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Matthew 5:34: But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne;

Exodus 22:11: the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person's property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required.

Revelation 10:5-6: Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!

Did Jesus cancel Exodus 22:11?

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Whatever the intent of Matt 5:34, it cannot be the prohibition of all oaths because:

  • Jesus Himself uttered an oath in response to the High Priest, Matt 26:63, 64
  • The Apostle Paul also used oaths, Rom 1:9, 2 Cor 1:23, Gal 1;20, Phil 1:8, etc.
  • God Himself also used oaths, Gen 22:16, 26:3, Num 14:23, Isa 45:23, Luke 1:73, Acts 7:17, Heb 6:13, etc.
  • Jesus' statement in Matt 5:17-19 says that Jesus did NOT come to abolish any part of the law. Even a casual glance at Jesus' teaching suggests that Jesus came to reinforce and expand the moral law, not to repeal it. Witness Jesus, expanded teaching on murder (Matt 5:21-26), adultery (Matt 5:27-30), Divorce (Matt 5:31, 32), etc.
  • Lev 19:12 does not prohibit oaths but only false swearing and reinforces the instruction in Ex 22:11 - a very rare event (one hopes).

The force of Jesus teaching in Matt 5:33-37 is a warning against casual taking of oaths and stern encouragement of truthful speech to severely limit the rare need to take oaths at all. Several commentators come the same conclusion.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says:

But I say unto you, Swear not at all—That this was meant to condemn swearing of every kind and on every occasion—as the Society of Friends and some other ultra-moralists allege—is not for a moment to be thought. For even Jehovah is said once and again to have sworn by Himself; and our Lord certainly answered upon oath to a question put to Him by the high priest; and the apostle several times, and in the most solemn language, takes God to witness that he spoke and wrote the truth; and it is inconceivable that our Lord should here have quoted the precept about not forswearing ourselves, but performing to the Lord our oaths, only to give a precept of His own directly in the teeth of it. Evidently, it is swearing in common intercourse and on frivolous occasions that is here meant. Frivolous oaths were indeed severely condemned in the teaching of the times. But so narrow was the circle of them that a man might swear, says Lightfoot, a hundred thousand times and yet not be guilty of vain swearing. Hardly anything was regarded as an oath if only the name of God were not in it; just as among ourselves, as Trench well remarks, a certain lingering reverence for the name of God leads to cutting off portions of His name, or uttering sounds nearly resembling it, or substituting the name of some heathen deity, in profane exclamations or asseverations. Against all this our Lord now speaks decisively; teaching His audience that every oath carries an appeal to God, whether named or not.

Meyer observes:

The direct oath, by God, is not indeed expressly mentioned along with others in what follows; its prohibition, however, is implied, just as a matter of course, and entirely, first of all in the general μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως, as it is the reference to God which constitutes precisely the fundamental conception and nature of the oath, and, as in the doctrine here discussed, Matthew 5:33, the direct oath is contained not only in οὐκ ἐπιορκ., according to Leviticus 19:12, but also expressly in ἀποδώσεις τῷ κυρίῳ, etc. If Christ, therefore, had intended to forbid merely the oaths of common life, He would, instead of the altogether general statement, μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως, have made use of a form of expression excluding oaths to be taken in relation to the magistracy (probably by a παρεκτός, as in Matthew 5:32). It is true, indeed, that in the special prohibitions which follow, He mentions only indirect oaths,—consequently not those that are valid in a court of justice,—but just because the prohibition of the direct oath was already contained in μὴ ὀμός. ὅλως, first of all and before all other kinds of oaths; and His object now is simply to set forth that even indirect swearing fell under the general prohibition of swearing. And He sets this forth in such a way, that in so doing the prohibition of the direct oath forms the presupposition of His demonstration, as it could not otherwise be expected after μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως. What a scanty πλήρωσις of the law—and one altogether out of keeping with the ideal character of the points which preceded—would it have been had Jesus only intended to say: I forbid you “the wanton oaths of the streets, of the markets” (Keim), in all their forms!

The expositor's Greek also has:

Matthew 5:34. ὅλως: emphatic = παντελῶς, don’t swear at all. Again an unqualified statement, to be taken not in the letter as a new law, but in the spirit as inculcating such a love of truth that so far as we are concerned there shall be no need of oaths. In civil life the most truthful man has to take an oath because of the untruth and consequent distrust prevailing in the world, and in doing so he does not sin against Christ’s teaching. Christ Himself took an oath before the High Priest (Matthew 26:63). What follows (Matthew 5:34-36) is directed against the casuistry which laid stress on the words τῷ κυρίῳ, and evaded obligation by taking oaths in which the divine name was not mentioned: by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or by one’s own head. Jesus points out that all such oaths involved a reference to God. This is sufficiently obvious in the case of the first three, not so clear in case of the fourth.

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No, Jesus did not "cancel" Exodus 22:11; he got to the heart of it.

There are at least two kinds of swearing in the Tanakh. The first is an oath a person makes to God as an indication of their sincerity to do something they said they would do. The second is an oath made to another person to make clear their intention to do or not to do something.

There are obvious similarities in the two kinds of swearing, but the primary difference is that one is vertical, involving a person's relationship with God, whereas the other is horizontal, involving a person's relationship with a fellow human being.

Oaths are serious business in the Scriptures. God himself repeatedly swore to the patriarchs on the basis of who he is that he would fulfill his oaths to them:

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 23 NIV, my emphasis).

In other words, on the basis of his infinite character and promise-keeping ability, he would bring about what he had promised on oath to Abraham (and to Isaac and Jacob).

As his image-bearers, God's children, too, are bound by their oaths, both to God and to their fellow human beings. Image-bearers have neither the ability nor the right to swear by themselves, but when they say on oath they will do something, they have thereby committed themselves to do it.

Notice in Jesus's words in Matthew 5 that Jesus is saying in effect to his audience on the mountainside, and I paraphrase:

“You have neither the ability nor the right to swear by yourself in the same way God does, so don't even try. You must not, therefore, swear by heaven, by God, by Jerusalem, or even by your own head, because you are finite and imperfect. A simple yes or no will suffice as your commitment to do or not to do.”

Indulge me this little analogy. In a courtroom, more than occasionally a prosecutor or a defense lawyer in questioning a witness will say something along the lines of, "My question requires a simple yes or no. So: Yes or no?"

The very human reaction to such a question is to say, "But I can't give a yes or no. There are too many factors--exceptions, qualifiers--involved for me to give a straight yes or no." That may be true, but what Jesus here is saying here, in essence, is that sometimes a simple yes or no will suffice. Anything more would complicate things and perhaps even make things worse, causing one to sin.

In conclusion, think of Exodus 22:11 as a lesson to God's image-bearers on the importance of being earnest. Interestingly, in another context, earnest money is money which secures a pledge to buy something, and it gives the seller the right to demand final and complete payment according to a mutually agreed upon contract. Think of Matthew 5:34 as a way of fulfilling the spirit of the Law in courtroom-like fashion. In other words, Jesus is stripping down the concept of oath-taking and swearing to its bare minimum; namely, yes or no. How fitting that all of God's promises in Jesus Christ are both yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20 NASB).

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  • This is an excellent answer.
    – Bob Black
    May 25, 2022 at 1:47
  • Thank you, Bob. Don May 26, 2022 at 15:35

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