Earlier on Christ while teaching the sermon on the mount he had actually discouraged/condemned the taking of oaths

Matthew 5:34 ESV:

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,

Yet later on when Christ is rebuking the Pharisees he seemingly corrects the process of taking oaths rather than discouraging/condemning it

Matthew 23:16-22 ESV:

You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 ESV:And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 ESV:You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 ESV:So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 ESV:And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 ESV:And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

Why didn't Christ outrightly discourage/condemn the taking of oaths?

  • 1
    In Matthew 5 Jesus discourages his own faithful disciples from swearing oaths. In Matthew 23 Jesus emphasises the hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees in the manner in which they make oaths. I don't see that it would relevant to the second occasion to discourage all oath-taking among those who did not follow him.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 12 at 14:03
  • @NigelJ,but his teaching was directed at his disciples and the crowd as mentioned in Matthew 23:1 Commented Mar 12 at 14:12
  • . . . . . . who are also discouraged from acts of hypocrisy. Yes, agreed.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 12 at 14:14

2 Answers 2


In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus doesn't merely address the act of taking an oath, but rather, He condemns the hypocrisy of those who enforce strict adherence to laws they themselves disregard. While the passage may seem about oath-taking, Jesus directs his criticism towards the teachers of the law and Pharisees, denouncing their hypocritical behavior. He describes them as 'hypocrites' or 'blind guides', highlighting their failure to practice what they preach.

Matthew 23:13 NIV

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Matthew 23:16 NIV

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’

In Galatians 3:11, Paul states;

Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”

Taking an oath can be likened to inscribing a law upon one's heart. However, since no one can perfectly adhere to the law, their oath holds no justification before God. As Paul emphasized in Galatians 3:14, righteousness is attained through faith, allowing believers to receive the promise of the Spirit.

In John 4:23, Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman, stating,"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." This suggests that genuine followers of God walk in truth, rendering oaths unnecessary.


Starting with what Jesus taught his disciples when he left the crowds to go up a mountain, and they followed him: "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, Blessed are..." Mat. 5:1-2 - he clearly condemned taking oaths, either by heaven, or by earth, or by Jerusalem, or by one's head. They were to let their 'Yes' mean yes, and their 'No' mean no. "For whatever is more than these cometh of evil." Mat. 5:37

Then, when we look at his condemnation of hypocritical religious people in Mat. 23:16-22, he is consistently sticking to that. He is accusing them by using their own practices and teachings, to show that they are abusing their own practice of oath-taking.

The notes in this Study Bible are interesting regarding their practice of swearing by the Temple:

"The Temple = the Sanctuary : i.e. the Naos, or actual Temple building, consisting of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Spelt in The Companion Bible with a capital "T" to distinguish it from hieron, the whole of the Temple courts... Debtor = is bound [to fulfil the oath]. In v. is rendered "guilty"; whereby there is (in Eng.) the Fig. Parechesis = guilty [and must pay the geld, i.e. the penalty]. The Companion Bible Matthew 23:16 notes, p. 1362

Jesus told them that by swearing by the Temple, they were not only swearing by it, but by Him that dwelleth therein (vs. 21) - God. What penalty would they have to pay for swearing falsely ? To read all the condemnations Jesus hurled against those religious hypocrites chills the blood, for he said that there would "come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias" (vs. 35).

Could there be more outright condemnation of taking oaths than that ?

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