Matthew 5:34 is the thirty-fourth verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount. This verse is part of either the third or fourth antithesis, the discussion of oaths.
- But I say unto you, Swear not at all;
- neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
The World English Bible translates the passage as:
- but I tell you, don’t swear at all: neither
- by heaven, for it is the throne of God;
For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 5:34
This verse departs somewhat from the structure of the previous Antitheses. The standard pattern was after presenting the former rule to present the new one, then explain it, then present examples. Here Jesus presents the new rule "swear not at all" and then moves directly to examples. The explanation for the new rule waits until Matthew 5:37.
Very few Christians interpret this verse literally to mean that all oaths are prohibited as in other parts of the Bible oaths are looked upon more favourably. In 2 Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 1:20 Paul of Tarsus swears oaths and in Hebrews 6:17 God himself swears an oath. Most Christian thinkers have thus concluded that this verse is either Jesus using hyperbole to emphasize his point, or failing to mention exceptions to this rule that would have been implicit to his audience. Others interpret the original Greek as being less absolute than its English translations. Thus most Christian churches believe that only false and vain oaths are prohibited. John Calvin argued that only oaths counter to God are wrong. Several important Christian groups do not accept these compromises. Most notably the Quakers and Mennonites firmly reject all oaths, a stance that has led to their persecution by governments that insist on oath taking. Tolstoy also understood this verse as banning all oaths, and it led him to support the abolition of all courts as a result.
The reference to Heaven as the Throne of God comes from Isaiah 66:1. Hill notes that while heaven in Matthew is often used as a periphrasis for God's name it is quite clearly not so used in this verse. At the time of Christ oaths were a much debated issue in the Jewish community. One view, expressed in M. Shebuoth, was that while oaths to God were binding, oaths to other subjects, such as heaven, were not. Schweizer feels that Jesus is here indicating that swearing by heaven is swearing by God as heaven is God's throne.
- Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Davies, W.D. and Dale C. Allison, Jr. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1988-1997. pg. 82
- Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
- Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
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