By John M. Brenneman
From the January 1871 issue of Herald of Truth
Another year has passed away,
Which brings us nearer to the tomb;
Should we not all then watch and pray
And seek for an eternal home?
Another year is now begun
Which possibly may be our last;
Our race perhaps we may have run
Before the present year is past.
This year may close the pilgrimage
Of our short life on earth below;
Let us then heed the privilege
Of being well prepared to go.
This year our destiny may seal,
For future joys, or misery;
Soon Jesus will himself reveal,
In glory and great majesty.
To judge the world in righteousness,
When sinners will be cast away,
To outer darkness and distress,
But saints shall with their Jesus stay.
Wake up ye mortals, and be wise,
As days, and months, and years pass by;
O haste and make a noble choice—
In Jesus trust, to Jesus fly.
What awful scenes may we behold,
Before the present year rolls round—
O let us then not live so cold;
Soon may the Lord us all confound.
O let us think how short is time,
In which we may great wealth secure—
O Lord, do thou our hearts incline,
To seek for treasures ever sure.
Soon, soon the harvest day may close,
The summer soon be ended too;
Yet we may gather, yet may choose,
And yet avoid eternal woe.
Come, fellow pilgrim, haste away
To Jesus Christ who bids you come,
For here we cannot always stay;
Then let us seek in heaven a home.
Peter Riedemann was a prominent early Hutterite leader. He spent years in prison, during which time he wrote many letters and two confessions of faith. He was also a prolific hymnwriter. This hymn is #470 in the Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder; translation by Peter Hoover. Used by permission.—AVS.
The Lord God is my strength and shield, the fortress of my trust. He never leaves me without the comfort of his Holy Ghost. Though tribulations try me to the limit and anguish fills my soul he gives me love and patience, willingly, to overcome.
I will trust and believe in the Lord. He will not break his promises. He purifies my heart, gives me a glad conscience, and the power to overcome my fleshly desires. With compelling temptations and naked lust the wicked one lures my soul. But the Lord gives me victory! He lets me overcome the devil and all things that hinder me. Though they burn me with fire and torture me to death I will testify for my Saviour with irresistible joy!
Look, the bridegroom is at hand! He stands by the cross and waits on his church, the bride. Great comfort he will give her in the land to which they will go. Pleasures unending that no one can describe await them there. So let us go willingly through the narrow door! Let us squeeze our way into it, leaving the sights and sounds of the tempting world behind us to gain Christ!
Even though we must suffer shame, persecution and death for Christ, it is worth it to live forever with him.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
Following fashion is a very common mistake – or shall we be bold enough to call it a sin? – which often goes unrebuked, with no warning against its dangers being heard. Every year, when the fashion designers arbitrarily decide that the old fashion is over and the new is in, thousands – if not millions – dump their old clothes and buy new ones. Better to be dead than out of style, it has been said, and apparently some live by this philosophy. No matter how bizarre or outlandish the fashions are, the devoted slaves of the fashion goddess will obey her every dictate. Brown, green, blue. Tight pants, baggy pants, falling-down-behind pants. Cut-away shoes, boost-you-in-the-air shoes, untied-shoes, long-pointy-square-toed shoes. New clothes, new clothes, and more new clothes – until the fashion dictators declare that old clothes are in style – and the people buy more new clothes, artificially made to look old. And every year less fabric overall is worn, more money is spent, and the worshippers of fashion waste time and money to fulfill their lusts – all while children starve the world over, the Chinese and others beg for Bibles, the cry of the poor ascends to the Lord of Sabaoth, and the fashion designers fill their pockets with ill-gotten gains.
What saith the Scripture? The Apostle Paul wrote, “the fashion of this world passeth away” (I Corinthians 7:31b). Obviously, he is referring to the physical form of this earth, but the statement is true of the type of fashion which we have been considering. Such fashions are very temporary. After a few years or even months, the fashions change, and all one’s labor to conform to the fashions is brought to nothing – no value – in a very brief time. The pleasures associated with pleasing the goddess of fashion are likewise transitory. Following fashion cannot satisfy a human soul; only following the Lord Jesus and obeying His Word can provide deep, lasting satisfaction. As soon as fashions change, the followers of the cruel goddess find themselves dissatisfied and discontented once again, and have to labor to make themselves acceptable to their demanding mistress and their peers.
Jesus said, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). Fashions perish. The work of those who follow fashion will quickly perish and come to nothing. The money they have spent, the effort they have invested is all worthless once the fashions change. Jesus told us not to spend our labor on meat which perishes, but rather to labor for that which is eternal. When our focus is on eternity, we can ignore those things – such as fashion – which are transitory, time-bound, and ready to perish. We can focus on working for those things which are eternal – the kingdom of God, the salvation of souls, ministering to those in need, etc.
God asked through the prophet Isaiah, “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isaiah 55:2). Again, fashion cannot bring lasting satisfaction because it passes away. So many people spend their money and labor for something so vain which will pass away so quickly. Why would they continue to do something so foolish, when God offers lasting and true satisfaction?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (I Corinthians 6:12). Sometimes, people will admit that they are slaves to fashion. While some people can be addicted to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, others are addicted to following fashion. The Apostle Paul refused to do anything which would bring him under bondage – even if they were not necessarily sin – so as to not be hindered from fully following the Lord. Why remain in bondage when the Lord offers freedom?
Our world and its fashion designers are eagerly pursuing the broad way to hell, and need to hear that the Lord Jesus offers freedom, pardon, and deliverance. Meanwhile, even in some “plain” (Anabaptist) churches, there seems to be a definite flow of fashion. First someone makes or buys a dress (or shirt, or shoes, etc.) which is different, then all the rest want the same, then they all (who are interested in following the fashion, anyway) have it, then the first one has something else…and the cycle repeats itself. “Wherefore do ye spend…your labour for that which satisfieth not?”
If you are held in the clutches of the goddess of fashion, I encourage – I exhort – I plead – I beg with you to fly to the Lord Jesus and seek His pardon and His deliverance from your cruel mistress. “Him that cometh to me,” Jesus promised, “I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37b).
Originally published in The Witness (October 2013).
From Lieder der Hutterischen Brueder #283; translated by Peter Hoover. Used by permission.
Wolf Sailer wrote several hymns for the suffering Hutterite brotherhood. They are still preserved by the Hutterites today.
Early in the morning I thank God with my whole heart for having brought me through the dark night in which I lay in great pain. I thank him for opening my eyes so I may avoid the world’s abominations in which so many have become entangled. I thank him for waking me up and sweeping sin out of my life.
Lord, lead me out now, into the clear light of the sun! Guide me with your rod and staff through dangerous times. The whole world lies in wickedness, paying no attention to the calamity of souls. Hell stands open, ready to swallow those that walk according to their own lusts and make a covenant with death. They love worldly pleasures more than God and miss the Way to heaven, but I have made a promise. I have vowed to stick to the trail that leads to the eternal Kingdom.
Protect me Lord from the devil at noon, coming with shining robes, like an angel, to deceive me. Help me through the heat of the day—the ideas and priorities of the world—so I may enter the Sabbath rest with joy.
Nothing works greater damage than for a man to spend all his time depressed, feeling sorry for himself. We must let go of ourselves to gain the Kingdom! Our houses, our marriage partners, children, and all created things, even our own lives, we must risk for the honor of God. We cannot seek what is high in the world and please God at the same time.
We serve a jealous God. He will have nothing else but our complete love and our whole heart, free of affection for created things.
Flee, dark night! Joyful sunlight, drive all evil away! World, I want no more of your honor, pride, and power. I want to love you Lord, alone! Let the sun of your favor shine on my heart since Christ the beloved has carried my sins away.
Grace and peace! This is what he brings, and no one needs to die in his sins anymore.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The Selective Service System (SSS) is the government agency in charge of the draft in the United States. Currently, men ages 18-25 are required by law to register with the SSS for the draft. This is not the same thing as signing up for military service, but is only signing up for the draft. Men are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. There is no way to sign up as a conscientious objector (CO), as the government does not care who is or is not a CO if there is no draft. The CO process begins only after 1) a draft has been begun and 2) you have been drafted. It is a felony to fail to register, and you may be imprisoned for five years, fined up to $250,000, or both.
SSS sign-up forms should be available at your local post office. You can sign up online, but doing it over the mail is recommended for COs, in order to retain additional proof of your CO convictions.
The SSS form has blocks for birthdate, gender, social security number, name, address, date, and signature. In between these blocks, find a white space and write in all capital letters: I AM A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR TO WAR IN ANY FORM. Make a photocopy of this form and mail the photocopy to yourself. When you receive it, do not open it – store it away in a file with the rest of your CO information. Send the original to the SSS.
A few weeks after sending in your registration, you will receive a confirmation from the SSS that they received your completed form, and they will give you your Selective Service Number. Keep this information. You will need it if a draft is ever begun.
Next, you must take care to document your beliefs NOW while there is no draft in progress. The draft system works quickly enough that if you wait until one has started, it may be too late to build a CO file! Here are the steps to take:
Contact Christian Aid Ministries and ask for a copy of their Draft Information Manual, which they will be happy to send you for free. It has much detailed information about the current draft laws. Settle in your own heart before God what you believe about war, peace, and nonresistance, as well as knowing in yourself what you may conscientiously do in harmony with the Scriptures. For instance, is noncombatant service acceptable, or a compromise? Be prepared to die for your beliefs, if necessary. Write a brief statement explaining why you stand opposed to “war in any form.” This is not a doctrinal treatise, but a brief statement of your beliefs and what you can or cannot do because of them. (Mine ran about five handwritten pages.) Make a photocopy of this and mail it to yourself, then store the photocopy, unopened, in your CO file. This is to provide dated proof of your convictions. (The importance of not opening such documents is because they will be undisturbed with the postmark on the outside – proof positive of the age of the enclosed document.) For additional dated proof, send such a statement to The Witness. We will be glad to help you out by publishing it. We will send you a copy of the issue in which your letter appears for you to put in your file, unopened. Find several people you know who can write a “Letter of Support” for you. This letter is not a letter of support for your position, but a statement that the person writing knows you and supports your claim that your CO status is due to a sincerely held belief (rather than expediency). Church leaders, friends, acquaintances, employers, co-workers – try to find a wide sampling of people who know you well enough to support your claim to sincerity. Finding one or two people who are not nonresistant, but believe you are sincere in your nonresistance, is a good thing. Be sure to give your letter-writers a photocopy of page 45 from the Draft Information Manual, which explains what the letter should include. Ask your letter-writers to mail you two copies of their letter – one to put in your file, unopened, and one to open and read. It is important to pre-screen the letters before using them in a CO case because a poorly written letter could hurt your case rather than helping it. Walk close to the Lord and stay surrendered to His will and continued work in your life – whether or not a draft should ever come to test your convictions.
Young women, do not think that this will never apply to you. The Selective Service law currently states that “male persons” must register and may be drafted, but the constitutionality of excluding women from the draft has been tested in the courts. In 1981, Supreme Court decision Rostker vs. Goldberg decided that requiring only men to register was not a violation of the Constitution’s due process clause. However, in 1994, the Department of Defense (DoD) revisited the issue and noted that in prior wars, the draft was primarily used to supply the Army with ground combat troops. At the time, there was a policy of excluding women from such positions, thus, excluding them from the draft was still reasonable, in the DoD’s view.
However, very recent legislation has opened front-line combat positions to women. Thus, since the DoD’s reason for excluding women from the draft is gone, it will probably not be long before women ages 18-25 will be required to sign up for the draft, just like men. It is probably advisable for young women in that age range to prepare now for this possibility, going through all of the steps noted above EXCEPT for preparing and sending in an SSS registration form.
Originally published in The Witness (August 2013).
By John M. Brenneman
Originally published in the February 1866 issue of Herald of Truth.
“ ’Tis one thing now to read the Bible through,
And another thing to read to learn and do:
’Tis one thing now to read it with delight,
And quite another thing to read it right.
Some read it with design to learn to read,
But to the subject pay but little heed;
Some read it as their duty once a week,
But no instruction from the Bible seek:
Whilst others read it with but little care,
With no regard to how they read, nor where!
Some read it as a history, to know
How people lived three thousand years ago.
Some read to bring themselves into repute,
By showing others how they can dispute:
Whilst others read because their neighbors do,
To see how long ’twill take to read it through.
Some read it for the wonders that are there,
How David killed a lion and a bear;
Whilst others read, or rather in it look,
Because, perhaps, they have no other book.
Some read the blessed book they don’t know why,
It somehow happens in the way to lie;
Whilst others read it with uncommon care,
But all to find some contradictions there!
Some read as tho’ it did not speak to them,
But to the people at Jerusalem;
One reads it as a book of mysteries,
And won’t believe the very thing he sees:
Another reads through Campbell or through Scott,
And thinks it means exactly what they thought.
Some read to prove a preadopted creed—
Thus understand but little what they read;
For every passage in the book they bend,
To make it suit that all important end!
Some people read, as I have often thought,
To teach the book, instead of being taught.
And some there are who read it out of spite—
I fear there are but few who read it right.
So many people in these latter days
Have read the Bible in so many ways,
That few can tell which system is the best,
For every party contradicts the rest!!”
The above Poetry is, alas! a true description of too many Bible readers in our days. I fear there are but few who read it with such an anxious desire, as did the Ethiopian eunuch. Few there are, I fear, who read it as it is in truth, the word of God. We should read the Bible as a revelation from God to sinful man; wherein our lost, sad and deplorable condition by nature is made fully known unto us; the consequences of a wicked and sinful life of a sinner are plainly shown therein, namely that the wicked shall not go unpunished; and that they, if they continue in their wickedness, shall be destroyed. But the Bible also teaches, that, if the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, he will have mercy upon him, and will abundantly pardon. It is certainly the duty of every intelligent person, to read the Bible (if they can read) with a sincere desire to know and do the will of God. For in the Bible “he hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” I fear that there are many Bible readers, to whom the promise of God in Isaiah 66:2, will not reach, where he says, “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
We should read the Bible with prayerful and upright hearts to learn to know the will of God. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning.” “Search the Scriptures,” says the Savior; “for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” The Bible directs and points us to Christ Jesus, who came to “save sinners.” We should search and read the Bible with a desire to benefit our souls. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation. Such wisdom is far preferable to that of this world. In the Bible we can behold ourselves as in a mirror, and see what manner of persons we are, what we need, to make us happy and where to go, to get it.
Written by an anonymous godly woman
Based on the following scriptures: Proverbs 31, Deuteronomy 6:5-7 & 11:19, Titus 2, I Timothy 2, I Peter 3:1-7, I Corinthians 11 & 14:29-40
The Bible speaks to everyone who follows in the Way, But some parts are specific in the things they have to say. The fathers are encouraged, and those alone in life, And there are admonitions for the mother and the wife.
I always linger over these; they speak to my estate. They offer me direction in the small things and the great. To be a godly woman is the goal I want to reach, And so I need to study what the Scriptures have to teach.
A woman who is called to be a mother and a wife, Who takes the cross and purposes to live a godly life, Is ever growing in the faith she’s chosen to profess, And there are certain qualities she covets to possess.
The godly woman stays at home; her duties keep her there. She rises while it yet is night and gives herself to prayer. Her days are full of service and her heart is full of love; Her mind is full of gratitude and praise for God above.
Though not employed outside the home, she has no mind to shirk. She eats not bread of idleness, but fruit of honest work. Her brother and her sister, her parents and her neighbor, Her husband and her children share the blessing of her labor.
The love her husband feels for her is easy to reflect, And she not only loves him, but she gives him her respect. In her his heart may safely trust; she does him only good; When he confides his inner thoughts, he finds them understood.
She’s mindful, too, of Eden, where the woman was deceived. She knows it’s not her place to teach (as others have believed) Nor to usurp authority, but listens with subjection, In meekness and humility, accepting his direction.
When all the church assembles in a solemn, formal way, The godly woman listens what the brethren have to say; And if she hears a statement made that makes her sit up straighter, The question forming in her mind is asked her husband later.
There is a congregation where her voice is often heard, And her children are attentive as she teaches them the Word, When she sits within her house, and when she walks along the way; When she lays them down at night, and when she rises with the day.
The godly woman is discreet, not seeking others’ praise; She’s modest in appearance, and she’s modest in her ways. She isn’t prone to gossip, but her neighbors know she cares, And any help her hands can give is certain to be theirs.
The godly woman doesn’t follow fashion’s idle whim, Nor deck herself in gold or gems to draw the eyes of men. And yet, compared to those who do, she is exceeding fair; Her meek and quiet spirit is an ornament more rare.
The godly woman isn’t gay; she’s left that all behind. She’s pleasant and she’s cheerful, but she has a sober mind. Her covered head, her simple dress, her modest mein are one; Her singular adornment is the good that she has done.
When years of faithful laboring have bent her body low, She’ll teach the younger women in the way that they should go. Her works are their example in the service of the Lord; And verily, I say to you, she’ll have a rich reward.
Oh, make of me that woman, Lord! And guide me in that way. Behold, Thou art the potter, and I the softened clay. Encourage me where I am right; rebuke me where I’m wrong. I read these Scriptures often and I ponder on them long.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Mike Atnip
One of the signs of modern, fallen Christianity is the practice of women teaching men and ordaining women to leadership roles. Historically, very few churches practiced this until the last century and a half. The Bible is quite plain in these points, so I usually do not spend a lot of time reading materials that try their best to make the Scriptures say the opposite of their plain meaning. So when someone recently showed me an issue of a magazine that was dedicated to proving that it was scriptural for women to be ordained as ministers (in the official sense of the word) and to teach men, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I grew up around churches that took that stance and know the arguments.
But one section caught my eye. It was the claim that the early Anabaptists had ordained women preachers. Although the article is careful to not actually call them “ordained ministers,” the inference is clearly there.
During the last several years I have spent a good bit of time reading Anabaptist thought and history … and knew that even some of the foremost “liberal” Mennonite historians (who seem to have gone looking for some proof of it to support their own current practice) had concluded after long research that there were simply no ordained women ministers in early Anabaptism.
Were there zealous women, women who boldly stood their ground when asked in court trials (sometimes accompanied by torture) about their faith? Absolutely! About 1/3 of all Anabaptist martyrs were women. But the bottom line was simple: no recorded case has been found of an early Anabaptist woman being ordained to the ministry in the official sense of the word. The word “minister” means serve (verb), or servant (noun). In that sense, every Anabaptist was considered a “minister.”
So what do we do with the following, taken from page 1120 of the Herald Press edition of the Martyrs Mirror?
The Gospel Trumpet had the following to say about the above section:
Here is an image from Martyrs Mirror (Page 1122, Herald Press, 1950 edition), in which two women are clearly listed with men in the ministry. Ruth Kunstel was “a minister in the word of the Lord” at Muchem, in the Berne jurisdiction, while Ruth Hagen was listed as “an elder” from the Zurich area.
These women followed their New Testament forebears Phebe, the four daughters of Philip, Junia, etc., in ministering the Word of God along with men. This cannot be gainsaid, as it is in plain black-and-white recorded for posterity. Let all who claim the Anabaptist heritage know their history.
At first glance, it does seem to indicate that there were indeed women ordained as a minister and an elder in early Anabaptism. But right away I suspected something: Ruth was probably also a man’s name in that time period. A quick check to the German version would clear up the question, since the German language has a different article (meaning a different form of “the” and “a”) depending on whether the noun is a male noun or a female noun.
The German text of the two Ruths
For those who do not read German (probably the majority of our readers), you will notice the article “einem.” Now take a look at whether that is a male or female article:
Now let’s take another closer look at the English again. Does the English say “Ruth Hagen, an elder,” or does it say “Ruth Hagen, an eldress”?
Obviously, the situation here is that Ruth was a man. Ruth is certainly not a common male name; in fact it is the first time I have run across it myself. Another possibility in this case is a misspelling, since during that time period spelling consistency was basically an every-man-for-himself sort of thing.
To be sure, at first glance it can easily look like the early Anabaptists may have had “women in the ministry.” A closer look proves that the “proof” was bad proof.
For the other “proof” of “women in the ministry,” a little clip of page 481 of Martyrs Mirror was presented:
Let me ask you: Just how much proof does the above clipping give to prove that the early Anabaptists had women ordained as teachers to men?
To be honest, it provides exactly 0% proof. Elizabeth was accused of being a teacher. But she was also (falsely) accused of being Menno Simons’ wife. Or perhaps the authorities were mocking her. But there is no admission on Elizabeth’s part of being a “teacher.” Or, if she did teach, whom did she teach? Children? Other women? Men?
No proof of being a “teacher” is found. Much less whom she taught if she was indeed an ordained “teacher.”
This thing called integrity
All this moved my mind to think of integrity. Integrity has to do with “wholeness.” When speaking of a person’s or a group’s integrity, it carries the idea of being totally honest. For myself, when dealing with Anabaptist history it means admitting—for as much that I admire the Anabaptist movement—that there were some things I cannot agree with. Some of them held wrong ideas about divorce/remarriage. Some of them had really—I mean really—funny ideas about eschatology.
Back to history
Proof of the early church ordaining women as preachers?
The question here is not so much the interpretation that Chrysostom gave of the passage of Scripture, but the question is about the integrity of using one quote of his to support the idea of women preaching in the church. There are several points that could be argued on his interpretation of Romans 16:7. 1. Whether listing both of them together is meant as a husband/wife team, and only Andronicus was officially the apostle. 2. Whether being called an apostle was an indication that Junia taught men. Many women have been sent as apostles (we call them missionaries in our day … “one sent out”) and yet never taught men. If we read the rest of the writings of John Chrysostom, it is quite clear that he felt women should not teach men, nor speak in the church. There are a number of things we could quote from him, but this one suffices:
To such a degree should women be silent, that they are not allowed to speak not only about worldly matters, but not even about spiritual things, in the church. This is order, this is modesty, this will adorn her more than any garments. Thus clothed, she will be able to offer her prayers in the manner most becoming. … [Paul] says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners. For thus they will show submission by their silence. (Early Church Fathers, Vol. XXII)
Back to integrity
But let’s look at the integrity of pulling one ambiguous quote out of early church history to prove a point, when there are plenty of other quotes that clearly refute the idea that is trying to be proven. For example:
Their [the married Apostles’] spouses went with them [on their mission trips], not as wives, but as sisters, in order to minister to housewives. It was through them that the Lord’s teaching penetrated also the women’s quarters without any scandal being aroused. Clement of Alexandria (ANF 2.391-Translated from the Latin)
If the daughters of Philip prophesied, at least they did not speak in the assemblies; for we do not find this fact in evidence in the Acts of the Apostles. Much less in the Old Testament. It is said that Deborah was a prophetess … There is no evidence that Deborah delivered speeches to the people, as did Jeremiah and Isaiah. Huldah, who was a prophetess, did not speak to the people, but only to a man, who consulted her at home. The gospel itself mentions a prophetess Anna … but she did not speak publicly. Even if it is granted to a woman to show the sign of prophecy, she is nevertheless not permitted to speak in an assembly. When Miriam the prophetess spoke, she was leading a choir of women … For [as Paul declares] “I do not permit a woman to teach,” and even less “to tell a man what to do.” Origen
And these verses (Romans 16:1-2) teach with apostolic authority that females were appointed to aid the church. Phoebe of Cenchrea was placed in this service, and Paul with great praise and recommendation follows by enumerating her beautiful deeds, saying, “She helped everyone so much, by being close at hand when needed, that she even helped me in my needs and apostolic labors, with a total dedication of her mind.” I would compare her work to that of Lot, who while he always took in strangers, one time even merited practicing hospitality on angels. In the same way Abraham also, who was always practicing hospitality, once merited having the Lord with his angels to be entertained in his tent. So this devout Phoebe, continually assisting and obeying everyone, was once merited with assisting and obeying the Apostle as well. This verse teaches us two things at the same time: There are, as was said, female aides in the church, and such should be considered as part of the service of the church. Those who have assisted many, and by good service have attained to apostolic praise, should be counted as part of that ministry. He also exhorts that those who seek to do good works in the churches, whether in spiritual or fleshly aid, should receive in return the reward and honor from the brethren.
This verse (Romans 16:6) teaches that women should labor for the churches of God. For they labor when they teach the young ladies to be modest, to love their husbands, to raise children, to be pure and chaste, to guide their homes, to be hospitable, to wash the saints’ feet, and everything else that is written concerning the service of women. ~Origen
This verse (Romans 16:6) teaches that women should labor for the churches of God. For they labor when they teach the young ladies to be modest, to love their husbands, to raise children, to be pure and chaste, to guide their homes, to be hospitable, to wash the saints’ feet, and everything else that is written concerning the service of women, all of which should be done with chaste conduct. Origen, Commentary on the Book of Romans (translated from the Latin)
For how credible would it seem, that he [the Apostle Paul] who has not permitted a woman even to learn with overboldness, should give a female the power of teaching and of baptizing! “Let them be silent,” he says, “and at home consult their own husbands.” Tertullian (ANF 3.677)
It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, nor to stay (in any) sacerdotal office. Tertullian (ANF 4.33)
That a woman ought to be silent in the church: In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “Let women be silent in the church. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.” Also to Timothy: “Let a woman learn with silence, in all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not seduced, but the woman was seduced.” Cyprian (ANF 5:546)
We do not permit our women to teach in the Church, but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although He did not lack [women candidates to do this]. For there were with us the mother of our Lord and His sisters; also Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus; Salome, and certain others. For, had it been necessary for women to teach, He Himself [would have] first commanded these also to instruct the people with us. For “if the head of the wife be the man,” it is not reasonable that the rest of the body should govern the head. Apostolic Constitutions (ANF 7.427, 428)
But if in the foregoing constitutions we have not permitted [women] to teach, how will any one allow them, contrary to nature, to perform the office of a priest? For this is one of the ignorant practices of the Gentile atheism, to ordain women priests to the female deities, not one of the constitutions of Christ. Apostolic Constitutions (ANF 7.429)
Ok, you probably get the point. The mass of early church quotes are clearly against the idea of women teaching men and against ordaining women to leadership roles in the church (unless, like the early Moravian Brethren, the Eldresses only taught or counseled other women or children).
These quotes from the early church neither prove nor disprove if the Bible itself teaches for or against women teaching men or speaking in public assemblies. They do, however, give us a clear indication of how the Ante-Nicene church interpreted Paul’s teachings. The bottom line is, as far as I know, there is no straightforward evidence in early church writings that women (excepting heretical groups like the Montanists) ever taught in a public assembly. I say that with integrity. I say it after having read thousands of pages of church history.
I could be wrong, of course; I don’t know everything there is to know about church history. But my integrity will not let me say otherwise. Do I say that because I happen to believe that Paul’s writings clearly forbid women to be ordained as elders? And that women are not to teach men, or speak in the public assembly?
No, I am being honest with history. I cannot say the same about the Quakers. As much as I like what the Quakers stood for in some areas, my integrity will not permit me to make the Quakers appear as if they forbade women speaking publically in the assemblies. It simply was not so. But the early church and the Anabaptists forbade women to speak in the public assemblies and to teach men. Integrity demands that I say that.
And if we lack integrity in history …
So what do you do with a person or a group who does not seem to have integrity with history? Personally, I find it hard to swallow the same person’s (or group’s) handling of the Holy Scriptures. If they pull an ambiguous quote from Martyrs Mirror and make it appear that the early Anabaptists had ordained women eldresses, or if they use one ambiguous early church quote, but ignore a dozen plain ones … how will they handle the Bible?
Perhaps some of you readers are wondering why I do not take up here an exposition of the Scriptures that touch women preachers. Well, my main point in this short article is not about women preachers, but about integrity. But let us look at one biblical point, again mainly considering integrity.
In the same issue of The Gospel Trumpet, there is a small box concerning Phoebe, the διάκονον [transliterated, “deaconess”] of the church at Cenchrea mentioned in Romans 16:1. The article states:
Many have thought the word servant (diakonos) here means deacon or deaconess, but when the same word is used elsewhere by Paul, it denotes ministers of the gospel:
“Jesus Christ was a minister” (diakonos). Rom. 15:8.
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers” (diakonos). 1 Cor. 3:5.
“Epaphras our dear fellowservant…a faithful minister” (diakonos). Col. 1:7.
“Thou [Timothy] shalt be a good minister (diakonos) of Jesus Christ.” 1 Tim. 4:6.
“Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister” (diakonos). Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7.
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers (diakonos) by whom ye believed.” 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25.
From the Scriptures selected by The Gospel Trumpet, it could easily be deduced that the Greek word διάκονον always refers to what we think of when we think of an ordained preacher. However … the word “minister” simply means “to aid” (verb) or “one who aids” (noun). Are the quoted texts saying that all those mentioned were ordained preachers? Or is it simply calling them aides, or more specifically “one who executes the commands of another” (Thayer’s Lexicon)? But let’s get down to the integrity of the matter … why was not Romans 13:4 added in the list selected by The Gospel Trumpet?
For he is the minister of God to thee for good …
Who is this “minister”? None other than the civil authority that is over the believer. Yes, the civil authorities are “deacons” of God! In John 2:5, “His mother saith unto the διακόνοις, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Were those wedding helpers “ordained ministers”?
Obviously my point is that the Greek word διάκονον can refer specifically to an ordained servant of the church (1 Ti. 3:8), or it can simply be the men responsible for filling the waterpots at a marriage, or your town mayor, or the girl who wipes the tables after a meal.
In what sense was Phebe a διάκονον: an aide of the church, or a “minister of the gospel”? From the isolated text of Romans 16:1, nothing can be concluded. We have to take into account the whole NT use of the word, as well as the teachings concerning women and public ministry.
My conclusion—based on the whole of the NT teaching—is that she was simply a woman of the church at Cenchrea who aided the church by carrying Paul’s letter and perhaps taking care of some other unspecified “business” while there. It appears that she had been busy succouring many people in the past, so maybe she was simply on a mission to Rome to bless some needy person or family there. Maybe some expectant mother needed an extra hand for a few months. Maybe a sick sister needed some help. Maybe she taught the younger sisters how to love their husbands. There are myriads of opportunities to aid the church without being an “ordained minister of the gospel.”
But the bottom line is that we really don’t know, from the text of that one verse, in what sense Paul intended the word. But to quote only the verses that tend to use diakonon in a sense of a “minister of the gospel,” and act as if that is the only way to interpret the word diakonon … is that integrity?
I quote the article again:
… but when the same word is used elsewhere by Paul, it denotes ministers of the gospel.
Does integrity ignore obvious evidence to the contrary? That said, simple, honest ignorance can also be involved. Innocent ignorance does not mean a lack of integrity. The difference is when truth is revealed, innocent ignorance will acknowledge its former error. A lack of integrity will just make excuses or ignore the truth.
Agendas and integrity
One of integrity’s mightiest foes is having an agenda. For example, concerning church history, it is common (and I have found myself doing it as well) to go looking in history to find support for a position, instead of to go looking for what position the historical evidence provides. And the same, of course, applies to looking in the Bible to find evidence to support an agenda. We see it all the time in today’s apostate churches with the “gay” agenda. It “blows me away” that people read the Bible and come away saying that sodomite “marriages” are not sin. My integrity simply will not let me say such a thing (and I am not claiming my integrity is perfect). If I felt sodomy was righteous, then I would have to abandon the Bible. Gay “marriage” is the epitome of self-righteousness. I simply do not have any desire to twist Scripture and history that hard. I have very little respect for the integrity of anyone who claims the Bible supports homosexual “marriages.” Scripture is too plain on that subject.
Yet, I realize that sometimes when I read—be it the Bible or history—I sense that an agenda lurks in the shadows, trying to get me to ignore evidence that may contradict my current understanding of an issue. May God help us all to flee from all agendas except the “agenda” to be honest seekers of truth. If the truth of the matter is that the early church and the Anabaptists did ordain women to be preachers to men, then may we have enough integrity to say so. If not, then may we just have enough integrity to not twist and hide evidence so as to support an agenda.
Pray for me!
 I am referring to The Gospel Trumpet, published by the Church of God, Restoration. I grew up in churches very similar to this group and have had close contact in the past with it. I wrote a historical overview of the movement, which can be found at www.primitivechristianity.org or by writing to the address in the front of this magazine.
 Also to be noted is that the German word for minister itself has both a male and a female form. For a lady, it would have to be “einer aeltesterin” and for an eldress, “einer dienerin” (the -in suffix making it feminine).
 While the phrase “women in the ministry” is perfectly valid in the sense of women who served and blessed others, the underlying thought is of ordained women as elders, pastors, or teachers of men.
 Origen, Fragmenta ex commentariis in epistulam i ad Corinthios (in catenis), Greek text published in Claude Jenkins, “Documents: Origen on I Corinthians. IV,” Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909), p. 41. English translation from Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976), p. 28.
 Technically the phrase “minister of the gospel” does not specifically refer to preaching. An “aide of the gospel” is simply someone who helps in the cause of the kingdom of God, be it in preaching/teaching, or in helping in physical needs. For that reason I use quotes, since the phrase has come to mean a “preacher of the gospel.”
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
What Is Wrong with the “Romans Road to Salvation”
By Joel Mahorter—British Columbia
You may have heard of the “Romans Road to Salvation,” a collection of verses from the letter of Paul to the Romans. It usually consists of at least some of the following verses, in roughly this order:
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Note the last half of the verse is not quoted! “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
People use these verses to present everything they think someone needs to know in order to “get saved” and have an assurance of getting to heaven. A person is usually told that all they must do is have faith (or believe) in who Jesus is, what He did by His death on the cross, and to accept His free gift of salvation. Often a person using “Romans Road” will mention the need to feel sorry for your sins and ask God for forgiveness, although the verses used do not mention this. Some will suggest that you must turn from your sins, although it is not common to hear a definition of what that really means. The person who is being shown the “Romans Road” is then commonly advised to pray a prayer asking Jesus to come into his heart and become his personal Savior. People who do that are usually assured that all of their sins, including the ones they have not yet committed, are already forgiven and that a place in heaven is assured for them. The people who use this and similar presentations would not say that a short presentation could have everything a person should know about being a Christian, but that it contains everything necessary to “get saved” and have assurance of going to heaven.
It does not seem to occur to many people who use the “Romans Road” that it is strange to try to present how to become a Christian … but without ever referring to what Christ had to say on that topic. Likewise, few people seem to question the idea of asking someone to pray a prayer that Jesus never asked anyone to pray, or of offering an assurance that Jesus never offered anyone. Nor does it seem odd to many people to present a message supposedly about how to become a disciple of Jesus, using nothing but quotes from a letter written to people who were already disciples of Jesus. Sadly, even though Jesus had much to say on the topic, what He said is often not mentioned.
It is worth noting that a letter like Romans can be used to construct several different “roads,” all leading in different directions. That is not to say that Romans contains false information; it is just the reality of what can be done when taking a few small snippets out of context from a larger work. Even in the early days after Jesus, what Paul said about salvation in his letters was being twisted, and this was leading people to destruction. 2 Peter 3:14-18 warns about this.
With those dangers in mind, here is a different “road,” one based on the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew:
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus began His preaching ministry with this call to repentance. God had always called people to turn away from sin. For those who do so, the coming of Jesus brought a new opportunity. Now the kingdom of heaven was about to be established on earth. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Jesus never told anyone that it was impossible to be righteous. Rather, He called people to live a righteousness that exceeded the righteousness of the Jewish religious leaders. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, even the righteousness required by the Law of Moses was not sufficient in God’s kingdom (see especially Matthew 5:21-48). Therefore, while announcing a new kingdom, Jesus also taught a new law. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The way that Jesus called people to is a difficult one. The easy way that only requires acceptance of some truths or good intentions without any real work or suffering is the way to destruction. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Good words without obedience will not get a person into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did not leave room for any doubt about who does the will of His father when He said the following: “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31) To agree to do the will of the Father, and to actually do the will of the Father are two very different things. “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Entry into the kingdom of heaven requires the simplicity and humility to accept what Jesus taught, like a young child would accept what his earthly father taught. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Being perfect or complete is not an option, but a demand. So many people think they cannot be perfect, but Jesus taught how it was possible: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21) Again Jesus makes it clear that obtaining eternal life requires us to obey God. Jesus left us the example of simple obedience to His father and He calls us to follow Him in that. Good intentions alone will not get us where Jesus went. Jesus taught plainly what would be required of those who wanted to be His disciples and find the way to life. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27) Nothing less than true self-denial and self-inflicted death of our fleshly desires and following Jesus will lead to life. If we seek to keep our lives or the things we love in this world, then in the end we will lose our lives. We must really forsake everything, and not just the extremely wicked things. Jesus had to give up heaven and submit Himself to death before He could be resurrected. We must walk in His footsteps if we want to follow Him into His kingdom; there are no shortcuts.
If we live in the fear of God that comes from the knowledge that Jesus is going to come back to judge the living and the dead and repay us for what we have done, we will be ready to face the trouble that Jesus faced: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13)
The one who endures all these troubles and yet remains righteous will be saved in the end, but the one who turns back will face certain destruction. With that in mind we will heed the strong warning that Jesus gave: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
Unlike “Romans Road” and similar presentations, this one will not end by giving you any assurances that Jesus did not give. The information presented above is possibly not enough for you to truly count the costs of following Jesus. Just from reading the verses above it may not be clear to you some of the specific ways that Jesus calls you to deny yourself and take up your cross. Perhaps you have anger against your brother and need to hear that Jesus taught that even angry words would put you in peril of hell (Matthew 5:21-22). Perhaps you lust after women and need to hear that Jesus said that even private lust was adultery and could cause you to be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:27-30). Perhaps you are divorced and have been remarried while your first spouse is still living, and need to hear that Jesus said that you are committing adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). Perhaps you desire to defend your possessions, loved ones, or yourself from evil people, and you need to hear that Jesus said to love even your enemies and not to resist evildoers (Matthew 5:38-48). Perhaps you have chosen not to forgive someone and need to hear that Jesus taught that God will not forgive you if you do not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Perhaps you want more things than you need and need to hear that Jesus commanded you not to store up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21). No prayer or belief or intention will do you any good if you do not follow the road of self-denial, suffering, and death that Jesus walked.
If the way presented here seems different than what you understood the way into the kingdom of heaven was like, then you would do well to read all of the Gospel of Matthew, and then the rest of the Gospels. Keeping in mind the danger mentioned previously, consider everything that Jesus had to say about entering into the kingdom of God and being ready for His return and judgment. If you are not able to present the gospel that you believe using the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, then you can be sure you have been deceived and that you believe a different gospel than Jesus taught. The same is true for the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John.
When you have understood Jesus’ message, then you will be ready to read Romans and all the other books of the New Testament. If you start with the Master first, you will find that Peter, John, Paul, James, and Jude all preached and walked the same “road” that Jesus did.
Originally published in The Heartbeat of the Remnant (May/June 2013), 400 W. Main Street Ste. 1, Ephrata, PA 17522.
By Andrew V. Ste. Marie“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath” (James 5:12)
“I am content.”
A twenty-four year old young man stood before the city council of colonial New York City and said these words. What was he content with? He was content to be put back in jail. For what cause? For refusing to disobey the words of Jesus.
Early in 1745, young David Zeisberger had set off with Christian Frederick Post to learn the language of the Mohawk Indians. The two young Moravian missionaries were arrested and charged with refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the King of England. The colony of New York had a new law which stated that “Every Vagrant Preacher, Moravian, Disguised Papist [Roman Catholic], or any other person presuming to reside among and teach the Indians” who had no license and had not taken the oath “shall be treated as a person taking upon him to seduce the Indians from his Majesty’s interest.” The council read the new law to David, and asked him if he would take the oath. He replied, “I hope the honorable Council will not force me to do it.” They said, “We will not constrain you; you may let it alone if it is against your conscience; but you will have to go to prison again.”
“I am content,” David told them. So back into jail he went, with his companion, for a total of fifty-one days. “We count it an honor to suffer for the Saviour’s sake,” David wrote.
These two Moravians sat in a New York prison for standing against the swearing of oaths. For others, refusal to swear has led to death. How does God view the swearing of oaths? Is swearing really that bad – or might it be, as some suggest, an act of worship which is highly pleasing to God?
What does Jesus say?
What is an Oath?
Before discussing whether oaths are right, we must first understand what oaths are. Those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling God to witness to the truth of a statement.” (We will see why they define it this way later.) However, Jesus had a different definition of oaths.
“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon” (Matthew 23:16-22).
In this passage, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for making rules concerning which oaths could be broken without guilt and which ones had to be kept inviolable. Notice what the Pharisees were swearing by: the temple, the gold of the temple, the altar, and the gift on the altar. Obviously, these were oaths, and Jesus treated them as such. However, none of them were “calling God to witness”! We see then that this cannot be the true definition of an oath. There are two parts to an oath: 1) the oath itself (“I swear”) and 2) the confirmation: what is being sworn by. People swear by many things, for instance, “I swear to God” or “I swear by my mother’s grave.” Some even swear without a confirmation, just saying “I swear that…” There are the judicial oaths in courts, service oaths for public office or military service, and the Hippocratic oath for medical professionals. These are all oaths. The writer of the book of Hebrews affirms that oaths are sworn by something greater than the swearer and are used for confirmation of something asserted: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife” (Hebrews 6:16). We see in this verse that the purpose of oaths is for confirmation of a statement based on the authority or weight of something greater than the swearer.
First Oath in the Bible
The first recorded oath in the Bible was given by a Godly man, Abraham. In Genesis 21:22-24, 27, & 31, we read:
“And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. And Abraham said, I will swear…And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant…Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.”
The Law of Moses
Amid the flames, clouds, smoke, and trumpetings on Mount Sinai, God gave a covenant to Moses to give to the people of Israel. This law would be the standard of righteousness until the Messiah came to replace it. The Mosaic Law has plenty to say about oaths, and it is essential to understand exactly what the Law allowed and did not allow when we are discussing the subject of oaths.
Under the Law of Moses, oaths were permitted, and the children of Israel made extensive use of them in Old Testament times. In fact, under certain circumstances, the Law actually commanded the use of oaths. In Exodus 22:10-12, we read:
“If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.”
In this passage, we learn that if the animal was lost to the owner in some way, the man who was keeping it was to swear an oath that he was not guilty of stealing or destroying his neighbor’s animal. This oath released him from being required to replace the animal for his neighbor. The neighbor was required to accept the oath as confirmation that his neighbor was innocent.
In the book of Deuteronomy, God includes swearing by His Name as part of the service which He desired from the Israelites and mentions it in the context of a rejection of idolatry.
“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).
“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name. He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21).
Oaths were also required in the service of the priests. Numbers 5 records what was to be done with a woman who was suspected by her husband of unfaithfulness. She was to be brought to the priest, who was to perform a ceremony to allow the Lord to reveal whether she was guilty or innocent. Part of this ceremony involved an oath:
“And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse: But if thou hast gone aside to another instead of thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee beside thine husband: Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell; And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot: And the woman shall say, Amen, amen” (Numbers 5:19-22).
Not only were oaths permitted and commanded in the Mosaic Law, God Himself made use of oaths on more than one occasion. For instance, in Jeremiah 22:5, God declares: “But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.” In Exodus 17, after a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites, Moses built an altar and called it Jehovah—nissi, “Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). (See also Deuteronomy 7:8; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:13, 16; Isaiah 45:23).
So we see that not only were oaths permitted under the Law of Moses, they were actually required in some circumstances, and God Himself swore. Nevertheless, there were restrictions which were applied even under the Mosaic Law which are important to understand.
Restrictions on Swearing
The Law of Moses strictly forbade false oaths – swearing to something which was not true, or swearing that a person would do something and then not doing it.
If a man swore to do something and was unable to perform it, the Law considered it sin and required that he bring a trespass offering to the priest.
“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. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (Leviticus 5:4-6).
Numbers 30:1-2 also commands that oaths were to be kept:
“And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded. If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”
Swearing falsely was also forbidden. Leviticus 6:2a, 3-5 says:
“If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD…Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.”
God further declared in Leviticus 19:12:
“And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.”
The prophets, who called the people to return to the Lord and repent of their transgressions, also spoke against false oaths. Zechariah includes false oaths in a list of things which God declares that He hates.
“These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).
In the book of Malachi, those who swear falsely are put in the same list with sorcerers and adulterers:
“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).
Another restriction was given by Joshua near the end of his life. He warned against swearing by the names of false gods.
“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day” (Joshua 23:6-8).
Oaths were not a light thing among the ancient Israelites. They took oaths very seriously. An example of this is found in I Samuel 14. King Saul, in the middle of a battle with the Philistines, swore an oath: “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies” (I Samuel 14:24). All the people, who “feared the oath” (verse 26), refrained from eating anything, even when passing by a piece of honeycomb dropped from the hive – except Jonathan, who had not heard of his father’s oath. He nearly lost his life for eating when his father had rashly cursed anyone who ate that day.
Oaths were taken so seriously that any oath or vow which a woman made was subject to the approval of her husband or father, who could nullify her oath or vow if he so chose (Numbers 30:3-16).
So we see that with some important exceptions, oaths were permitted and even required under the Old Covenant. But the day came when the reign of the Law of Moses ended.
A New Kingdom
“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” cried John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2). People from all over Judaea flocked to hear this man, dressed in camel’s hair, preach about the coming of the new Kingdom. Then one day, John greeted the King Himself with these words: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). “The law and the prophets were until John,” Jesus later said; “since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16). The reign of Moses’ Law had ended, and the King was here to establish the laws by which His Kingdom would operate. Among the laws which He set up was a radically different standard on the swearing of oaths.
Jesus’ Words on Oaths
Jesus addressed the subject of oaths in the most influential sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:33-37, we read:
“Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither 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 communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Jesus made clear the radical new standard which He was requiring of those in His Kingdom – no oaths at all, for any purpose, in any way. “Swear not at all,” He said. There is nothing unclear about this instruction.
James’ Words on Swearing
Jesus was not the only one to instruct the citizens of the Kingdom of God to abstain from swearing. The Apostle James wrote:
“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” (James 5:12).
In this verse, we again find the answer to the question “does God want His children to swear oaths?” James tells us “swear not,” and then instructs us to avoid swearing by heaven, earth, or “by any other oath.” “Any other” would include swearing by God Himself.
This verse also gives us the answer to the question “is the subject of swearing really all that important?” The Book of James discusses many topics – responding to the trials of life, partiality, the relationship of faith and works, controlling our tongues, strife, separation from the world, wealth, etc. These are undoubtedly important issues. Nevertheless, when he arrives at the topic of swearing, he begins with “But above all things, my brethren” – in other words, this one topic is more important than anything else discussed in the entire book!
What Were They Forbidding?
In spite of the clear instructions given by Jesus and James, there are some today – and there have been some for centuries – who insist that the swearing of oaths is permissible, or perhaps even highly pleasing to God. They insist that what Jesus and James were actually forbidding was only false and frivolous oaths – not any oath. There are some serious problems with this view. First, if they meant to forbid only false and frivolous oaths, why did they not say that they were forbidding false and frivolous oaths? Secondly, why did they use such absolute language – “Swear not at all,” “swear not…by any other oath”? Thirdly, Jesus was clearly following the pattern of the other sections in the Sermon on the Mount where He raised the standards of the Law of Moses (“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…But I say unto you”). The Law of Moses forbade false oaths, as we have seen; if Jesus only forbade false oaths, He would not have raised the standard at all.
Did Paul Swear?
Those who defend the swearing of oaths point to the epistles of Paul, claiming that he swore several times in his writings. The verses quoted here are used to support this claim:
“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9). “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 9:1). “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay” (II Corinthians 1:18). “Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (II Corinthians 1:23). “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (II Corinthians 11:31). “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Galatians 1:20). “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8). “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness” (I Thessalonians 2:5). “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (I Timothy 2:7).
What is it in these verses which lead some to believe that the Apostle Paul swore oaths? Do you remember that those who defend the swearing of oaths define an oath as “calling on God for confirmation”? In all of these verses, Paul calls on God to confirm what he is saying. Those who defend oaths, then, take these as oaths and as confirmation that it is perfectly acceptable to God to swear oaths. But God is not the author of confusion.
As we pointed out before, their definition of the word oath is faulty, and thus their conclusion regarding these verses is also faulty. Although Paul did call on God to confirm his words, he did not use oaths (saying “I swear”).
Whenever a teaching of Jesus seems to be contradicted by Paul, we must find a way to harmonize the two which leaves Jesus’ words supreme – not the other way around. Jesus is the King, and the servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20) – even if that servant is the great Apostle Paul. (Of course, Paul’s writings never do contradict Jesus’ words.)
The Early Church on the Swearing of Oaths
We have seen that whereas the Old Covenant allowed and even required some oaths, they are strictly forbidden under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. The early Christians of the first two generations after the apostles held to this view.
Justin Martyr, about the year 160 A.D., wrote, “And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He commanded as follows: ‘Swear not at all.’” Irenaeus (student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Apostle) wrote: “He commanded them not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all.” Tertullian wrote, “Of perjury I am silent, since even swearing is not lawful.”
The Early Anabaptists
The early Anabaptists (Dutch Mennonites, Swiss Brethren, and Hutterites) took firm stands against the swearing of oaths. Their writings on the subject are well worth reading, because they faced several of the same objections which we do today when we insist on obedience to Christ’s teachings on this subject.
The Schleitheim Confession (written 1527), the earliest Anabaptist confession of faith, was written by the Swiss Brethren and took a strong stand against oaths:
“We are agreed as follows concerning the oath: The oath is a confirmation among those who are quarreling or making promises. In the Law it is commanded to be performed in God’s Name, but only in truth, not falsely. Christ, who teaches the perfection of the Law, prohibits all swearing to His [followers], whether true or false,—neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our head,—and that for the reason which He shortly thereafter gives, For you are not able to make one hair white or black. So you see it is for this reason that all swearing is forbidden: we cannot fulfill that which we promise when we swear, for we cannot change [even] the very least thing on us.
“Now there are some who do not give credence to the simple command of God, but object with this question: Well now, did not God swear to Abraham by Himself (since He was God) when He promised him that He would be with him and that He would be his God if he would keep His commandments,—why then should I not also swear when I promise to someone? Answer: Hear what the Scripture says: God, since He wished more abundantly to show unto the heirs the immutability of His counsel, inserted an oath, that by two immutable things (in which it is impossible for God to lie) we might have a strong consolation. Observe the meaning of this Scripture: What God forbids you to do, He has power to do, for everything is possible for Him. God swore an oath to Abraham, says the Scripture, so that He might show that His counsel is immutable. That is, no one can withstand nor thwart His will; therefore He can keep His oath. But we can do nothing, as is said above by Christ, to keep or perform [our oaths]: therefore we shall not swear at all.
“Then others further say as follows: It is not forbidden of God to swear in the New Testament, when it is actually commanded in the Old, but it is forbidden only to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem and our head. Answer: Hear the Scripture, He who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by Him who sitteth thereon. Observe: it is forbidden to swear by heaven, which is only the throne of God: how much more is it forbidden [to swear] by God Himself! Ye fools and blind, which is greater, the throne or Him that sitteth thereon?”
Menno Simons, in a book which he wrote against Reformed theologian Martin Micron, wrote:
“That these things are so your unscriptural glosses [comments, explanations] concerning the oath make plain. Christ says, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths; but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool. Matt. 5:33-35. And you, Micron, say that nothing but light-minded, false oaths are hereby prohibited, as if Moses allowed Israel to swear light-mindedly and falsely, and that Christ under the New Testament merely forbade these, notwithstanding that all intelligent readers know that it was not merely allowed Israel to swear truly but it was also commanded them to do so. Lev. 19:12; Deut. 10:20.
“If the Israelites then, as you hold, had the liberty in this matter that we have, and if it be such a glorious thing and an honor to God rightly to swear by the name of God, as you make bold to lie against your God, then tell me (Dear me) why Wisdom did not say, You have heard that it hath been said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, and I say the same thing. Instead Christ says, Moses commanded not to forswear thyself, but I say unto you, Thou shalt not swear at all.”
In another book, Menno wrote:
“Nearly everything which is transacted before the magistracy must be affirmed by an oath, although the Lord has so plainly forbidden the swearing of oaths to all Christians. Matt. 5:34…We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to His Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth. He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone. Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world…it should be observed that Christ Jesus does not in the New Testament point His disciples to the Law in regard to the matter of swearing—the dispensation of imperfectness which allowed swearing, but He points us now from the Law to yea and nay, as to the dispensation of perfectness, saying, Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time (that is, to the fathers under the law by Moses), Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths (that is, thou shalt swear truly and fulfill thine oath): but I (Christ) say unto you my disciples, Swear not at all (that is, neither truly nor falsely), neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is his footstool, neither 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 communication be yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Here you have Christ’s own doctrine and ordinance concerning swearing.”
Peter Reidemann, an important early Hutterite leader, wrote:
“Therefore Christ, in order to drive away the shadows that the light of truth—which light he is himself—may shine upon us, cometh and saith, ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old: Thou shalt swear no false oath but shalt perform thine oath unto God. But I say unto you that ye swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 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 yea be yea; and your nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’—that is the devil.
“Now, if one should say, as they all interpret it, false and superficial swearing is forbidden, but when one sweareth out of love, necessity and the profit of one’s neighbour, it is well done and not wrong—this happeneth when human reason goeth before the knowledge of God, and where human cleverness desireth to rule over the Spirit of God, and not allow itself to be controlled by the same. For just so did Eve look at the forbidden fruit, and chose the same at the counsel of the serpent, which she followed more than the counsel of God, therefore was she deceived by its cunning and led into death. So it is still: whosoever will please men cannot be Christ’s servant. For truly here one cannot let reason rule or twist the scriptures in accordance with human presumption or opinion, for that is futile, but one must give God the honour and leave his command unaltered…Therefore saith James, ‘Above all things, dear brothers, 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 hypocrisy.’ Here James will have no oath at all, whether small or great, to avoid hypocrisy. Therefore, let men twist it as they will and dress it up and adorn it as they may, no good will be found in human swearing, for Christ himself saith, ‘Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’ The evil one, however, is the devil, that teareth good from the heart of men and planteth evil.
“Therefore the devout will walk in the truth, allow it to rule and guide them and hold to the same; whatsoever it stirreth, speaketh and doeth within them, believe and observe the same; and this for the sake of the truth which is God himself, which dwelleth in them. Therefore they neither need nor desire any oath.”
The Dortrecht Confession (also known as the 18 Articles of Faith), written by the Dutch Mennonites in 1632, states in Article 15:
“Regarding the swearing of oaths, we believe and confess, that the Lord Jesus has dissuaded his followers from and forbidden them the same; that is, that he commanded them to ‘swear not at all,’ but that their ‘Yea’ should be ‘yea’ and their ‘Nay nay.’ From which we understand that all oaths, high and low, are forbidden; and that instead of them we are to confirm all our promises and covenants, declarations and testimonies of all matters, merely with ‘Yea that is yea,’ and ‘Nay that is nay;’ and that we are to perform and fulfill at all times, and in all things, to every one, every promise and obligation to which we thus affirm, as faithfully as if we had confirmed it with the most solemn oath. And if we thus do, we have confidence that no one—not even the government itself—will have just cause to require more of us. Matt. 5:34-37; James 5:12; II Cor. 1:17.”
Application for Today
To take a stand against swearing oaths is, at first glance, not nearly as costly a decision today as it was for the early Anabaptists. They decided to stand with Christ on this issue at risk of life and limb. Today, if we want to take a stand against oath-swearing, we simply ask to affirm instead of swear if necessary, and no one seems to care. Nevertheless, Jesus’ teachings about oaths ought to affect our lives profoundly.
Jesus wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no. James says the same thing. Our speech ought to be so reliable that we do not need oaths to confirm what we say. We should be known as honest people because Jesus has transformed our lives. We do not need oaths anymore because everyone knows that whatever we say will be true and reliable.
We also must be careful in our everyday speech to avoid oaths. Interjecting “I swear” into a conversation is an oath, a violation of the command of Jesus Christ. Such expressions as “by George,” “by Jove,” or even “by golly” are abbreviated oaths – the confirmation without the swearing. If we use these expressions, perceptive people will not take us seriously when we say we do not believe in swearing oaths. Furthermore, they are, in and of themselves, violations of Jesus’ commandments and therefore sin.
Lying and exaggeration must be completely eradicated from our speech. Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the criticism that we refuse to swear because we know we are not telling the truth. May such things never be heard. Rather, may all know that we refuse to swear oaths because we have accepted the Kingdom of God, with its high standard of honesty, and are following the commands and teachings of Christ and the Apostles which forbid oaths – and everything we say is scrupulously honest and, as God grants power, within the standards of righteousness which He has set for His Kingdom.
May we earnestly pray to God that He would tame our tongues. “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). God can tame it for us, and a tamed tongue must be one of the most remarkable proofs of a regenerated life. “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).
 Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, p. 168
 Ibid., volume 1, p. 408
 Ibid., volume 3, p. 67. A few early Christians allowed swearing under some circumstances, but discouraged it.
 There were over ten different groups of early Anabaptists – some of them quite strange. Some of these groups allowed the swearing of oaths. For the purposes of this article, when we talk about the early Anabaptists, we are referring to the Dutch Mennonites, the Swiss Brethren, and the Hutterites.
 J. C. Wenger, translator, “The Schleitheim Confession of Faith,” Mennonite Quarterly Review October 1945, pp. 251-252
 Menno Simons, “Epistle to Martin Micron,” 1554, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 922-923
 Menno Simons, “Confession of the Distressed Christians,” 1552, in J. C. Wenger, editor, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, Herald Press, pp. 518-519
 Peter Reidemann, Confession of Faith, Plough Publishing, pp. 197-198, 204-205
 Dortrecht Confession of Faith, in A Devoted Christian’s Prayer Book, 1967, Pathway Publishers, pp. 107-108