Not on Your Tintype

What an odd phrase. Nobody seems to know where the phrase originated, but the best guess I’ve been able to find suggests that the phrase originated around 1850-1870 when tintypes were popular. They provided a permanent, remarkably life-like image of a person that observers found to be frighteningly realistic in a world where photography was unknown. Someone was “captured” on tin as if they were actually there. (Perhaps you’re aware that many Native Americans didn’t want their photographs taken because they were so life-like they thought the camera had stolen their soul.)

Perhaps you’re familiar with the phrases “swear on a stack of Bibles” or “swear on my mother’s grave”. These phrases meant you could absolutely count on me doing what I said I would do because I’m making a vow on something that is holy or sacred to me. Perhaps they also once said, “I swear on your tintype”- meaning I’m making a vow on the “almost living” image of someone. So it would be logical that to promise NOT to do something under any circumstance would be to say “not on a stack of Bibles” or “not on my mother’s grave” or perhaps “not on your tintype.”

Have you made vows about what you would never do under any circumstances? Have you sworn “I will never do that- not on your tintype”? Most homeschoolers have. And we’ve also made vows that we will always do thus and such: “I swear on a stack of Bibles” I will do things differently with my children!”

In James 5:12, James instructs us, “Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.”

James says we shouldn’t be saying “Not on your tintype!” or “I swear on a stack of Bibles.” I believe it’s because we may have to eat our words. It seems easy to swear how we’ll handle our homeschool, what our children will or won’t do, how we’ll handle dating vs. courtship and 1000 other things until we actually have to walk that road. Then, we often end up having to break our vows.

The Christian life is, by definition, a life lived by faith. There are no formulas and we move forward one day at a time, one hour at a time- led by the Spirit of God. What worked for our first-born may not work for our youngest. The way things unfolded with our sister’s children may not be how things unfold with our own children. What worked for our pastor’s son may not work for our daughter. We are on a journey together with the Lord and He instructs each of us individually how He wants us to proceed.

Things we said we would never do “not on your tintype!” may end up being the very thing the Lord requires of us someday. And the very things we swore “on a stack of Bibles” we would always do may be the very thing the Lord specifically tells us not to do.

Talk with your children about the necessity of seeking daily direction for our lives- about living in relationship rather than by rote or formula. Share with them a time you had to eat your words when the Lord spoke to you about a change in direction. Remind them that to live the Christian life we live by faith– not by formula.

If your children are unfamliar with tintypes, visit (NOTE- stick to the first five pages as some less appropriate images begin appearing on page 6 and beyond!)

Wikipedia has lots of interesting information as well:

Tintypes were an important part of photographic history and record an amazing record of a time long ago.


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Marca Young said,

    Great word, Steve! These are so encouraging.

  2. 2

    Deanne said,

    OUCH! great article and great reminders..

  3. 3

    Sheri said,

    James 5:12. (Sorry, we were looking it up and found that you had inadvertently typed the wrong passage). This is sobering. I remember when I was in the 5th grade refusing to “swear” on something and getting in an argument with a friend over it. I was much more steadfast back then.

    • 4

      fiveinarow said,

      Thanks for the correction Sheri. Don’t know how I typed “6” instead of “12” but sometimes both memory and fingers betray us! THANK YOU!

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