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Dictionaries :: Oath

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Easton's Bible Dictionary


a solemn appeal to God, permitted on fitting occasions (Deu 6:13; Jer 4:2), in various forms (Gen 16:5; 2Sa 12:5; Rth 1:17; Hsa 4:15; Rom 1:9), and taken in different ways (Gen 14:22; 24:2; 2Ch 6:22). God is represented as taking an oath (Hbr 6:16-18), so also Christ (Mat 26:64), and Paul (Rom 9:1; Gal 1:20; Phl 1:8). The precept, "Swear not at all," refers probably to ordinary conversation between man and man (Mat 5:34,37). But if the words are taken as referring to oaths, then their intention may have been to show "that the proper state of Christians is to require no oaths; that when evil is expelled from among them every yea and nay will be as decisive as an oath, every promise as binding as a vow."

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


oth (shebhu‘ah, probably from shebha‘, "seven," the sacred number, which occurs frequently in the ritual of an oath; horkos; and the stronger word ‘alah, by which a curse is actually invoked upon the oath-breaker Septuagint ara)): In Mt 26:70-74 Peter first denies his Lord simply, then with an oath (shebhu‘ah), then invokes a curse ('alah), thus passing through every stage of asseveration.

1. Law Regarding Oaths:

The oath is the invoking of a curse upon one's self if one has not spoken the truth (Mt 26:74), or if one fails to keep a promise (1Sa 19:6; 20:17; 2Sa 15:21; 19:23). It played a very important part, not only in lawsuits (Ex 22:11; Le 6:3,5) and state affairs (Ant., XV, x, 4), but also in the dealings of everyday life (Ge 24:37; 50:5; Jud 21:5; 1Ki 18:10; Ezr 10:5). The Mosaic laws concerning oaths were not meant to limit the widespread custom of making oaths, so much as to impress upon the people the sacredness of an oath, forbidding on the one hand swearing falsely (Ex 20:7; Le 19:12; Zec 8:17, etc.), and on the other swearing by false gods, which latter was considered to be a very dark sin (Jer 12:16; Am 8:14). In the Law only two kinds of false swearing are mentioned: false swearing of a witness, and false asseveration upon oath regarding a thing found or received (Le 5:1; 6:2 ff; compare Pr 29:24). Both required a sin offering (Le 5:1 ). The Talmud gives additional rules, and lays down certain punishments for false swearing; in the case of a thing found it states what the false swearer must pay (Makkoth 2 3; Shebhu‘oth 8 3). The Jewish interpretation of the 3rd commandment is that it is not concerned with oaths, but rather forbids the use of the name of Yahweh in ordinary cases (so Dalman).

2. Forms of Swearing:

Swearing in the name of the Lord (Ge 14:22; De 6:13; Jud 21:7; Ru 1:17, etc.) was a sign of loyalty to Him (De 10:20; Isa 48:11; Jer 12:16). We know from Scripture (see above) that swearing by false gods was frequent, and we learn also from the newly discovered Elephantine papyrus that the people not only swore by Jahu (= Yahweh) or by the Lord of Heaven, but also among a certain class of other gods, e.g. by Herem-Bethel, and by Isum. In ordinary intercourse it was customary to swear by the life of the person addressed (1Sa 1:26; 20:3; 2Ki 2:2); by the life of the king (1Sa 17:55; 25:26; 2Sa 11:11); by one's own head (Mt 5:36); by the earth (Mt 5:35); by the heaven (Mt 5:34; 23:22); by the angels (BJ, II, xvi, 4); by the temple (Mt 23:16), and by different parts of it (Mt 23:16); by Jerusalem (Mt 5:35; compare Kethubhoth 2:9). The oath "by heaven" (Mt 5:34; 23:22) is counted by Jesus as the oath in which God's name is invoked. Jesus does not mean that God and heaven are identical, but He desires to rebuke those who paltered with an oath by avoiding a direct mention of a name of God. He teaches that such an oath is a real oath and must be considered as sacredly binding.

3. The Formula:

Not much is told us as to the ceremonies observed in taking an oath. In patriarchal times he who took the oath put his hand under the thigh of him to whom the oath was taken (Ge 24:2; 47:29). The most usual form was to hold up the hand to heaven (Ge 14:22; Ex 6:8; De 32:40; Eze 20:5). The wife suspected of unfaithfulness, when brought before the priest, had to answer "Amen, Amen" to his adjuration, and this was considered to be an oath on her part (Nu 5:22). The usual formula of an oath was either: "God is witness betwixt me and thee" (Ge 31:50), or more commonly: "As Yahweh (or God) liveth" (Jud 8:19; Ru 3:13; 2Sa 2:27; Jer 38:16); or "Yahweh be a true and faithful witness amongst us" (Jer 42:5). Usually the penalty invoked by the oath was only suggested: "Yahweh (or God) do so to me" (Ru 1:17; 2Sa 3:9,35; 1Ki 2:23; 2Ki 6:31); in some cases the punishment was expressly mentioned (Jer 29:22). Nowack suggests that in general the punishment was not expressly mentioned because of a superstitious fear that the person swearing, although speaking the truth, might draw upon himself some of the punishment by merely mentioning it.

Philo expresses the desire (ii.194) that the practice of swearing should be discontinued, and the Essenes used no oaths (BJ, II, viii, 6; Ant., XV, x, 4).

4. Oaths Permissible:

That oaths are permissible to Christians is shown by the example of our Lord (Mt 26:63 f), and of Paul (2Co 1:23; Ga 1:20) and even of God Himself (Heb 6:13-18). Consequently when Christ said, "Swear not at all" (Mt 5:34), He was laying down the principle that the Christian must not have two standards of truth, but that his ordinary speech must be as sacredly true as his oath. In the kingdom of God, where that principle holds sway, oaths become unnecessary.

Written by Paul Levertoff

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1 Strong's Number: g3727 Greek: horkos


is primarily equivalent to herkos, "a fence, an enclosure, that which restrains a person;" hence, "an oath." The Lord's command in Mat 5:33 was a condemnation of the minute and arbitrary restrictions imposed by the scribes and Pharisees in the matter of adjurations, by which God's Name was profaned. The injunction is repeated in Jam 5:12. The language of the Apostle Paul, e.g., in Gal 1:20; 1Th 5:27 was not inconsistent with Christ's prohibition, read in the light of its context. Contrast the "oaths" mentioned in Mat 14:7, 9; 26:72; Mar 6:26.

Hbr 6:16 refers to the confirmation of a compact among men, guaranteeing the discharge of liabilities; in their disputes "the oath is final for confirmation." This is referred to in order to illustrate the greater subject of God's "oath" to Abraham, confirming His promise; cp. Luk 1:73; Act 2:30. Cp. the verbs horkizo, and exorkizo, under ADJURE.

2 Strong's Number: g3728 Greek: horkomosia


denotes "an affirmation on oath" (from No. 1 and omnumi, "to swear"). This is used in Hbr 7:20, 21 (twice), 28 of the establishment of the Priesthood of Christ, the Son of God, appointed a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and "perfected for evermore." In the Sept., Eze 17:18, 19.

Note: For anathematizo in Act 23:21, AV, "have bound (themselves) with an oath," see CURSE.

Smith's Bible Dictionary


The principle on which an oath is held to be binding is incidentally laid down in Hebrews 6:16, viz. as an ultimate appeal to divine authority to ratify an assertion. On the same principle, that oath has always been held most binding which appealed to the highest authority, as regards both individuals and communities. As a consequence of this principle, appeals to God's name on the one hand, and to heathen deities on the other, are treated in scripture as tests of allegiance (Exodus 23:13; 34:6; 29:12 etc.). So also the sovereign's name is sometimes used as a form of obligation (Genesis 42:15; 2 Samuel 11:11; 14:19). Other forms of oath, serious or frivolous, are mentioned, some of which are condemned by our Lord (Matthew 6:33; 23:16-22 and see James 5:12). (There is, however, a world‐wide difference between a solemn appeal to God and profane swearing.) The forms of adjuration mentioned in Scripture are-

(1.) Lifting up the hand. Witnesses laid their hands on the head of the accused (Genesis 14:22; Leviticus 24:14; 17:7; Isaiah 3:7).

(2.) Putting the hand under the thigh of the person to whom the Promise was made (Genesis 24:2; 47:29).

(3.) Oaths were sometimes taken before the altar, or, as some understand the passage, if the persons were not in Jerusalem, in a position looking toward the temple (1 Kings 8:31; 2 Chronicles 6:22).

(4.) Dividing a victim and passing between or distributing the pieces (Genesis 15:10; 15:17; Jeremiah 34:18). As the sanctity of oaths was carefully inculcated by the law, so the crime of perjury was strongly condemned; and to a false witness the same punishment was assigned which was due for the crime to which he testified (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12).


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