So Help Me God
It was one of the more awesome moments I’ve experienced in a while. A wave of emotion swept over me. In the opening moments of the senate impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton, ninety-six-year-old Strom Thurman asked the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court to place his hand on the Bible, and swear, before Almighty God, that he would execute faithfully his duties as judge in the legal business in progress.
I thought to myself: there it is, the grand old Book, the Holy Bible, still holding sway over solemn proceedings such as these after all these centuries—nineteen of them, since it came forth to humanity in its completed form. The Sacred Volume continues to triumph over that minuscule, motley crew of intellectual indigents who rail against it.
The use of the Bible as a basis for oaths has a long history. It results from the recognition that there must be some standard, higher than man himself, upon which one’s testimony in legal matters—having to do with life, liberty, and property—is grounded. This is why, until relatively recent times, legal authorities have insisted that those who repudiate belief in God are not fit to function as witnesses in a court of law.
Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University. His scholarship was largely responsible for the prestige that Harvard’s law school enjoys at this very day. Greenleaf’s famous work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, was regarded for years as the foremost authority on evidence ever published, and still, to the present time, is unsurpassed in many ways.
In his section on “Witnesses: Qualifications,” Professor Greenleaf wrote:
The third class of persons incompetent to testify as witnesses consists of those who are insensible to the obligations of an oath, from defect of religious sentiment and belief. The very nature of an oath, it being a religious and most solemn appeal to God, as the Judge of all men, presupposes that the witness believes in the existence of an omniscient Supreme Being, who is “the rewarder of truth and avenger of falsehood”; and that, by such a formal appeal, the conscience of the witness is affected. Without this belief, the person cannot be subject to that sanction, which the law deems an indispensable test of truth. It is not sufficient, that a witness believes himself bound to speak the truth from a regard to character, or to the common interests of society, or from fear of the punishment which the law inflicts upon persons guilty of perjury. Such motives have indeed their influence, but they are not considered as affording a sufficient safeguard for the strict observance of truth. Our law, in common with the law of most civilized countries, requires the additional security afforded by the religious sanction implied in an oath; and, as a necessary consequence, rejects all witnesses, who are incapable of giving this security. Atheists, therefore, and all infidels, that is, those who profess no religion that can bind their consciences to speak truth, are rejected as incompetent to testify as witnesses (1899, 506-07).
While the concept set forth by this eminent legal scholar is as valid today as when first written, it is not faithfully revered in this modern age of moral relativism and religious degeneracy.
But is it not the case, someone is bound to argue, that frequently even those who profess faith in God violate their oaths and perjure themselves? Yes, that certainly is the case, and that sad circumstance is clearly evidenced in the current proceedings involving the president. Anyone who has a modicum degree of common sense is aware that the president has perjured himself repeatedly, in spite of political protestations to the contrary.
The fact remains, though, when a believer lies under oath, he does so contrary to what he acknowledges as right, and in violation of his own conscience. On the other hand, when an atheist lies, he violates nothing more than a personal, arbitrary standard that he himself has imposed, and which, by his own admission, he may dispose of at any convenient moment. The atheist-perjurer acts perfectly consistent with his code of ethics; a believer feels morally bound to tell the truth because of a responsibility to his Creator who is a “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5), and because of his conviction that there is ultimate accountability after this life (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
There are light-years of qualitative difference between these two philosophies. Atheism is incredibly perverse.
- Greenleaf, Simon. 1899. A Treatise on the Law of Evidence. Vol. 1. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, & Co.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.