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Terrence L. Szink
Elder Bruce R. McConkie
by Terrence L. Szink
Oaths are solemn declarations used to affirm a statement or strengthen a promise. Anciently, oath-swearing formed an important part of social, political, economic, and religious interaction. God himself uses an oath and promise in his covenants with man (cf. Jer. 22:5; Amos 6:8; D&C 97:20). In covenant-making, ritual oaths attest the fidelity of those entering into the covenant. Sometimes an oath is sworn that anticipates punishment in case of failure to perform a specified act, and in some cases the covenant process symbolically depicts specific punishments (Jer. 34:18-19).
Oath-swearing was common among the Book of Mormon Peoples. Nephi1 swore an oath to Zoram assuring him full status in Lehi's family (1 Ne. 4:32-34), and Zoram swore to accompany Nephi and his brothers into the wilderness, after which their "fears did cease concerning him" (1 Ne. 4:37). Oaths of office were administered to judges (Alma 50:39). In a manner reminiscent of biblical and other Near Eastern peoples, the Nephites swore to support Moroni1 in defensive war, and used their rent garments to represent the punishment they wished upon themselves should they fail (Alma 46:21-22).
Oaths were also used with evil intent. For sinister purposes, the Gadianton robbers and the jaredites swore secret oaths that had once been sworn by Cain (Hel. 6:21-26; Ether 8:15; Moses 5:29).
Oaths continue to play a role in Latter-day Saint religion and ritual. The higher priesthood is received through an "oath and covenant" (D&C 84:39-40; cf. Heb. 7:11-22 ) of faithfulness. Following a pattern similar to ancient covenant-making, Latter-day Saints make holy covenants in temples. In their worship and prayer they use the word amen, which in Hebrew means "verily," "truly," or "let it be affirmed," and is considered a form of an oath comparable to expressions used in ancient Israel (Deut. 27:14-26; cf. D&C 88:135). The raising of the right hand of the congregation in periodic conferences in approval for those called to Church positions is viewed as a silent oath signifying one's determination to sustain those persons in their callings.
Frequent and superficial use of oaths can become an abuse and may diminish their sincere and sacred functions and oaths made "in vain" are profane and blasphemous. Christ admonished his followers to avoid oaths sworn without real intent and told them to make their commitments simply by saying "yes" or "no" (Matt. 5:33-37; 23:16-22).
Johnson, Roy. "The Use of Oaths in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon." F.A.R.M.S., Provo, Utah, 1982.
Szink, Terrence. "An Oath of Allegiance in the Book of Mormon."
In Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. S. Ricks and W. Hamblin. Salt Lake City, 1990.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
by Elder Bruce R. McConkie
In ancient dispensations, particularly the Mosaic, the taking of oaths was an approved and formal part of the religious lives of the people. These oaths were solemn appeals to Deity, or to some sacred object or thing, in attestation of the truth of a statement or of a sworn determination to keep a promise. These statements, usually made in the name of the Lord, by people who valued their religion and their word above their lives, could be and were relied upon with absolute assurance. (Num. 30.)
Oaths were common among the Nephites, prior to the ministry of the resurrected Lord among them. Nephi guaranteed the freedom of Zoram, for instance, by using in his oath the solemn language, "as the Lord liveth, and as I live." (1 Ne. 4:32-33; Alma 44.) Abraham took an oath of his servant to gain assurance that a proper wife would be selected for Isaac. (Gen. 24.) Joseph bound the children of Israel with an oath to carry his bones out of Egypt. (Gen. 50:24-26.)
While the oaths of the saints have furthered righteous purposes, similar swearing by the wicked has led to great evil. Wicked oaths, made by profane and blasphemous persons, have been the cause of much of the evil that has befallen mankind. These evil oaths, first administered by Satan to Cain (Moses 5:28-33, 49-51), have been preserved in substance and effect in secret, oath-bound organizations ever since. (Hela. 6:30; Ether 9:5.)
Beginning in the meridian of time the law whereunder men might take oaths in righteousness was done away, and the saints were commanded to refrain from their use. "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths," Christ said. "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. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more then these cometh of evil." (Matt. 5:33-37; 3 Ne. 12:33-37; Jas. 5:12.)
No such restriction on oath taking, however, applies to Deity. Both in ancient and modern times he has spoken to his saints with an oath. (D. & C. 124:47.) The great covenant made with Abraham that in him and in his seed all generations should be blessed was made by God with an oath in which Deity swore in his own name (because he could swear by no higher) that the covenant would be fulfilled. (Gen. 17; Deut. 7:8; 29:10-15; Luke 1:67-75; Heb. 6:13-20.) Similarly, God swore to David, "with an oath, . . . that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne." (Acts 2:29-32.) God also swore, with an oath, that the Son should be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:20-21, 28.)
In similar manner, everyone who has the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon him, receives it with an oath and a covenant. (D. & C. 84:33-41.) That is, in each instance, the Lord swears with an oath that the person so honored shall be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek and shall have eternal life. (D. & C. 76:54-60.) This oath, as well as all others which the Lord makes with men and for their benefit, must be made in righteousness if it is to be binding on earth and in heaven. An oath, to have "efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead," must be "sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise," which takes place only in the event of personal righteousness on the part of the one in whose behalf the Lord utters the oath. (D. & C. 132:7.)
Mormon Doctrine, p.539
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