oaths

Jesus Repudiates OT Commands on Oath-Taking: A Response to Paul Copan (#9)

In his critique of Crucifixion of the Warrior God (CWG), Paul Copan argues that “Boyd pushes too hard to make Jesus’ teaching appear more revolutionary than it really is” [italics original]. Whereas I argue that Jesus repudiates aspects of the Old Testament (OT), Copan argues that Jesus merely repudiates wrong applications of the OT, not the OT itself. This is an important point inasmuch as I cite these repudiations as evidence that Jesus placed his own authority above that of the OT as well as evidence that the revelation of God in the crucified Christ radically transforms the meaning that we should find in much of the OT.

Today I will discuss the first teaching of Jesus that I believe repudiates commands in the OT. It concerns Jesus’ prohibition on taking oaths. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said,

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Copan argues that in this teaching “Jesus isn’t disavowing vowing…just casuistic oath-taking that was an escape hatch from truth-telling” [italics original]. In support of this interpretation Copan notes that Jesus was referencing Leviticus 19:12 which says, “And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.”

Copan is correct when he notes that Jesus refers to Leviticus 19:12, and he’s correct that this verse rules out casuistic oaths. But what he seems to miss is that Jesus cites this passage only to contrast his teaching with it. Let’s look at it again. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord”(Matt 5:33). They had indeed heard this said, for its right there in Leviticus 19:12. But then Jesus goes on to contrast his teaching with this OT passage when he adds: ”But I say to you, Do not swear at all…”

According to Jesus, are we not only supposed to avoid swearing falsely, as when people make casuistic oaths to avoid telling the truth. We are to avoid swearing at all, for anything more than a simple “Yes” and “No,” Jesus says, comes from the evil one” (Matt 5:37). Apparently, any kind of oath-taking, such as those that Leviticus 19:12 (and, we could add, Deuteronomy 23:21) allows, is from the devil.

Not only does Jesus’ teaching repudiate OT passages that allow oath-taking, it repudiates Deuteronomy 6:13 which commands it. “The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.” The children of Israel at this time were supposed to make oaths by the name of the Lord. Jesus’ teaching to “not swear at all” and to let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” “No,” revokes the portrait of God giving this command and even associates it with a demonic influence.

So, I stand by my claim that aspects of Jesus’ teaching radically contrast with what we find in the OT. And this is why I contend that for all of us who know God as he’s revealed in Jesus’ cross-centered ministry, OT passages such as the ones we’ve just discussed should be understood to bear witness to how far God has always been willing to stoop to bear the sin of his people and to thereby take on an appearance that mirrors that sin, just as he does for the world on Calvary.

Photo by Secretary of Defense on VisualHunt.com

Related Reading

Change That Is Real

With the coming of Christ, which we celebrate during the Advent season, the Father, Son, and Spirit made a way for us to be incorporated into the triune fellowship. We are placed in Christ through the power of the Spirit. This doesn’t just change how God views us and relates to us. It changes who…

How To Talk about Theology

Social media is full of theological debate. Theological arguments that formerly took months or even years to get in print, now only takes the time to write a post or 140 characters and click “publish.” Social media is great in that it makes space for all of our voices. However, it also seems to elevate…

How to Produce the Fruit of the Spirit

When the New Testament tells us to be loving, joyful, peaceful, kind and so on, it is not giving us a new set of behaviors that we are to strive to accomplish. Striving to attain them means nothing if they are sought as ethical ideals or to meet a set of religious rules. They have…

The Cruciform Center Part 3: How Paul’s Epistles Reveal a Cruciform God

As we’ve discussed, the four Gospels point to a cruciform revelation of God (click here and here for a review), but what about the most widely read writer of the New Testament? What did the Apostle Paul have to say about how the cross reveals who God is? Before turning to Paul’s writings, I’d like…

What “God Loves You” Actually Means

From the beginning, God chose to have a people who would be the object of his eternal love, just as Christ is the object of his eternal love. God sought to acquire a “bride” for Christ who would receive and reflect the love of the triune community (Eph 5:25-32). And the only qualification for being…

Podcast: What Do We Do When the Bible Sends Mixed Messages?

Greg considers how to interpret mixed commands in the Bible—where one verse advises differently than another.  http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0364.mp3