5.33 Palin ēkousate hoti errethē tois archaiois: ouk epiorkēseis, apodōseis de tōi kuriōi tous horkous sou. 5.34 egō de legō humīn mē omosai holōs; mēte en tōi ouranōi, hoti thronos estin tou theou; 5.35 mēte en tēi gēi, hoti hupopodion estin tōn podōn autou; mēte eis Ierosoluma, hoti polis estin tou megalou basileōs; 5.36 mēte en tēi kephalēi sou omosēis, hoti ou dunasai mian tricha leukēn poiēsai ē melainan. 5.37 estō de ho logos humōn nai nai, ou ou; to de perisson toutōn ek tou ponērou estin.
5.33 Again you heard that it was said to the ancients: You shall not swear falsely, but shall dutifully perform to the Lord your oaths. 5.34 But I say to you, do not swear at all. Neither by heaven, because it is the throne of God; 5.35 nor by the earth, because it is the footstool for his feet; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great king; 5.36 nor by your own head because you are unable to make a single hair white or black. 5.37 So let the speech of you be Yes yes, No no; for anything beyond these comes out of evil.
We often try to make our words more believable by associating them with something of importance. Something of permanence or longevity. There is only one problem with that: Men and women alike seem to have a problem actually fulfilling what they say! And when we have associated our claim or promise with something we only make matters worse. We bring disrespect on God, on his plan, on his people. Better to just say yes or no, just state the facts or the intent.
Not that we can’t emphasize what we have to say, but Jesus shows us that we should only swear by what we have control over. And since control in human terms is largely an illusion, better to not swear. And by swear we do not mean “bad words”. Rather, we mean making a claim and then basing that claim on something else. “I swear on my mother’s grave…” “I swear by the church of the living God…” I swear by the Holy Spirit living within me…”
This does raise an interesting matter for thought. Anyone who has been to court or watched a court drama has seen someone swearing on the Bible. They are swearing and using the Bible as a means of ensuring that they will speak the truth. Does this make one bit of sense? It is really about fear, not honor. We assume that people fear God and the expected punishment if they lie swearing on the Bible. But that only works for honest people who have a fear of God. A liar or godless person has no rational reason to be any more honest because they “swore on the Bible”. So any assurance it brings is a sham. And the assurance merely shows us that we as a society cannot trust our fellow man’s words. If we really trusted people to be truthful, we would have no need for them to strengthen their testimony!
And the truly awkward thing is to see Christians get bent out of shape about “swearing in” public officials with a book other than the Bible, like the Quran, etc.; or about defendants swearing using something other than a Bible. Jesus tells us not to swear at all, but we swear on his Word, and encourage or even reprimand men for their willingness (or lack thereof) to swear by it. A cynic might even ask why we would want politicians, often considered deceitful by nature, to swear on God’s word. How can anything but dishonor be gained by this charade?
What do you think? Am I misreading or misapplying Jesus? Is this injunction against swearing or reinforcing our words not to be read literally? Is Jesus just telling us to be honest and forthright, rather than telling us not to swear? Or is it a combination, a middle ground? Are there types of “oath-taking” that do not fall under Jesus’ words? I myself am studying here, and don’t pretend to have all the answers.