Perhaps there is no better place to begin this exposition of oaths than by explaining what we mean when we speak of oaths. In simple form, an oath is a promise. More particularly, an oath or promise is simply an agreement entered into between one person and another whereby the one taking the oath explicitly or implicitly appeals to God to witness and sanction what he has said or committed himself to, and calls God to judge and avenge His name if what he said is false or what he committed to do never comes to pass. From this definition we can see how pervasive promises are. When one signs a form swearing that the information it contains is true, he is making a promises. When a bride and groom promise to remain married till death do them part, they are making a promises. When a party enters a contract, he is making promise. When a courtroom witness swears to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he is making a promise. We’ve all made promises that we’ve broken. When that happens, we diminish ourselves as persons and lose the confidence of others. Sometimes it can lead to great bitterness and sorrow.
With this understanding of oaths, we need to know what Scripture has to say about them. The Scriptural point of departure is the third commandment, which is translated in the King James Version as "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Many Christians incorrectly assume that this verse merely teaches that we shouldn't curse using the name of God. Indeed, the third commandment does teach that we should not curse using the name of God. But it teaches so much more.
So just what does the third commandment teach? To begin with, the phrase "the name of the Lord thy God" does not refer only to the literal name of God. Rather, the name of God refers comprehensively to God, including God's literal name, anything by...