Episode 16 - Oaths - Part 1
January 20, 2023
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In this episode, we dive into talking about the topics of oaths and vows. We'll examine Matthew 5:33-37 and look at how Jesus' teaching applies to us as believers today.
Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
Alright, welcome everyone to our next podcast here.
We're going to talk today about oaths.
And when I was researching this, when I was getting ready to be, this is the first one
that I'm moderating.
So I wanted to, I thought, this is good.
This is going to be an easy one.
This is going to be one that is so straightforward that we'll talk for 10 minutes and we'll have
And yeah, it is not that at all.
And I'm going to start, I'm going to dive right in.
We're just going to read the passage.
We're coming out of Matthew chapter five and reading in verse 33, it says, again, you've
heard that it was said to the people long ago, do not break your oath, but fulfill to the
Lord the vows you have made.
But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is God's throne,
or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the
Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
All you need to say is simply yes or no.
Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
And so there are, there are passages in the Old Testament, Numbers 30, Deuteronomy 23,
to name a couple that reference making a vow to the Lord.
The first question I have is, what does this mean?
Is it a promise to do something for the Lord?
A calling of God as a witness between the person making the vow and the person to whom
it is made?
Is it both?
Is it neither?
What does this mean?
That's a good question.
I think it's important we define the terms oath and vow.
To take an oath means to swear by or upon some sacred object or divine witness.
It marks the seriousness of what you're saying.
So I think if you're in a court and you're called to bear witness, they have you put
your hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, so help you God.
To make a vow is to solemnly promise, in this context of the phrase, the Lord, which I
think we see this phrase is at issue in this example, to swear an oath before God is to
promise to another person in God's sight.
So to make a vow to the Lord is to promise to God.
And what I think Jesus is doing here though is because he's, he isn't quoting a specific
verse like he did in the first couple examples from the Ten Commandments.
He's getting at, I think, the whole of the law's emphasis on truth.
And when I was studying for this topic, the two verses you mentioned along with Leviticus
19 were very interesting and relate directly to this topic.
And I want to read those scriptures you referenced.
So Numbers 30:2, it says, if a man vows a vow to the Lord or swears an oath to bind
himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds
out of his mouth.
And then in Deuteronomy 23:21-22, it says, if you make a vow to the Lord, your
God, you shall not delay in fulfilling it.
For the Lord your God will surely require to have you and you will be guilty of sin.
But if you refrain from vowing, you'll not be guilty of sin.
So I think this phrase to the Lord is key to understanding the issue Jesus is addressing
and how our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of law.
I think Jesus is particularly emphasizing that phrase.
I was curious how you're going to respond to that because I went down to try to figure
out the difference or what this actually means and kind of landed in a similar place as you.
But I didn't know.
I was like, because I haven't thought about the difference in vows and oaths.
But the way I typically do this when I'm trying to understand how these words get used, I
go to the passage that I'm trying to understand and I look up the word, whether it's a Hebrew
word or a Greek word, and I basically go to that on Blue Letter Bible and I try to find
all the other places that use that word.
And then I just try to understand in context how do these get used.
So Matt, I totally agree with what you said.
Like a vow is a voluntary promise to God and oath is like a promise to others in the presence
of God, I think is my rephrasing of that.
The verses that helped me with that for the a vow in Judges 11:30, Jephthah is talking,
he makes a very rash promise, but he bases is if you give the Ammonites into my hand,
then, and he gives his promise.
So he's talking to God and he's like, you know, this is the deal.
This is how we're going to do stuff, but he didn't have to do that.
He was just giving this voluntary promise.
And then in 2 Samuel 15 through 7, Absalom's talking, he's actually lying, but he says,
let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the Lord.
So it's like, I made this promise to God, I told him I would go to this place, I would
give these sacrifices, you know, let me go do that.
So that's how those are the scriptures I thought for, okay, this is what vows mean.
And then in, for oaths, one that was really helpful to me was Exodus 22, where it says
verse 10-11, it says, if a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep
or any beast to keep safe and it dies are as injured or as driven away without anyone
seeing it, an oath by the Lord shall be between them.
That's like very clear.
Like there's a, it goes on, but the point is like it's something between these two people.
Directionality is what I think is important.
So there's more scriptures, but I think I wanted to just add that, that if you're ever
unsure of, okay, how do I actually know what these words mean?
And we're not just like pulling it out of a random place or pulling it out of a dictionary
and saying this is definitely what it is.
You know, there's, we're trying to understand the scriptures have these different ways of
using it and that's how we make these definitions.
It's such a good resource you mentioned too.
I just want to reiterate, Blue Letter Bible, look that up.
I think it is so important to define the terms here and to understand them and their,
the cultural significance that it had to the first hearers of these words, because honestly,
they don't really mean that much.
This is why I thought this was going to be such an easy topic because when I, when you
think of an oath now, the only context that I have for an oath outside of the scriptures
is testifying in court.
You put your hand on the, I think they still put their hand on the Bible or maybe you can
decide not to, I think now, and you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing
but the truth and sometimes they still add, so help you God.
And I think, and the only context that I have for a vow is marriage vows, which we spent
a lot of time talking about and which obviously bridges into what we're talking about here.
So it's really good to have those terms defined and to know what it is we're exactly talking
I think of their passages in the Old Testament, there's a passage in Leviticus 19, there's
a passage in James where there's a reference made to the practice of swearing in the name
of the Lord, which I think we've talked about a little bit so far.
I want to ask you guys, does this have anything to do with the commandment taking the Lord's
name in vain, one of the 10 commandments is you shall not take the Lord's name in vain.
And if it does, what does that, how should we handle things like popular expressions
like OMG, oh my God, which is used thousands of times every day by almost everybody I talk
to or the tendency to use the name of Jesus Christ to express all kinds of things, everything
from surprise to disgust.
Well Leviticus 19, that's another one I was looking at, it's a special chapter, it figures
prominently in the Sermon on the Mount several times, but especially where it's concerned
about loving your neighbor, right?
That's the one where it's the greatest commandment and then the second is like it and he quotes
Like you said, James, right?
So that's it figures prominently in James, it's really interesting.
He quotes Jesus in chapter five as a sort of reminder and bookend to all the teaching
that went before concerning our pride and self-focus and taming the tongue.
So I guess I just want to read that verse in Leviticus 19:12, but I want to start one
verse before in verse 11, it says, you shall not steal, you shall not deal falsely, you
shall not lie to one another, you shall not swear by my name falsely and so profane the
name of your God, I am the Lord.
So I think this verse is a great bridge between the overall sense of what Jesus is addressing
that our speech should be truthful and genuine, you know, your specific question concerning
the third commandment though, I think Jesus is definitely getting at the third commandment
in his teaching in Matthew five, but I have to pull back for a minute to give context.
I think taking the Lord's name in vain is not what we think of it today.
I don't think God is as concerned with his name being used in foul language, although
I don't think we should do that, but that word to take is actually to carry, to take
up or even put on or wear.
If you call yourself a God follower and then drag his name, his good name through the mud
with how you're living, you've brought dishonor to his name.
You've taken his name as if it were a light thing, not the glorious thing that it is.
So how does this relate?
Well, Matthew 5, we see several examples that Jesus gives of holy places that the Pharisees
had taken into their oaths, heaven, earth, Jerusalem.
By the way, he gives more examples in Matthew 23 in his condemnation of the Pharisees.
The thing he does in each of these three examples in Matthew five is tie them back to the name
of the Lord.
Each of them are related to God, a place upon which he has set his name.
In second Chronicles 6:6, it's an example, but now I have chosen Jerusalem for my name
to be there.
So these places were intended to display the glory of God.
So when we swear by these sacred places, we swear by God's name too.
He's kind of like, ah, gotcha.
If we then break our word, we dishonor his name.
In effect, we break both the third and ninth commandments.
Yeah, and just to add to that, that idea of what is God's name even?
It is his name, you know, the thing that the letters that we write down or we say, but
there's much more in Old Testament, God's name is used to refer to like his whole character,
And there's Leviticus 22:2 says, tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect
the sacred offerings that Israelites consecrate to be so they will not profane my holy name.
I am the Lord.
I mean, that doesn't have anything to do with God's name.
That has to do with the respect that we give to him, right?
And there's a bunch more examples that are similar to that.
So there's, yeah, so I think going back to Matthew five, this is one, probably of any
of the six, this is probably the one where it's easy for people to say what's the big
Because we've so desensitized ourselves to, we don't really use Oaths or vows in exactly
the same way that they did then.
But even then it can feel like, I'm just saying something, why does this matter?
And Jesus is saying, all you need to say is simply yes or no, anything beyond this comes
from the evil one.
He's putting a very strong weight on our words.
And I think that's because just like God's name is integrally bound up with this character
and who he is, our words and what we say are integrally bound up with who we are, right?
And so I think we can unpack that.
But knowing that God's name is more than just the word itself helps me see that connection.
Yeah, I think that is a very important, and we really have, I think, lost contact with
that in our day and age.
I think something about what you said, Matt, spurred the thought in me of calling myself
That is quite literally putting upon myself the name of God.
When I say I'm a Christian and I think of the times when I say that, am I honoring God's
name when I say that, or am I dishonoring God's name?
Do I say that I'm a Christian?
Or for people who know me, who know that I'm a Christian and then see how I behave, am
I then taking the Lord's name in vain by doing that?
It's a very, very sobering thought.
And I also think about what you were saying Tim about the fact that when we're talking
about God's name, it's not just his name.
We're talking about everything that he is.
And everything that he is is everything.
And so it's not something that we should take lightly.
And this is what I realized as I was doing research for this, is that that's what makes
this all of a sudden, this is a very deep, intense talk because we're talking about the
totality of God here.
We're not just talking about words.
Holy, holy, holy.
And I think that's what Jesus was getting at here, is that this is not just words.
This is not just a name.
And the ancient Israelites, the Jews, they hallow that name in a different way from
the way we think about it as Christians.
The way that it's written even in the Old Testament, there are long texts about what
it means to say that word.
And people who won't even say that word for fear of misusing it.
So yeah, it's a heavy topic.
Can I read a quote that I found that knocked my socks off?
And it connects to this.
When we call ourselves Christians, when we take up God's name, that has a profound impact.
So this is from this guy named Hermes.
I honestly don't know too much about him.
But he says, Love the truth and let nothing but truth proceed from your mouth, that the
spirit which God placed in your flesh may be found truthful before everyone.
And the Lord who dwells in you will be glorified because the Lord is truthful in every word,
and in him is no falsehood.
Therefore those who lie deny the Lord and rob him, not giving back to him the deposit
which they have received.
For they receive from him a spirit free from falsehood.
If they give him back this spirit untruthful, they pollute the commandment of the Lord and
Yeah, I don't think there's anything more I need to say about that.
That's quite a turn of phrase there.
Jesus is using very extreme language here again, and it's to clarify a practice that
had been trivialized by the believers.
Why is the language so, and I feel like we've asked this question before, but I think it's
worth asking it again, why is the language so extreme?
What's at stake here for the people's hearts and minds?
I think he's doing the same thing again a little bit.
He's trying to wake them up.
They'd lost the seriousness about being sincere and honest, and really when you think about
it, it's human or sinful nature to lie.
We do it so often.
I mean, it's kind of hilarious too, like now that I'm a, since I've become a dad, I look
at my child and it's so obvious that they're lying to me.
They're not good at it.
They're not clever enough to figure out how to lie well yet, which is actually that, it's
kind of sad when you do learn how to do that.
I think sometimes I wonder, is that how God views us when we are not truthful?
We're so obvious.
It's so not his language that he speaks.
I love that quote you mentioned, Tim.
I guess I wonder why we're so easy on ourselves about it too.
But at the same time, we go crazy when someone else tells a little white lie a fib if it
That's not God's heart.
When I was studying for this, there was a passage I came across in Psalm 15:4.
It says, a righteous man swears to his own hurt and does not change.
And that cut me.
I mean, so we don't do oaths in the same way that they might have, where it's like,
okay, I swear by God's throne, right, that I will X.
But you just said, Matt, that everyone lies all the time.
This is just the air that we breathe.
And so we get really good at trying to figure out is someone being truthful to me.
And we have a lot of ways of asking, you really mean that?
You said that, but I don't believe it, right?
Give me more evidence that this is a real thing.
And so, I mean, lawyers are trained to spot it, right?
We have whole professions that are like, this is my job.
To just detect when someone not being truthful to me.
And so I've been wrestling with this.
But I think more or less where I'm at is that when Jesus says, like, all you need to say
is simply yes or no, anything beyond this comes from the evil one, that he's basically
saying, like, that should be your MO, right?
This is, you shouldn't be going around making promises or oaths or basically having to make
these claims that are, okay, I was, I'm actually telling the truth this time.
This time I mean it.
And so to me, it's helpful to think about, yeah, so why that extreme language?
And it's like, well, most of the time, you know, the way that I can behave or the way
that other people can behave is that I don't follow through on what I say, right?
I'm not a person or we collectively often are not people who are worthy of respect that
when I just say, yes, I'll do this, no, that's not true.
That's actually the case.
And so he says anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
And I think that's because if you need to swear an oath, if you need to like say, no,
no, no, really, really, really, like, or whatever there's a million ways that can look like,
that means that there's a serious breakdown in either that relationship, right?
Where someone knows this person is characteristically untruthful or doesn't follow through.
Or it's just like, I'm scarred from all the previous relationships that I've been in and
I know that people typically lie and this is an opportunity when I come into the presence
of someone who's actually living this way to see, oh, wow, someone can actually just
be full of integrity.
And that's an incredible thing.
So I think that's why Jesus is like, I think Jesus is saying to wrap it up in a bow, you
know, anything beyond this comes from the evil one, because anything beyond this does come
from the evil one.
And that those shouldn't be these oaths and promises should not be in our vocabulary because
they represent the brokenness and fallen nature of our world.
Yeah, you know, I think springing off of what you said, Matt, about your about your kids,
it is an interesting thing that we are so we're used to living in a place where people
lie all the time, where almost everything you hear, you have to wonder, are they really
telling the truth?
You know, if you say to someone, what do you think of this tie?
And they say, oh, it's nice.
You're wondering, do they mean nice?
Like they just want to dismiss me and they don't care.
Do they mean nice?
The first thing in your mind is not, oh, so therefore it is a nice tie.
That's not the first thing in your mind.
The first thing in your mind is what are they actually telling me?
And I think the fact that it is true with kids that they're really bad at it when they
first start doing it.
My son, my son used to, he'd be all the way in his room, which was in the back of the
house and he'd scream, dad.
And I'd say, yes.
And he'd say, don't come in here.
And I think it's because he was very tuned in.
You know, he was at the time going to Sunday school.
He was very tuned in to lying about things.
And so he never wanted to lie.
So if he did something wrong, he would just want to not, me not to discover it.
So he wouldn't have to lie.
And it's just, but it's amazing to me.
One of the, one of the things that I realized again as I was researching this is that we've
lost sort of our, sort of our intentionality about our words.
We don't, we don't take our own words seriously.
And we'll say it's so easy for somebody to say, oh, I'm having a party on such and such
Are you going to come?
And you say, yeah, I'll be there.
And in your mind, you know, as you say it, not really going to go.
I'm not really going to go.
And no, my word is my bond.
And maybe it doesn't affect that relationship as much because maybe that person who's inviting
you to a party is not really even a friend of yours, but it affects you.
It affects, it affects your own integrity, sort of to the quote that you were saying just
now to him.
So we've had a good talk so far.
And I think we've got a little bit more to unpack with oaths, but we're going to end this
one right here.
This has been great.