Temple. But in time the same insincerity began to creep in; such that an oath was no guarantee of truth on the lips of a liar.
So Yeshua` said, in S.Yesh. 122:5-7 (= Mt 5:34-37) ‘Therefore I tell you, don’t swear oaths at all, neither by heaven, because it’s God’s throne; nor by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. And don’t swear by your head, since you can’t make even one hair white or black. Simply let your “Yes” mean “Yes”, and your “No” mean “No”. Anything else comes from evil.’
And James the Pious reflected this in Ig.Yq. 15:1-2 (= Ep. James 5:12) when he said, ‘But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear oaths – neither by heaven nor by the earth, nor by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, in case you are judged.
And in the Teachings of the Emissaries it says, ‘You shall not swear oaths’ (T.Shl 2:3).
The nature of oaths and vows in the Israelite religion
By Yeshua`’s time, the laws on oaths had become impossibly complicated. Just read this summary on the section in the Talmud on oaths:
Case 1: Person A leaves certain objects in the care of person B; B admits having received them, but claims that they have been stolen or lost; he takes the oath in support of his assertion and is acquitted from responsibility.
Case 2: "Part admittance": Person A claims to have lent person B 100 shekels; B admits the claim as regards only 50, and after taking the oath is acquitted; but if B repudiates the claim in its entirety he is acquitted without oath. (3) But if A has one witness in proof of his claim, B must take the oath in either case. The admissions of B in cases 1 and 2, and the statement of the one witness in case 3, are considered as half-evidence.
The reasoning behind the teaching
The result may have been that certain individuals in the Jewish community may have rebelled against this jungle of oath laws. Behind it all was the issue of honesty. Yeshua` was teaching honesty, not necessarily a refusal to take oaths in court.
Nevertheless, it was a teaching of the ancient community of the Way not to swear oaths. I think we need more discussion on this in our community on how far to take this in modern times. We are certainly not to swear on the bible or the Torah, by God or anything else; if anything this is irrefutable by what Yeshua` says. However, we need to ask ourselves, ‘In court, are we merely to say, ‘I will tell the truth’?
I think there is more to this than meets the eye. I think the honesty of Followers of the Way is one of the issues. If we tell the truth in court, then if anything happens, we know that we have been honest, and we can retain our dignity and honour.