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Oaths and Law Suits from the Early Church

Making an oath


The man who has a proven character and is devoted to God is not at all given to lying and swearing. An oath is a very serious affirmation, and it involves taking the Lord’s name.

So how can such a man, who has been proven faithful, show himself to be unfaithful so as to need an oath? Isn’t his very life a sure and decisive oath? By the sure, unwavering way he lives and speaks, he shows that he is truthful. Therefore, the one who knows God will never lie or perjure himself. For to do so would be to wrong God. We can’t actually harm God, but we can wrong him.

Another reason he will avoid lying or wrongdoing is so he won’t harm his neighbor. For he has learned to love his neighbor. And his “neighbor” includes people who are not his intimate friends. Finally, for his own sake, he avoids lying or breaking an oath. For he surely does not want to wrong himself.

Actually, the one who knows God does not even swear. He prefers to affirm by saying “yes” and to deny by saying “no.” For it is an oath to swear, or to promise in any way resembling an oath. If another person needs to perceive the certainty of his answer, the Christian can simply add to his affirmation or denial the words, “I speak truthfully.” At the same time, his life should be lived in such a way that outsiders have complete confidence in him. The result is that unbelievers will feel no need to ask the man of God to take an oath. His life should also inspire good feeling in himself and the people around him. This is voluntary righteousness.

The one who knows God swears truly, but he is not in-clined to swear at all. He rarely comes near to an oath, as we have already said. His speaking truth on oath is a result of his agreement with the truth. Speaking the truth on oath is simply a result of correctness in duties. So why would it be necessary for this man to take an oath, since he lives a life in accord with the pinnacle of truth? He, then, who does not even swear will be far from perjuring himself. And he who does not breach his agreements, will never swear. For an agreement is violated or upheld by actions. Lying and perjury in affirming and swearing are wrong. But the one who knows God should live a just life, and he should never fail in his duties. As a result, his actions swear to the truth for him.

Therefore, it is unnecessary for him to swear with his mouth.

The one who knows God is satisfied only with God’s consciousness and with his own consciousness. He knows that God is everywhere. He is not afraid to tell the truth, and he knows it is unworthy of him to lie. So he does not lie, and he never does anything contrary to his agreements. And so he does not swear, even when he is asked for his oath. And he never denies what is true, even if he is tortured to death.


I have said that the one who knows God is free from fleshly desires. By "advancing in love," the believer comes “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13) He is assimilated to God and becomes truly angelic. I could continue with many other testimonies from the Scriptures to support this view. But my discourse has become rather long. So it would be better for those who desire to study it more to build on what has been said by selecting, additional passages from the Scriptures.

Nevertheless, I will mention one passage [of Scripture] so as to not leave this whole matter without scriptural proof. In the first letter to the Corinthians, the divine apostle says, “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?” (1 Cor. 6:1-3)

This section of Scripture from which I have quoted is rather long. So we will simply look at the most pertinent passages to demonstrate the meaning of the apostle’s words. And I will only briefly explain this discourse in which the apostle describes the perfection of the one who knows God. For he does not characterize this one as someone who merely suffers wrong rather than doing wrong. Rather, he teaches that the one who knows God does not even remember wrongs. In fact, the apostle does not even allow this one to pray against the person who has done wrong to him. The one who knows God realizes that the Lord specifically said that we should “pray for our enemies.” (Matt. 5:44)

If someone who has been wronged goes to court before the unrighteous, he obviously wishes to retaliate. He shows a desire to injure the other person in return. This means he is also doing wrong himself. The apostle also says that he wishes “some to go to court before the saints.” (1 Cor. 6:7-8) This refers to those who pray that the wrongdoer will suffer punishment for their injustice. He implies that these people are better than those who take the sinners to court. But they are not yet obedient. For they have not become entirely free of resentment. And they are not praying for their enemies.

It is good, then, for them to receive the right attitudes through repentance. And such repentance results in faith. Even if the truth seems to attract enemies, it itself is not hostile to any one. “God makes his sun to shine on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45) And he sent the Lord himself to the just and the unjust. He that strives to be like God must be free of resentment. He forgives seventy times seven times throughout his entire life. His entire earthly course is indicated by the enumeration of sevens. So throughout he pardons anyone who has done wrong to him.

He realizes that the good man should be willing to turn his property over to those who wrong him. Not only that, he knows that the righteous man should ask the judges to pardon the offenses of those who have wronged him. The reason for this is that external things never really belong to the one who knows God. This includes all things that concern only the physical body—even death of the body.

How can a person judge the apostate angels if he himself has become an apostate by not forgiving injuries as the gospel teaches? For the apostle says, “Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud.” by praying against those who sin in ignorance. (1 Cor. 6:7-8) You seek to deprive them of the compassion and goodness of God. The apostle refers to the ones who do you injury as “your brothers.” By this term, he is referring both to those in the faith and those who may later be in the faith. For someone who is presently hostile to the faith might eventually become a believer. So the logical conclusion is that we should regard everyone as a potential brother even if he is not presently in the faith.

The one who knows God recognizes all men to be the work of one God. He knows they are all in God’s image, even though his image may be seen more clearly in some than in others. He recognizes the work of God in every created person, and again he praises the will of God. ?

This article was taken with permission from the book “The one who knows God” by Clement of Alexandria.
Published by Scroll Publishing, Shippensburg, PA.

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