But above all things, my brothers, don’t swear, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no,” “no”; so that you don’t fall into hypocrisy. James 5:12

James begins by saying “above all,” indicating that this is a big deal. He then repeats, nearly word for word, Jesus’ command about taking oaths as recorded in Matthew 5:34–37. When James writes that we must not “swear,” he isn’t talking about using coarse language. Nor is he speaking, necessarily, about using God’s name as a cuss word. He is talking about a practice that was apparently common in this era: taking an oath to convince someone either that you were telling the truth or that you would keep a promise.

We might think of saying to someone, “I swear on a stack of Bibles that I’m not lying,” or “I swear on my mother’s grave that I’ll pay you next Thursday.” Jesus forbid Christians from doing this, and James confirmed that teaching. The issue appears to be about honesty.


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