Thoughts on Matthew 5:33-37
This passage has been taken by some to mean we should never take any kind of oath ever, which, at first glance may seem like a reasonable interpretation. However, most commentators agree this is not a blanket prohibition on taking oaths. In fact, we read about Paul and angels taking or swearing oaths in other place in the New Testament. If all oaths were wrong, then everyone of us who has taken an oath of office, whether military, political, judicial or otherwise, has violated Jesus’ command – if it means to never swear an oath in any circumstance.
I could reference various commentaries and provide a summary of their contents, but I will not. While doing so would reveal a more robust historical context and explanation of how Jews of that day were twisting and manipulating truth by using different “levels” of oaths based on what was being sworn by, I think the passage speaks adequately for itself. That being said, I encourage you to search out where this was “said of old,” what it meant then and how it was being abused in Jesus’ day.
When I was young (and unsaved), I would “swear to God” when I really wanted someone to believe what I was saying, even if it was a flat out lie. I would try to leverage an oath to convince someone of the truthfulness of my claim or statement. Here’s an example of the escalated oath taking – Me: “Dude, my grandpa has a million dollars!” Buddy: “Shut up. You’re lying.” Me: “Unh-uh. I swear it.” Buddy: “No way! You’re a liar.” Me: “I swear to God! He has the money!” Buddy: “Wow! That’s awesome. How much does he give you for your birthday?”
You get the idea. Sometimes the lie would work (usually when the claim could not be verified), but usually the lie would be discovered and the “swear to God” would lose its effect on that friend. Is that a blatant form of taking the Lord’s name in vain? Yes. Is that lie? Absolutely. Two of the Ten Commandments broken just like that. In addition to the sin, there was also lost credibility and the degradation of my character.
I believe Jesus’ goal in this passage is to reveal not only how to avoid sinning against the Lord, but also how to become people marked by honesty and integrity. He said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” We should be the kind of people who are honest so consistently that when we say “yes” or “no,” there’s no need to escalate on the “swear scale” in order to convince someone of the validity of our statement or claim. If we’re always truthful, we avoid evil. If we’re always truthful, even if it hurts us or brings shame upon us, we avoid evil. If we are known as people of their word, not only do we avoid evil, but we honor God and bring glory to His name.
I’ll close with the words of Paul from Colossians 3:9-10: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”