“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 on with a look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I want to take a closer look at oath taking and the implications it might have for Christians in the world today. Are we for example, forbidden from swearing on a Bible in court?
Let us first look at the history Jesus is talking about here. 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' and it means 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 in a profane way. Which we find in Leviticus 19:12 and is also something we should not do. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 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 in regards to 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 when taking an oath, as a way to show everyone 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 looked upon as binding, and if you didn't follow through with that oath, or you 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, adding to what the Lord had commanded, which often formed the basis of actual lying. In other words, there were stages of truth and thus also of 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 this way, because He is Holy and the creator of everyone and everything and so should be respected - not used to extract the truth out of someone or extract 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 swear using God's name in any way at all. Jesus is telling his disciples to speak the truth in such a way that their “yes” means yes and their “no” means no. To make an oath or vow that is binding and using God's name to cement that oath is, as Jesus says, "from the evil one."
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