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Amplified: And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: Don't even swear, 'By my head!' for you can't turn one hair white or black. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Philips: No, and don't swear by your own head, for you cannot make a single hair - white or black! (New Testament in Modern English)
Wuest: Neither put yourself under oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black, (Wuest: Expanded Translation: Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: nor by thy head mayest thou swear, because thou art not able one hair to make white or black;
NOR SHALL YOU MAKE AN OATH BY YOUR HEAD, FOR YOU CANNOT MAKE ONE HAIR WHITE OR BLACK: mete en te kephale sou omoses, (2SAAS) oti ou dunasai (2SPMI) mian tricha leuken poiesai (AAN) e melainan (Mt 23:16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21) (Mt 6:27; Luke 12:25)
See Background on Oaths and Vows in commentary on Matthew 5:33
Make no oath (3660) (Omnuo) means to affirm the truth of a statement by calling on a divine being to execute sanctions against a person if the statement in question is not true.
Vine - omnuo is used of "affirming or denying by an oath," e.g., Matthew 26:74; Mark 6:23; Luke 1:73; Hebrews 3:11,18; 4:3; 7:21; accompanied by that by which one swears, e.g., Matthew 5:34,36; 23:16; Hebrews 6:13,16; James 5:12; Revelation 10:6 (Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words - Swear, Sworn)
Omnuo - 26x in 20v - Matt 5:34, 36; 23:16, 18, 20ff; 26:74; Mark 6:23; 14:71; Luke 1:73; Acts 2:30; Heb 3:11, 18; 4:3; 6:13, 16; 7:21; Jas 5:12; Rev 10:6. NAS = make an oath(2), swear(6), swears(10), swore(6), sworn(2).
See F B Meyer's related comments Simplicity in Speech
The Mishnah (note) devotes one whole section called Shebuoth (“oaths”) which is an elaborate discussion of when oaths are binding and when they are not. As previously discussed, in Jesus' day the swearing of oaths had degenerated to a system which indicated when a man could lie and when not.
Jesus insists that whatever a man swears by is related to God in some way, and therefore every oath is implicitly in God's name. Thus He also condemned swearing by one's own head. What validity does that add to the oath? What they meant by using the expression “by my head” was something like
Jesus logic is that how can they control their life? No man can even change the intrinsic color of his hair. Ultimately even the hairs of the head are all under God's sway and ownership. He Alone determines whether at any given moment a hair is black or white. Therefore, it follows that even swearing by one’s head is in the final analysis swearing by God and is just as binding as an oath using the specific name of God.
Matthew Poole asks…
William Barclay on oaths - One of the strange things about the Sermon on the Mount is the number of occasions when Jesus was recalling to the Jews that which they already knew. The Jewish teachers had always insisted on the paramount obligation of telling the truth. "The world stands fast on three things, on justice, on truth, and on peace." "Four persons are shut out from the presence of God--the scoffer, the hypocrite, the liar, and the retailer of slander." "One who has given his word and who changes it is as bad as an idolater." The school of Shammai was so wedded to the truth that they forbade the ordinary courteous politenesses of society, as, for instance, when a bride was complimented for her charming appearance when in fact she was plain.
Still more did the Jewish teachers insist on the truth, if the truth had been guaranteed by an oath. Repeatedly that principle is laid down in the New Testament. The commandment has it: "You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). That commandment has nothing to do with swearing in the sense of using bad language; it condemns the man who swears that something is true, or who makes some promise, in the name of God, and who has taken the oath falsely. "When a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word" (Numbers 30:2). "When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not be slack to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin in you" (Deuteronomy 23:21-22).
But in the time of Jesus there were two unsatisfactory things about taking oaths.
The first was what might be called frivolous swearing, taking an oath where no oath was necessary or proper. It had become far too common a custom to introduce a statement by saying, "By thy life," or, "By my head," or, "May I never see the comfort of Israel if… " The Rabbis laid it down that to use any form of oath in a simple statement like: "That is an olive tree," was sinful and wrong. "The yes of the righteous is yes," they said, "and their no is no."
There is still need of warning here. Far too often people use the most sacred language in the most meaningless way. They take the sacred names upon their lips in the most thoughtless and irreverent way. The sacred names should be kept for sacred things.
The second Jewish custom was in some ways even worse than that; it might be called evasive swearing. The Jews divided oaths into two classes, those which were absolutely binding and those which were not. Any oath which contained the name of God was absolutely binding; any oath which succeeded in evading the name of God was held not to be binding. The result was that if a man swore by the name of God in any form, he would rigidly keep that oath; but if he swore by heaven, or by earth, or by Jerusalem, or by his head, he felt quite free to break that oath. The result was that evasion had been brought to a fine art.
The idea behind this was that, if God's name was used, God became a partner in the transaction; whereas if God's name was not used, God had nothing to do with the transaction. The principle which Jesus lays down is quite clear. In effect Jesus is saying that, so far from having to make God a partner in any transaction, no man can keep God out of any transaction. God is already there. The heaven is the throne of God; the earth is the footstool of God; Jerusalem is the city of God; a man's head does not belong to him; he cannot even make a hair white or black; his life is God's; there is nothing in the world which does not belong to God; and, therefore, whether God is actually named in so many words or not, does not matter. God is there already.
Here is a great eternal truth. Life cannot be divided into compartments in some of which God is involved and in others of which he is not involved; there cannot be one kind of language in the Church and another kind of language in the shipyard or the factory or the office; there cannot be one kind of standard of conduct in the Church and another kind of standard in the business world. The fact is that God does not need to be invited into certain departments of life, and kept out of others. He is everywhere, all through life and every activity of life. He hears not only the words which are spoken in his name; he hears all words; and there cannot be any such thing as a form of words which evades bringing God into a transaction. We will regard all promises as sacred, if we remember that all promises are made in the presence of God.
The End Of Oaths (Matthew 5:33-37 Continued)
This passage concludes with the commandment that when a man has to say yes, he should say yes, and nothing more; and when he has to say no, he should say no, and nothing more.
The ideal is that a man should never need an oath to buttress or guarantee the truth of anything he may say. The man's character should make an oath completely unnecessary. His guarantee and his witness should lie in what he is himself. Isocrates, the great Greek teacher and orator, said, "A man must lead a life which will gain more confidence in him than ever an oath can do." Clement of Alexandria insisted that Christians must lead such a life and demonstrate such a character that no one will ever dream of asking an oath from them. The ideal society is one in which no man's word will ever need an oath to guarantee its truth, and no man's promise ever need an oath to guarantee its fulfilling.
Does this saying of Jesus then forbid a man to take an oath anywhere--for instance, in the witness box? There have been two sets of people who completely refused all oaths. There were the Essenes, an ancient sect of the Jews. Josephus writes of them: "They are eminent for fidelity and are ministers of peace. Whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath. Swearing is avoided by them and they esteem it worse than perjury. For they say that he who cannot be believed without swearing is already condemned."
There were, and still are, the Quakers. The Quakers will not in any situation submit to taking an oath. The utmost length to which George Fox would go was to use the word Verily. He writes: "I never wronged man or woman in all that time [the time that he worked in business]. While I was in that service, I used in my dealings the word Verily, and it was a common saying, 'If George Fox says Verily, there is no altering him.'"
In the ancient days the Essenes would not in any circumstances take an oath, and to this day the Quakers are the same.
Are they correct in taking this line in this matter? There were occasions when Paul as it were, put himself upon oath. "I call God to witness against me," he writes to the Corinthians, "It was to spare you that I refrained from coming to Corinth" (2 Corinthians 1:23). "Now the things that I write unto you," he writes to the Galatians, "In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!" (Galatians 1:20). On these occasions Paul is putting himself on oath. Jesus himself did not protest at being put on oath. At his trial before the High Priest, the High Priest said to him: "I adjure you by the living God--I put you on oath by God himself--tell us if you are the Christ, the son of God" (Matthew 26:63). What then is the situation?
Let us look at the last part of this verse. The Revised Standard Version has it that a man must answer simply yes or no, "anything more than this comes from evil." What does that mean? It can mean one of two things.
(a) If it is necessary to take an oath from a man, that necessity arises from the evil that is in man. If there was no evil in man, no oath would be necessary. That is to say, the fact that it is sometimes necessary to make a man take an oath is a demonstration of the evil in Christless human nature.
(b) The fact that it is necessary to put men on oath on certain occasions arises from the fact that this is an evil world. In a perfect world, in a world which was the Kingdom of God, no taking of oaths would ever be necessary. It is necessary only because of the evil of the world.
What Jesus is saying is this--the truly good man will never need to take an oath; the truth of his sayings and the reality of his promises need no such guarantee. But the fact that oaths are still sometimes necessary is the proof that men are not good men and that this is not a good world.
So, then, this saying of Jesus leaves two obligations upon us. It leaves upon us the obligation to make ourselves such that men will so see our transparent goodness that they will never ask an oath from us; and it leaves upon us the obligation to seek to make this world such a world that falsehood and infidelity will be so eliminated from it that the necessity for oaths will be abolished. (William Barclay's Daily Study Bible - Matthew 5)
Dr. Helmut Thielicke, who resisted compromising his integrity during the Hitler era, made an interesting observation regarding oaths writing that…
Amplified: Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
NLT: Just say a simple, 'Yes, I will,' or 'No, I won't.' Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Philips: Whatever you have to say let your 'yes' be a plain 'yes' and your 'no' a plain 'no' - anything more than this has a taint of evil. (New Testament in Modern English)
Wuest: but let your word be, Yes, Yes, No, No; and that which is more than these things is of the evil which is in active opposition to the good. (Wuest: Expanded Translation: Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: but let your word be, Yes, Yes, No, No, and that which is more than these is of the evil.
BUT LET YOUR STATEMENT BE, 'YES, YES' OR 'NO, NO': esto (3SPAM) de o logos umon nai nai, ou ou (2Corinthians 1:17, 18, 19, 20; Colossians 4:6; James 5:12)
Refer also William Barclay's comments at the end of the previous verse.
See F B Meyer's related comments Simplicity in Speech
Let… be - The present imperative is a command calling for this to be the believer's lifestyle.
Jesus is saying in essence that all our speech should continually be as if we were under an oath to tell the truth. When he wishes to affirm something let him then simply say, “Yes”; and when he desires to deny something let him simply say, “No.” Anything “stronger” than that is from the evil one, Satan himself (see below)
Dwight Pentecost summarizes what Jesus is saying - Let your character, your reputation for honesty, your word be so obviously true and undefiled and without duplicity, that no man would think it necessary to put you under an oath because he suspects you are of deception… Some words can have a double meaning, and some words can be interpreted in two different ways. But there is only one possible way of interpreting yes. Yes does not mean no. There is only one way you can interpret no. You can never interpret that as meaning consent. When you say yes, it means yes; when you say no, it means no. The Lord demanded that one's speech be so trustworthy that men would not have to debate what was meant and interpret what was said. They would know what was meant because he was an honest man.' (Pentecost, J. D. Design for living: Lessons in Holiness from the Sermon on the Mount. Kregel Publications)
The Believer's Study Bible has a good summary note - "Complete honesty should be typical of the kingdom citizen, so that no oath is necessary to guarantee trustworthiness for one's "yes" or "no." The law regarding oaths was based upon the third Commandment. False testimony resulted in severe consequences, since it consisted of taking God's name in vain (Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:11, 12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 19:16-20). The rabbis taught that oaths which omitted God's name could be broken and were not binding. Jesus maintains that God is involved in heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and all things. Hence, all oaths are binding, and any attempt to avoid an oath while pretending to keep it profanes the divine name. The reference is neither to taking oaths in court nor to profanity. (Believer's Study Bible. Thomas Nelson)
ANYTHING BEYOND THESE IS OF EVIL: to de perisson touton ek tou ponerou estin (3SPAI) (Mt 13:19; 15:19; John 8:44; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9; James 5:12)
David gives us an excellent prayer to pray so that we might avoid anything beyond yes and no…
The phrase "of evil" is rendered "of the evil one" in some of the translations (NIV, NKJV, NET). The NET Bible adds that…
It therefore seems very reasonable to translate and interpret this as a reference to the devil who is the master deceiver and whose pattern of guileful, manipulative speech is to be scrupulously avoided by all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In John we read that Jesus declares to a group of unbelieving Jews that…
James has a warning explaining why it is better to simply speak the truth…
James is not forbidding the taking of a solemn oath per se (see discussion below). Jesus and James are stressing the need for integrity in speech, and the sinfulness of carelessly or flippantly using God's name or a sacred object to guarantee truthful speech.
Let's be honest. We all find it difficult to be truthful. George MacDonald put it this way…
Paul made a statement that is in the form of an oath in Romans when he declared that…
Paul's phrase "God… is my Witness" is an appeal to God, and therefore is in the form of an oath, probably because he was personally unknown to the Roman saints and they to him. They might doubt his affection to them, a case which was only known to God and himself, and hence his appeal to God for the truth of it.
J Vernon McGee quips that…
Evil (4190 ) (poneros from pónos = labor, sorrow, pain) refers to evil in active opposition to good. It refers to that which is actively harmful. The idea is one who is pernicious, which means highly injurious or destructive, exceedingly harmful, and vicious.
Someone suggested the top ten lies told in America:
What would others say about your word?
Are you a person of your word? Is it "as good as gold"?
If you say you will do something do you follow through?
Is your word perfect as your heavenly Father's word is perfect?
Do you exaggerate or embellish? (If so what does that say about the truthfulness of your word)?
Do you tell someone "I'll pray for you" and then you fail to follow through (only to be reminded of your promise by their phone call "God answered. Thanks so much for praying!" And you say "Uh… Sure… you're welcome", when you know you did not really pray for them! Sin begets more sin.)
As Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, who will one day give account for every word we have uttered, we must choose to be men and women of integrity.
Why should kingdom citizens tell the truth all the time? As Jesus taught elsewhere our words are a barometer of the condition of our heart…
Kent Hughes has some poignant thoughts on what proceeds our of our mouth - "The avoidance of one small fib… may be a stronger confession of faith than a whole 'Christian philosophy' championed in lengthy, forceful discussion." When people know that you do not lie, your testimony will have more effect than all the theology you could ram at them. What a difference a truthful life can make! (Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books)
Samuel Johnson had wise advise for parents writing…
Matthew Henry has an excellent comment summarizing the use of oaths writing that…
Today in the Word has the following devotional on Mt 5:33-37 and James 5:12 (see above)…
Jawbone Credit - In 1878, a merchant in Bozeman, Montana, extended to Andrew Garcia what was called "jawbone credit." Without putting anything into writing, he gave Garcia $300 worth of supplies for a hunting and trapping expedition. The trapper promised to return and pay his debt with hides and pelts from his expedition.
While Garcia was away, hostile Indians moved into the area around Bozeman. Weather conditions got bad. Fellow trappers told him to forget about returning to Bozeman, but Garcia wouldn't hear of it. After a series of harrowing experiences, he returned to the merchant with hides and pelts to pay his debt. He kept his word.
We usually can't put that much stock in verbal promises these days. Many people make pledges but fail to keep them. Every divorce means at least one person has broken a sacred vow. People in trouble with the law may promise to change their ways if only they can have another chance. But when they receive clemency, they often forget the vows they had made.
God too makes vows, but He always keeps His word. If He didn't, we would have no basis for hope. Let's thank Him for being a God of integrity and resolve that we will be people whose word can be trusted. --H V Lugt (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
Be True To Your Word - Shortly before his death, the Duke of Burgundy was presiding over the Cabinet Council of France. A proposal was made that would violate an existing treaty but would secure important advantages for the country. Many "good" reasons were offered to justify this action. The Duke listened in silence. When all had spoken, he closed the conference without giving approval. Placing his hand on a copy of the original agreement, he said with firmness in his voice, "Gentlemen, we have a treaty!"
It's a strong temptation these days to abandon our word in favor of personal advantage or financial gain. As believers in Christ, however, our responsibility is to remain true to our word so that our Lord is glorified.
So, when you give your word, keep it! "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'" (Mt. 5:37). If you make a commitment, honor it! If you take on an obligation, fulfill it! Your honesty and reliability should be so evident that you can be trusted for any contract you make. If non-Christians can trust you in business matters, they will be more likely to believe you when you speak about the gospel.
When we're tempted to break a promise, let's think again of these words: "Gentlemen, we have a treaty!" --R W De Haan
Reverend Fred Holloman, chaplain of the Kansas Senate had an interesting prayer before an opening session…