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masonic matters

Oaths & Obligations

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled my hair, wore gloves in my cap, served the lusts of my mistresses heart, and did the act of darkness with her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and broke them in the sweet face of heaven; one that slept in the contriving of lust and waked to do it.” Shakespeare [King Lear]

“Swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art, a good mouth filling oath.” Shakespeare [Henry IV]

Oaths and Obligations

An Obligation is the act of binding one’s self by a promise, such as in the case of a moral or legal duty: It is a binding requirement as to action or a duty imposed. An Oath, however, is different. It is a solemn appeal to God in attestation of the truth of a statement, or the binding character of a promise: To take an oath upon a Bible means that a statement or promise is strengthened by such an appeal.[i]

In the Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded in the book of Matthew Chapters 5, 6, & 7 in the Great Light of Masonry, there are many things that Christians, Masons, and especially Christian Masons will recognize and take to heart, and maybe even find a little troubling too. If you haven’t read these chapters of the book of Matthew lately you may want to take a look at them again.

It is in the Sermon on the Mount where we will find the Lord’s Prayer[ii], the scripture that is referenced in the First Degree about Ask, Seek and Knock[iii], The Beatitudes,[iv] the Golden Rule,[v] and many other scripture sayings that we most likely are familiar with. Plus it is in the Sermon on the Mount where we will find the scripture that many find troubling about Masonry; the scripture about “Swear not at all,” or oaths[vi].

In my opinion, The Sermon on the Mount is a wonderful Sermon or set of Scriptures for the Christian Mason to read. This sermon was given at the beginning of the Ministry of Jesus and most of the expressions in the sermon were meant to be strong statements for the purpose of emphasis and to hold the attention of the listeners. When reading commentaries on many parts of the Sermon on the Mount we will find that not everything said can or should be taken literally. A good example of this is of all the commentaries and explanations written in books and study Bibles on all the various scriptures in the New Testament, and on this scripture in particular.

Those who are against a man becoming a freemason will talk about blood oaths and the scripture from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says that a believer should not swear at all. Here is that passage: “But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven for it is the throne of God: Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king: Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.” Matthew 34-37 - Douay-Rheims Bible[vii]

There is a lot to learn from and about the Sermon on the Mount, and this particular part of it in the many different Study Bibles and Commentaries written on this subject. To me something to keep in mind when looking at this scripture is that Jesus did not say that more than a yes or no is evil, but “that which is over and above these, is of evil.” It is because of evil that there may be more than this. “It is made necessary because of the evil that is in the world.”[viii]

One of the commentaries from a Study Bible may be of interest to you. The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible has this to say about Matthew 5:34: But I say unto you, swear not at all. This should not be understood in the strictest sense, as though it was not lawful to take an oath upon any occasion, in an affair of moment, in a solemn serious manner, and in the name of God; which may be safely done: but of rash swearing, about trivial matters.[ix] [Paraphrased]

In this scripture the meaning is that many people of those days did not consider a promise binding unless it was supported by an oath.[x] It is interesting, when we pursue this idea of swearing to a statement or promise we read in the Authorized Version of the New Testament many instances where Jesus adds to his Yea or Nay by the use of the word Verily, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary was a word frequently used as an emphatic affirmation of the truth of a statement.

Also in Hebrews 5:6 and 7:17 the New Testament tells us that Jesus is to be a Priest in the order of Melchizedek and in 7:20 through verse 24 when speaking of Jesus being made a Priest in the order of Melchizedek: “And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind; you are a priest forever.”[xi]

My purpose in writing about this is not to attempt to poke holes in scripture, but to shed some light on the meaning behind the words in the scriptures. Sometimes scripture is used by some people, (even though well meaning,) to dissuade a Christian from becoming a petitioner, or for an established Mason to quit the fraternity, because they are told the Masonic oath is evil or wrong. I think the learned Mason should be able to speak up and not only tell, but show, that taking an oath in a solemn engagement is not wrong at all - and far from evil.

Too many times a Christian fundamentalist will attack Freemasonry by a charge that this or that in Freemasonry is wrong, anti-Christian, or evil and that charge will go un-answered, even when we know they are wrong. The trouble is, many of us don’t study the Great Light of Masonry enough to be confident in telling them they are wrong and why.

There are many examples I could continue to use here to illustrate that the oath we Freemasons have taken does not conflict with Christianity, but I’m not sure any more than what I have shown is necessary now.

Be confident that there is nothing wrong in Freemasonry; there is nothing to be ashamed of, or to hide from our houses of worship; and nothing to apologize for. Also you should know that any charges against us can be understood and explained honestly and truthfully - by learning and in the case of attack about being not compatible with Christianity; that is not true, and we can prove it.

“I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations, and no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules.” Abraham Lincoln [1st inaugural address 3-4-1861]

From the Great light of Masonry = “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” Hebrews 6:16-17 NIV

[i] The New Century Dictionary Vol. 1
[ii] Matthew 6:9-13
[iii] ibid 7:7-8
[iv] ibid 5:3-11
[v] ibid 7:12
[vi] ibid 5:33-37
[viii] Masonic Concordance of the Holy Bible #2226B
[ix] The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible
[x] See Matthew 23:16-22
[xi] For more information read Hebrews Chapter 7

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Last modified: March 22, 2014