Mat. 5:33-36 –Blessings of the 9th Commandment (Part 1 of 3)

A Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 19 June 2011

Nate’s Translation:

33. Again, y’all heard that it was declared to the men of old,
            “You shall not make a tainted vow,” but “you shall deliver to the Lord your vows.”

34. And I myself am saying to you not to swear as a whole,

            neither by heaven (since it is the throne of God),

35.       nor by the earth (since it is the footrest under His feet),

            nor by Jerusalem (since it is “the city of the great King”),

36.       nor should you swear by your head (since you are not able to make a single hair white or black)

37. But let your word “Yes” mean “Yes;” and “No,” “No.”

            The excess of these is from the evil one.


·         “Never swear: for he that swears will lie; and he that lies will steal; and, if so, what bad things will he not do!” ~Reading Made Easy

·         “Be not much in oaths, although one should swear concerning things that are true; for in much swearing it is impossible not to profane.” ~Jewish saying (Tract. Demai.)

1. The O.T. Law

Πάλιν ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, ἀποδώσεις δὲ τῷ Κυρίῳ τοὺς ὅρκους σου.

33. Again, y’all heard that it was said/declared to the ancients/men of old/of long-ago,
            “You shall not epiorkeseis swear falsely/make false vows/break oaths/make a tainted vow, but perform/fulfill/keep/deliver to the Lord your orkous/sworn oaths/vows.”


Two Greek words introduced here:

1.      ὁρκίζω [horkizō] Thayer Definition: 1) take an oath, administer an oath to 2) to adjure, solemnly implore

2.      ἐπι “upon” + ὁρκίζω = A promise or oath with something else added to it. A little untruth mixed in with the truth. The truth plus a little extra. Thus a “tainted vow”

·         This second word is word is the one that Jesus says was declared by God to the prophets of old as forbidden, indicating that it is in the Old Testament law.

·         However, the exact wording of the Greek phrase as Jesus said it here does not appear anywhere in the Greek translation of the O.T. (although the noun form of this word does show up once in the O.T. (Zech 5:3) and once in the N.T. (1 Tim. 1:10), and in both instances it means “perjurer” or “one who swears falsely,” so that helps confirm the meaning of Jesus’ words.

Quotes from the Law

·         I think Jesus was making His own translation into Greek from the Hebrew O.T., or perhaps summarizing a concept that is stated various ways throughout the law of God.

·         Most likely: Leviticus 19:11-12 You shall not steal; you shall not lie; neither shall one bear false witness as an informer against his neighbour. And you shall not swear [ουκ ομεισθε] unjustly [αδικω] by my name, and you shall not profane the holy name of your God: I am the Lord your God.  You shall not injure your neighbour, or rob him, neither shall the wages of your hired man remain with you until the morning. (LXX-Brenton) – Here’s a case of a business contract made with a laborer; pay him right away what you promised to pay – this is part of righteous behavior.

·         Exodus 20:7 (3rd Commandment) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… Ex. 20:16/Deut. 5:20 (9th Commandment) You shall not bear false witness [ψευδο-μαρτυρησεις] against your neighbor

·         Numbers 30:2-9 And Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord has commanded. Whatever man shall vow a vow to the Lord, or swear an oath, or bind himself with an obligation upon his soul, he shall not break [βεβηλωσει] his word; all that shall come out of his mouth he shall do [poiew]. And if a woman shall vow a vow to the Lord, or bind herself with an obligation in her youth in her father's [or husband’s] house; and her father [or husband] should hear her vows and her obligations wherewith she has bound her soul, and her father or husband] should hold his peace at her, then all her vows shall stand, and all the obligations with which she has bound her soul, shall remain to her. But if her father [or husband] forbids her in the day in which he shall hear all her vows and her obligations which she has contracted upon her soul, they shall not stand; and the Lord shall hold her guiltless, because her father [husband] forbade her… (LXX-Brenton)

·         Deuteronomy 23:21 And if you vow a vow [euchey] to the Lord thy God, you must not delay to pay [apodidwmi] it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee, and otherwise it shall be sin... [The Nazarite vow appears to be one of these kind of vows] (LXX-Brenton)

·         Exodus 23:1 You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.

·         Lev. 5:1 Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt. – So it’s a sin to tell a lie actively, but it’s also a sin to be silent and not to tell the truth when the truth needs to be known and you know it.

·         Ecclesiastes 5:3-4 Whenever you vow a vow [euchey] to God, defer not to pay [apodidwmi] it; for He has no pleasure in fools: pay therefore whatever you have vowed. It is better that thou should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay. (LXX-Brenton)


Swearing oaths was common practice in the O.T. (and N.T. too)

·         Exodus 22:10-11 If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, an oath [orkos] before the LORD shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor's property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. (NASB)

·         Genesis 24:2-4 And Abraham said to his servant… I adjure thee [exorkizw] by the Lord the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you not get a wife for my son Isaac from the daughters of the Caananites…. But go instead to my country, where I was born, and to my tribe, and get a wife from there for my son Isaac. (LXX-Brenton)

·         Genesis 50:6 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Go up, bury thy father, as he made you swear to do [orkizw].”

·         Genesis 50:25 And Joseph adjured [orkizw] the sons of Israel, saying, “…carry my bones out of here with you.” (LXX-Brenton)

·         Numbers 5:19 And the priest shall adjure [orkizo] her, and shall say to the woman, “If… you have not transgressed so as to be polluted… you will be free from this water of the conviction that causes the curse.”

·         Joshua 6:26a And Joshua adjured them [orkizw] on that day before the Lord, saying, “Cursed be the man who shall build that city [Jericho]: he shall lay the foundation of it at the cost of his first-born, and he shall set up the gates of it at the cost of his youngest son…”

·         2 Kings 11:4 Jehoida the priest revealed to the army captains that Joash, the true heir to the throne of Israel was still alive despite Queen Athaliah’s attempt to kill all the king’s sons, and Jehoida made the army captains swear allegiance [orkizw] to Joash.

·         Ahab, king of Israel made Michaiaih swear [orkizw] to deliver his prophecy from God accurately. (1Ki. 22:16 || 2Ch. 18:15)

·         Ezra and Nehemiah also made the priests who were helping them rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity to swear to uphold the law of God  in matters of marriage and economics where they had slipped up. (Ezr. 10:5, Neh. 5:12, Neh. 13:25)

God took false witnesses seriously:

·         Deuteronomy 19:15-20 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he commits. At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established. If an unrighteous witness rise up against any man to testify against him of wrong-doing, then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Jehovah, before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and have testified falsely against his brother; then execute upon him what he wanted [the court] to execute upon his brother. In this way you shall put away the evil from the midst of thee. And those that remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more of any such evil in your midst. (ASV)

·         Malachi 3:5 I will draw near to you in judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the witches, and against the adulteresses, and against them that swear falsely [ομνυοντας ψευδει] by my name, and against them that keep back the hired man's wages, and them that oppress the widow, and afflict orphans, and that remove justice from the stranger, and fear not me, says the Lord Almighty. (LXX-Brenton)

·         Acts 5 – God struck Ananias and Saphira dead on the spot for telling a half-truth-half-lie to Peter about how much money they were giving to the church.


Once again, this is a matter of the heart, not just outward behavior:

·         Zechariah 8:16-17 These are the things which you shall do; speak truth every one with his neighbour; judge truth and peaceable judgment in your gates. And let none of you devise evil in his heart against his neighbour; and love not a false oath [ορκον ψευδη], for all these things I hate, says the Lord Almighty. (LXX-Brenton)

·         Matthew 15:18-19 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (NASB) 

·         “The real solution of the problem is in the heart. In that heart truth should reign supreme. The emphasis is on truthfulness: a person must be truthful when he solemnizes his promise with an oath. He must really mean it. He must also be faithful in keeping the oath; that is, he must carry out his promise.” ~William Hendriksen

2. Jesus’ exposition

᾿Εγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως· Matthew 5:34a
                μήτε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ·
  Matthew 5:34b

                μήτε ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὅτι ὑποπόδιόν ἐστι τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ· Matthew 5:35a
                μήτε εἰς ῾Ιεροσόλυμα, ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶ τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως·
  Matthew 5:35b

                μήτε ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ σου ὀμόσῃς, ὅτι οὐ δύνασαι μίαν τρίχα λευκὴν ἢ μέλαιναν ποιῆσαι. 36

34. And I myself am saying to you not to swear at all,

            neither by heaven (since it is the throne of God),

35.       nor by the earth (since it is the footrest under His feet[1]),

            nor by Jerusalem (since it is “the city of the great King”),

36.       nor should you swear by your head (since you are not able to make a single hair white or black)

Don’t swear/take/make an oath at all/as a whole (v.34a)

§         Here Jesus brings in a second Greek word (in addition to orkizw) for swearing or oath-taking, and that is the word omosai.

§         Defined by Thayer as “swearing, to call a person or thing as witness”

§         Matthew Henry wrote “In swearing, we pawn the truth of something known, to confirm the truth of something doubtful or unknown; we appeal to a greater knowledge, to a higher court”

§         Hebrews 6:13-16  For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear* by no one greater, He swore* by Himself… For men swear* by one greater than them­selves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. (NASB) (cf Luke 1:73)


What this DOES NOT mean:

o       God swore oaths to Abraham (Heb 6:13)[2] , David (Acts 2:30), Moses (Heb. 3:11), and Jesus (Heb. 7:21)[3], and commanded the Isaraelites to swear [omosai] in His name only (Deut 6:13). In the NT, Jesus answered Caiphas under oath, and Paul made solemn appeals to God (I Thess 5:27; 1 Cor 15:31), so stands to reason that Jesus does not mean here by “do not swear at all” that no Christian is allowed to ever take any kind of legal oath.

o       The Greek word holws translated in most English Bibles “at all” is not the Greek word for “all” but rather the word for “whole” so I translated it “on the whole,” because I think this gets the gist better – on the whole, we shouldn’t need to back our word up with an oath, although there may be times occasionally where it is appropriate.

o       “Many have been led by the phrase, ‘not at all,’ to adopt the false notion, that every kind of swearing is condemned by Christ... but we need not go beyond the immediate context to obtain the exposition: for he immediately adds, ‘neither by heaven, nor by the earth…’ Who does not see that those kinds of swearing were added by way of exposition, to explain the former clause more fully by specifying a number of cases? The Jews had circuitous or indirect ways of swearing: and when they swore by heaven, or by earth, or by the altar, they reckoned it to be next to nothing… To meet this crime, our Lord declares that they must not swear at all, either in this or that way, either by heaven, or by the earth Hence we conclude, that the particle, ‘at all,’ relates not to the substance, but to the form, and means, ‘neither directly nor indirectly.’" … ~John Calvin


What is it then that Jesus is telling us not to do?

1.      Possibly Jesus is saying not to take oaths or make promises for wrong reasons or hasty or foolish oaths. There were certainly occasions when people in the Bible should not have taken an oath, such as:

§         Esau who “swore” [orkizw] to Jacob that he would give him his firstborn privileges in the family in exchange for getting a bowl of soup Jacob had made.

§         Saul who made his soldiers take an “oath” [orkizw] not to eat anything during the course of a battle (1 Sam 14:27), so they got hungry and got into trouble.

§         Jeptha’s “vow” [euchey] to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his door when he came home victorious from the battle with the Ammonites who had invaded Israel. It ended up being his beloved daughter who came out to greet him first!

§         Herod “swore” [omosai] to give Salome whatever she wanted after she had pleased the men with her dance, and so she asked for John the Baptizer to be beheaded. (Mark 6:23)

§         And when Jesus had been captured and taken to the high priest’s house and Peter swore [omosai] that he didn’t know Jesus. (Mt. 26:74 || Mark 14:71)

2.      Or possibly Jesus is saying not to dilute faith in God by taking any oath to any other god but Himself.

§         Jeremiah 7:8-10 But whereas you have trusted in lying words which shall not profit you, and you murder and commit adultery, and steal, and swear falsely, and burn incense to Baal, and go after strange gods who are not familiar, so it is evil with you; yet you came and stood before me in [my] house… 12:16 But it shall be, if they will indeed learn the way of my people, to swear [ομνυειν] by my name, saying, ‘The Lord lives,’ instead of teaching my people to swear by Baal, then shall that nation be built in the midst of my people. (LXX-Brenton)

§         Zeph 1:5 – “…I will cut off those who swear [ομνυοντας] by the Lord and by Milcom”

§         [S]wearing…. is an appeal which men make to God to revenge falsehood and to uphold truth. This honor cannot be transferred to another [creature], without committing an outrage on the divine majesty… those who swear by angels, or by departed saints, take from God what belongs to him, and ascribe to them a divine majesty.” ~John Calvin

3.      Possibly Jesus is giving another extreme application like gauging out your eye to keep from committing adultery. Certainly if you never took an oath or made a promise for the rest of your life, you’d never have the problem of having made a false promise or taking a wrong oath!

4.      Most commentators agree, however, that the issue was that people were crafting promises without ever intending to fulfill them, and they had an elaborate theological proof that certain ways of wording promises left them without the obligation to fulfill them.

§         Isaiah 48:1 Hear these words, ye house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and have come forth out of Juda, who swear [ομνυοντες] by the name of the Lord God of Israel, making mention of it, but not with truth, nor with righteousness. (LXX-Brenton)

§         Matthew 23:16-22 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever  swears* by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever  swears* by the gold of the temple is obligated… And, 'Whoever  swears* by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever  swears* by the offering on it, he is obligated… Therefore, whoever swears* by the altar, swears* both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears* by the temple, swears* both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears* by heaven, swears* both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. (NASB)

§         William Hendriksen summarized it well when he wrote, “The scribes of Jesus’ day had misplaced the emphasis of the O.T. passages… [to mean that in the case of ] an oath in … which the name of the Lord was not expressly mentioned … one did not need to be quite so conscientious about keeping it…

o       “You shall not swear by the name falsely” (Lev 19:12)

o       “When a man makes a vow to Jehovah or swears an oath… he shall not break his word” (Num 30:2)

o       “When you shall make a vow to Jehovah your God, you shall not be slack to pay it” (Deut. 23:21)

Jesus forbids this hypocrisy… He tells them that an oath “by heaven” must be truthful and must be kept, for was not heaven God’s throne? … when oaths were sworn with an appeal to any of these objects they were as definitely binding as if the name of the Lord had been expressly invoked…~William Hendriksen

§         “We swear by the name of God even when we name the heaven, and the earth: because there is no part of the world on which God has not engraved the marks of his glory…” ~John Calvin


1.      If you have made a good promise to God or to anybody else and have not kept it; do whatever it takes to fulfill your promise and complete your obligation.

2.      Conversely, if you have promised to do something wrong or made an oath in the name of some other God besides the God of the Bible (as some secret societies still do today), then call it a sin and confess it to God and ask Him to forgive you. He will.

o       Leviticus 5:4-5 That unrighteous soul, which determines with his lips to do evil or to do good according to whatsoever a man may determine with an oath, and it shall have escaped his notice, and he shall afterwards realize it, and so be in sin in some one of these things  --then shall he confess his sin... (LXX-Brenton)

3.      We should consider all future promises carefully and only commit to what we can be sure to do with faith in God to help us accomplish them.

4.      If you hear anyone under your authority make a promise to God or to anyone else, you are responsible to intervene if they are making a foolish vow; it you see your children or your wife make a foolish promise, take the initiative to call it all off and use the opportunity to teach them why it was a bad idea.(Num 30)

5.      We must be truth-tellers. Not perjuring ourselves. Not mixing parts of truth and falsehood together.

6.      We must be representatives of God, both by modeling His character of truth and by communicating His good news.

[1] I do not understand why the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NIV remove the phrase “under His feet” even though it is found in all the Greek manuscripts.

[2] Deuteronomy mentions at least 19 times that God “swore” an oath to the Jewish forefathers to give them the promised land.

[3] Acts 2:30 "And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN* TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS  ON HIS THRONE, (NASB)

Hebrews 3:11 AS I SWORE* IN MY WRATH, 'THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.'" … 18 And to whom did He swear* that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? … 4:3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "AS I SWORE* IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. (NASB)

Hebrews 7:21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "THE LORD HAS SWORN* AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, 'YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER'");(NASB)

There is also the angel of God who swears an oath in Revelation 10:5-6 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, and swore* by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer, (NASB)