Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
Deuteronomy 6:13 (KJV)
Swear – I was taught that we were not allowed to swear. And because of this reason, we’re not allowed to partake in jury duty, or pledge our allegiance, or swear any oaths under law. It’s a common belief among many in my community. And it all boils down to these verses found in Matthew 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:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
According to these verses, Yeshua is obviously changing the law and passing an edict stating that we may never swear… ever. Just say “yes” or “no” – that’s it. And because of this, we’re taught to only say things like “I affrim” or whatever concoction that doesn’t actually use the word “swear.”
But when we realize what Yeshua is doing here when He states that He’s not here to destroy the law, but fulfill it, we see something that requires a deeper understanding of first century Jewish history. Why? Because it’s clear that YHVH commands us to swear by His name. It’s part of His law. So what’s really going on?
I’m a believer that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew because it was directed toward the Jewish community. This belief is predicated on the fact that early church fathers believed it and testified this as well. Eusebius quotes Papias in his Ecclesiastical History…
Matthew collected the oracles [literally: “words”] in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39
If you’re familiar with Papias, you’ll know that he conversed directly with John the writer of the Gospel of John. Just to clarify, the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, so when studying Matthew, we should always take a look into the Hebrew version… not the Greek. Let’s do that now.
But I say to you not to swear in vain in any matter, neither by heaven because it is the throne of God,
Matthew 5:34 (Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew)
Did you catch the interesting difference there from the Greek translation? Verse 34 actually states not to swear by anything in vain (falsely). According to Nehemiah Gordon in his book, The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus, he points out that the Pharisees had over-literalized the verse from Deuteronomy about not swearing falsely by YHVH’s name. So they taught that as long as one didn’t swear by YHVH, then they were allowed to swear falsely. Yeshua is pulling us back to the true intent of the law. If we swear by anything (heaven, God’s throne, the earth, etc.), then it is a binding oath and we are required to uphold it.
Yeshua then ends his instruction by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 4:2, when He states that “anything added to this is evil.” The Torah has always been the instruction of God, the Word of God… and Yeshua was the perfect example of living out those instructions while on earth. For further confirmation let’s take a look at Matthew 23.
16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
Yeshua is ridiculing the hypocritical Pharisees for suggesting that those who swear by the sanctuary or the altar are not bound to their oaths. Yeshua is guiding us back to Torah. Swearing is actually good. It’s commanded by God Himself. It’s when we over-literalize, or spiritualize-away the true meaning of the law, that we go bad. We corrupt the Word of God when we do this. Let us return to our Creator and align ourselves to His will. I swear by the name of YHVH, my life is His, and I will live in obedience to His law.