Matthew 5:33
Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform to the Lord your oaths:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(33) By them of old time.—Read, to them of old time, as before. Here, again, the reference is to the letter of the Law as taught by the Rabbis, who did not go beyond it to its wider spirit. To them the Third Commandment was simply a prohibition of perjury, as the Sixth was of murder, or the Seventh of adultery. They did not see that the holy name (Leviticus 19:12) might be profaned in other ways, even when it was not uttered; and they expressly or tacitly allowed (See Philo, De Special. Legg.) many forms of oath in which it was not named, as with the view of guarding it from desecration. Lastly, out of the many forms thus sanctioned (as here and in Matthew 23:16-22) they selected some as binding, and others as not binding, and thus by a casuistry at once subtle, irrational, and dishonest, tampered with men’s sense of truthfulness.

Matthew

‘SWEAR NOT AT ALL’

Matthew 5:33-37
.

In His treatment of the sixth and seventh commandments, Jesus deepened them by bringing the inner man of feeling and desire under their control. In His treatment of the old commandments as to oaths, He expands them by extending the prohibitions from one kind of oath to all kinds. The movement in the former case is downwards and inwards; in the latter it is outwards, the compass sweeping a wider circle. Perjury, a false oath, was all that had been forbidden. He forbids all. We may note that the forms of colloquial swearing, which our Lord specifies, are not to be taken as an exhaustive enumeration of what is forbidden. They are in the nature of a parenthesis, and the sentence runs on continuously without them-’Swear not at all . . . but let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay.’ The reason appended is equally universal, for it suggests the deep thought that ‘whatsoever is more than these’ that is to say, any form of speech that seeks to strengthen a simple, grave asseveration by such oaths as He has just quoted, ‘cometh of evil’ inasmuch as it springs from, and reveals, the melancholy fact that his bare word is not felt binding by a man, and is not accepted as conclusive by others. If lies were not so common, oaths would be needless. And oaths increase the evil from which they come, by confirming the notion that there is no sin in a lie unless it is sworn to.

The oaths specified are all colloquial, which were and are continually and offensively mingled with common speech in the East. Nowhere are there such habitual liars, and nowhere are there so many oaths. Every traveller there knows that, and sees how true is Christ’s filiation of the custom of swearing from the custom of falsehood. But these poisonous weeds of speech not only tended to degrade plain veracity in the popular mind, but were themselves parents of immoral evasions, for it was the teaching of some Rabbis, at all events, that an oath ‘by heaven’ or ‘by earth’ or ‘by Jerusalem’ or ‘by my head’ did not bind. That further relaxation of the obligation of truthfulness was grounded on the words quoted in Matthew 5:33, for, said the immoral quibblers, ‘it is “thine oaths to the Lord” that thou “shalt perform,” and for these others you may do as you like’ Therefore our Lord insists that every oath, even these mutilated, colloquial ones which avoid His name, is in essence an appeal to God, and has no sense unless it is. To swear such a truncated oath, then, has the still further condemnation that it is certainly an irreverence, and probably a quibble, and meant to be broken. It must be fully admitted that there is little in common between such pieces of senseless profanity as these oaths, or the modern equivalents which pollute so many lips to-day, and the oath administered in a court of justice, and it may further be allowed weight that Jesus does not specifically prohibit the oath ‘by the Lord,’ but it is difficult to see how the principles on which He condemns are to be kept from touching even judicial oaths. For they, too, are administered on the ground of the false idea that they add to the obligation of veracity, and give a guarantee of truthfulness which a simple affirmation does not give. Nor can any one, who knows the perfunctory formality and indifference with which such oaths are administered and taken, and what a farce ‘kissing the book’ has become, doubt that even judicial oaths tend to weaken the popular conception of the sin of a lie and the reliance to be placed upon the simple ‘Yea, yea; Nay, nay.’Matthew 5:33-37. Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time — Or rather, was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, &c. — See the margin. The Jewish doctors affirmed, that oaths were obligatory according to the nature of the things by which a man swears: Matthew 23:10. Hence they allowed the use of such oaths in common conversation as they said were not obligatory; pretending that there was no harm in them, because the law, which forbade them to forswear themselves, and enjoined them to perform their vows, meant such solemn oaths only as were of a binding nature. It is this detestable morality which Jesus condemns in the following words. But I say unto you, Swear not at all — In your common discourse one with another, but barely affirm or deny. Swear not by any thing, on the supposition that the oath will not bind you. “For all oaths whatever, those by the lowest of the creatures not excepted, are obligatory;” because, if they “have any meaning at all, they are an appeal to the great Creator; consequently they are oaths by him, implying a solemn invocation of his wrath on such of the creatures sworn by as are capable of God’s wrath; and for the other, the oath implies a solemn imprecation, in case of your swearing falsely, that you may be for ever deprived of all the comfort or advantage you have in, or hope from those creatures. Swear not, therefore, neither by heaven, &c. — By comparing Matthew 23:16, it appears that our Lord is here giving a catalogue of oaths, which, in the opinion of the doctors, were not obligatory. His meaning therefore is, Swear not at all, unless you have a mind to perform; because every oath being really obligatory, he who, from an opinion that some are not, swears voluntarily by heaven, or by the earth, or by Jerusalem, or by his own head, is without all doubt guilty of perjury. Much more is he guilty, who, when called thereto by lawful authority, swears with an intention to falsify. But by no means does Jesus condemn swearing truly before a magistrate, or upon grave and solemn occasions, because that would have been to prohibit both the best method of ending controversies, Hebrews 6:16; and a high act of religious worship, Deuteronomy 6:3; Isaiah 65:16; an oath being not only a solemn appeal to the Divine Omniscience, from which nothing can be hid, but a direct acknowledgment of God, as the great patron and protector of right, and the avenger of falsehood.” But let your communication be yea, yea — Avoid the use of all such oaths, as of those in which the name of God is directly expressed, and maintain such sincerity and truth in all your words as will merit the belief of your acquaintance; so that, in common conversation, to gain yourselves credit, you need do no more than barely assert or deny any matter, without invoking the name of God at all. For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil Εκ του πονηρου, Of the evil one: in common discourse, whatever is more than affirmation or negation, ariseth from the temptation of the devil, who tempts men to curse and to swear, that he may lessen in them, and in all who hear them, a due reverence of the Divine Majesty, and by this means lead them, at length, to perjury, even in the most solemn instances; considerations which show the evil nature of this sin in the strongest light. The Apostle James expresses this sentiment thus, James 5:12, Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay. The first yea and nay, therefore, signify the promise or assertion; the second the fulfilment. Accordingly we find the word yea used as a promise, Revelation 1:7, where it is explained by amen; likewise, as the fulfilment of a promise, 2 Corinthians 1:10, where we are told that the promises of God are all in Christ, yea and amen. On the other hand, concerning those whose actions do not correspond to their promises, it is said, 2 Corinthians 1:18-19, that their word is yea and nay: Our word toward you was not yea and nay. — Macknight. 5:33-37 There is no reason to consider that solemn oaths in a court of justice, or on other proper occasions, are wrong, provided they are taken with due reverence. But all oaths taken without necessity, or in common conversation, must be sinful, as well as all those expressions which are appeals to God, though persons think thereby to evade the guilt of swearing. The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them. Our Lord does not enjoin the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, but such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary.Thou shalt not forswear thyself - Christ here proceeds to correct another false interpretation of the law. The law respecting oaths is found in Leviticus 19:12, and Deuteronomy 23:23. By those laws people were forbid to perjure themselves, or to forswear, that is, swear falsely.

Perform unto the Lord - Perform literally, really, and religiously what is promised in an oath.

Thine oaths - An oath is a solemn affirmation or declaration, made with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed, and imprecating his vengeance, and renouncing his favor if what is affirmed is false. A false oath is called perjury, or, as in this place, forswearing.

It appears, however, from this passage, as well as from the ancient writings of the Jewish rabbins, that while the Jews professedly adhered to the law, they had introduced a number of oaths in common conversation, and oaths which they by no means considered to be binding. For example, they would swear by the temple, by the head, by heaven, by the earth. So long as they kept from swearing by the name Yahweh, and so long as they observed the oaths publicly taken, they seemed to consider all others as allowable, and allowedly broken. This is the abuse which Christ wished to correct. "It was the practice of swearing in common conversation, and especially swearing by created things." To do this, he said that they were mistaken in their views of the sacredness of such oaths. They were very closely connected with God; and to trifle with them was a species of trifling with God. Heaven is his throne; the earth his footstool; Jerusalem his special abode; the head was made by him, and was so much under his control that we could not make one hair white or black. To swear by these things, therefore, was to treat irreverently objects created by God, and could not be without guilt. It is remarkable that the sin here condemned by the Saviour prevails still in Palestine in the same form and manner referred to here. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. ii. p. 284) says, "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, and 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."

Our Saviour here evidently had no reference to judicial oaths, or oaths taken in a court of justice. It was merely the foolish and wicked habit of swearing in private conversation; of swearing on every occasion and by everything that he condemned. This he does condemn in a most unqualified manner. He himself, however, did not refuse to take an oath in a court of law, Matthew 26:63-64. So Paul often called God to witness his sincerity, which is all that is meant by an oath. See Romans 1:9; Romans 9:1; Galatians 1:20; Hebrews 6:16. Oaths were, moreover, prescribed in the law of Moses, and Christ did not come to repeal those laws. See Exodus 22:11; Leviticus 5:1; Numbers 5:19; Deuteronomy 29:12, Deuteronomy 29:14.

33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself—These are not the precise words of Ex 20:7; but they express all that it was currently understood to condemn, namely, false swearing (Le 19:12, &c.). This is plain from what follows.

But I say unto you, Swear not at all—That this was meant to condemn swearing of every kind and on every occasion—as the Society of Friends and some other ultra-moralists allege—is not for a moment to be thought. For even Jehovah is said once and again to have sworn by Himself; and our Lord certainly answered upon oath to a question put to Him by the high priest; and the apostle several times, and in the most solemn language, takes God to witness that he spoke and wrote the truth; and it is inconceivable that our Lord should here have quoted the precept about not forswearing ourselves, but performing to the Lord our oaths, only to give a precept of His own directly in the teeth of it. Evidently, it is swearing in common intercourse and on frivolous occasions that is here meant. Frivolous oaths were indeed severely condemned in the teaching of the times. But so narrow was the circle of them that a man might swear, says Lightfoot, a hundred thousand times and yet not be guilty of vain swearing. Hardly anything was regarded as an oath if only the name of God were not in it; just as among ourselves, as Trench well remarks, a certain lingering reverence for the name of God leads to cutting off portions of His name, or uttering sounds nearly resembling it, or substituting the name of some heathen deity, in profane exclamations or asseverations. Against all this our Lord now speaks decisively; teaching His audience that every oath carries an appeal to God, whether named or not.

neither by heaven; for it is God's throne—(quoting Isa 66:1);

This was said Exodus 20:7, and more plainly Leviticus 19:12; the substance was there said, though the words be not verbatim recited. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said,.... Besides what has been observed, in ver. 21 and 27 you know it has also been said,

by, or to them of old time, what is written in Leviticus 19:12. "And ye shall not swear by my name falsely"; which seems to be referred to, when it is said, "thou shalt not forswear thyself": and is the law forbidding perjury, or false swearing; and was what the Jews were chiefly, if not only concerned about; little regarding the vanity, only the truth of an oath: for they took swearing vainly, to be the same as swearing falsely; wherefore so long as what they swore was truth, they were not careful whether it was of any importance or not: moreover, these men sinned, in that they swore by the creatures, which they thought they might do, and not sin; and when they had so done, were not under obligation to perform; because they made no use of the name of God, to whom only vows and oaths were to be performed, "but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths", Numbers 30:2 which they understood of vows only made to the Lord, and not to others; and of oaths, when in his name, and not by others; which they did do, and yet thought themselves not obliged by them.

{8} Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

(8) The meaning of the third commandment against the perverse opinion and judgment of the scribes, who excused by oaths or indirect forms of swearing.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 5:33. Πάλιν] as in Matthew 4:7.

οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις] Doctrinal precept, according to Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12. It is not to the eighth commandment that Jesus refers (Keim, following an artificially formed scheme), but the second commandment forms the fundamental prohibition of perjury.

The Pharisaic tradition made arbitrary distinctions between oaths that were binding (by Jehovah) and those that were not binding (comp. also Philo, de Spec. Legg. p. 770 A). See Lightfoot, p. 280; Eisenmenger, II. p. 490; Wetstein on Matthew 5:36; Michaelis, Mos. Recht, V. p. 141 ff., upon their loose principles regarding this matter. The second half of the precept quoted (formulated after Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 33:22) was so weakened by them, that special emphasis was laid upon the words τῷ κυρίῳ, and other oaths were deprived of their obligatory powers.Matthew 5:33-37. Fourth illustration: concerning oaths. A new theme, therefore formally introduced as in Matthew 5:21. πάλιν points to a new series of illustrations (Weiss, Mt.-Evan., p. 165). The first series is based on the Decalogue. Thou shalt not swear falsely (Leviticus 19:12), and thou shalt perform unto the Lord thy vows (Numbers 30:3 : Deuteronomy 23:22)—what is wrong in these dicta? Nothing save what is left unsaid. The scribes misplaced the emphasis. They had a great deal to say, in sophistical style, of the oaths that were binding and not binding, nothing about the fundamental requirement of truth in the inward parts. Again, therefore, Jesus goes back on the previous question: Should there be any need for oaths?(γ) Oaths, 33–37.

33. Thou shalt not forswear thyself] The special reference may be to the third commandment. Cp. also Leviticus 19:12, “Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God.” In the kingdom of God no external act or profession as distinct from the thought of the heart can find a place. But such words as those of the Apostle, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (2 Corinthians 11:31), will prevent Christians observing the letter rather than the spirit of our Blessed Saviour’s words.Matthew 5:33. Ἀποδώσεις, thou shalt render)[213] Perjury therefore is the non-performance of promises attested by an oath. Christ, therefore, especially forbids promissory oaths, since men by them asseverate concerning future things, none of which is in their power, see Matthew 5:36. The human oaths concerning which Moses gives regulations, or which holy men have sworn, have more frequently reference to confirming, more rarely to promising, and in fact more persons perjure themselves with regard to future, than past matters. Wherefore the Romans prudently preferred binding with oath their magistrates at the conclusion, rather than at the commencement of office.—ὅρκους, oaths,) sc. things promised by oath.

[213] E. V. “Thou shalt perform.”—(I. B.)Verses 33-37. - Oaths. Matthew only; but cf. Matthew 23:16-22. Verse 33. - By them of old time (ver. 21, note). Thou shalt not forswear thyself (οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις). These two words are the substance of Leviticus 19:12, which itself (cf. Rashi, in lee.) includes a reference to the third commandment. To them our Lord joins but shalt perform, etc., which is the substance of Deuteronomy 23:23 (cf. Numbers 30:2). (On our Lord's utterance representing the current form of teaching about oaths, cf. ver. 21, note.) This current teaching was the logical deduction from the statements of the Law, and yet the Law had a higher aim.
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