Oath. The principle on which an oath is held to be binding is incidentally laid down in Heb. 6:16, viz. as an ultimate appeal to divine authority to ratify an assertion. On the same principle, that oath has always been held most binding which appealed to the highest authority, as regards both individuals and communities. As a consequence of this principle, appeals to God’s name on the one hand, and to heathen deities on the other, are treated in Scripture as tests of allegiance. Ex. 23:13; 34:6; Deut. 29:12, etc. So also the sovereign’s name is sometimes used as a form of obligation. Gen. 42:15; 2 Sam. 11:11; 14:19. Other forms of oath, serious or frivolous, are mentioned, some of which are condemned by our Lord. Matt. 5:33; 23:16-22; and see James 5:12. (There is, however, a world-wide difference between a solemn appeal to God and profane swearing.) The forms of adjuration mentioned in Scripture are—
1. Lifting up the hand. Witnesses laid their hands on the head of the accused. Gen. 14:22; Lev. 24:14; Deut. 17:7; Isa. 3:7. 2. Putting the hand under the thigh of the person to whom the promise was made. Gen. 24:2; 47:29. 3. Oaths were sometimes taken before the altar, or, as some understand the passage, if the persons were not in Jerusalem, in a position looking toward the temple. 1 Kings 8:31; 2 Chron. 6:22. 4. Dividing a victim and passing between or distributing the pieces. Gen. 15:10, 17; Jer. 34:18. As the sanctity of oaths was carefully inculcated by the law, so the crime of perjury was strongly condemned; and to a false witness the same punishment was assigned which was due for the crime to which he testified. Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12.