Questions From Readers
Is it Scripturally acceptable for a Christian to place his hand on the Bible and swear to tell the whole truth in court?
Each individual must make a personal decision in this regard. (Galatians 6:5) However, there is no Biblical objection to taking an oath to tell the truth in court.
Oath taking has long been a widespread practice. In ancient times, for instance, the Greeks raised a hand toward heaven or touched an altar while taking an oath. When a Roman juror took an oath, he held a stone in his hand and swore: “If I knowingly deceive, while he saves the city and citadel, may [the god] Jupiter cast me away from all that is good, as I do this stone.”—Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by John McClintock and James Strong, Volume VII, page 260.
Such acts were indications of mankind’s inclination to recognize the existence of a divine power who is able to observe humans and to whom they are accountable. From ancient times, true worshipers of Jehovah realized that he knew what they said and did. (Proverbs 5:21; 15:3) They took oaths in the presence of God, as it were, or with him as a witness. For example, this was done by Boaz, David, Solomon, and Zedekiah. (Ruth 3:13; 2 Samuel 3:35; 1 Kings 2:23, 24; Jeremiah 38:16) Worshipers of the true God also allowed others to put them under oath. That was so in the case of Abraham and of Jesus Christ.—Genesis 21:22-24; Matthew 26:63, 64.
A person taking an oath before Jehovah sometimes made an accompanying gesture. Abram (Abraham) told the king of Sodom: “I do lift up my hand in an oath to Jehovah the Most High God, Producer of heaven and earth.” (Genesis 14:22) An angel speaking to the prophet Daniel “proceeded to raise his right hand and his left hand to the heavens and to swear by the One who is alive for time indefinite.” (Daniel 12:7) Even God is referred to as symbolically raising his hand in an oath.—Deuteronomy 32:40; Isaiah 62:8.
There is no Scriptural objection to taking an oath. However, a Christian does not have to take an oath so as to back up every statement that he makes. Jesus said: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.” (Matthew 5:33-37) The disciple James made a similar point. When he said “stop swearing,” he was warning against frivolous oath taking. (James 5:12) Neither Jesus nor James said that it is wrong to take an oath to tell the truth in court.
What, then, if a Christian in court is asked to swear that his testimony is truthful? He may feel that he can take such an oath. Otherwise, he may be permitted to give an affirmation that he is not lying.—Galatians 1:20.
When courtroom procedure involves either raising a hand or placing it on the Bible when swearing, a Christian may choose to comply. He may have in mind the Scriptural examples of accompanying an oath with a gesture. For a Christian, more important than making a certain gesture when taking an oath is that he remembers that he is swearing before God to tell the truth. Such an oath is a serious matter. If a Christian feels that he can and should answer a question put to him in such circumstances, then he should bear in mind that he is under oath to tell the truth, which, of course, is what a Christian wants to speak at all times.