Matthew 5:36-37 Commentary

 

 

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Seemon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)

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"Sermon on the Mount"
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Matthew 5:36-37 Commentary
Updated 2/8/14

Matthew 5:36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot * make one hair white or black. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: mete en te kephale sou omoses, (2SAAS) oti ou dunasai (2SPMI) mian tricha leuken poiesai (AAN) e melainan.

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;

REFERENCES
Updated 2/8/14

Henry Alford
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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)

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.

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

May I lose my head (i.e., my life) if what I am telling you is not true, or if I fail to fulfill my promise.”

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...

Doth our Saviour here oppose himself to the law of God, which saith, Deut 6:13 10:20,

“Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and swear by His name?”

Doth he condemn Abraham, who sware his servant by the Lord God of heaven and earth? Ge 24:3.

Doth he destroy such a useful means for the end of strife? (see note Hebrews 6:16).

None of all these. We must consider that our Saviour is here opposing himself to the corruptions of that age brought in by the Pharisees, who had taught people that swearing was nothing, if they did not forswear themselves; or at least swearing “by the heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, by their head,” or in suchlike forms, was no sin, if they forbore the name of God; that they were only obliged to swear by the name of God in public courts of justice, but they were not tied up to it at other times.

To these and such like corruptions our Saviour offers these opposing words, “I say unto you, Swear not at all;” not at all voluntarily, but where it is necessary for the end of strife; not at all in your common discourse, James 5:12: and so it is expounded in the next verse.

The law doth not only forbid false swearing, but common and ordinary swearing, needless swearing, which speaks a great want of reverence in the heart of the name of God.

And let not your teachers cheat you, in telling you God, or the name of God, is not concerned, in your swearing by heaven: is not heaven the throne of God? Or by earth: is not that the footstool of God? Or by Jerusalem: is not that the city of God? Or by your head: is it not God that hath given you your life and bodily members? Is it in your power to make a hair of your head white or black?

So as the great thing here forbidden, is common and ordinary swearing, where God calleth us not unto it for the determination of strife. Do not only think that false swearing, but be assured that ordinary, common, needless swearing, is forbidden by God. (Matthew Poole's Commentary on the NT)

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Dr. Helmut Thielicke, who resisted compromising his integrity during the Hitler era, made an interesting observation regarding oaths writing that...

Whenever I utter the formula “I swear by God,” I am really saying, “Now I’m going to mark off an area of absolute truth and put walls around it to cut it off from the muddy floods of untruthfulness and irresponsibility that ordinarily overruns my speech.” In fact, I am saying even more than this. I am saying that people are expecting me to lie from the start. And just because they are counting on my lying I have to bring up these big guns of oaths and words of honor.  (Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again)

 

Matthew 5:37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: esto (3SPAM) de o logos humon nai nai, ou ou; to de perisson touton ek tou ponerou estin. (3SPAI)

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)

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)

A good prayer to avoid anything beyond yes and no is that of David...

Set a guard, 0 LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

The phrase "of evil" is rendered "of the evil one" in some of the translations (NIV, NKJV, NET). The NET Bible adds that...

The term ("evil") may be understood as specific and personified, referring to the devil, or possibly as a general reference to evil. It is most likely personified, however, since it is articular (i.e, it has a definite article "the" preceding it).

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...

"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

James has a warning explaining why it is better to simply speak the truth...

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that (here's the reason one should simply speak the truth without oaths) you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12)

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...

I always try—I think I do—to be truthful. All the same I tell a great many petty lies, e.g. things that mean one thing to myself though another to other people. But I do not think lightly of it. Where I am more often wrong is in tacitly pretending I hear things which I do not, especially jokes and good stories, the point of which I always miss; but, seeing every one laugh, I laugh too, for the sake of not looking a fool. My respect for the world’s opinion is my greatest stumbling-block, I fear. (G Macdonald, Reminiscences of a Specialist)

Paul made a statement that is in the form of an oath in Romans when he declared that...

God, Whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. (see notes Romans 1:9; 1:10).

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...

When a man says to me, “I’d swear on a stack of Bibles a mile high,” that is the fellow I do not believe because I think the lie he’s telling is a mile high. (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary:  Nashville: Thomas Nelson)

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:

10) Your table will be ready in a minute. 9) One size fits all. 8) This will hurt me more than it hurts you. 7) I’m sorry I’m late; I got stuck in traffic. 6) The check is in the mail. 5) This offer is limited to the first 50 callers. 4) It’s not the money; it’s the principle of the thing. 3) I need just five minutes of your time. 2) I’ll start my diet tomorrow. 1) I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you. Our culture doesn’t place much value on integrity, but Scripture does. (Morgan, R. J. Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook : 2004 Edition Page 132. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers)

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...

"You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. "The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. "And I say to you, that every (all, no exceptions!) careless word that men shall speak (read that warning again - careless is the Greek word argos from "a" = without + "ergon" = work which literally means "not working, idle, ineffective"!) , they shall render account (pay back, implying a debt = carries the idea of obligation and responsibility for something, in this case "careless" words!) for it in the day of judgment (beloved did you ever realize that every word you ever speak is "headed for eternity so to speak"?!). (Matthew 12:34-36)

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)

A prayer that I frequently utter is that of David...

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

(Spurgeon comments - Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth. That mouth had been used in prayer, it would be a pity it should ever be defiled with untruth, or pride, or wrath; yet so it will become unless carefully watched, for these intruders are ever lurking about the door. David feels that with all his own watchfulness he may be surprised into sin, and so he begs the Lord himself to keep him. When Jehovah sets the watch the city is well guarded: when the Lord becomes the guard of our mouth the whole man is well garrisoned. Keep the door of my lips. God has made our lips the door of the mouth, but we cannot keep that door of ourselves, therefore do we entreat the Lord to take the rule of it. O that the Lord would both open and shut our lips, for we can do neither the one nor the other aright if left to ourselves. In times of persecution by ungodly men we are peculiarly liable to speak hastily, or evasively, and therefore we should be specially anxious to be preserved in that direction from every form of sin. How condescending is the Lord! We are ennobled by being door keepers for him, and yet he deigns to be a door keeper for us. )

Samuel Johnson had wise advise for parents writing...

Accustom your children constantly to this [the telling of the truth]; if a thing happened at one window, and they, when relating it, say that it happened at another, do not let it pass, but instantly check them; you do not know where deviation from truth will end...It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.

Matthew Henry has an excellent comment summarizing the use of oaths writing that...

"The worse men are, the less they are bound by oaths; the better they are, the less there is need for them. Our Lord does not enjoin the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, but such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary."

Today in the Word has the following devotional on Mt 5:33-37 and James 5:12 (see above)...

In the 18th century, when commerce was developing very fast, merchants had no need for written documents to complete a business deal. Big money transactions were made just on the basis of the parties' 'word of honor' and a handshake. When nowadays we listen to public figures toss words around, it becomes clear that in the 1990s, words can mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean. A simple 'yes' or 'no' is not enough. We need contracts signed in the presence of lawyers, notarized documents, oaths in courts. And even all this may not be a guarantee of complete truthfulness of words and intent. People break contracts, renege on their agreements, and commit perjuries.

Yes, the world has become more complex and our lives more hectic at the end of the 20th century. We do things differently now. But there are some principles of God's Kingdom that don't change for the followers of Jesus no matter when they live. Can you imagine the apostle James engaging in deliberate doublespeak to cloud his true intent? Neither can we! This straight-talking spokesman for God had no tolerance for false words of any kind, especially those that were cloaked in the guise of a solemn oath...  People in James' day had developed an elaborate system of oath-taking to avoid invoking God's name, which would make the pledge binding. They would swear by almost anything else to leave themselves a hole through which they could wriggle and not keep their word. The Bible does not disapprove of making oaths. God 'swore by Himself' when He made His covenant with Abraham (Heb. 6:13). In a world of liars, people are often asked to swear to the truthfulness of their words. But the apostle's point, which echoed perfectly the teaching of Jesus, was that for God's people a simple yes or no should do the job. The intent behind our words should be so transparent we don't need to call heaven and earth to witness that we're telling the truth. Keep it simple, James says, or expect God's judgment. He doesn't tolerate liars.

Here's an exercise in truth-telling that you can do with the family or a group of friends this weekend. Sit down together and brainstorm a list of situations in which people are asked to take vows or swear to the truthfulness of information (for example, a wedding, a courtroom, applying for a license or other legal document). Talk about the consequences a person might suffer for lying in these cases, and then discuss God's demand for honesty on the part of His people. (See another devotional from Today in the Word on Matthew 5:33-37)

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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)

Integrity is what we gain
By walking in the light;
More valuable than precious gold,
It's built on truth and right. --DJD

People who trust God's Word
should be people who can be trusted.

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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

Lord, by Your Spirit grant to me
A deep desire for honesty,
That when I simply give my word
No one will doubt what they have heard. --DJD

When you give your word, keep it.

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Reverend Fred Holloman, chaplain of the Kansas Senate had an interesting prayer before an opening session...

Omniscient Father: Help us to know who is telling the truth. One side tells us one thing, and the other just the opposite. And if neither side is telling the truth, we would like to know that, too. And if each side is telling half the truth, give us the wisdom to put the right halves together. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


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Last Updated July, 2013

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