THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT -- LESSON FOURTEEN
"The Law of Oaths"
I. "A false witness that uttereth lies" is a sin extremely odious to God,
and may be employed either to injure the innocent or to liberate the
guilty. (Proverbs 6:19.)
A. Perjury is a sin condemned by every code of law, ancient and
modern, which I know, except the Roman Catholic moral code of
"mental reservation," which permits the giving of a false answer
as a means of covering the truth until proper time to reveal it.
(Explanation of Catholic Morals, pp. 289-292.)
B. The sin of false and profane swearing was notorious among the
Jews in the time of Christ.
C. Bearing false witness is one of the oldest and most common sins.
II. This is the third illustration the Lord used to teach the difference
between the righteousness practiced by the scribes and Pharisees and
the righteousness God requires in the kingdom of Christ.
A. In a time of multiplied oaths, made with God's name, the temple,
altars, heaven, earth, etc., a regard for truthfulness was shamefully low.
B. Lying and profane swearing not only injure the liar, it is a menace
to the order of society.
I. WHAT THE LAW OF MOSES TAUGHT.
A. The third commandment forbade using God's name in vain
(footnote: "for vanity, or falsehood"), and declared God will not
hold him guiltless who uses his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7;
B. The ninth commandment forbade the bearing of false witness or
perjury. (Exodus 20:16; 23:1,7; Deuteronomy 5:20.)
C. False swearing--to "forswear thyself," or perjury-- was strictly
forbidden under the law. (Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy
D. The law permitted swearing by God's name. (Deuteronomy 6:13;
II. THE PHARISAIC EXTENSIONS AND PERVERSION OF
THE LAW. (Matthew 23:16-22.)
A. Their deductions had led to a vast number of oaths, lightly
B. They taught that oaths were binding only when God's name was
used at the time the oath was taken. (cf. Matthew 5:34-36.)
C. One effect was the practice of oaths in ordinary conversation,
swearing by created things which they did not regard as binding;
hence, resulting in widespread dishonesty by breaking their word.
D. In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus does not denounce their hypocrisy,
as he does in the paragraphs preceding and following, but of their
folly as "blind guides" with reference to their oaths. "Here the
people were taught the binding nature of every oath, and both the
folly and wickedness of the distinction made by the Pharisees." --
III. THE LORD'S TEACHING CONCERNING OATHS.
A. Swear not at all: "Again, ye have heard that it was said to
them of old time Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt
perform unto the Lord thine oaths, but I say unto you, Swear
not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor
by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem,
for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by
thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black."
1. There is no conclusive reason to believe that Jesus, by these
words, meant to abolish what Moses allowed in the law,
concerning oaths, as he did in the case of divorce and
2. McGarvey's comment seems most appropriate here: "The
only oath authorized by the law of Moses was one taken in
the name of God. (Deut. 6:13.) The oaths which Jesus here
proceeds to prohibit--"by heaven," "by the earth", "by
Jerusalem," "by thy head"-- were all unauthorized by the
law. Moreover, it was taught by the scribes that these oaths,
and all others which did not include the name of God, had not
the binding force of an oath. The universal prohibition,
'swear not at all' is distributed by the specification of these
four forms of oaths, and is, therefore most strictly interpreted
as including only such oaths. Jesus surely did not intend to
abolish now, in advance of the general abrogation of the law,
those statutes of Moses which allowed, and in some instances
required the administration of an oath. (See Exodus 22:11;
Num. 5:19.) What we style the judicial oaths of the law of
Moses, then, were not included in the prohibition. This
conclusion is also reached when we interpret the prohibition
in the light of authoritative examples. God himself, 'because
he could swear by no greater, swore by himself' in confirming
the promise to Abraham (Heb. 6:13); and he did the same
in declaring the priesthood of Christ. (Heb. 7:21.) Jesus
answered to an oath before the Sanhedrin--Caiaphas
administering the oath in the form: 'I adjure thee by the living God.'
(Matt. 26:63).) Paul also made oath to the Corinthian
Church, saying: 'I call upon God as a witness on my soul,
that to spare you I came not as yet to Corinth.' (2 Cor.
1:23. See also Rom. 1:9; Gal. 1:20; Phil. 1:8; 1 Cor. 15:31;
Rev. 10:5,6; 1 Thess. 2:5.) We conclude, then, that judicial
oaths, and oaths taken in the name of God on occasions of
solemn religious importance, are not included in the
prohibition; but as these are the only exceptions found in the
Scriptures, we conclude that all other oaths are forbidden.
All of these remarks apply with the same force to the parallel
passage in James 5:12." -- Commentary on Matthew-Mark,
3. Matthew Henry says, in his Commentary, Vol. V, p. 63: "We
may be sworn, but we must not swear; we may be adjured,
and so obliged to it, but we must not thrust ourselves upon it
for our own worldly advantage."
4. "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, Heb. 6:16, and an high act of religious
worship, Deut. 6:13, Isaiah 65:16, an oath being not only a
solemn appeal to the divine omniscience, from which nothing
can be hid, but a direct acknowledgement of God, as the great
patron and protector of right, and the avenger of falsehood."
B. Practical reasons why Jesus forbade swearing profanely.
1. It is useless to honest men. (verse 36.) And a dishonest man
will usually lie under oath if he lies when not under oath.
Swearing will not bind a liar, and an honest man will tell the
truth without it.
2. Profane swearing is a positive evil, when it leads one to
believe that lying is less hurtful and less wrong when no oath
a. Profane swearing is evidence of an evil heart.
b. And it does not cause others to believe you more readily.
C. "But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is
more than these is of the evil one." (v. 37)
1. A simple affirmative or negative, "Yes" or "No," is sufficient
in your ordinary conversations and everywhere sincere speech
2. The reason for this injunction, "Whatsoever is more than
these is of the evil one;" because it comes from a lack of
veracity on the part of him who makes the oath, suspicion of
this on the part of him requiring the oath, and that "ye fall
not under judgment." (James 5:12.)
IV. GOD EXPECTS US TO KEEP OUR VOWS, PLEDGES,
WORD. (Ecclesiastes 5:4; Deuteronomy 23:21.)
A. Good examples are Abraham (Genesis 14:22-24); Jacob
(Genesis 28:20-22); Jephthah (Judges 11:39); Hannah
(1 Samuel 1:28); Prodigal son (Luke 15); Paul (Acts 18).
B. Let us keep the pledge we make to God in becoming Christians,
to live always by his will and purpose. (Matthew 11:29; John
4:24; Romans 8:28; 2 Timothy 2:15.)
C. Let us always give as we have purposed in our hearts.
(2 Corinthians 9:7.)
D. Let us always keep our sacred vows of marriage. (Matthew 19:1-9).
E. Let us pay our debts, promises to friends (Matthew 21:30), and to
our brothers (Proverbs 29:20), and not be guilty as "covenant
breakers." (Romans 1:31.)
F. The destiny of all liars is clearly undesirable. (Revelation 21:8,
G. Dishonesty, one of mankind's greatest problems, works
destruction in personal character, conscience; in home, church,
society; in honor, peace, love.
H. Must put on "whole armor of God," the first element of which is
"loins girded with truth." (Ephesians 6:14.) Study Revelation