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James 5:12

ESV But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
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.
NASB But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you do not fall under judgment.
CSB Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "yes" mean "yes," and your "no" mean "no," so that you won’t fall under judgment.
NLT But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.
KJV But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
NKJV But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.

What does James 5:12 mean?

This verse feels like an odd fit at this point in chapter 5. It doesn't smoothly follow from what James had been writing about remaining faithful to God in suffering, and it doesn't naturally flow into James's teaching on prayer in the next few verses. However, this seems to be part of James intent. It's an important point, and it needs to be emphasized clearly.

He begins by saying "above all," indicating that this is a big deal. He then repeats, nearly word for word, Jesus' command about taking oaths as recorded in Matthew 5:34–37. When James writes that we must not "swear," he isn't talking about using coarse language. Nor is he speaking, necessarily, about using God's name as a cuss word. He is talking about a practice that was apparently common in this era: taking an oath to convince someone either that you were telling the truth or that you would keep a promise.

We might think of saying to someone, "I swear on a stack of Bibles that I'm not lying," or "I swear on my mother's grave that I'll pay you next Thursday." Jesus forbid Christians from doing this, and James confirmed that teaching. The issue appears to be about honesty. Truthfulness should be the absolute norm for those who trust in Christ. Our simple yes or no should be completely binding since deception is never an option for us. If an oath is required to convince someone of our honesty or intent to be faithful, it suggests we may not be known for telling the truth in other circumstances.

It's likely that the taking of oaths had become a way of manipulating people or allowing wiggle room to get out of some kinds of contracts. James is definite: For those in Christ, dishonesty is never an option. No oaths required. Some Christians have read this command as forbidding them from taking oaths in legal settings such as courts of law or military service, but most believers see it as only a limit on personal oaths, especially those used for purposes of deception or manipulation.
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