Summary: In these five verses Jesus sets forth 1) the original Mosaic teaching, 2) the traditional perversion of that teaching, and 3) His own reemphasis of what God’s standard for truth has always been.
Whether you are a child or an adult, Truth is so scarce that nearly everyone is suspect. Business people, advertisers, commentators, clerks, salesmen, lawyers, doctors, tradesmen, teachers, writers, politicians, and even many, if not most, preachers are suspect. Our whole society is largely built on a network of fabrication, of manufactured “truth.” We shade the truth, we cheat, we exaggerate, we misrepresent income tax deductions, we make promises we have no intention of keeping, we make up excuses, and betray confidences-all as a matter of normal, everyday living.
Quote: Daniel Webster wrote, “There is nothing as powerful as truth and often nothing as strange.” (MacArthur, J. F. (1985). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Mt 5:33). Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books.)
Yet even the most corrupt and deceptive societies have always realized that, in certain areas at least, the “real truth” is necessary. Courts of law require witnesses to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Without truth, even a semblance of justice would be impossible. Because of the extreme importance of truthful testimony to justice, perjury itself is a crime that can bring severe penalties. Even gangs of criminals and conspirators, who use lying and cheating as their stock-in-trade, demand the truth among themselves, because it is necessary to their own survival.
Even the ancient Jewish rabbis, whose unbiblical traditions and flippancy with the truth Jesus challenges in the Sermon on the Mount, moralistically considered lying-along with scoffing, hypocrisy, and slander-to be one of the four great sins that would shut a person out of God’s presence.
In their consciences people know that truth is right and essential. That is one reason they go to such lengths to make what they say appear to be truthful. Our problem is in being truthful. Unfortunately, people are inclined to the truth only when it benefits them, yet collectively people have always known something of its importance and rightfulhess-even outside courts of law. The question for each of us is what is the pattern of our speech? Are we prone to say something and not follow through? Do we play word games and assure ourselves that “at least we didn’t lie”? If so, we do well to look at the teaching that Jesus has for us and learn from the Jews of Jesus’ day.
They revered the idea of truth in principle, but in practice it was buried under their system of tradition, which over the centuries had continually cut God’s law down to fit their own sinful perspectives and purposes. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus proceeds to expose the convenient distortion and contradiction of the divine revelation they claimed to love and teach. In these five verses Jesus sets forth:
1) The original Mosaic teaching, 2) The traditional perversion of that teaching, and 3) His own reemphasis of what God’s standard for truth has always been.
1) THE PRINCIPLE OF MOSAIC LAW Matthew 5:33
Matthew 5:33 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ’You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ (ESV)
The traditional teaching that Jesus quotes here was a composite of ideas based on Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2, and Deuteronomy 23:21. The two vows mentioned here are from two different, but related, Greek terms. The first is from the verb epiorkeô, which means to perjure oneself, to swear falsely, to swear falsely/make false vows. The second is from the noun horkos, which literally means to enclose, as with a fence, or to bind together. The truth of an oath or vow is enclosed, bound, and therefore strengthened by that which is invoked on its behalf.
A clear description of an oath is given in the book of Hebrews:
Hebrews 6:16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. (ESV)
The name of something or someone greater than the person making the oath is invoked to give greater credibility to what is said. Any oath calling on God invites Him to witness the truthfulness of what is said or to avenge if it is a lie. An oath was therefore generally taken to be the absolute truth, which made “an end of every dispute,” because it invited judgment on the one who violated his word. (Neh. 10:29).
God provided for making oaths by His name (Lev. 19:12). Even God The Father Himself made oaths on certain occasions. (Gen. 22:16-17). (Heb. 6:13-14, cf. v. 17). (Ps. 89:3, 49; 110:4; Jer. 11:5; and Luke 1:73.)
Please turn to Matthew 26
Jesus many times used the phrase “Truly I say to you” (Matt. 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5 16; etc.), and the even more emphatic “Truly, truly, I say to you” (John 1:51; 3:3, 5; 5:19, 24; etc.), to call attention to a teaching of special importance. As with God’s oaths, the words Jesus introduces with “truly” are no more truthful than anything else He said, but emphasize the unique importance of certain of His teachings. It is important to note that Jesus Himself swore an oath before Caiaphas: