Hi I need some help understanding Matthew 5:34 onwards-
But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.
Should I never say ‘I swear by God’ or put my hand on the Bible and make an oath? It definitely seems that way to me.
I would agree with you that it is inappropriate to make oaths, but there are exceptions.
The passage you are looking at talks about “things” which a person makes an oath by, and it is important contextually to understand that the common Jew thought some oaths were binding and others were not; so that often a Jew might choose what he swears by to trick the receiver into believing he has sworn, when he in fact was lying.
Jesus’ statement about “anything else” is from the evil one should be understood to be Jesus saying there is no “trick” oath, if one swears by any of these
“things” they swear by something of God’s, and therefore are liable to judgment because they make out God to be a liar.
One is not to take an oath without the consent of the Church on the matter. So, oaths are appropriate in places such as marriage vows, court settings to affirm the truth of one’s statement, but they aren’t to be made frivolously for everyday situations.
Thanks for your response! My dad shared your view when I asked him what he thought.
I am concerned that Jesus’ instructions seem very literal and also practical. I wonder why Jesus qualifies what he says by adding ‘let yes mean yes, and no mean no’ if his intention wasn’t for us to understand him literally.
He has basically said ‘Don’t do this, do do this’. It’s seems to me a direct instruction.
To begin with, Jesus was talking to people who had to take Oaths under the Law of moses. It wasn’t possible not to and still obey the law. For us, the situation may seem different, but it isn’t. Baptism itself is an oath.
Imagine a world without oaths, and make it the common everyday world, In that world, what would it mean that a person is a “man of their word” ?
The idea of the oath is to bring a person into a position where their belief in God (or higher power) makes them fear lying. One generally does not need to ask an honest man for an oath; Often, in business, I think that “nondisclosure” statements are rather pointless for either the person is a liar, in which case the agreement/statement isn’t going to stop them from attempting guile – or the person is honest, in which case a non-disclosure agreement at best undermines trust because it attaches all kinds of technical strings that can cause damage by unscrupulous parties (both sides).
In light of Jesus’ attempt to curb people from using false oaths, there comes another aspect of the same problem – “Be honest.”. Even in the absence of an oath – yes must mean yes, and no must mean no. Otherwise, something resembling an oath (threat) will be the only alternative.
I take Jesus’ words very strongly; I generally don’t make oaths if I can avoid it.
I have chosen to take an oath in court when I could have demanded simple affirmation because I feel very keenly that people mock God and the court system; and that by doing my best to affirm the truth when doubters can’t touch me with a cross examination that I show both my fear of God, and belief in an atheistic world.
However, being on the stand – I was faced with an aspect that I hadn’t thought about, and that was that lawyers often ask questions designed to trick or obscure the testimony of a witness. (esp. when they are loosing the case). As such, it would be easy to make a slip under oath accidentally, and that would weigh on one’s conscience as well. Jesus’ words are very pragmatic.
There is another aspect of oaths, though, which also need to be considered – And those are the promises one makes to God. This is an area, too, where rash oaths are common. One doesn’t know the future, and often can make a promise that later can’t (or doesn’t want) be kept. A good example of this is found in Judges 11:14-39.
I couldn’t help thinking of Star Wars when you mentioned your Father – eg: "Luke, I am your Father… " Thankfully, I’m not wearing black today…