INSIGHTS FROM BONHOEFFER AND LEWIS ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

The Superior Righteousness of the Kingdom
Oaths (Matt. 5:33-37)

. THE FOURTH ANTITHESIS: OATH-TAKING (5:33-37)

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients: 'Do not swear falsely but render (pay) your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you: 'Do not swear at all either by heaven for it is throne of God, nor by the earth because it is the footstool of His feet, nor by Jerusalem for it is city of the great King, nor by your head because you cannot make one hair white or black.' But let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no,' 'no.' Anything beyond this is of evil."

Refer to "Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut 23:21-23. The OT clearly emphasizes that oaths have a binding character. The verb epiorkein, 'swear falsely,' can also mean 'break an oath' (cf. Did. 2:3). It seems to be assumed that oath taking is in practice more often a means of avoiding what is promised than of performing it (cf. the polemic specifically against the Pharisees in 23:16-22)" (WBC:127).

What does WBC mean by the statement "oath taking is in practice more often a means of avoiding what is promised than of performing it"? When I take an oath to assure you that I am telling the truth, I am implying what about statements I did NOT make under oath?

There are 2 major problems with oath-taking.

  1. In order for oath-taking to be legit I have to swear by what (Heb. 6:16)?

    Well, what then is the problem of swearing by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem (Matt. 5:34-35)?

    Now such claims are rather strange to us who are Baptists. We adopt a too "scientific" view of the material universe. YET in the Man Jesus we see God intersecting with our world. In the Bible we see God and the world intersecting. In the Christian we see God now intersecting with the world. One day God will intersect completely with the entire universe so that He can transform it into a glorious entity which is suitable as a dwelling place not only for the sons and daughters of God but also for God Himself. That touch of God is already upon heaven, the earth, and the city of Jerusalem. (For this reason you will see both Lewis and Tolkien injecting "magical elements" into their stories: magical swords, magical potions, etc. They didn't believe in magic the way witchcraft does; rather, they believed in magic in the sense of the divine having touched and intersected our world.) When we swear by these things in which we see the intersection of the God and the world, we are profaning things which are holy. (By the way, these are not the only holy things in the world. The incarnation of Jesus shows us that ALL things are holy.)

    More on this: "That is, the oath is of a binding character, and to swear by heaven--or by anything else one might care to mention--is much more significant than it may initially sound. Each of the four 'because' clauses finally evokes God himself: heaven is HIS throne and earth is HIS footstool; Jerusalem is the city of the great King [HIS city]; and finally even one's own head, or the hairs thereof, is outside one's control (but subject to God's control, as the text implies). All oath taking implicates God, is in effect to swear in HIS name, and thus all oath taking is to be understood as possessing an absolute character" (WBC:128).

  2. For Jesus, though, oath-taking should be entirely unnecessary for the Christian. What does God desire in our innermost being (Ps. 51:6)?
Some well-meaning Christians claimed that Jesus' instructions here meant that Christians were not to take the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...so help me God. Again, "Certainly Jesus does not prohibit oaths in a court of justice for he himself answered Caiaphas on oath. Paul made solemn appeals to God (I Thess. 5:27; I Cor. 15:31)" (RWP 1:47).

One final element: "[Regarding profanity] Jesus prohibits all forms of profanity. The Jews were pastmaters in the art of splitting hairs about allowable and forbidden oaths of forms of profanity just as modern Christians employ a great variety of vernacular 'cuss-words' and excuse themselves because they do not use the more flagrant forms"(RWP 1:47).

Maybe A.T. Robertson is right; however, such an attitude can really strike horror into the heart of any Christian because he will fear that no matter what he says, he will be cursing. For example, I was on a trip with a pastor one time (not B.F.--who actually was pretty cool); during that trip, he critically blasted almost every word his staff members would say: "Oh that comes from this curse word," "Oh, that comes from that curse word." By the end of the trip, no one was saying a word! (Come to think of it, why would anyone focus on the effects of cursing upon our language?)

Jesus is enjoining us to be truthful at all times. Does this mean we are to tell the truth even to our enemies, an action which might cause the loss of a multitude of lives during a time of war?

Finally, this passage has huge implications for today's society. The concept of the contract is coming under serious attack in our society. You freely buy something on credit, and wham...you declare bankruptcy. People are refusing to pay off their student loans. Presently, students owe ~$1 trillion in student loans. Everybody is demanding their rights be honored, while at the same time they are refusing to honor their side of the bargain.


AND NOW FROM BONHOEFFER: From Truthfulness

"What is an oath? It is an appeal made to God in public, calling upon him to witness a statement made in connection with an event or fact, past, present or future. By means of the oath, men invoke the omniscient deity to avenge the truth. How can Jesus say that such an oath is 'sin,' 'from the evil one,' 'satanic'? The answer is to be sought in his concern for complete truthfulness.

The very existence of oaths is a proof that there are such things as ___________. If lying were unknown, there would be no need for _________. . . . . there, where alone the oath claims final truth, is space in life given to the lie, and it is granted a certain _________ of life. The Old Testament had expressed its condemnation of the lie by the use of the oath. But Jesus destroys the lie by ____________ oaths altogether. . . . The oath which the Old Testament set against the lie is seized by the lie itself and pressed into service. It is thus able through the oath to establish itself and to take the law into its own hands. . . . Therefore the oath must go, since it is a protection for the lie.

There are two ways in which untruthfulness can undermine the oath: either it may actually insinuate itself into the oath (perjury), or else disguise itself in the form of an oath by invoking some secular or divine power instead of the living God. When once the lie had entrenched itself behind the oath, there was no other way of ensuring complete truthfulness but by abolishing the oath altogether.

'Let your speech be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay.' This is not to say that the disciples are no longer answerable to the omniscient God for every word they utter, it means that every word they utter is spoken in his presence, and not only those words which are accompanied by an oath. . . . Since they always speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth, there is no need for an oath, which would only throw ______________ on the __________ of all their other statements.

It is clear that the only reason why Jesus prohibits the swearing of oaths lies in this concern for truthfulness. . . . he admits no exceptions, however high the court of law may be. But at the same time it must be admitted that the abolition of oaths is in itself no guarantee that the truth will be told, indeed it may only lead to its concealment. No general rule can be laid down to enable us to decide where this is so, i.e. where an oath is desirable precisely in the interests of the truth; each case must be decided on its own merits. The Churches of the Reformation were convinced that every oath demanded by the ________________ was covered by this exception. But it is ______________ whether it is possible to lay down a general rule like that.

Secondly, a distinction must be drawn between oaths which apply to past or present facts, which are known, and oaths which pledge us with reference to the future. . . . since he is never lord of his own future, he will always be extremely cautious about giving a pledge (e.g. an oath of allegiance [e.g. the oath of loyalty to Hitler in 1933 Germany]), for he is aware how dangerous it is to do so. And if his own future is outside his own control, how much more is the future of the authority which demands the oath of allegiance! [Definitely a swipe at the oath of loyalty to Hitler. Remember that Cost was written in 1937 after Hitler had demanded this oath of loyalty from every German citizen. Karl Barth had been exiled from Germany to Switzerland because he had refused to swear the oath, publishing instead the Barmen Declaration of 1934.] . . . he cannot swear such an oath without the proviso, 'God willing.' For the Christian no earthly obligation is absolutely binding, and any oath which makes an unconditional demand on him will for him be a lie which proceeds 'from the evil one.' [This statement gives Bonhoeffer and the conspirators the moral authority to disobey their commanding officers.] In such a cse the utmost an oath can do is to testify to the fact that the Christian is bound to the will of God alone, and that every other obligation is for the sake of Jesus conditional upon that will. If in a doubtful case this proviso is not explicitly stated or acknowledged, the oath cannot then be sworn, otherwise the Christian would be deceiving the authority.

This commandment of complete truthfulness is really only another name for the totality of _________________. Only those who follow Jesus and cleave to him are living in complete truthfulness. Such men have nothing to hide from their Lord. . . . They cannot hide their sinfulness from Jesus, for they have not revealed themselves to Jesus, but he has revealed himself to them by calling them to follow him. . . . Complete truthfulness is only possible where ________ has been uncovered, and _________________ by Jesus.

In this question of truthfulness, what matters first and last is that a man's whole being should be exposed, his whole evil laid bare in the sight of God. . . . It is only because we follow Jesus that we can be genuinely truthful, for then he reveals to us our _______________ __________ ______ ____________. The cross is God's truth about us, and therefore it is the only power which can make us truthful. When we know the cross we ar no longer afraid of the truth.

There is no truth towards Jesus without truth towards man. Untruthfulness destroys fellowship, but truth cuts ____________ _____________ to pieces and establishes genuine brotherhood." Why is that so?