For Bible Study Nerds

For Bible Study Nerds

Matthew 5:33-37; Oaths (Symbolism)

posted by Mike Nappa

Matthew 5:35 quotes Jesus as reaffirming the declaration of Isaiah 66:1, saying very plainly that the earth is God’s “footstool.” But what does that mean exactly?

In Old Testament usage, the concept of “footstool” or “under the feet” carried a few important meanings. First was the assumption of ownership or full possession of whatever was “under the feet.” An example of this is found in Deuteronomy 11:24 where God promised the Israelites that, “Every place where you set your foot will be yours.”

Second, and similar to the idea of possession, was the assumption of absolute dominion or rule over whatever was “under the feet.” One Ancient Egyptian drawing illustrates this concept in a casually-cruel way: It shows a child Pharaoh sitting on his nurse’s lap. His feet rest firmly on the heads of bound and groveling enemies. They are a literal footstool of conquered foes over whom he now exercises complete dominion.

The idea of the earth being God’s footstool is not as cruel as the Egyptian imagery, but Jesus’ meaning here appears to be much the same. God is Lord of all, period. He not only created our earth—he possesses every inch of it. And what’s more, he is complete and total master over our world and everything in it. Therefore using his earth—or anything he possesses, including our own heads—as a pretext for frivolous oaths is both presumptuous and offensive.

 

Works Cited:

[DBI, 906]

 

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Matthew 5:33-37; Oaths (Cultural Commentary)

posted by Mike Nappa

In ancient Israel, an oath was both a ritual act and a binding promise.

Oaths were invoked in court cases to (supposedly) ensure that witnesses would tell the truth. They were also given as proof of an unbreakable pledge of loyalty, or as a guarantee that a person would fulfill some obligation being incurred (such as a promise to repay a loan).

People swore oaths by that which was valuable to them, such as families or personal wealth and security, and even their own lives (swearing “by my head”). The assumption was that failure to keep such an oath would either bring shame or personal loss. The highest, most binding ritual oath was one that brought God into the transaction because, it was assumed that God himself would inflict a curse upon any who failed to fulfill an oath made in his name.

By the time of Jesus, though, the Pharisees had used an array of semantics to skillfully excuse themselves from the duty to keep most oaths.

In much the same ways that disreputable lawyers today appeal to the “fine print” to get out of obvious obligations, Pharisees were experts at dissecting the oath ritual in order to find loopholes that justified their dishonest promises. For instance, in their reasoning, an oath sworn “by the temple!” in Jerusalem could be considered frivolous and assumed to mean nothing. A promise made “by the gold of the temple,” however, was binding and failure to fulfill that would incur punishment. (See Matthew 23:16)

When Jesus preached against making oaths in Matthew 5:33-37, he was also indicting this kind of Pharisaical hypocrisy—and calling all God followers to a higher standard of authenticity and integrity. As one theologian describes it, “Christ teaches that form is irrelevant…In the fellowship of honest people, a person’s word is as binding as a sacred oath.”

 

Works Cited:

[HBD, 716; RBD, 742-743]

 

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About: Mike Nappa

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Matthew 5:33-37; Oaths (Bible Difficulties)

posted by Mike Nappa

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made…’”

In case you’re wondering, Jesus wasn’t quoting the Old Testament when he said that. At least not exactly.

Bible scholars think that this point in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was instead a kind of colloquial summary of several Scriptures, lumped into a saying that Jesus’ hearers already recognized (i.e., “You have heard…”). The first part of his statement might have been a reference to the command of Leviticus 19:12, “Do not swear falsely by my name…” The second part is less obvious, but probably related to Psalm 50:14, “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High.”

In light of this “creative paraphrasing” of Scripture, some question why Jesus opted to misquote the Old Testament here. Did he simply forget the exact phrasing? Was he unconcerned about textual accuracy, or implying that the original language was unreliable? Was he not quoting Scripture at all, but referencing some other source instead?

Given the context of his broader teaching here, that last option seems most likely. It’s very possible his phrasing quoted familiar rabbinical teachings rather than the Bible itself. That choice highlighted for listeners, at least subtly, how extra-biblical traditions had become so prevalent and revered they were often regarded on par with God’s Word—and used in place of the actual words of Scripture.

In essence, by quoting what his audience had been taught instead of what was accurate according to Old Testament texts, he may have been suggesting to his listeners, “What you’ve heard all your lives—and the way you’ve heard it—isn’t exactly what is true.”

Similar to religious leaders of ancient Israel, we modern Christians have had copious amounts of teaching between Jesus’ time and ours. One has to wonder where we too are susceptible to allowing our familiar, accepted traditions to overshadow God’s original truth.

Works Cited:

[BKB, 117]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

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Matthew 5:31-32; Divorce (Symbolism)

posted by Mike Nappa

Jesus’ literal intolerance for the practice of divorce, as displayed in his Sermon on the Mount, takes on new meaning when viewed through a symbolic lens.

Consider:

Throughout the New Testament, Christ is presented figuratively as a bridegroom, and all his followers throughout the ages (the Church) are collectively seen as his bride (John 3:29, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:6-9). Or, as theologian John F. Walvoord describes it, “a bride not yet joined to her Husband.” In this spiritual relationship, Christ is the betrothed husband who has already paid the “dowry” through his death and resurrection (John 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 6:17-20, Hebrews 13:12), and is now preparing a place for his bride (John 14:2)—and preparing his bride for an eternal “marriage” to him (Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:6-9).

In this context, Jesus’ stringent teaching on divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 carries wonderful new significance. Jesus Christ, our eternal Bridegroom, hates divorce. He is therefore unequivocally, relentlessly committed to love and care for his Church (you and me) through any obstacle, in spite of any sin, and beyond the reaches of time itself.

Amen!

Works Cited:

[JCL, 250-253]

 

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About: For Bible Study Nerds™

About: Mike Nappa

Copyright © 2014 to present by Nappaland Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Previous Posts

Matthew 5:33-37; Oaths (Symbolism)
Matthew 5:35 quotes Jesus as reaffirming the declaration of Isaiah 66:1, saying very plainly that the earth is God’s “footstool.” But what does that mean exactly? In Old Testament usage, the concept of “footstool” or “under the feet” carried a few important meanings. First was the a

posted 12:00:12pm Sep. 19, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 5:33-37; Oaths (Cultural Commentary)
In ancient Israel, an oath was both a ritual act and a binding promise. Oaths were invoked in court cases to (supposedly) ensure that witnesses would tell the truth. They were also given as proof of an unbreakable pledge of loyalty, or as a guarantee that a person would fulfill some obligation be

posted 12:00:11pm Sep. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 5:33-37; Oaths (Bible Difficulties)
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made…’” In case you’re wondering, Jesus wasn't quoting the Old Testament when he said that. At least not exactly. Bible scholars think that this point in Chri

posted 12:00:59pm Sep. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 5:31-32; Divorce (Symbolism)
Jesus’ literal intolerance for the practice of divorce, as displayed in his Sermon on the Mount, takes on new meaning when viewed through a symbolic lens. Consider: Throughout the New Testament, Christ is presented figuratively as a bridegroom, and all his followers throughout the ages (the

posted 12:00:44pm Sep. 12, 2014 | read full post »

Matthew 5:31-32; Divorce (Bible Difficulties)
It’s hard to overlook the uncomfortable truth that, according to Jesus, a divorced woman is considered an adulterer in God’s eyes—merely by the fact that her husband divorced her. “Whoever divorces his wife,” Christ said, “for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit

posted 4:41:43pm Sep. 10, 2014 | read full post »


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