Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

Is making Oaths prohibited? Misunderstandings regarding the Sermon on the Mount

It is a common teaching that as Christians, we should not make oaths or swear in the name of God, and that Messiah taught explicitly against swearing in His Sermon on the Mount. At face value it seems that Christ said making oaths/swearing which was a precept from the Law of God was evil. Have we misunderstood Christ’s words in Matthew 5:33-37 ? further study maybe needed to check the validity of this claim.

Oaths in the Law of God
While Oaths and vows seem to be the same, a vow is a “solemn promise” made between two entities, while an oath is a commitment one makes towards telling the truth or any other matter usually by calling towards something greater than him/herself.

The law is clear that words of an oath cannot be broken and that false Oaths should not be made in God’s name. The amalgamation of these two laws are what Yeshua mentioned in Matthew 5:33.

Lev 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Num 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

In the Law of God, it was expressly stated that if one makes an Oath, it should be made in the name of no other entity or pagan god, but YHVH‘s name.

Deu 10:20 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.
Deu 6:13 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

There was also other laws which governed breaking of oaths and being a witness of such acts.

Lev 5:1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.
Lev 5:4 Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.

There are many cases in the Old Testament where an oath is made. It was strictly adhered to (Jos 2:12-14; 6:25) even if it was later revealed to be disadvantageous (Josh chap 9).

Missing the point of Matthew 5:34
When Christ says “Do not swear at all”, it is juxtaposed against the precept from the Mosaic Law “Do not swear falsely in God’s name, but complete any oaths you make”(Lev 19:12, Num 30:2). The Law was against swearing falsely in God’s Name. So here Messiah is simply saying do not swear falsely in any other matter or in any other entity whether it be Heaven, Earth, Jerusalem or your own head. The highlight remains on “falsehood”, not swearing itself.

Mat 5:33 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: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither 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 communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Verse 37 where the phrase “Let your yes be yes and no be no” is often the reason why many misunderstand this teaching. To state it simply, so far Christ has essentially only said that “you have heard it being said don’t swear falsely in God’s Name and that you should keep your oaths, but I say to you don’t swear by anything else falsely either”. He then adds the fact that swearing is not needed at all if you are a person who keeps his/her word. If you say yes and do it or no and don’t,(If you are a man/woman of his/her word) essentially there is no reason for swearing in God’s name or any entity.

Further proof that Messiah’s reasoning was only about swearing falsely in any matter
There is other evidence which can shed light on this passage, of which the Hebrew Matthew stands out. The Hebrew version of Matthew’s Gospel perfectly preserves the fact about falsehood as you can see below:

Mat 5:33 (Shem Tob – Hebrew Gospel of Matthew translated by George Howard) Again you have heard what was said to those of long ago: You shall not swear by my name falsely, but you shall return to the Lord your oath. But I say to you not to swear in vain in any matter, neither by heaven because it is the throne of God, nor by earth because it is the footstool of His feet, nor by (Jerusalem) because it is the city of God, nor by your head for you are not able to make one hair white or black. But let your words be yes yes or no no. Everything in addition to this is evil.

The Biblical Apocrypha book Sirach (200-175BCE) also carries the same theme of making oaths very conservatively, and keeping oneself altogether from making oaths which once you break, amount to sin and unrighteousness.

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 23:9-11 Don’t let your mouth get used to making solemn pledges,and don’t get accustomed to saying the name of the holy one. Just as a household slave who is constantly examined won’t be lacking bruises, so also the person who always swears and speaks the Lord’s name will never be cleansed from sin. People who make many solemn pledges will be full of lawlessness, and a scourge won’t depart from their house. If they break their solemn pledges, their sin is on them, and if they disregard it, they sin doubly, and if they swear falsely, they won’t be justified, but their houses will be full of misery.

Philo of Alexandria (20BCE – 50CE) who’s works influenced many church fathers had the same to say about oaths.

Philo: The Decalogue 84 That being which is the most beautiful, and the most beneficial to human life, and suitable to rational nature, swears not itself, because truth on every point is so innate within him that his bare word is accounted an oath. Next to not swearing at all, the second best thing is to keep one’s oath; for by the mere fact of swearing at all, the swearer shows that there is some suspicion of his not being trustworthy.

Matthew 5:37 is oddly similar to a passage in the central text of Rabbinical Judaism which also carries the same theme of keeping ones word and not making commitments which one does not intend on fulfilling.

Talmud, Bava Metzia 49a The Gemara raises an objection: Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: What is the meaning when the verse states: “A just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have” (Leviticus 19:36)? But wasn’t a hin included in an ephah? Why is it necessary to state both? Rather, this is an allusion that serves to say to you that your yes [hen] should be just, and your no should be just. Apparently, it is a mitzva for one to fulfill his promises. Abaye says: That verse means that one should not say one matter with his mouth and think one other matter in his heart. It is prohibited for one to make a commitment that he has no intention of fulfilling.

Conclusion
Words are connected to actions, and the power of words can be seen in the Laws of Oaths among others. When we say yes or no, we should all adhere to keep our word and as Philo explained; aim to be a person who is trustworthy enough to not need an oath from. As our Messiah showed us, we should not falsely swear in any name or entity although we are still able to make an oath if we need to, as long as we stay committed to fulfilling it by all and any means. It is better for us to be Christians who keep their word and be considered trustworthy enough to never have to or need to make an oath. Let us all keep away from evil by being true to our words.

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Could anyone in Old Testament times, take “an Eye for an Eye”?

One of the well known teachings done by Christ at the “Sermon on the Mount”, is the comparison of “Eye for an Eye” and “Turning the other cheek”(Mat 5:38-42). It is a known fact that the “Eye for an Eye” teaching comes from the Old Testament Scriptures. Some believe that Christ was abolishing Old Testament teachings while showing the New Testament way of Love, when He compared these 2 contradictory thoughts, or ways of living. Others see this as an example of how the 2 Covenants are different from each other. The question that is often asked is “Why did God command to take an eye for an eye in the Old Testament, whereas Christ changed it to turning ones cheek in the New Testament”? Is there a contradiction here? Could anyone take “An eye for an eye” in the Old Testament?

Mat 5:38-42  Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

In the following study, we will find out that a little understanding and context behind the Scriptures would help anyone see that the “Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a tooth” phrase was not a commandment for everyone, but a “measurement” used for punishment by “Judges”, appointed in the Old Testament. In other words, no Israelite could take the Law onto his/her own hand and “take an eye for an eye” – it was solely upto the Judges to make just judgement – “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Solomon JudgesA person who was wronged had to appear before a Judge (Such as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Solomon, etc.) with at least two witnesses, so that their case was heard. The Judge would then give the judgement according to the loss (An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc.) as per the legal system constituted by Moses according to the Word of God. Furthermore, we will see that “Turning ones cheek” which means “Refusing to take revenge” has also been a central theme of the Old Testament, which Yeshua(Jesus’s true name) clearly taught to everyone, through the “Word of God or Scripture“.

1. Why were these 2 ideas compared? The Context.
Much of the misunderstanding behind the phrase “Eye for eye” exists because of the comparison made by Yeshua. Because of this comparison, most Christians believe that anyone in the Old Testament was taught to take “An eye for an eye” while Christ changed it to “Turn the other cheek”. To really understand the reason why Christ compared these ideas, we only need to look at the context of the said passage. The “you have heard” – “but I say to you” teachings of Messiah start off at Mat 5:21. One needs to read only a few verses before, to understand the context of His teaching.

Mat 5:17-20  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

So what is the context of His teaching, of “you have heard” – “but I say to you”? Notice the “Scribes and the Pharisees” mentioned just before His teaching. Notice how He says that whoever breaks the least of the Commandments or “teach” men to break them will be least in God’s Kingdom. Yeshua was talking about the Scribes & Pharisees of His day, who had taught a perverted version of God’s Word/Scripture (Old Testament). We have studied all about the teachings of the Pharisees in depth, in a previous post. But it is sufficient to say that the Pharisees were going against God’s Word by their own “Traditions” also known as the “Oral Law”. Yeshua was teaching the crowds that had gathered around at His feet, that “they had heard” (from the teachers of their time – who were the Scribes and Pharisees) it being said “An eye for an eye”, but that the correct way was to “turn ones cheek” or in other words, “keep judgement unto God and God alone”.

2. Eye for an Eye – A measurement for the Judges – Not a commandment for people
Under the Law given by God through Moses, any and all Israelites who were wronged had to come before a judge to plead their case. No one could take the Law into their own hands, and “dish out” justice (Deut 1:16-18, 16:18,19, 25:1-3). Now let’s take a look at the verse in concern “Eye for an eye”, and check what the Old Testament writings say about it.

Exo 21:22-25  If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Deu 19:15-21  One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

In the above verses, we can clearly see that the person charged with some wrongdoing had to appear before the Judges, who made him/her pay as “Determined by the judges” after a trial. This was the legal system which was instituted by God, through Moses. Judges were instituted by God to judge His people (Exo 18:21, 1Chr 17:10), and they were supposed to be impartial(2Chr 19:5-7). One of the criteria that the judges had to adhere, which came straight from God’s mouth was “Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth”(Lev 24:20). In other words, the Judges had to judge righteously – nothing more, nothing less.

Anyone who says that “in Old Testament times, people took an eye for an eye” believe in an erroneous doctrine. The judgement of “Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” could never be put to power without the ruling of the judges, after due inquisition. It is the same today, with most of the justice systems in the world, where the common man cannot take action against wrongdoing. He/she has to come before a judge and plead his/her case, where the judge will give his judgement according to the Law of that country.

3. Evidence of the same justice system in force even in New Testament times
Even though the justice system put in to effect by Moses survived through to the time of the New Testament, the ruling sect such as the Pharisees broke this system frequently. The following instances are but a few places where we see that no one could be punished outside the Law of God, even in the time of the New Testament.

A. When the Pharisees were accusing Yeshua without a formal hearing, we see that Nicodemus (who was a pharisee himself) challenging the other Pharisees saying “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?“(Joh 7:51). This proves that no one could be punished before being judged, and being formally heard.

B. In a similar fashion, we see Paul challenging the Council which had brought him to be  judged, for hitting him for no reason saying “for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?”(Act 23:3). This shows that the person brought before the judges could not be punished in any way before proven guilty. In other words, It was contrary to the Law to punish someone without him/her being found guilty.

4. Turning the other cheek
Through this teaching (which challenged and rectified the teaching of the Pharisees) Yeshua taught the crowds that no one should retaliate or avenge oneself, when somebody wrongs them. God alone stands for Justice, and taking it upon oneself to enact justice has never been approved by God. In fact, God had communicated the same idea in the Old Testament as we see below.

Lev 19:18  Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
Pro 20:22  Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
Pro 24:29  Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.
Job 31:29,30  If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him: Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul.
Pro 25:21  If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
Exo 23:4,5  If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

5. Righteous Judgement belongs to God Almighty
Righteous judgement can only be provided by Our Heavenly Father. This is why He said not to avenge anyone as vengeance is His alone. These are the same words quoted by Paul, in his letter to the Romans, as well as by the author of the Book of Hebrews.

Deu 32:35  To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.
Rom 12:19  Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
Heb 10:30  For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.

We see that throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, people referred to God as the Judge, and kept off judgement to Him alone.

Jdg 11:27  Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.
Job 5:8 
I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause:
Gen 18:25 
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Psa 75:7  But God is the judge:
he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

King David has shown the same characteristic of “Turning the other cheek” on several occasions, where he refused to take vengeance, even though it was rightfully his. He knew that God was the ultimate judge, who judges between people to deliver true justice.

1Sa 24:12  The LORD judge between me and thee, and the LORD avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.
1Sa 26:23  The LORD render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for the LORD delivered thee into my hand to day, but I would not stretch forth mine hand against the LORD’S anointed.
2Sa 16:11b,12 let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD hath bidden him. It may be that the LORD will look on mine affliction, and that the LORD will requite me good for his cursing this day.

Additionally, even Joseph showed the same characteristic, when his brothers begged him for forgiveness for selling him into slavery. His words to them were “Fear not: for am I in the place of God?”(Gen 50:19),  Even though Joseph was wronged by his brothers, he did not avenge his brothers for their wrong, knowing that God is the judge of all creation.

6. Conclusion
The words of Yeshua recorded in Mat 5:38-42 are inherently connected to “Loving your Neighbor”(Mat 5:43). Even though the subject of “Loving the Neighbor and Hating the enemy” has been discussed in a previous post, it is important to note that “turning the other cheek” is part and parcel of “The Love thy Neighbor” commandment(Lev 19:18). In retrospect, whoever compares the Old Testament to the idea of “An eye for an eye” is utterly mistaken, as Yeshua’s message was directed at rectifying the wrong doctrines taught by the teachers of His day, such as the “Scribes & Pharisees”.

A person with a simple knowledge of the Old Testament would know that no one could take the Law on to their own hand, under the Mosaic Covenant. Anyone who was wronged by another, had to bring the case before the Judges who listened to both sides and judged with the measure of “Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth”. What Yeshua addressed was the wrong doctrine of applying “An eye for an eye”(which was a standard/measure given to the judges), to say that any person can avenge him/herself for whatever wrong caused against them. “Judgement”, just like in the Old Testament times, still belongs to God. We must trust Him and bring our petitions to Him, without trying to avenge anyone for the hurt they have caused us. This was the simple teaching that our Messiah brought us, not that it was from Himself, but it was God’s Word all along.