Monday, 5 November 2018
For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Hebrews 6:16
The word “oath” has an article before it – “the oath.” Further, the word “confirmation” is tied in with “end,” not “oath.” Thus, it more correctly reads, “the oath is the end for confirmation of all controversy.”
With this understanding, the verse can be evaluated properly. Here, the author is showing that the oath made by God, which is recorded in verse 6:14, is an absolute and unconditional thing. First, he shows how things work among men by saying, “For men indeed swear by the greater.” It is an obvious truth which he brings up. It is something universal to humanity.
Everyone follows this precept. When someone wants to confirm their word, they will make an oath and then swear by something greater than themselves in order to make the oath binding. A citizen of Rome would swear by Caesar. A Hindu may swear by Krishna. A person who was known to have loved his mother may swear by his mother’s grave. Someone may swear by their bank account. Whatever it is that is the guarantee for the vow, it is always something of great value to the one swearing and it is a confirmation of their word. Whatever they perceive is the greatest thing to them, that is what their oath is based on.
The idea is that if the word spoken is untrue, then they are binding themselves under that thing – Caesar, Krishna, their dead mother’s honor and memory, or the loss of their treasured money. From that precept, “the oath is the end.” Once the oath is made, there is nothing more which can be added to it which will make it any more sure in the ears of the hearer. The Greek word “end” is found three other times in the New Testament, always in the plural and always speaking of the “ends of the earth [or world].” It is the extremity or conclusion. Here, it is in the singular and it means that there is nothing beyond it; the matter is settled. As the author says, “for confirmation of all controversy.”
When there is a question concerning a matter, the oath is given, and any controversy in the matter is, from that point forward, upheld as established and without later addition or change. With this understanding, the author will next explain the absolutely sure nature of what God said when He spoke out His promise to Abraham.
Life application: It is not wrong for Christians to make vows. This is actually implied in Hebrews 6:16. However, it is important for us to first realize that we are not to make vows based on any part of creation. Here are Jesus’ words on the matter – “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37). The Christian is to be taken at his word. If people don’t see a person of integrity, they will expect an oath, but Jesus says it is not to be this way. Instead, we are to be wholly trustworthy in our dealings, even without our vows. Having said that, to vow on anything less than the name of the Lord is a form of idolatry. To swear on anything in creation is to then elevate that to one’s supposedly highest value, thus diminishing the name of the Lord. For this reason, the Bible offers this directive – “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13). This is not a contradiction of Jesus’ words. Rather, when an oath is required by another then that oath is to be made in the name of the Lord only. Nothing less is acceptable because nothing else is eternal and unchanging.
Oh God, help us to be right and upstanding Christians who are so faithful to You that others will accept our words by a simple “Yes” or “No.” If it is necessary because of a legal matter to make an oath, remind us that we are only to do so in Your name. When we place a hand upon the Bible, remind us of the importance of the matter that we are testifying to. Amen.