The Sermon on the Mount – #6

Oaths, Vows, and Swearing Corrected (5:33-37)




  1. Our Lord continued the body of His sermon by rescuing true righteousness from the perversion of Pharisees.
  2. Having explained clearly and forcefully that His intent was not to destroy the Law, He then applied the Law.
  3. Having explained the importance of the least commandments and the totally inadequate righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, He continued by demonstrating their hypocrisy in making and performing oaths.
  4. The Lord Jesus continued His definition of kingdom righteousness by applying the truth about swearing.
  5. The Jews by tradition had promoted swearing for common matters of life, by various objects rather than by God Himself, and by assigning differences among objects as whether performance was required or not.
  6. Self-righteousness, or presumed blamelessness before God, is always by limiting God’s laws to fit your life.
  7. It is extremely important to see that Jesus opposed what had been said, not what Moses had written earlier.
  8. It is not an uncommon error that this sermon was Jesus Christ correcting and improving the Old Testament.
  9. Missing the lesson could cause you to think Jesus changed the laws of covenants, oaths, vows, and swearing.
  10. Since our Lord commended those who do and teach the least of His commandments, I will this day expand the laws of swearing from Moses to the full extent of the righteousness of our holy God (Matt 5:19).
  11. Let the position of this lesson be instructive: Jesus began the body of His sermon with relationship problems, followed that with sexual and marital problems, and then dealt with frivolity and profanity of human speech.
  12. The Pharisees modified swearing until no one was guilty; Jesus Christ expanded the commandment until everyone is guilty! But He obeyed His interpretation perfectly, and that righteousness is yours by grace!
  13. All men have sworn incorrectly or forsworn themselves, and you will give an account of it on Judgment Day.
  14. Let us tremble before God’s word, search our hearts, clean our minds, and purify our tongues from profanity!
  15. Our generation needs this teaching of our Lord Jesus and its application more than any other generation, for the frivolity and profanity of this generation has corrupted proper swearing by numerous verbal perversions.
  16. This church once had members that could not grasp this lesson and opposed the church about oaths in court, for it is common to misunderstand the sense of our Lord’s words and take an inconsistent position on oaths.
  17. This subject is excellent for learning how to study the Bible and arrive at the sense of apparent contradictions.
  18. As the servant ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, I will defend the integrity and sense of His teaching here.
  19. To get your attention, read the story of a man that cursed in the Lord’s name during a fight (Lev 24:10-16).
  20. To get your attention regarding the seriousness of your speech, read both Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 and Isaiah 6:1-7.
  21. So important was this subject to Agur that he prayed for sufficient food to keep him from stealing (Pr 30:7-9).

The Text Explained

  1. Jesus identified the traditional interpretation Israel had been taught by scribes and Pharisees (5:33).
    1. He refers to what they had heard about oaths and swearing, not what had been written of them.
    2. Our Lord did not identify or correct, “It is written,” but rather what had been preached in Israel.
    3. He did not correct, change, or modify Exodus 20:7,16; Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; or Deut 23:23; He corrected the wrong application that had been made to justify Jewish duplicity and profanity.
    4. He condemned the oral teaching and traditional interpretation the Jews had heard in synagogues.
    5. The scribes and Pharisees taught the tradition of the elders, “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time,” which modified several aspects of swearing to allow their wickedness.
    6. They had taken God’s commandments and altered them to justify ungodly speech and actions.
    7. Moses commanded swearing (Ex 20:7; Deut 6:13; 10:20; Jer 4:2). Jesus did not destroy this law.
    8. Jesus Christ did not correct the law of God at all; He restored the law from Pharisee corruption.
    9. There are foolish and weak men who will not swear at all by totally missing the Lord’s lesson.
    10. They foolishly conclude Jesus rejected bonds, covenants, oaths, swearing, and vows altogether.
    11. By basing Bible study on the sound of words rather than the sense of words, they err greatly.
    12. They leap at His words here and James’s words in James 5:12 to reject even swearing in court.
    13. James, who wrote to Jews as well, dealt with the Pharisee perversion (Jas 1:1; Gal 2:9; Jas 5:12).
    14. The Mennonites and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two large groups that totally miss the lesson and slander Christianity with ridicule, suspicion, and trouble by rejecting oaths, vows, and swearing, even when asked for an oath with their left hand on the Bible and the words, “So help me, God.”
    15. The scribes and Pharisees had taught and lived several errors pertaining to oaths and swearing, which errors can be seen more clearly by reading the account in Matthew 23:16-22.
    16. James, who wrote to Jews as well, dealt with the Pharisee perversion (Jas 1:1; Gal 2:9; Jas 5:12).
  2. Their first heresy was to make swearing a common act for most any inconsequential matter.
    1. Proper swearing, oaths, vows, covenants, bonds, or charges are for serious matters (Heb 6:16).
    2. The fact that Jesus endorsed bare yes and no for communicating indicates frivolous swearing.
    3. Swearing by your head could not been any great oath, further indicating their common use of it.
    4. Allowing the breaking of some oaths by their tradition also indicates frivolous vows (Mat 23:16).
  3. Their second heresy was to swear and vow by all sorts of objects rather than by God alone.
    1. The commandment clearly stated that God was the object of right swearing (Deut 6:13; 10:20).
    2. The Jews were swearing by heaven, the earth, Jerusalem, their heads, the temple, gold in the temple, the altar, and the gift on the altar among other objects for sure. This was ridiculous!
    3. You cannot believe swearing by heaven? You are forgetting, Heavens! And, Heavens to Betsy!
    4. You cannot believe swearing by the earth? You are forgetting, For lands’ sake! And, My lands!
    5. By their laws of oaths, they valued gold and sacrifices more than worship (Matthew 23:16-19).
  4. Their third heresy was to allow prevarication or lack of performance of vows by certain objects.
    1. Their oaths by the temple or altar were nothing – swearing that could be broken (Matt 23:16,18).
    2. They were compromising the absolute honesty and integrity that God expects of His people.
    3. They had turned the formal and sober worship of God into a profane mockery by their tradition.
  5. Jesus contrasted the righteousness of His kingdom to the teaching of scribes and Pharisees (5:34).
    1. There is a very definite contrast and opposition here by our Lord’s use of the disjunctive “but.”
    2. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; He did not apologize for His superior religion!
    3. He dogmatically declared that God’s standard of righteousness was far higher than the Jews!
    4. He did not flatter the false teachers or commend them in any way, because they were heretics!
    5. He did not excuse them from their error; He simply and boldly declared them wrong before God.
    6. Our Lord did not blanch or cringe dealing with oaths; He authoritatively and strictly defined it.
    7. The teaching of Jesus Christ was powerfully superior to the Jew’s oral tradition (Matt 7:28-29).
  6. Jesus first dealt with their heresy of swearing for all sort of frivolous or insignificant things (5:34).
    1. His words, “Swear not at all,” must be understood in a specific sense against a specific error.
    2. His words, “Swear not at all,” must be understood as stop swearing as justified by the Pharisees.
    3. His words, “Swear not at all,” must be understood as rebuking frivolous use of oaths and vows.
    4. The Lord Jesus Christ went immediately into explaining exactly what swearing He condemned.
    5. Moses commanded swearing (Ex 20:7; Deut 6:13; 10:20; Jer 4:2). Jesus did not destroy this law.
    6. He does not have one syllable of condemnation against proper swearing in the name of the Lord.
    7. He did not condemn the many oaths of God and holy men in either testament by these words.
    8. He did condemn their light use of swearing for common matters of life that did not need oaths.
    9. For such matters they had reduced the object of swearing to reflect the minor matter at stake, which was not the Jewish practice in court, when they would invoke God’s name (Matt 26:63).
  7. Jesus then dealt with their heresy of swearing by things other than by God’s name alone (5:34-36).
    1. Swearing is an act of worship when it involves God’s name, which He loved (Deut 6:13; 10:20).
    2. In this context He condemned their oaths by heaven, the earth, Jerusalem, and their head.
    3. Why in the world would a person swear by God’s throne rather than by God’s name? Was it to reduce the severity of the oath so that consideration could be made for not keeping it?
    4. But the fact was very clear that swearing by heaven involved the same as swearing by God, for heaven is nothing without the presence of God that gives it its unique nature and honor.
    5. The fact was just as clear about swearing by the earth, for God created it and uses it as a hassock.
    6. The fact was just as clear swearing by Jerusalem, for its esteem as a city was by God’s blessing.
    7. The fact was just as clear about swearing by the head, for only God can alter the hair of a man.
  8. Though not stated here directly, Jesus also condemned their easy breaking of light vows (5:34-36).
    1. We are told about their views of various oaths in Matthew’s other context (Matt 23:16-22).
    2. Regardless of their object, God and Jesus Christ expected the people of God to keep promises.
    3. Jesus then returned to His argument against their common swearing by rejecting such oaths (5:37).
    4. Here is the positive explanation and application of His earlier words, “Swear not at all.”
    5. Instead of frivolous and light swearing, their words should be based on simple “yes” or “no.”
    6. In ordinary conversation and business, anything more than positives or negatives leads to sin.

The Text Applied

  1. Our Lord Jesus Christ began with the most difficult and pervasive problem and temptation among men and women – godly relationships involving the heart, tongue, and actions (5:21-26).
  2. He then took up the second most difficult and pervasive problem and temptation among men – sexual fidelity in marriage and godly service to the needs and temptations of others (5:27-32).
  3. He followed those two areas of temptation with frivolous and profane use of our mouths, which surely ranks as one of the most common temptations that men face for easy sinning (5:33-37).
  4. We first must establish without any doubt that the Mennonites and Russellites are entirely in error.
    1. They forbid swearing, oaths, or vows by gross misunderstanding of Mat 5:33-37 and James 5:12.
    2. We avoid private interpretations and compare scripture with scripture (II Pet 1:20; I Cor 2:13).
    3. We do not take a position by the sound of words; we want the sense of God’s words (Neh 8:8).
    4. Childish arrogance based on a literal reading of words without a context leads to certain heresy.
    5. We consider the scope and intent of a passage to determine the sense of its words (Matt 5:17-20).
    6. We determine if a passage is intended with absolute or relative force by comparing Scripture.
    7. Is “Thou fool” worthy of hell (Mat 5:22)? If so, what of God and Paul (Luke 12:20; I Cor 15:36)!
    8. Should we remove eyeballs or amputate hands (Matt 5:29-30)? Or is there a relative figure here?
    9. How are we not to resist evil (Matt 5:39)? Can parents resist children? Policemen criminals?
    10. What will you do if you are sued for your house (Matt 5:40)? Wait for the verdict and double it?
    11. What will you do if a thief leaves a note for your car (Matt 5:42)? Tell him, “My pleasure!”
    12. Must alms be done in such secret that no one knows (Matt 6:1-4)? What of Joses (Acts 4:34-37)!
    13. Is it wrong to have savings (Matthew 6:19)? What of the ant and rich (Pr 6:6-8; I Tim 6:17-19)!
    14. Is it wrong to have two jobs (Matt 6:24)? What about three jobs? Or are these opposing masters?
    15. How will you not think about life’s necessities (Matt 6:25)? Show us such spirituality in fact!
    16. Do you eschew all future planning (Matt 6:34)? Or is this a relative warning of anxious care?
    17. Are you as those who condemn all judging (Matt 7:1)? Or is judging in the context (Matt 7:6)!
    18. We remember to place obvious limits on universal and general statements made for their power.
    19. We rightly divide the word of truth in order to judge righteous judgment (II Tim 2:15; Jn 7:24).
    20. God swore by covenant promise to Abraham His friend, and Abraham swore by covenant and by oath himself (Genesis 21:22-32; 22:15-17; 24:1-9; Heb 6:13-14). Observe that these vows, promises, covenants, oaths, promises, and charges are 400 years before the Law of Moses.
    21. Moses commanded swearing (Ex 20:7; Deut 6:13; 10:20; Jer 4:2). Jesus did not destroy this law.
    22. And the Law of Moses did include regulations for swearing (Exodus 20:7,16; 22:10-11; Lev 5:1;
    23. 19:12; Num 5:18-22; 30:2; Deut 5:11; 6:13; 10:20; 23:23).
    24. David and Solomon spoke of it (I Kings 8:31; Ps 15:4; 63:11; 66:13-15; 116:14,18; Prov 29:24).
    25. And the prophets of God dealt with good and bad swearing (I King 22:16; II Chronicles 18:13; Isaiah 45:23; 65:16; Jeremiah 4:2; 5:2; 5:7; 7:9-10; 12:16; 16:14-15; 23:7-8; 38:16; Daniel 12:7; Jonah 2:9; Zechariah 5:4; Malachi 3:5).
    26. The blessed and holy God even swore in His wrath against His people (Ps 95:11; Heb 3:11; 4:3), which is cursing during anger! Those that are paranoid about vows should use this against God!
    27. And the whole nation of Israel swore together (Numbers 21:2; II Chron 15:14; Neh 5:13; 10:29).
    28. And Nehemiah really got into the act of forcing the people to swear a vow (Nehemiah 13:25)!
    29. But the New Testament is also full of such charges, oaths, swearing, and vows (Matt 26:59-64; Acts 18:21; Rom 1:9; Rom 9:1; 15:32; I Cor 4:19; 16:7,22; II Cor 1:23; 11:31; 12:19; Gal 1:20; Phil 1:8; I Thess 2:5; 4:1-2; 5:27; I Tim 2:7; 5:21; 6:13-16; II Tim 2:14; 4:1; Heb 6:3; Jas 4:15).
    30. Did the Lord Jesus Christ, Who supposedly condemned any swearing, sin by it (Matt 26:62-64)?
    31. And at the sound of the last trumpet, an angel shall swear by Almighty God (Revelation 10:5-7).
  5. It will be our wisdom and righteousness to review ways that we break God’s laws for swearing.
    1. Swearing in the Bible is any verbal act of appeal or promise that references God to add weight to your words: it is called adjuring, bond, charge, covenant, curse, oath, promise, swearing, or vow.
    2. God’s laws are exceeding broad: it is our duty to examine ourselves in their breadth (Ps 119:96).
    3. We received an introductory lesson with the sixth commandment earlier (5:21-26), where we  saw how extensive a simple commandment can be with a holy interpretation and application.
    4. Given our Lord’s expanded interpretation of murder and adultery in the preceding lessons, we will apply His warning about swearing to any frivolous speech, especially of a religious nature.
    5. We will consider a few other Holy Spirit examples of God’s expanded definitions of sinning with your mouth (Pr 10:19; 14:9; 20:14; Eccl 10:20; Matt 12:34-37; Eph 5:3-8,12).
    6. Each and every one of the offences that follows violates directly or indirectly, “Swear not at all”!
    7. It is a horrible shame to our religion, when (a) we commit these sins ourselves, (b) allow others to commit them with relative impunity, (c) expose ourselves to temptations in this area of our lives, or (d) do not treat the offenders as heinously as we would an unrepentant perjurer. Consider how you would watch and avoid an unrepentant perjurer in our midst.
  6. Godly swearing must have a PROPER OCCASION in order for it to be acceptable to God.
    1. Most of the times men use trite objects for swearing indicates the swearing is quite unnecessary.
    2. The proper occasion for swearing is strife that can be settled by invoking the Lord (Heb 6:16).
    3. Our courts and public swearing-in ceremonies still use the Bible and the name of God for oaths.
    4. We make covenants, oaths, and vows when we marry, are baptized, join the church, commit ourselves zealously to specific righteousness, or promise the Lord a sacrifice for His deliverance.
    5. Short of these and similar very sober and serious situations, there is no need to use the Lord’s name, for you would then be using it in vain in direct violation of the third commandment.
    6. All the frivolous and expletive uses of God’s name, our Lord’s name, or their attributes are very profane and blasphemous examples of ungodly swearing that the Lord will most certainly judge.
    7. Let your conduct be such that your word does not need ordinary confirmation (Matthew 5:37).
    8. Haste in swearing can result in great error and regret (Judges 11:30-40; I Samuel 14:24-45).
    9. Be afraid of swearing so as not to engage in it lightly (Ecclesiastes 9:2; Deut 6:13; Prov 29:20).
    10. God’s name includes His attributes, so avoid swearing ignorantly (Isaiah 57:15; Exodus 34:6).
    11. Expletives for hitting your thumb with a hammer, having a traffic light turn red, or hearing someone sneeze are profanely inadequate situations for uttering any kind of an oath or curse.
  7. Godly swearing must have a PROPER OBJECT in order for it to be acceptable to God.
    1. Swearing is an act of worship, for you appeal to the highest authority you know (Hebrews 6:16).
    2. The proper and only object for swearing is the name of the living God (Deu 6:13; 10:20; Jer 4:2), for He receives it as an act of worship, and He jealously demands that He be the only object.
    3. In the New Testament this includes the name of Jesus Christ (Rom 9:1; I Tim 5:21; II Tim 4:1).
    4. God’s name includes His attributes, so avoid swearing ignorantly (Isaiah 57:15; Exodus 34:6).
    5. We violate this worship when we utter common words for emphasis, authority, or confirmation.
    6. Reject common words used for the purpose of swearing by emphasis or expletive: Heavens! Hell! Lands! Jupiter! Man! By George! Jumping catfish! Damn! Great day in the morning! Great balls of fire! Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! Sufferin’ Succotash!
    7. Reject euphemisms that are used for God, Jesus Christ, or other swear words: Goll! Golly! Gee! Geez! Gee Whiz! Gosh! Darn! Dang! Dog gone! Dog nabbit! Jiminy cricket! Jiminy Christmas! Jesus, Joseph, and Mary! Lordy, Lordy! Shoot! Sugar! Foot! Friggin! Freakin! Screw you!
    8. Reject blasphemous words: My goodness! Gracious! Goodness gracious, sake’s alive! Holy cow! Holy Moses! Bless you! Holy Toledo! My word!
    9. Reject sex acts, sex organs, and human or animal excrement for the use is profane and stupid, since it means you are appealing to the authority of these things to confirm your evil character.
    10. What about, “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye”? Is that how we verify truth?
    11. What about, “On my mother’s grave”? On what authority or value will she keep you from lying?
    12. The depravity and profanity of man, and especially of this generation, is seen by these examples.
  8. Godly swearing must have a PROPER RELIGION in order for it to be acceptable to God.
    1. Swearing is a use of God’s name, which must be backed up with overall general righteousness.
    2. Agur feared taking God’s name in vain by stealing, if he did not have enough to eat (Pr 30:7-9).
    3. We profane God’s glorious and holy name when we do not live up to His righteous standards.
    4. We take the name of the Lord our God in vain when we do not live up to our public profession.
    5. Vain. Devoid of real value, worth, or significance; idle, unprofitable, useless, worthless.
    6. Those who have taken the name of Christ should live holy lives (II Timothy 2:19; Acts 11:26).
    7. The nature of proper swearing is summed up neatly in two passages (Exodus 20:7; Jeremiah 4:2).
    8. The name of THE LORD THY GOD is a glorious and fearful name (Deut 28:58; Psalm 111:9).
    9. The proper object with an improper religion is prohibited; you cannot cover for sin (Hosea 4:15).
  9. Godly swearing must have a PROPER ACTION in order for it to be acceptable to God.
    1. Keep your vows to a minimum and avoid being a fool (Deut 23:21-23; Eccl 5:4-6; Prov 29:20).
    2. Whether you swear or merely use “yes” or “no,” you should always keep your word impeccably.
    3. The commandment of scripture prohibits swearing falsely (Leviticus 6:1-5; 19:12).
    4. Even if keeping an oath will cause you harm or loss, you must keep it anyway, for that is not sufficient reason to overthrow it (Ps 15:1,4; Josh 9:18-20; Judges 11:35; II Sam 21:1-2).
  10. Hate any light use of God’s name or related things (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 28:58; Psalm 111:9).
    1. We do not call any man “Father” in a religious way, for we have only one Father (Matt 23:9).
    2. There is no place for jesting with religious subjects like Bible verses, Bible characters, Bible expressions, heaven, hell, different denominations, etc., etc.
  11. Are you keeping your marriage vows? It was truly a covenant before God. Can you remember them?
  12. We have developed a rather thorough marriage covenant with strong vows in hope of pleasing God.
  13. The blessed God has strong things to say against filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting (Eph 5:3-8).
  14. You will be held accountable for every idle word, especially in religious matters (Matt 12:34-37).
  15. Our words in God’s house are particularly important, as we are in the presence of God (Eccl 5:1-3).
    1. When in God’s house, we sing with the understanding, which may include vows (I Cor 14:15).
    2. When in God’s house, we pray with the understanding, which may include vows (I Cor 14:15).
    3. We baptize in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the triune God, it is a very serious vow.
    4. We receive members in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a very serious covenant and oath.
    5. When in God’s house, whether we call it vowing or not, our words should be sober (Eccl 5:1-3).
  16. Everything you do in life is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus with thanksgiving (Col 3:17).
  17. Paul did not settle for mere “yes” and “no” in the charging of Timothy with duties, and he told Timothy to use similar charges on other ministers (I Tim 5:21; 6:13-16; II Tim 4:1; II Tim 2:14).
  18. We have used, and we will use, similar charges when ordaining men to the ministry (II Tim 2:14).
  19. You can be sworn to a duty by another, as Paul with Timothy, Abraham with his servant, Caiaphas with Jesus (Matt 26:63-64), or Solomon with Shimei (I Kgs 2:43).
  20. If you made a vow that involves sin, you have no obligation to keep it … that would be another sin!
  21. If you made a vow that could cost you, you have an obligation to keep it (Ps 15:4; Joshua 9:17-21).
  22. Paul charged saints in churches by swearing (I Thessalonians 4:1; 5:27; II Thess 3:6,12; I Cor 5:3-5).
  23. But our common conversation should be free of any foolish oaths, and we should keep our every word and commitment as Christians. Punctuality and performance should mark every member here.


  1. Do not despise perjurers in your thinking, unless you are free from the expanded interpretation of swearing!
  2. Do not think highly of yourself in God’s sight, until you are free from blasphemy, profanity, or perjury.
  3. Do not presume that your worship of God is accepted, when you have opened your lips lightly or foolishly.
  4. Avoid with holy hatred any vain or light use of God’s name or holy things pertaining to Him or angry curses.
  5. Consider the great Day of Judgment, when you shall give an account for every idle word and every time you spoke foolishly in the light of this study.