The Question of Taking Oaths
Text: Matthew 5 : 21 - 48
Another controversial issue that Jesus dealt with was the question of oath-taking. Jesus expressed familiarity with this theological debate.
“Again you have heard that it was said
to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely,
but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'”
In order to understand this issue better, we need to read carefully what Jesus cited as the prevalent practice.
“But I say to you, do not swear at all:
neither 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. Nor shall you swear by your
Head, because you cannot make one hair
white or black.”
Jesus was not addressing the Biblical doctrine of swearing a solemn oath in this discussion. He was addressing the seemingly popular practice of oath-taking undertaken by many. There were people swearing by:-
2. The Earth
4. The head
UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLICAL TEACHING OF OATH-TAKING
The children of Israel were allowed to swear, but they must remember the fact that God’s Name was invoked when a person undertook an oath.
“And you shall not swear by My Name falsely,
nor shall you profane the Name of your God;
I am the Lord.”
The matter of swearing thus involved the Third Commandment of the Decalogue.
“You shall not take the Name of the Lord
your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold
him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.”
This was a clear-cut teaching in the Mosaic Law. Oath-taking was a very serious matter indeed, and not to be taken lightly.
THE PRACTICE OF OATH-TAKING IN THE DAYS OF JESUS
For reasons best known to themselves, the Jews tried to come up with ways of taking oaths without actually using God’s Name. They figured that if they did not employ the Name of God, then they would not have broken the Third Commandment.
REFUTATION OF THIS ERRONEOUS APPROACH
Jesus refuted this false interpretation of the concept of oath-taking. God’s good Name was involved, whether or not it was invoked.
1. Swearing by Heaven
Could anyone actually think that God was not involved when he used “Heaven” as part of the formula for oath taking? Was not “heaven” the throne of God? Was not God sitting on His throne at all times?
2. Swearing by the Earth
Was God’s Name not involved when one swore by the earth? Was not the earth called God’s footstool (Cf. Isaiah 66:1)?
3. Swearing by Jerusalem
Was not Jerusalem called “The city of the great King” (Psalm 48:2)? Surely it was foolish thinking to suggest that God was not involved simply because His Name was not mentioned!
4. Swearing by one’s head
Jesus scorned this vain attempt! Yes, God’s Name was not invoked when one swears by one’s head. But what was the point of swearing by one’s head? An oath had meaning or significance when one called upon a Person who possessed greater powers! Swearing by one’s head was almost laughable!
A BETTER ALTERNATIVE
Jesus did not cease at this point of time. He posed a most significant proposition as the better alternative.
“But I say to you, do not swear at all…
But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’
For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
Matthew 5:34a, 37
There really was no need to take oaths, if one were to practise transparent honesty. A further word of warning was added for good measure. The evil one would always seize every opportunity to cause the believer to sin against God’s Holy Name!