“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.’ 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,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Continuing with our Bible Study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, today, we take a closer look at oath-taking and its implications for Christians. Are we, for example, forbidden from swearing on a Bible in court?
In Exodus 20:7, we find this verse: 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.
So what does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? And what does that have to do with swearing an oath?
The word for “vain” in Hebrew is shav, meaning emptiness, vanity, falsehood, lying or worthlessness (of conduct). So “taking the Lord’s name in vain” was to use it in a false, empty way. Many have taken this to mean we shouldn’t curse using God’s name, and so we shouldn’t because it is using God’s name profanely, which is also wrong. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord ((Leviticus 19:12). So we have two verses that warn us about using the Lord’s name in a false or profane manner (in vain). How does this relate to what Jesus was talking about regarding oath-taking?
Deuteronomy 23:21 gives us an idea: When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you.
The word “vow” comes from the Hebrew word neder and means to promise or swear to do something. In this case, making a vow to God and not following through is considered a sin.
Each of these verses shows us that using God’s name to prove your statements are true is essentially using it in a false, empty and profane way.
In Old Testament times, oaths taken in the name of the Lord were considered binding. If you didn’t follow through with that oath or were never meaning to follow through, it was strongly condemned by Jewish Law. However, by the time Jesus came on the scene, the Jews had developed an elaborate system of oath-taking. They added to what the Lord had commanded, which often formed the basis of actual lying. In other words, there were stages of truth and thus falsehood within the system of taking oaths. Jesus alluded to this in Matthew 23:16-22.
According to Jesus, all such oath-taking was unnecessary if one were in the habit of just telling the truth. It’s so simple! Tell the truth, and you do not need to take an oath. Hence his command “do not swear at all.”
Jesus said, “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.”
Again, the Lord is driving home the point that no one should use God’s name in vain because He is Holy. The creator of everyone and everything should be respected - not used to extract the truth or a promise from someone. Instead, we are to let our yes, be yes and our no, be no. Why? Because as Jesus said, “Whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
This is why Christians will not and should not swear on a Bible in a courtroom or use God’s name to declare an oath or promise. Jesus is telling his disciples to speak the truth so that their “yes” means yes and their “no” means no. To make an oath or vow binding and using God’s name to cement that oath is, as Jesus says, “from the evil one.”