Matthew 5:33-37 – Do Not Lie

John Carter – March 4, 2018


As a child when I would ask my Mom questions about future events she would often tell me, “soon.” I hadn’t ‘soon’. Because ‘soon’ never came. Although my Mom loved me, that was her way of hopefully avoiding any undesirable response I would have. Whining, crying, tantrums. For years it worked. But then after time, I realized ‘soon’ meant never which resulted in sadness. Finally, anytime I heard ‘soon’ it would envoke anger because I knew she was lying. She was not lying to be malicious. But to avoid the difficult truth that her answer was ‘no’ and that answer was going to disappoint me and make her feel bad. She preferred to bend the truth rather than tell the truth. Christian, this is not good.

The Christian is called to the highest degree of truthfulness. Why? Because we worship the God who is truth (John 14:6) and who came to testify to that truth (John 18:37).


                Relationship depends upon communication. Communication depends on truthful intent. This is a problem our culture has. But we should not be so naïve to believe that verbal deception and manipulation are unique to our situation. Remember the days of your childhood. Remember all the ways that we tried to get away with all sorts of things with silly little games. If you wanted to lie all you had to do was cross your fingers. If you wanted to add weight to your words you would say, “cross my heart and hope to die.” Or perhaps you would prove your truthfulness with a pinky promise. As we got older we changed our language by saying like, “I swear on my mother’s grave…”, or “I swear on the Bible…”. Ultimately all of these words and actions were efforts to manipulate another person into believing what we wanted them to believe, whether or not it was actually true. We have an entire industry dedicated to this kind of manipulation. In the marketing industry, this kind of manipulation is utilized every day. Great amounts of money are spent to convince you of something with no regards to the truth. I don’t want to blame the marketing industry for this sin of deceitfulness and manipulation. The sin is there because sinners are there.

This deceitfulness and manipulation show up in our culture in another way too. Commitments and promises. Our culture does not understand fulfilling promises to the point of hurt. We don’t understand sacrifice. Once it hurts we quit. Once its too hard, difficult, or uncomfortable we justify why we are unable to fulfill our commitment. This isn’t just a divorce issue. People bemoan that workers complain that employers aren’t loyal. Employers bemoan that employees are loyal. Friends and spouses alike have great disdain for their faithless friend and lover, yet they too are guilty of falling short of dedication and commitment. The irony is that we expect a greater degree of truthfulness and honesty from others than we do from ourselves. This is why we expect other to swear an oath. But Jesus calls us to something greater than oaths. He calls us to truth.

MATTHEW 5:33-37

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.


In v33 Jesus refers back to the teachings of the OT. These teachings can be seen in two passages from Deuteronomy (however, there are others that could be referenced as well).

  • Deuteronomy 6:10, 13: “when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your father… It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
  • Deuteronomy 10:20: You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.

In these two example passages, we see that not only does God make oaths (swear), but he also demands his people to make oaths by his name alone. This should cause to ask what purpose oaths played in the context of Israel and her relationship to Yahweh. I have counted at least three (3).


  • JUDGMENT – Jeremiah 22:5:I swear by myself, declares the Lord”
  • SALVATION – Isaiah 45:23:By myself I have sworn”
  • WORSHIP – Leviticus 19:11-12: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.”

These three purposes are very practical. But we are left asking, in light of the OT, what is Jesus commanding his disciples to do?


Jesus commands that his disciples are to be truthful. He does this first by rejecting the practice of making oaths valid upon Heaven, Earth, Jerusalem, or even your own life (your head).  Alluding to Psalm 48[1] and Isaiah 66[2] Jesus shows how this practice is unbiblical.  Instead, he commands that his disciples are very clear and simple with their ‘yes’ and with their ‘no’. James, Jesus’ little brother, reiterates this point in his letter.[3] But Jesus breaks this point down even further later in Matthew 23:16-22.[4] However, the careful reader of the Bible will call to mind instances in the NT were oaths are made.


    • Matthew 26:63-64But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
  • PAUL
  • 2 Corinthians 1:23 – I call God to witness against me
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
  • Galatians 1:20(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)

So we are left asking, if Jesus is commanding us to stop taking oaths and we see him and his followers taking oaths, then what is Jesus teaching us here in Matthew 5:34-37?


I believe that Jesus is properly forbidding oaths, but more specifically, he is forbidding deception and faithlessness. Jesus’ prohibition must take into account the OT and the rest of the NT. We have already seen that God permits oaths for the sake of Judgment, salvation, and worship in the OT. But this theme is continued in the NT when we read Hebrews 6:13-20.

Hebrews 6:13-20
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things[5], in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Even though God cannot lie he still makes covenants. It is very clear in Hebrews6  that God is not trying to be deceptive. Nor is he trying to manipulate. The author of the letter to the Hebrews is very clearly demonstrating that God’s purpose for swearing is to offer hope for the future, and not insurance for failure. God’s promise and oath are rooted in truth whereas man’s oaths are usually rooted in deception. But even further, God’s oath is rooted in his ability to fulfill his word. This is an impossibility for any human. You and I, we cannot guarantee that we will live tomorrow. SO when God says I’ll come back for you he is not only making the oath, is also ensuring the fulfillment. When you and I make a promise, we are at the mercy of God to fulfill our word.  When God makes a promise, he is certain to make it happen. This is why Isaiah the prophet writes of God,

Isaiah 55:10-11
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

    and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Where sinful men and women make oaths to prove that they are telling the truth God makes oaths to declare his intentions. We must understand that there is a difference between vowing to prove our truthfulness and to declare our intentions. God makes oaths to declare his intentions and to demonstrate who he is. And who he is is true. That is why Jesus calls himself ‘the truth’ (John 14:6).


                Brothers and sisters, what is said of us must be consistent with what is said of God. There are at five (5) least character traits of God’s people that demonstrate who God is.

  • YOU WILL BE HATED – If our Master died for the truth, what will be the outcome for those who do the same? John 15:18-25: 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
  • YOUR MARRIAGE VOWS PREACH THE GOSPEL – Our marriage vows are certainly connected with this passage of true-speech. Ephesians 5:25-33: 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
  • YOU WILL NOT LIE – True disciples of Jesus are of the truth just as Jesus is the Truth. John 8:31-47: 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
    34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
    39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
  • YOU WILL WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH – All forms of false worship are not found among God’s people. John 4:23-24: 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
  • YOU WILL BE A LIVING TESTIMONY TO THE TRUTH – We are creatures of truth to testify to the truth so that others might believe. James 1:16-18: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.


                This last character trait of Gods people brings us to the center of the Gospel. Too often our bible studies and Sunday School lessons are filled with moralism. We take the truth that God is truth and then tell our kids and other believers, ‘now, don’t go lying anymore.’ But we do so in a way that is completely removed from the testimony of Scripture. We have a tendency to say it like this.

  • Good people go to heaven.
  • Good people don’t lie.
  • You want to go to heaven, right?
  • Therefore don’t lie and you’ll go to heaven.

But this isn’t true. Telling the truth doesn’t save you. Jesus’ command to let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’, ‘no’ is not moralism. Telling the truth doesn’t save you.  Christians are truthful because they are already saved. Telling the truth only helps identify those who are saved.

So how does one become saved? And how does this command of ‘yes’ being ‘yes’ and ‘no’ being ‘no’ connection with salvation? This is where Paul writing to the church in Corinth is helpful. Paul was hoping to come to Corinth but was not able to make it as planned. So he begins his letter explaining why he could not make it, and why the church should not become angry or disappoints.

  • 2 Corinthians 1:15-22
    15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

In other words, although we may fail to do what we say we are going to do, God never fails.  When we say It is true we must never be unstable in our planning, God’s plans are always stable. When we say, ‘see you on Sunday,” we truly mean it but are not able to fulfill that promise apart from the mercy and of God. However, through God’s grace, when he says, ‘I will forgive your sins and will make you clean’, his word is certain to stand. And not only that, to those who confess their sin, and repent will be given the seal of Salvation—the Holy Spirit. So, on two accounts, his word and the Holy Spirit, we can be certain that our salvation is sure. Friend. Do not let the truth of God pass you by leaving you unchanged. Reach out to him and submit yourself to his truth and let his Spirit Fill you and seal you for the Day of his promised return.


                Some possible ways to apply this teaching.

  • If you signed a contract, fulfill it
  • If you made an agreement, fulfill it
  • If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it
  • Demonstrate integrity – Qualification of an elder
  • Temper you truth fullness with kindness – Just because its true, doesn’t mean you need to say it
  • If people do not trust you, repent
  • Reject the sin of the white lie
  • Rest in the truth that this command of Christ frees us from the burden, weight, disappointment, frustration of not being believed.
  • Ecclesiastes 5:4-7: When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.


33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.


Again you have heard that it was said to the old ones, “You will not break-vows, but you will pay to the Lord your promise. But I say to you:

Do not take any oath,

Not by heaven—for that is the throne of God,

Not by earth—for that is a footstool under his feet,

Not towards Jerusalem—for that is the city of the great king,

Not even by your head should you take an oath—for you are not able to make even one hair white or black.

But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and ‘no’ ‘no’. Beyond that is from evil.

{Reading Notes}

Matthew 5:33-37

EBC – D.A. Carson (2010)

  • “Swearing by heaven and earth was not binding, nor was swearing by Jerusalem, though swearing toward Jerusalem was.” (P.187 – EBC)

NICNT – R.T. France (2007)

  • “Jesus is not so much opposing OT legislation as telling his disciples not to take up an option which the law offered but did not require.” (P.214 – NICNT)
  • “Jesus’ absolute pronouncement sets out the true will of God, but in human life that will is not always followed, and there is still a lace for legal oaths to cope with the actual untruthfulness of people, even sadly sometimes of disciples.” (P216 – NICNT)

PNTC – Leon Morris (1992)

  • “The Jews held that unless the name of God was specifically mentioned the oath was not binding; there were lengthy discussions about when an oath is or is not binding, and people would sometimes swear by heaven and earth or a similar oath and later claim that they were not bound by the oath because God was not mentioned.” (P.124 – PNTC)

Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard

  • x

A.T. Robertson (1930)

  • Makes reference to profanity

Ancient Christian Commentary

  • “Once the inclination to deceive has been checked, it enjoins simplicity in speaking and hearing… therefore those who are living in the simplicity of faith have no need for the ritual of an oath.” (P.115 ACC – Hilary)
  • “For if your opponent believed that you would swear truthfully, he would never compel you to swear. But since he believes that you may commit perjury, he compels you to swear.” (P.115 ACC – Anonymous)
  • “What need is there for us to swear when we are not allowed to lie at all and our words must always be true and trustworthy, so much so that they may be taken as an oath? (P.115 ACC – Chromatius)
  • “The Lord does not want a gap between our oath and our ordinary speech.” (P.115 A ACC AC – Chromatius)
  • “Do not deify creation.” (P.116 ACC – Cyril of Alexandria)

Martin Lloyd Jones – Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (V1)

  • x



[1] Psalm 48:2: “the city of the great King.”

[2] Isaiah 66:1: “Heaven is my throne,  and the earth is my footstool”

[3] James 5:12 12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

[4] Matthew 23:16-22: 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 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 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

[5] 1. He cannot lie. 2. He does not change.