But I Say Unto You, Swear Not At All

Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord.

But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God:

Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king:

Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil. (Mathew 5:33-37).

To those of old times it was said: Thou shalt not swear falsely by my name, nor profane the name of thy God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:12).

To swear falsely by the name of God was to shamefully misuse and desecrate His name.

To protect us from erroneously making such strong affirmation or assertions in which we imperfect creatures may be mistaken, Jesus, our Lord and Master has forbidden us to use any oath at all. This also agrees with James 5:12, But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be, yea, yea: no, no: that you fall not under judgment. To make an oath, whether it is done orally, or undersigned with pen and ink.

The general interpretation among businessmen is that Jesus and also James refer to careless swearing (or cursing), but if we carefully examine the Old Testament on this point, we find that this is not the case. The swearing of oaths was not forbidden under the law; it was rather commanded; but a false oath was a transgression of the commandment of God.

Abraham, the father of all believers, took an oath of his elder servant who had charge of his possessions, and in whom we might suppose he had full confidence; but to make sure that he would not take his son Isaac a wife from among the daughters of the Canaanites he requested his oath by the God of heaven and earth. The servant also had due respect for the oath he made (see Genesis 24:37). We should like wise have due respect for the covenant we make with God and His church, not transgressing it for any price; and in this covenant is included the non-swearing of oaths: and if we do swear we transgress the covenant of the New Testament, for we are under the covenant of grace and not the covenant of the law. It seems to me to be more urgent, however, to warn against careless swearing than against using the oath of the law. But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil (Matthew 5:37). Now what did Jesus mean by “evil'? Two spirits wield their influence on people, either the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan with his works of darkness. All ascertainable bywords then come from this prince of darkness. Under the law careless cursers were stoned to death (Leviticus 24:14). It does not say that he was a habitual swearer as many are; it only says he cursed. Many young boys consider it a great sport to misuse the name of God and the name of Jesus Christ merely for the fun of it, yet none applaud them for such blasphemy except those who practice profanity themselves. Anything more than a simple “yes” and “no” is of evil. There is a whole catalog of bywords (slang) which are in common use among us; yet these are, in many if not most cases, are all of evil; no matter how trivial they many seem to us. Some have acquired the habit of using one particular slang phrase, and some use another, but sooner or later these must all be answered for. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Matthew 12:36-37). Then Paul admonishes in Ephesians 4:29, Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Just what is idle talk?

According to the 1828 Webster dictionary, it is talk that is “unprofitable; not tending to edification.” In the Christians conversation it would be words that direct thoughts away from Jesus who shed His blood to cleanse us from all sin. Idle words always have a negative affect, neither edifying the speaker or hearer: some are of course more destructive than others. The Holy Spirit is grieved by such aimless talk. The apostle farther wrote in the next verse: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

In Ephesians 5:4 the apostle warns us further of filthiness and silly (or foolish) talk which arise from the abyss of darkness. My wish to God is that He might cleanse us all of such unchristian conversation and give us grace to remain cleansed of all immorality of the flesh and spirit, and be perfected unto holiness in the fear of God (I Corinthians 7:1).

It could be said that the writer to the Hebrews sanctioned the swearing of oaths when he wrote: For men swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. (Hebrews 6:16). He says “to them” and not “to us” (he refers to them who are under the old covenant). Even the oath will not bind a crook. I can always place more confidence in a man who has scruples against swearing oaths, than in one who has no conscience against cursing and swearing oaths, than in one who has no conscience against cursing and swearing contrary to the teachings of Christ.