When God’s Word Tells us to Curse or Swear…

Epiphany 6 Saturday

Matthew 5:33-37

“You have also heard that those of old were told: You should not swear a false oath and should keep your oath to God. But I tell you that you should not swear at all, either by heaven for it is God’s throne or by the earth for it is his footstool or by Jerusalem for it is the city of a great king. You should also not swear by your head for you are not able to turn a single hair white or black. Rather, your speech be yes, yes, no, no. Anything beyond this comes from evil.”

These verses, too, have been distorted by many glosses, and many crazy and erroneous notions have been drawn from them, so that many great teachers of the church labored with the text and could not resign themselves to this straightforward prohibition of swearing an oath, that Yes should mean Yes and No, No. The result was that some constrained consciences to the point of leading them to doubt whether foreswearing all violence when being released from prison is permitted or whether affirming a peace treaty with Muslims or unbelievers by oath is permitted. Now, no one can deny that Christ himself and St. Paul often swore oaths; additionally, Scripture praises those who swear by his name. Therefore, one must make a distinction here in order to understand the text properly. We have heard that Christ here does not wish to interfere with the secular government and order or take away anything from the authorities. He only preaches to the individual Christians how they are to live in their existence…To be sure, swearing an oath is here absolutely forbidden, just as he absolutely forbade killing to the point of not even tolerating anger in the heart…But it would be a harmful sermon if this prohibition were applied to the political authorities, telling a judge: “You are not to
be angry or carry out anger’s work,” Romans 13:4…Accordingly, when it comes to swearing an oath, you must consider whether God’s Word commands it…For it is a misuse of God’s name if oaths and swearing are used indiscriminately, as if a simple Yes or No were meaningless and not binding unless God’s name were added to it…All this should simply be forbidden, just as cursing in God’s name is not right where it should not take place. For cursing, like swearing an oath, is
both good and bad. For we read in Scripture that holy people often cursed…Even Christ in the gospel curses the false teachers and St. Paul, in Galatians 1:8, curses all teachers who preach differently…But the difference is this: No one should curse or swear an oath unless he has God’s Word telling him to curse or swear…But this is what it means to have God’s Word in this matter: I have his Word when he commands me to swear in my official capacity and for his sake or when he commands me to do so by those who have an office. For example,…when a prince demands an oath of loyalty or a judge demands an oath of a witness, you are required to make an oath…The other reason for swearing an oath is love, where an oath is not required by the authorities, but where it is made for the benefit of the neighbor,…This swearing is also based on God’s Word that says: “You shall love the neighbor as yourself,” Leviticus 19:18… In summary, where you have God’s Word, may God give you grace that you may quickly swear, punish, be angry, and do everything you can. But you should not do what is above and beyond this, that is, what is not done based on an order or for the benefit of the neighbor. For God does not like what you do based on your own choice, without his Word, no matter what it is, even if you could raise the dead.

St. Louis ed., 7:456-462.

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