I quote Pastor Steven J. Cole, of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in Arizona for most of the following:
The purpose of an oath was to guarantee truthfulness by one's calling on God as witness. Jesus demands of his disciples a truthfulness that makes oaths unnecessary. These words go beyond the taking of oaths or vows and deal with the issue of truthful speech.
Jesus confronts this in Matthew 23:16-22: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”
In other words, the real issue was speaking the truth at all times. Neither Jesus nor James were prohibiting all oaths. James is talking about not invoking God’s name in everyday speech to assure the truthfulness of what you say. If someone often says, “I swear to God that’s true,” you begin to wonder whether anything he says is true. Your word should be true without needing to make a big deal about it.
Deuteronomy 10:20 commands God’s people to swear by His name. In Jeremiah 12:16, God says of even the pagan nations, “Then if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught My people to swear by Baal, they will be built up in the midst of My people.”
In the New Testament, the only time that Jesus spoke in His trial before the Council was when the high priest said to Him (Matt. 26:63), “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” So Jesus answered under oath. The apostle Paul often swore by the Lord when he said, “God is my witness” (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; Phil. 1:8; 1 Thess.
2:5, 10; see also Gal. 1:20).
So the Bible does not prohibit all oaths. Rather, it forbids both frivolous oaths and false oaths. Frivolous oaths are those that are so commonplace that they lose all significance or meaning. This would include taking an oath when it is not necessary or proper. It is better not to make a vow than to make it and not keep it (Eccl. 5:5).
The other kind of oath that the Bible forbids is the false oath. A false oath is one that the person making it does not intend to keep, but he makes it either to impress or deceive others. Jesus and James were directing these commands toward these kinds of oaths.
In commenting on Matthew 5:33-37, Haddon Robinson (The Christian Salt & Light Company [Discovery House Publishing], p. 156) says with regard to the Sermon on the Mount, “If anger was the real issue of murder, lust the real issue of adultery, selfishness the real issue of divorce, then deceit is the real issue of oaths.” He adds (p. 158), “Jesus wasn’t addressing whether or not we should
take an oath. He was talking about whether or not we are truthful. We don’t tell the truth because we have taken an oath; we tell the truth because we are truthful.”
The second point in answering your question is a matter of understanding the words and phrases used in masonic ritual. When a candidate is initiated into Freemasonry he takes what is termed an obligation, not an oath. The difference is not a matter of idle semantics but is very real. The candidate asks God to support him, he does not swear by God or call on God as his witness. He is humbly asking God for help, not claiming God is his guarantor. This is a prayer of supplication, not a self-serving oath.
1. Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? The Methods of Anti-Masons. Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris (Second Edition, Revised).