Jesus and Torah: Oaths

Jesus and Torah: Oaths

Jesus and Torah: Oaths.

“You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 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. But let your Yes be Yes, and your No be No. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matt. 5:33-37).

An oath was a solemn promise that invoked a divine witness… “As God is my witness.” “I swear this is the truth by all that is holy!” I swear this in God’s Name, that’s how sincere I am!” In Jesus’ day it was common practice to make a promise of honesty and sincerity by giving an oath of truthfulness, swearing by something greater than oneself, as if that adds credence to what you are saying. People in that day were carelessly swearing by oaths all the time, and evidently Jesus got sick of the whole thing. Mosaic Law was clear, though, “That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.” (Deut. 23:23). So if a vow was made, it was treated by believers as a holy covenant between people. If you gave an oath by God’s Name falsely, it was the same as profaning His Name, the same as taking the Lord’s Name in vain (Lev. 19:12; Ex. 20:7 and 16).

The problem was that the Law regarding vows had been diluted in the eyes of the people so that they were mostly carelessly and thoughtlessly offered. The rabbis didn’t help matters when they taught that an oath that did not include God’s Name could be broken, it was not binding. So people broke their word all the time and were still technically obedient under the Law. Too many then took the next step and casually took an oath using God’s sacred Name and still didn’t fulfill the promise. Too many vows were carelessly including God’s Name, which resulted in empty, unholy promises. So Jesus thought it would be wiser to avoid oaths and vows altogether. Don’t swear by anything sacred. Let your word be your bond. In fact, don’t swear by anything at all. Just be honest, and let your Yes be a Yes, and your No be a No. Don’t even bring into your oath heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem. Don’t make a vow of sincerity or truthfulness at all. This teaching of Jesus was actually considered an innovative way of looking at the Law. He might have been given some resistance on this idea, but once again He is looking at the spirit of the Law and not merely the literal word of the Law.

Believers are expected to live a life of complete honesty. Live a life that has integrity, that proves you are trustworthy. Then an oath will be unnecessary. Let your life be an example of integrity and honesty, and your word will be enough. Honesty begets credibility. Don’t make empty promises. Don’t’ say anything you don’t mean. And don’t use sacred language carelessly and dishonestly. Jesus seems to be saying, if you are living the life of faith and virtue, oaths are completely unnecessary.