Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How does someone accidentally make an oath (an oath that they are "unaware" they had made)? Does it mean basically all careless statements about taking a particular action are in effect an oath?

... or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.

I'm interested primarily in the exegesis—what this passage literally meant—not the modern application. An oath made while drunk is a possible example, but I'm not even sure that fits. If that was the only case, wouldn't it just say "an oath made while drunk"? What other cases might there be?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If you want to know what the passage "literally meant," we should start with a literal translation. After all "unaware of it" is a paraphrase. This is literal:

Leviticus 5:4 KJV Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.

In what way can his oath be "hid from him"? The most obvious meaning to me is he forgot about the oath. So he violates it. Then when he remembers about the oath, he is guilty. In other words, the idea is he is unaware of the oath when he breaks it, not when he makes it.

After all, the OT has nothing against oaths, only against breaking them, as Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:33-34 NKJV Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all:...

So he can only be guilty according to the OT after breaking the oath, meaning that it must be that it was "hid from him" when he broke it, not when he made it.

Of course, swearing to do something that violates the Law would also make him guilty, either after violating the oath or keeping the oath and thus breaking the commandment in question. So the explanation of the passage could possibly also be that there is an elipsis, i.e. words that are left out that the author figured the reader would know were implied. In which case it could be understood somewhat like this:

Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him [that what he is swearing is contrary to the Law]; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.

The JPS (Jewish Publication Society) gives this translation:

Or when a person utters an oath to bad or good purpose--whatever a man may utter in an oath--and, though he has known it, the fact has escaped him, but later he realizes his guilt in any of these matters--

I think that's far superior in clarity to the majority of the modern translations I've looked at.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.