Before a witness takes the stand in a criminal case it used to be, and in some place it still is the case that the witness raises his right hand, put his left hand on the Bible, and swears “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God.”
Setting aside the discussion on the morality of taking an oath, why are the witnesses instructed to take this oath in this way? The point is that we as humans forget, we misconstrue data, we assume, we doubt ourselves and our senses and so it is often the case that our perception or accounting of things can be skewed. As such we invoke the name of God to help us tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
And is this not what we here at StandardSacredText.com ask of our Critical Text interlocutors. Do we not ask them to show us the Scripture, the whole Scripture, and nothing but the Scripture? That is, we ask to be shown the whole Scripture without inclusion of man’s uninspired and fallible forgetfulness, misconstruals, assumptions, and doubts.
But they can’t. They never have. Instead, they employ some trick of rhetorical flourish and say, “Well, the originals and the originals alone were the Scripture, the whole Scripture, and nothing but the Scripture.” But what about the Bible today? Is it the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible?
These days, you would be hard pressed to get a scholar steeped in textual criticism to admit that every Greek word in the book of Hebrews is the word that appeared in the original of Hebrews. The same difficulty of admission from such a scholar would manifest for every book of the New Testament. Indeed, for some in my experience, it is difficult to get a textual critic to admit that any one word of the Greek New Testament IS the word that was present in the original/autograph.
In short, the modern evangelical scholarly opinion is that the Greek New Testament we currently possess is not the word of God, the whole word of God, and nothing but the word of God of the New Testament. If this is the case or is at least in the neighborhood of said case, then swearing on the Bible to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth seems ridiculous and hypocritical. The Bible upon which you put your hand is not believed by most evangelicals to be the whole Scripture and nothing but the Scripture.
What is worse, they believe God has not preserved the whole Scripture and nothing but the Scripture in that Bible upon which you put your hand and so the swearer is asking for help from a God who hasn’t even preserved His own words to the point of that Bible being His words, all of His words, and nothing but His words.
It stands to reason that if God hasn’t kept His words, all His words, and nothing but His words for us here and now why would you think God would help you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? If God can’t keep His own words straight in the telling of divine revelation here and now, then why ask Him to keep yours in the telling of events here and now?
“So help me God” only matters if God has preserved His words, all His words, and nothing but His words in the book we call the Holy Scriptures. That’s where God testifies. I mean, they are called the Old and New Testaments. And if He can’t preserve His own words for His own witness testimony, then one wonders if He can preserve our witness testimony.
On the other hand, if God has preserved all of His words in the Scriptures and we believe those Scriptures to be the book upon which we place our hand, then our belief in God’s helping us to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is grounded in the fact that God has already done so with His telling of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and so we can have full confidence in His ability to helps us tell the truth.
And why are we encouraged to believe God will preserve the truth of events in our mind and mouth as we take the witness stand? Because He has preserved the truths of divine revelation in the pages of the Bible upon which our hand rests when we take the oath. If that Bible with the help of God is not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, there is no hope your accounting of events will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth even with the help of God.