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the Bible and Swearing in

Updated on June 13, 2010

Swearing on anything is neither a guarantee of truthfulness nor faithful service

This is most people's view of swearing in, which is done on a Bible that supposedly guarantees truth telling.
This is most people's view of swearing in, which is done on a Bible that supposedly guarantees truth telling.
Swearing in is used in the military, where it is to serve one's country.
Swearing in is used in the military, where it is to serve one's country.
This is what most of swear on, whether we believe it or not.
This is what most of swear on, whether we believe it or not.
The Koran is the book of truth for a huge number of people. So why is it not also used for swearing in?
The Koran is the book of truth for a huge number of people. So why is it not also used for swearing in?
Perhaps we should be swearing on a lie detector before and during a trial or term of service.
Perhaps we should be swearing on a lie detector before and during a trial or term of service.

Should the Bible continue to be used for swearing-in ceremonies and in courtrooms?

Suppose you are a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or even an atheist. What do you swear on then? Obviously if you are a believer in any other religion outside of Christianity, you are forced to swear on a body of sacred literature that is foreign to you. Then again, if you are Catholic or Protestant, there are two different Bibles. With all the newer additions and translations, which Bible translation applies? Which is valid? If you are a Muslim, can you even swear on a Koran? If you are Hindu, can you swear on the Bhagavad-Gita or the Vedas? And what about atheists? What can they swear on? Perhaps they can swear on Darwin's Origin of the Species, Einstein's general relativity or Marx's Capital or Communist Manifesto. We live in a multicultural world where diversity is the norm. Obviously, swearing on text in a narrow focus excludes most of the minorities who follow other scriptures. As Islam is the fastest growing religion, perhaps we should all swear on the Koran as numbers project that Muslims will be in a majority in the future. Thus swearing on a Bible as a ceremony or in the courts or in other circumstances appears out of joint with the times. But there is more!

The Bible's view on swearing is found in the following passages.

"Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing, but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!. Ye fools and blind; for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And whosoever swear by the alter, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind; for whether is greater, the gift, or the alter that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the alter, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon" Matthew. 23:16 - 22

"But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.” Matthew 5:34, 35; Acts 7:49

“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field; neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God. Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD. Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning. Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor; I am the LORD. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:9-18

"Swearing on a stack of Bibles" is no guarantee of truthfulness. We have heard all manners of swearing an oath, whether it is on the Bible, on your father's good name, one's mother's grave, on all the gold in Fort Knox, etc. This is supposed to be a way to gain confidence in a world awash with scams, lies and double dealing/double-think. The very Bible we are to swear on contains a passage that tells us not to swear at all. So what is going on is a contradiction. Jesus pointed it out in his day and we have been operating something like autopilot for centuries without analyzing the issue. Somehow, swearing on a Bible that contains the text of the Christian belief system is supposed to guarantee truth telling. This kind of hocus pocus works in a climate of superstition and ignorance. It does not work at all in a climate of learning and empirical awareness. Further, in an exercise of deception, swearing to tell the truth may condition the susceptible into believing the truth is being told even though the facts demonstrate otherwise.

Despite what we say as a Christian nation about trusting in God, when it comes to economics, we trust in the "almighty dollar" rather than the Almighty God. The US currency contains a contradiction as it has written on it "In God We Trust." The actuality is that it is money (formerly gold) that is trusted today rather than God who is ignored in the exercise of economics. This is despite the fact the script money not backed by gold or other real value is a poor thing indeed to trust. The real god of the industrial world these days, despite the problems of inflation and devaluation, is money pure and simple. So perhaps if we are so inclined to swearing on anything, it should be on a stack of money.

The Bible by and large is an instrument of faith-trust. So are other sacred writings. Money is an instrument of exchange and economy. Hegel tells us that necessity precedes freedom insofar that necessity has to be fulfilled before we can enjoy freedom. Necessity is founded on materialist reality and that material conditions of life have to be fulfilled before we have the freedom to speculate on ideas.

Ideas have changed over the eons, but if we look deeply enough, we find that the things we have taken as faith and belief are deeply rooted in nature. When we swear on a Bible, we are actually swearing on what was understood as nature in ancient times. There is also a spiritual and mystical element contained in the sacred scriptures that dealt with issues that could not be explained. This clashes directly to an empiricist understanding, but even today's science can't answer many basic questions.

Swearing on something is supposedly an expression of an emphatic belief of one's own integrity, past present and future. This is fine if a person doing the swearing is a solid, unflappable character. It is fine as long as the future is fulfilled according to expectation, but this is seldom true. Circumstance change and what one intends in the present and sworn upon become impossible to fulfill in the unfolding of time.

Swearing on a Bible is futile as we learn that people will lie under oath and this is later revealed. This betrays a lack of faith in the face of more pragmatic issues, such as the preservation of one's own life, wealth or lifestyle. It is also a demonstration of hypocrisy that is strongly criticized in the New Testament by Jesus. The inability of minorities other than Christian to guarantee their truthfulness under oath based on their own beliefs is blocked by a Christian oriented bias. In a multicultural society, there should be options to include all faiths, or there should not be any kind of swearing in ceremonies or taking of oaths on a Bible. If we as a Christian society follow directives in the Bible, then we should not swear on anything at all.

The Bible contains yet another scripture that states; "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12


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