Aug. 23, 2020

What Does James 5:12 Mean?

What Does James 5:12 Mean?



The Jew’s tradition of swearing an oath in God's Name (James 5:12)


Praying and praising at all times (James 5:13)


The history of healing in the Early Church (an intro to James 5:14-15)


Calling upon the Elders to pray for you when you're sick. (James 5:14)



James 5:12 (NIV): Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise, you will be condemned.

Today's Bible verse from James 5:12 seems to come out of the blue. In the last Bible Study Podcast, James talked about having patience in the face of persecution (James 5:10-11).

And immediately after James 5:12, James teaches about prayer.

But, today he talks about swearing in God's name. Just being honest here, I don't understand how this applies to the surrounding verses, and neither do most Biblical scholars.

But evidently James seems to think this is important for us to learn. So, we will take the time to dig deeper and understand more of James 5:12.

In 2 Minutes, you will discover:

  • Why swearing was common in James' day 
  • Why James says to stop swearing
  • How Jews found a way to get around the Law of swearing in God's name
  • Whether swearing an oath is permissible in a courtroom setting


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Hey, welcome to The Simple Truth. I’m Julie Carruth.

Today we’re looking at James 5 verse 12 which says in the NIV, “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise, you will be condemned.”

 So then, what do these words “do not swear” mean here? I always thought it meant don’t curse using God’s name, but that’s not what he’s saying here. 

James is talking about something that was very common at this time and that is taking an oath using God’s name. An oath was a promise to do something invoking God as the witness to support the claim or promise. The idea being that God would bring judgment if the promise was broken. 

So, they might say something like “I swear to God that it’s going to rain tomorrow.” Now, what happens when it doesn’t rain? You’ve made God out to be a liar because you swore it on His name. 

And, the 3rd Commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

Because of this, the Jews understood the seriousness of taking an oath, so they defined what was a binding oath versus a non-binding oath. When you use God’s name, you are making a binding oath. When you don’t use God’s name, it was a non-binding oath, and it was basically giving you permission to lie. 

They taught that as long as you didn’t directly involve God in your oaths, it was Ok to promise something that you might not keep. For instance, they might say, “I swear by heaven.” Or “I swear by earth” Or “I swear by Jerusalem that what I’m saying is true.” And since that person didn’t technically use God’s name, their oath wasn’t considered binding. 

And that’s why James says here in James 5:12, “do not swear - not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.”  

Now, James isn’t saying that all oaths are bad here. He’s NOT talking about the kinds of oaths required in a legal setting, like a courtroom or military service.

In this verse, James means swearing in God’s name in an informal, personal setting. 

And James is saying here, “Listen, you don’t need to swear by God’s name. Just be honest. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and no one will question whether you speak the truth or not. Otherwise, you fall into judgment from God.” 

So your simple Truth for today: Let your word be your promise.

Hey, you’ll want to join us tomorrow as we begin talking about prayer.  And it's simple to do. Just ask your Amazon Smart speaker, "Alexa, play Bible Study."

I’m Julie Carruth and I’ll see you soon.