Always Under Oath

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Wheel of Time? (Ai Sadai never technically lie)
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at how Jesus expects his followers, the Blessed Ones, to live out a righteousness that exceeds that of the most religious Jews. He holds them to a higher standard of the law, not

Oaths and how they were Used

What is an oath? Understanding the definition of an oath, the way oaths were used in the ancient world, and how God expected his people in the OT to use them.

The Ancient Concept of Swearing an Oath

The Greek Lexicon BDAG defines the Greek word omnuo which is translated oath as, “to affairm the veracity (truth or accuracy) of one’s statement by invoking a trascendent entity, often with implied invitation of punishment if one is untruthful.”
Oaths were a way of giving credibility to your words that comes from outside yourself. To swear an oath is to imply the credibility of something greater than you with the assumption either that you have the authority to command such credibility, or that you will be cursed/punished if you reflect that transcendant credibility poorly.
If I swear something by a diety, I imply that my words are as established as either the credibility, the power to avenge, or my own sense of honour of the one I’m swearing by. If I swear by a diety known for their truthfulness, I am implying that my words are as truthful as theirs and that if I break my oath I will be subjected to divine wrath for taking their name in vain. If I swore by my grandmothers grave and break that oath, I would be bringing dishonour to her memoury akin to desicrating her grave. That is the gravity of an oath.
Hebrews 6:16 ESV
For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.

The Oath’s God’s People were Allowed to Swear

Oaths are common throughout the OT, with
many righteous men swearing them where the swearing does not appear sinful at all
Psalm 63:11 ESV
But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Genesis 24:9 ESV
So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.
1 Samuel 24:22 ESV
And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.
swearing oaths were part of entering a covenant (as they still are in marriages). The oath is what bound the covenant together, and without it there is no assurance in that formalized relationshiop.
they were often used as a form of worship or part of the process of other religious duties
When King Asa brought God’s people back to worhsip him and turned away from idols, we are told
2 Chronicles 15:14 ESV
They swore an oath to the Lord with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns.
It was even commanded in the law at some points, such as in the case where a woman was accused of adultery (Num 5:19)
Husbands had the authority to annul the oaths which their wives made without their knowing (Numbers 30:13. Remember, in this culture women did not own their bodies)
God swears many oaths throughout Scripture.
Hebrews 6:13 ESV
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,
Genesis 26:3 ESV
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.
Psalm 95:11 ESV
Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Israelites where only allowed to swear by the name of God, Deut 10:20
Deuteronomy 10:20 (ESV)
You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.
The purpose of these oaths was to grant assurance beyond what a moral man’s word’s could mean. Since men often lie, an oath is a way to assure the truth and sincerity in what someone says. Oaths are only necessary in a context where the truth of what someone says is likely to be doubted.

The Ungodly Practice of Differentiating Between Oaths

Before we get into the reason why Jesus bans oath-taking, which seems very contrary to the OT example, we should look at how oaths were being used in Jesus’ day.
“You have heart it said” probably refers to Numbers 30:2
Numbers 30:2 ESV
If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
or Leviticus 19:12
Leviticus 19:12 ESV
You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
But the Pharisees had a problem; as I mentioned last week, they were overly literal with the text. You will notice that Leviticus 19:12 does not say, “you shall not swear falsely at all” but rather “you shall not swear by my name falsely.” In other words, if you swore by something that was not the Lord or the items representitive of his presence, then the vow was not legitimate. In fact, Matthew will look at this very idea later on when Jesus confronts the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:16-22
Matthew 23:16–22 ESV
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
It appears that the religious rulers of the time only considered God’s name to be represented by substance rather than vessal. For example, swearing by the temple is nothing because, in their minds, it is not the temple but the things in the temple that represented the name of the Lord. The same goes for the alter vs the gift, Heaven vs. God’s throne, earth vs. God’s dwelling on earth, and even a man’s head, since it is not the head but the person that represents God as a member of the Kingdom of Priests. Notice that Christ never uses the obvious example, the name of the Lord. What Jesus is pointing out here is a hypocrisy disguised in a overly literal take on the third commandment.
The third commandments is a commandment about oaths. When it says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” it’s effectively saying, “you shall not treat an oath to the Lord lightly or break such a vow, thereby disgracing his name.” It is for this reason that Jephthah had to sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering, and Joshua had to honour his covenant with the Gibeonites; although those both went against God’s declared will for them, they had to do it or expose the name of the Lord to shame and blasphamy.

The Command of Christ: Take no oaths at all!

So when Jesus speaks to us here, he speaks with all this in mind.
At first, it may seem like Jesus is contradicting Deuteronomy 10:20, which is why it is so important for us to understand where Jesus is coming from. What Jesus is doing is pointing out the blasphamy of the 1st Century Jewish view on vows and also exposing the foolishness and redundancy of making one in the first place.
Blasphamy because they differentiated between vows and so misunderstood the meaning of them. You see, the reason the Israelites were commanded to swear by the name of the Lord in Deut 10:20 was because they, as his people, were his image bearers and so everything they did was meant to be done underoath in a sense. Every yes and no a representitive of God makes implies an oath since they are his representitives and do not live in themselves. There is no difference for them between saying “yes” and “By God, Yes” since in both cases breaking their word would bring dishonour to the name of YHWH.
The Jews, in their overzealous self-righteousness, would not even utter the name of YHWH, and so had to make oaths to other things instead (gold in the temple, gift, ect.) They could then craftily get out of their oaths by denouncing them as illigitimate depending on what exactly they based their oath on. This was an evil practice that legitimized the breaking of the third commandment and can only be said to “come from evil” (vs 37).
Foolish because oaths could not be altered except in very specific circomstances (such as if a wife made a vow against her husband’s wishes). God did not stop Jephthah from killing his daughter like he stopped Abraham because Jephthah had entered a vow foolishly and faithlessly. Rather than trusting God and simply obeying him, he used a vow to get glory for himself by adding his own sacrifice to the victory. God gave him over to this sin. Joshua made a foolish vow and was thus unable to fulfill God’s plan for his people. Peter called an oath with a curse upon himself when he denied the Lord, perhaps being the most miserable example of how foolish and hurtful an oath can be. James warns in James 5:12
James 5:12 ESV
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
an oath brings on unecessary condemnation if broken for any reason. You wouldn’t offer $10 million on an item you know you could get for $10. Why risk it? In the same way, why risk making an oath when you, who can’t even really control your hair colour, could simply and transparently answer in truth “yes” or “no”
Redundant because there is nothing an oath has to say that a simple “yes” or “no” can’t.

The Legal View: A Potentially Dangerous Approach to Jesus’ Words

The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of exploiting loopholes in God’s law, and Jesus wants to point them to the heart of the law. If the Jews, in fear of breaking the third commandment, did not use the name of YHWH in their oaths and yet broke it anyway by twisting their words deceitfully, then they never really feared God. Instead, they practiced these things for self gain and a sense of self-righteousness, going above, beyond, and ultimately against the Word of God. Legalism always does this, and it often stems from viewing Scripture legally rather than relationally. The Bible is not a textbook, a law code, or a list of dos and don’ts. Primarily, it is instruction from our heavenly Father concerning how to know him and be like him.
The same danger exists today. Some, even Charles Spurgeon, believed this text was a prohibition against swearing in a court of law. That is not what this teaching is aimed at and really misses the point. Martin Lloyd Jones warns that if we see this as a mere command to refuse swearing in court, we are in danger of falling into the same trap the Pharisees did. There are, in fact, legitimate times to use an oath. The Apostle Paul did on several occasions, most notably in 1 Cor 15:31 and Galatians 1:20. Augustine of Hippo, on of the greatest Christian theologians to ever put his pen to paper, explains these passages show that oaths may be necessary due to the “weakness of those we are trying to pursuade.” Paul swears in these passages, not to trick his readers, but to convince them of his sincerity. From this example, we have good reason to swear an oath in court and at the wedding alter. However, except for these rare exceptions in which we are willing to stake our life, even our soul, on the words we are saying, we should avoid vows entirely.
1 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV
For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,

An Application

Now before you start thinking I’m compromising this text and softening it for you, I would argue that there are many other areas of life where this command holds us to account, even if we have never sworn an oath in our life.
Using any modifiers in our speech that confuse or divert people from the truth (i.e. not technically lying, but leading people to be decieved). This is what the Pharisees were doing with oaths, and its something we can easily do if we are ashamed to speak the truth.
Half-truths, white lies, dishonest silence, ‘technical’ truths ect.
Our communication is to be clear, accurate, and simple.
Any form of hypocrisy. Living as if your Christian life is all put together when it is not. Talking a lot about theology but not confessing sin. Giving people the impression that you are a spiritual person when your secret life says otherwise. Acting religiously, maybe even putting lots of rules in place for yourself, but in your heart pursuing your own desires. These are all violations of the third commandment “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
Example: Pastor Rory’s experience baptizing a person who was actively and unrepentantly visiting strip clubs. Pastors nursing a sinful habit or secret.

The Forgiveness of Christ for Oath Breakers

Christ: the hope for oath breakers
Are you an oathbreaker? If not, this is all worthless to you. Leave and never come back, because the Gospel is not for you. It is for oathbreakers, the unfaithful, the blasphemer, murderer, and adulterer at heart. But if you are, stay and cling to Christ who came for sinners.
There was forgiveness for oathbreakers in Leviticus 5:4-6. Jephthah would rather sacrifice his own daughter than swallow his pride and bring his offering to a priest.
Christ came to save sinners, all sinners, including oathbreakers and blasphemers.
Blasphamy against the Holy Spirit is committed when we claim to follow God but reject the Gospel which the Spirit testifies to. That is a gospel for oathbreakers.
Jesus’ bloody death was enough to cover your blasphamy and all other sins. The only blasphamy you won’t be forgiven of is believing that his blood was not enough for yours.
Go back to the beatitudes and let yourself start at the beginning. Be poor in spirit, confess your sins, hunger and thirst for righteousness of the heart, and follow Christ in all things.

Conclusion: The Blessed Ones are Simple People of their Word.

As Christians, we have no reason to swear and no reason to convelude our words. We are called to accurately represent God by living as those always under oath.
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