James 5:12
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
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(12) The question of the lawfulness of oaths has oftentimes perplexed alike the doctors of the Church and its simpler hearers of God’s word. The text, taken as it stands, would support the views of the Essenes, and many of the Paulicians, and other ancient sectaries. With equal force it might be urged by the followers of Peter Waldo, or the Unitas Fratrum (the Moravians), or the Society of Friends.

Swear not.—The words are put quite distinctly in Greek and English—neither by the heaven, nor by the earth. And it sounds like special pleading, worthy of a rabbi, to hear such a divine as Huther say that “swearing by the name of God is not mentioned,” nor accordingly is such an oath prohibited. “We must not imagine,” he continues (and his argument had best be fairly given), “that this is included in the last member of the clause, the Apostle evidently intending by it (i.e., ‘neither by any other oath’) to point only at certain formulæ, of which several are mentioned in Matthew 5:34-37. Had he intended to forbid swearing by the name of God he would most certainly have mentioned it expressly; for not only is it in the Law, in contradistinction to other oaths, commanded (see Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Psalm 63:11), but in the prophets is announced as a token of the future turning of men to God” (Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 12:16; Jeremiah 23:7-8). There were, we learn, many subtle distinctions in Jewish oaths; and the unlucky foreigner who trusted in an apparently firm one, too often found out his mistake. Certainly all such subterfuges are utterly condemned; and further, every word which breaks the letter or spirit of God’s Third Commandment. As to the higher judicial forms of oaths, remembering that our Lord answered such before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63-64), we can fearlessly conclude, with the 39th Article of Religion, that “a man may swear, when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet’s teaching—in justice, judgment, and truth.”

Let your yea be yea . . .—Your word be as your bond, needing no strengthening by any invocation of God, or holy things, “lest ye fall into judgment”—not “condemnation,” though certainly such might follow.

James 5:12. But above all things, swear not — However provoked. The Jews were notoriously guilty of common swearing, though not so much by God himself as by some of his creatures. The apostle here forbids these oaths, as well as all swearing in common conversation. It is very observable how solemnly the apostle introduces this command; above all things, swear not; as if he had said, Whatever you forget, do not forget this. This abundantly demonstrates the horrible iniquity of the crime. But he does not forbid the taking of a solemn oath before a magistrate. Neither by any other oath — Namely, unlawful or unnecessary; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay — Let your discourse be confirmed with a bare affirmation or denial; and use no higher asseverations in common discourse. But let your words stand firm; and whatever ye say, take care to make it good; lest ye fall into condemnation — Expose yourselves to God’s judgments.

5:12-18 The sin of swearing is condemned; but how many make light of common profane swearing! Such swearing expressly throws contempt upon God's name and authority. This sin brings neither gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, but is showing enmity to God without occasion and without advantage It shows a man to be an enemy to God, however he pretends to call himself by his name, or sometimes joins in acts of worship. But the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer. The spirit is then most humble, and the heart is broken and tender. It is necessary to exercise faith and hope under afflictions; and prayer is the appointed means for obtaining and increasing these graces. Observe, that the saving of the sick is not ascribed to the anointing with oil, but to prayer. In a time of sickness it is not cold and formal prayer that is effectual, but the prayer of faith. The great thing we should beg of God for ourselves and others in the time of sickness is, the pardon of sin. Let nothing be done to encourage any to delay, under the mistaken fancy that a confession, a prayer, a minister's absolution and exhortation, or the sacrament, will set all right at last, where the duties of a godly life have been disregarded. To acknowledge our faults to each other, will tend greatly to peace and brotherly love. And when a righteous person, a true believer, justified in Christ, and by his grace walking before God in holy obedience, presents an effectual fervent prayer, wrought in his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, raising holy affections and believing expectations and so leading earnestly to plead the promises of God at his mercy-seat, it avails much. The power of prayer is proved from the history of Elijah. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Thoughts must be fixed, desires must be firm and ardent, and graces exercised. This instance of the power of prayer, encourages every Christian to be earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek my face in vain. Where there may not be so much of miracle in God's answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.But above all things - That is be especially careful on this point; whatever else is done, let not this be. The manner in which James speaks of the practice referred to here, shows that he regarded it as a sin of a very heinous nature; one that was by all means to be avoided by those whom he addressed. The habit of swearing by various things was a very common one among the Jews, and it was important to guard those who from among them had been converted to Christianity on that subject.

Swear not - See this command illustrated in the notes at Matthew 5:33-34. Nearly the same things are mentioned here, as objects by which they were accustomed to swear, which are referred to by the Saviour.

But let our yea be yea - Let there be a simple affirmation, unaccompanied by any oath or appeal to God or to any of his works. A man who makes that his common method of speech is the man who will be believed. See the notes at Matthew 5:37.

Lest you fall into condemnation - That is, for profaning the name of God. "The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain," Exodus 20:7.

12. But above all—as swearing is utterly alien to the Christian meek "endurance" just recommended.

swear not—through impatience, to which trials may tempt you (Jas 5:10, 11). In contrast to this stands the proper use of the tongue, Jas 5:13. James here refers to Mt 5:34, &c.

let your yea be yea—Do not use oaths in your everyday conversation, but let a simple affirmative or denial be deemed enough to establish your word.

condemnation—literally, "judgment," namely, of "the Judge" who "standeth before the doors" (Jas 5:9).

Because it is a great sin to swear upon every slight occasion, and it was very usual among the Jews, and it was the more difficult to bring them off from it who were so much accustomed to it; therefore the apostle commands them, that

above all things they should not swear, i.e. should take special care they did not, and watch diligently against a sin so many were addicted to, and into which they might so easily fall.

Swear not; all swearing is not forbidden, any more than Matthew 5:34; (for oaths are made use of by holy men both in the Old and New Testament, Genesis 21:23,24 24:3 26:28 1 Kings 17:1,2 2 Corinthians 1:23 Galatians 1:20; and the use of an oath is permitted and approved of by God himself, Psalm 15:4 Hebrews 6:16); but such oaths as are false, rash, vain, without just cause, or customary and frequent in ordinary discourse, 1 Kings 19:2 Jeremiah 5:2 Matthew 5:37.

Neither by heaven, neither by the earth; by which the Jews thought they might lawfully swear, as likewise by other creatures, so the name of God were not interposed; not considering that where it is not expressed yet it is implied, Matthew 23:20,21.

Neither by any other oath; viz. of the like kind.

But let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay: either:

1. Let your speech be yea, yea, and nay, nay; i.e. by plain affirmations and negations, without the addition of any oath for confirmation, Matthew 5:37: or:

2. Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, i.e. let your words be in truth and sincerity, your speech seconded by your actions; accustom yourselves to truth and plainness in speaking, and that will take away the occasion of swearing. See the like, 2 Corinthians 1:17-19.

Lest ye fall into condemnation; viz. for taking the name of God in vain, Exodus 20:7, which is always done in an unwarrantable oath.

But above all things, my brethren, swear not,.... As impatience should not show itself in secret sighs, groans, murmurings, and repinings, so more especially it should not break forth in rash oaths, or in profane swearing; for of such sort of swearing, and of such oaths, is the apostle to be understood; otherwise an oath is very lawful, when taken in the fear and name of God, and made by the living God, and is used for the confirmation of anything of moment, and in order to put an end to strife; God himself, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and angels, and good men, are in Scripture sometimes represented as swearing: and that the apostle is so to be understood, appears from the form of swearing prohibited,

neither by the heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; of the like kind; such as are forbidden, and cautioned, and reasoned against by our Lord, in Matthew 5:34 to which the apostle manifestly refers; See Gill on Matthew 5:34, Matthew 5:35, Matthew 5:36.

But let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that is, whenever there is an occasion for affirming, or denying anything, let it be done nakedly, simply, and absolutely, without any form of oath annexed to it; for whatever addition of that kind is made comes from evil, and tends to it, and is evil:

lest ye fall into condemnation; by the Lord; for either false, or rash, or profane swearing; for he will not suffer it to go unpunished; see Exodus 20:7. Some copies read, "lest ye fall into hypocrisy"; or dissimulation, and get into a habit and custom of lying and deceiving, as common swearers do; and so reads the Arabic version.

{7} But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let {f} your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

(7) Because even the best men sometimes through impatience slip and speak oaths sometimes lesser, sometimes greater, the apostle warns us to detest such wickedness, and to accustom our tongues to simple and true talk.

Jam 5:12. The warning contained in this verse against swearing is in no other connection with the preceding than what lay in the conduct of the readers. The Epistle of James was occasioned by manifold faults in the churches, and therefore he could not conclude without referring to the inconsiderate swearing prevalent among them. It is as little indicated that he refers to the warning against abuse of the tongue (chap. 3; Hornejus) as that this swearing arose from impatience, against which the preceding verses are directed (against Gataker, Wiesinger). How important this warning was to the author the words πρὸ πάντων δέ show, by which it is indicated that it of all other exhortations is to be specially taken to heart. James assigns the reason of this in the words ἵνα μὴ ὑπὸ κρίσιν πέσητε.

The warning μὴ ὀμνύετε is more exactly stated in the words μήτε τὸν οὐρανόν, μήτε τὴν γῆν, μήτε ἄλλον τινὰ ὅρκον. It is to be noticed that swearing by the name of God is not mentioned. This is not, as Rauch along with others maintains, to be considered as included in the last member of the clause, but James with μήτε ἄλλον τινὰ ὅρκον has in view only similar formulae as the above, of which several are mentioned in Matthew 5:35-36. Had James intended to forbid swearing by the name of God, he would most certainly have expressly mentioned it; for not only is it commanded in the O. T. law, in contradistinction to other oaths (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Psalm 63:1-2), but also in the prophets it is announced as a token of the future turning of men to God (Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 12:16; Jeremiah 23:7-8). The omission of this oath shows that James in this warning has in view only the abuse, common among the Jews generally and also among his readers, of introducing in the common every-day affairs of life, instead of the simple yea or nay, such asseverations as those here mentioned; so that we are not justified in deducing from his words an absolute prohibition of swearing in general,[236] as has been done by many expositors of our Epistle, and especially by Oecumenius, Bede, Erasmus, Gebser, Hottinger, Theile, de Wette, Neander (comp. also Meyer on Matthew 5:33 ff.); whereas Calvin, Estius, Hornejus, Laurentius, Grotius, Pott, Baumgarten, Michaelis, Storr, Morus, Schneckenburger, Kern, Wiesinger, Bouman, Lange,[237] and others, refer James’ prohibition to light and trifling oaths. The use of oaths by heaven etc., arises, on the one hand, from forgetting that every oath, in its deeper significance, is a swearing by God; and, on the other hand, from a depreciation of the simple word, thus from a frivolity which is in direct contrast to the earnestness of the Christian disposition. The construction of ὀμνύειν with the accusative τὸν οὐρανόν, etc., is in accordance with classical usage, whereas the construction with ἐν and εἴς (in Matt.) is according to Hebraistic usage.

To the prohibition James opposes the command with the words ἤτω δὲ ὑμῶν τὸ ναὶ ναὶ καὶ τὸ οὒ οὔ, which do not express a new exhortation (Schneckenburger), but the contrast to ὀμνύειν τὸν οὐρανόν, etc. Most expositors (Theophylact, Oecumenius, Zwingli, Calvin, Hornejus, Grotius, Bengel, Gebser, Schneckenburger, Kern, Stier, and others) find here a command to truthfulness expressed; but incorrectly, as in the foregoing μὴ ὀμνύετε a reference to the contrast between truth and falsehood is not in question at all. De Wette correctly explains it: “let your yea be (a simple) yea, and your nay (a simple) nay” (so also Estius, Piscator, Hottinger, Neander, Wiesinger, and others; comp. Al. Buttmann, p. 142 [E. T. 163]).[238] Not the sentiment itself, but its form only is different from Matthew 5:37 (see Tholuck and Meyer in loco).

The form ἤτω (1 Corinthians 16:22; Psalm 104:31, LXX.) instead of ἔστω is found in classical Greek only once in Plato, Rep. ii. p. 361 (see Buttmann, Ausführl. Gr. § 108, Remark 15 [E. T. 49]; Winer, p. 73 [E. T. 95]).

ἵνα μὴ ὑπὸ κρίσιν πέσητε] assigns the reason why one should not swear, but should be satisfied with the simple yea or nay. According to its meaning, the expression is equivalent to ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε, Jam 5:9. There is nothing strange in πίπτειν ὑπό]; comp. 2 Samuel 22:39; Psalm 18:39. By κρίσις is to be understood judicium condemnatorium. The swearing forbidden by James subjects to the judgment, because it is founded on and in every instance promotes frivolity.

[236] Rauch says: “One should give honour to the truth, and freely and without prejudice recognise that according to the clear words of the text here, as in Matthew 5:34 ff., a general and unconditional prohibition of all oaths is expressed.” To this it is replied that honour is given to the truth when one is not taken by appearance, but seeks without prejudice to comprehend the actual meaning. In opposition to the view that Christ by the prohibition of oaths, in Matthew 5:33 ff., has in view the ideal condition of the church, Wiesinger with justice observes: “It can no longer be said, in reference to our passage, that only an ideal requirement is expressed calculated for entirely different circumstances than those which were in reality, for there can be no doubt that James demands for his requirement complete practice under the actual and not the ideal circumstances of his readers.”

[237] Lange by this understands more exactly: “conspiracy, which is a swearing accompanied by hypothetical imprecations or the giving of a pledge.” Moreover, his view of the design of the Epistle misled him to find the reason of this prohibition in Jewish zeal to enter into conspiracies.

[238] Lange would unite the two points together; and he is so far not in the wrong, as James presupposes truthfulness.

Jam 5:12. f1Πρὸ πάντων …: The most natural way of understanding these words would be to take them in connection with something that immediately preceded, but as there is not the remotest connection between this verse and the section that has gone just before, this is impossible here; the verse must be regarded as the fragment of some larger piece; it is not the only instance in this Epistle of a quotation which has been incorporated, only in this case the fragmentary character is more than usually evident. That it is not a quotation from the Gospel, as we now have it (Matthew 5:33-37), must be obvious, for if it were this, it would unquestionably approximate more closely to the original; on the other hand, its general similarity to the Gospel passage proves that there must be a relationship of some kind between the two. Probably both trace their origin to a saying of our Lord’s which became modified in transmission, assuming various forms while retaining the essential point. An example of a similar kind can be seen by comparing together Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:17 and the fourth of the New Oxyrhynchus Sayings: Λέγει Ἰησοῦς Πᾶν τὸ μὴ ἔμπροσθεν τῆς ὄψεώς σου καὶ τὸ κεκρυμμένον ἀπὸ σοῦ ἀποκαλυφθήσεται. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν κρυπτὸν ὃ οὐ φανερὸν γενήσεται καὶ τεθαμμένον ὃ οὐκ ἐγερθήσεται (Grenfell and Hunt’s restoration). In any case the verse before us must originally have been preceded by a context which contained various precepts of which this was regarded as the most important, on account of the words πρὸ πάντων.—μὴ ὀμνύετε …: this was a precept enjoined by many of the more devout Jews; Pharisees avoided oaths as much as possible, the Essenes never swore; a very good pre-Christian example of the same precept is contained in Sir 23:9-11, Ὅρκῳ μὴ ἐθίσῃς τὸ στόμα σου, καὶ ὀνομασίᾳ τοῦ ἁγίου μὴ συνεθισθῇςἀνὴρ πολύορκος πλησθήσεται ἀνομίας …—ἤτω: Cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22, the only other occurrence of this form in the N.T.

12. Oaths

12. above all things, my brethren, swear not …] The passage presents so close a parallel with Matthew 5:33-37 that it is almost a necessary inference that St James, if not himself a hearer of the Sermon on the Mount, had become acquainted with it as reported by others. Comp. Introduction, p. 8. The words condemn alike the rash use of oaths in common speech, and the subtle distinctions drawn by the Scribes as to the binding force of this or that formula (Matthew 23:16-22). That the condemnation does not extend to the solemn judicial use of oaths we see in the facts (1) that our Lord answered when questioned as on oath by Caiaphas (Matthew 26:63-64), and (2) that St Paul at times used modes of expression which are essentially of the nature of an oath (2 Corinthians 1:23; Romans 1:9; Galatians 1:20; Php 1:8). It is not without interest to note that in this respect also the practice of the Essenes, in their efforts after holiness, was after the pattern of the teaching of St James. They, too, avoided oaths as being no less an evil than perjury itself (Joseph. Wars. ii. viii. 85). They, however, with a somewhat strange inconsistency, bound the members of their own society by “tremendous oaths” of obedience and secresy.

Jam 5:12. Μὴ ὀμνύετε, do not swear) for instance, through impatience. The proper use of the tongue in adversity is set forth by way of contrast in Jam 5:13.—μήτε τὸν οὐρανὸν, neither by heaven) Matthew 5:34-35.—ὑμῶν τὸ ναὶ, ναὶ, let your yea be yea) Let your yea be the same in word as it is in deed [reality].—ὑπὸ κρίσιν, under judgment) Comp. Jam 5:9. This, as I have said in the Apparatus, is in agreement with the tenor of the whole Epistle.[74] In Baumgarten, Nec has crept in, instead of Hoc. I mention this, lest he should seem to be at variance with himself.

[74] AB Vulg. both Syr. Memph. Memph. Theb. read ὑτο κρίσιν; and so Elzev. Rec. Text. But Stephens’ Rec. Text has εἰς ὑποκρίσιν, with inferior authorities.—E.

Verse 12. - Exhortation against swearing, founded on our Lord's teaching in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:33-37 - a passage which was evidently present to St. James's thoughts. He, like his Master, "lays down rules and maxims and principles without specifying the limitations and exceptions." The sermon on the mount, as interpreted by our Lord's own actions, is a clear witness that this formed Ms method of teaching. If, then, his words do not touch the case of oaths solemnly tendered to men in a court of justice (and his own acceptance of an adjuration on his trial shows that they do not), no more do St. James's. Both our Lord and his apostle had probably in view "only those profane adjurations with which men who have no deep-seated fear of God garnish their common talk" (see Sadler's 'Commentary on St. Matthew,' p. 66). The special oaths mentioned were those in vogue among the Jews, and just the very ones which our Lord himself had specified (comp. Lightfoot's 'Horae Hebraicae,' vol. 2. p. 127, edit. Gandell). On the need of such teaching as this, see Thomson's 'Land and the Book,' p. 190: "This people are fearfully profane. Everybody curses and swears when in a passion. No people that I have ever known can compare with these Orientals for profaneness in the use of the names and attributes of God. The evil habit seems inveterate and universal. When Peter, therefore, 'began to curse and to swear' on that dismal night of temptation, we are not to suppose that it was something foreign to his former habits. He merely relapsed, under high excitement, into what, as a sailor and a fisherman, he had been accustomed to all his life. The people now use the very same sort of oaths that are mentioned and condemned by our Lord. They swear by the head, by their life, by heaven, by the temple, or what is in its place, the church. The forms of cursing and swearing, however, are almost infinite, and fall on the pained ear all day long." So, too, Aben Ezra speaks of the practice of swearing as almost universal in his day, so that he says, "men swear daily countless times, and then swear that they have not sworn!" With regard to the translation of the verse, two renderings are possible:

(1) that of the A.V. and of the R.V. (text), "Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay."

(2) That of the R.V. margin, "Let yours be the yea, yea, and the nay, nay;" viz. those enjoined by our Lord (Matthew 5:37), "Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." On behalf of this latter rendering, may be pleaded

(a) the clearness of the reference to our Lord's teaching; and

(b) the fact that this is the interpretation given to the clause in the two leading versions of antiquity, the Syriac and the Vulgate, both of which have exactly the same words here and in St. Matthew. Vulgate, Sit autem sermo vester est est, non non. Lest ye fall into condemnation. Happily the A.V. here follows the text of the Elzevirs, ὑπὸ κρίσιν (א, A, B, Latt., Syriac, Coptic), and so avoids the erroneous reading of Stephens, εἰς ὑπόκρισιν (K, L). James 5:12Any other oath

See the common formulas of swearing, Matthew 5:35, Matthew 5:36.

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