The Gospel of Matthew: Oaths. Part 2.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33–37 ESV)

An oath (ὅρκος; horkos) means to affirm a truth by calling upon a greater being. An oath is also a solemn vow to fulfill a promise or a pledge. It is associated with the verb sworn (ἀποδίδωμι; apodidomi) meaning to fulfill. This is an active verb referring to paying back someone because of an obligation.

Jesus stressed the importance of not making a false oath. He cautioned His disciples that they should not make flippant oaths or pledges in common, every day conversation. God didn’t; we shouldn’t.

What Jesus meant was that people should be true to their word. Believers in Christ should mean what they say and say what they mean. They are to be good at their word. No more; no less. God is in control. Even the color of our hair is under His divine prerogative. All promises and pledges we make should acknowledge the sovereign will of God.

“Aoath involved invoking God’s name, or substitutes for it, to guarantee the truth of one’s statements (cf. Num. 30:2). Jesus’ disciples are not to swear at all. Instead, their character should be of such integrity that their words can be believed without an oath,” explains one commentator.

“What Christ is forbidding here is the flippant, profane, or careless use of oaths in everyday speech. In that culture, such oaths were often employed for deceptive purposes. To make the person being victimized believe the truth was being told, the Jews would swear by “heaven,” “earth,” “Jerusalem,” or their own “heads” (Matt. 5:34–36), not by God, hoping to avoid divine judgment for their lie. But it all was in God’s creation, so it drew him in and produced guilt before him, exactly as if the oath were made in his name. Jesus suggested that all our speech should be as if we were under an oath to tell the truth (v. 37),” explains Dr. John MacArthur.

“One of the problems that we face in our culture today that has become a very serious issue is the breakdown of our whole system of contracts and covenants that are based upon solemn promises, on sacred vows and holy oaths. God takes promises and oaths and vows very seriously. But we live in a culture today that just seems to play loosely with promises. We’ve seen the disintegration of the institution of marriage, where there’s a willy-nilly violation of vows that take place all the time,” states Dr. R. C. Sproul.

“Now, the Bible cautions us to be very careful about taking vows and oaths, and entering into solemn pacts and agreements. For this reason, as the Bible tells us, it is better never to vow than to vow and not pay. Because if I don’t take my vow seriously and you don’t take your vow seriously, God does take it seriously.”

Soli deo Gloria! 

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