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

How the Church Fathers Read the OT

After the completion of the New Testament, the church fathers developed theology in their increasingly Gentile post-apostolic church in such a way that many of the distinctively Jewish features of the NT’s use of the OT diminished. However, this was not the case with regard to the Christocentric interpretation of the OT that was so…

Why Believe the Virgin Birth Accounts?

Some skeptics claim that the story of the virgin birth of Jesus is derived from similar stories from pagan literature. While I won’t address here the details of the various parallels that some use to argue this point—as it has been demonstrated by many scholars that they simply don’t hold up to scrutiny—I will offer…

The Only Starting Point

Sree V. Remella via Compfight Our friend Roger Olson wrote a great article on placing Jesus first when constructing a statement of faith. It might seem like a small thing, but it deeply matters what we place as primary in matters of faith. Let’s always begin with Jesus. From Roger’s blog post: What are we…

A Cruciform Dialectic

One of the most important aspects of God’s action on Calvary, I believe, is this: God revealed himself not just by acting toward humans, but by allowing himself to be acted on by humans as well as the fallen Powers. God certainly took the initiative in devising the plan of salvation that included the Son…

What Are the “Keys to the Kingdom”?

And I tell you that you are Peter [petros = rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on…

A Foolish and Weak-Looking God

The New Testament assumes that the God of Israel and the God revealed in Jesus Christ are one and the same God. But there also can be no question that the portrait of God that was unveiled when the Messiah arrived on the scene was in some respects quite different from what the OT had…