Daily Service: Understanding: “Take no Oath”

Updated for Volume 11

Question: “What does it mean to let your yes be yes and your no be no?”

Answer: Jesus said, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:37, KJV). The NIV clarifies the meaning of Jesus’ words somewhat: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” The context of this verse has to do with oath-keeping. We’ll take a look at the broader context of Jesus’ sermon:

Matthew 5 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. In this section, Jesus addresses some of the underlying principles of certain Old Testament laws. There are some cases in which a person could obey the letter of the law but still be guilty of breaking the principle. The Pharisees and teachers were experts at keeping the letter of the law, but Jesus warns His hearers that, unless their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, they will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). This statement would have shocked His hearers because the Pharisees and scribes were looked up to as paragons of obedience. Jesus points out that technical obedience is not enough if the spirit of the law is broken.

In Matthew 5:34, Jesus says, “Do not swear an oath at all.” Some have interpreted this to mean that a Christian should never take an oath for any reason, such as testifying in court. A witness is “sworn in” raising his or her right hand (and sometimes placing the other hand on a Bible) and promising to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” However, the point of Jesus’ teaching is not that taking an oath in this manner is wrong. Taking a meaningless oath in order to create a loophole and retain the option of breaking it is wrong. If an oath is required in the course of civic duty, the Christian should have no problem making it. The proper application of Jesus’ principle of “let your yes be yes” is that the Christian must be truthful in all circumstances.

Recommended Resource: Matthew, New American Commentary by Craig Blomberg


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