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Against Oaths


(1a) Matt 5:33-37
(1b) Matt 23:16-22
(2) James 5:12



(1a) Matt 5:33-37

5:33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.' 5:34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 5:35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 5:36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 5:37 Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.


(1b) Matt 23:22

23:16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' 23:17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 23:18 And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' 23:19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 23:20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 23:21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 23:22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.


(2) James 5:12

Above all, my beloved, 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.



John Dominic Crossan

Item: 372
Stratum: III (80-120 CE)
Attestation: Double
Historicity: +
Common Sayings Tradition: No

Jesus Seminar




JS Mtg





W Avg


Core Saying
Matt 5:34b-37
James 5:12

On the basis of the partial parallel in Jas 5:12, the Seminar concluded that there may have been an original saying by Jesus that opposed the use of oaths. The hypothetical core saying achieved a weighted average of 0.49, just missing out on a pink rating.


Samuel T. Lachs

Lachs [Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, 100-103] notes that the Matthean version of this antithesis seems to confuse "swearing" and "vow." While technically different, in practice the two concepts had blended.

There is no direct Hebrew Bible source for this antithesis, but Lev 19:12 seems to come close:

And you shall not swear by my name falsely,
so that you do not profane the name of your God.

There are numerous Jewish parallels to the admonition against oaths:

For I swear to you my children, but I will not swear by a single oath neither by heaven or by earth nor by anything made by God. God said, 'there is no sweating in Me nor injustice but truth.' If there is no truth in men let thou swear by a word, yea yea, nay nay. But I swear to you yea yea.' [Slav Enoch 49:1-2]

Accustom not your mouth to swearing,
neither use thyself to the naming of the Holy One. [Sirach 23:9-11]

To swear not at all is the best course and most profitable to life, well suited to a rational nature which has been taught to speak the truth so well on each occasion that its words are regarded as oaths; to swear truly is only, as people say, a second-best voyage, for the mere fact of his swearing casts suspicion on the trustworthiness of the man. Let him, then, lag and linger in the hope that by repeated postponement he may avoid the oath altogether. [Philo, On the Decalogue 17]

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, 'Do not imagine that you are permitted to swear by My name even in truth ...' [Num. R. 22:1]

Right or wrong, so not involve yourself in an oath. [Lev 6:3]

R. Huna said: 'The yeas of the righteous are a yea, their nos are a no!" [Ruth R. 3.18]

R. Eleazer said: 'Yes is an oath, no is an oath.' [B.Shev. 36a]

Lachs concludes:

Although the rabbinic point of view, represented by these quotations, indicates that they wished to limit the oath and/or swearing, they did not as a matter of law prohibit it. The Essenes, on the other hand, were well known for their refusal to take an oath as being contrary to their belief:

6. And truly, as for other things, they do nothing but according to the injunctions of their curators; only these two things are done among them at everyone's own free-will, which are to assist those that want it, and to show mercy; for they are permitted of their own accord to afford succor to such as deserve it, when they stand in need of it, and to bestow food on those that are in distress; but they cannot give any thing to their kindred without the curators. They dispense their anger after a just manner, and restrain their passion. They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury (4) for they say that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned. They also take great pains in studying the writings of the ancients, and choose out of them what is most for the advantage of their soul and body; and they inquire after such roots and medicinal stones as may cure their distempers.
[Josephus, Jewish Wars II.8.6]

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