Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay - That is, a positive affirmation, or negation, according to your knowledge of the matter concerning which you are called to testify. Do not equivocate; mean what you assert, and adhere to your assertion. Hear what a heathen says on this subject: -
Εχθρος γαρ μοι κεινος ὁμως αιδαο πυλησιν,
Ος χ 'ετερον μεν κευθει ενι φρεσιν, αλλο δε βαζει .
Hom. Il. ix. 312
"He whose words agree not with his private thoughts is as detestable to me as the gates of hell."
See on Joshua 2 (note) at the end.
See the subject of swearing particularly considered in the note at the conclusion of Deuteronomy 6 (note).
Whatsoever is more than these - That is, more than a bare affirmation or negation, according to the requirements of Eternal Truth, cometh of evil; or, is of the wicked one - εκ του πονηρου εϚιν, i.e. the devil, the father of superfluities and lies. One of Selden's MSS. and Gregory Nyssen, a commentator of the fourth century, have εκ του διαβολου εϚιν, is of the devil.
That the Jews were notoriously guilty of common swearing, for which our Lord particularly reprehends them, and warns his disciples against, and that they swore by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem, by their head, etc., the following extracts, made by Dr. Lightfoot from their own writings, amply testify: -
"It was customary and usual among them to swear by the creatures. 'If any swear by heaven, by earth, by the sun, etc., although the mind of the swearer be, under these words, to swear by Him who created them, yet this is not an oath. Or, if any swear by some of the prophets, or by some of the books of the Scripture, although the sense of the swearer be to swear by Him that sent that prophet, or that gave that book, nevertheless, this is not an oath. Maimonides.'
"If any adjure another by heaven or earth, he is not guilty. Talmud.
"They swore by Heaven, הוא כן השמים hashshamayim, ken hu, 'By heaven, so it is.' Bab. Berac.
"They swore by the Temple. 'When turtles and young pigeons were sometimes sold at Jerusalem for a penny of gold, Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said, הוה המעו By this habitation (that is, by this Temple) I will not rest this night, unless they be sold for a penny of silver.' Cherituth, cap. i.
"R. Zechariah ben Ketsab said, הוה המעו 'By this Temple, the hand of the woman departed not out of my hand.'
R. Jochanan said, היכלא 'By the Temple, it is in our hand, etc.' Ketuboth and Bab. Kidushin.
"Bava ben Buta swore by the Temple in the end of the tract Cherithuth, and Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel in the beginning, כישראל מנהג וזה And so was the custom in Israel. - Note this, so was the custom.
Jucas. fol. 56.
"They swore by the city Jerusalem. R. Judah saith, 'He that saith, By Jerusalem, saith nothing, unless with an intent purpose he shall vow towards Jerusalem.' Where also, after two lines coming between those forms of swearing and vowing, are added, בהיכל להיכל היכל בירושלם לירושלם ירושלם 'Jerusalem, For Jerusalem, By Jerusalem. - The Temple, For the temple, By the temple. - The Altar, For the altar, By the altar. - The Lamb, For the Lamb, By the Lamb. - The Chambers of the Temple, For the chambers of the temple, By the chambers of the temple. - The Word, For the Word, By the Word. - The Sacrifices on Fire, For the sacrifices on fire, By the sacrifices on fire. - The Dishes, For the dishes, By the dishes. - By all these things, that I will do this to you.' Tosapht. ad. Nedarim.
"They swore by their own Heads. 'One is bound to swear to his neighbor, and he saith, ראשך כתיי לי ריד Vow (or swear) to me by the life of thy head, etc. Sanhedr. cap. 3.
"One of the holiest of their precepts relative to swearing was this: 'Be not much in oaths, although one should swear concerning things that are true; for in much swearing it is impossible not to profane.' Tract. Demai." - See Lightfoot's Works, vol. ii. p. 149.
They did not pretend to forbid All common swearing, but only what they term Much. A Jew might swear, but he must not be too abundant in the practice. Against such permission, our Lord opposes his Swear Not At All! He who uses any oath, except what he is solemnly called by the magistrate to make, so far from being a Christian, he does not deserve the reputation, either of decency or common sense. In some of our old elementary books for children, we have this good maxim: "Never swear: for he that swears will lie; and he that lies will steal; and, if so, what bad things will he not do!" Reading Made Easy.
But let your communication - Your word; what you say.
Be, Yea - Yes. This does not mean that we should always use the word “yea,” for it might as well have been translated “yes”; but it means that we should simply affirm or declare that a thing is so.
More than these - More than these affirmations.
Cometh of evil - Is evil. Proceeds from some evil disposition or purpose. And from this we may learn:
1. That profane swearing is always the evidence of a depraved heart. To trifle with the name of God, or with any of his works, is itself most decided proof of depravity.
2. That no man is believed any sooner in common conversation because he swears to a thing. When we hear a man swear to a thing, it is pretty good evidence that he knows what he is saying to be false, and we should be on our guard. He that will break the third commandment will not hesitate to break the ninth also. And this explains the fact that profane swearers are seldom believed. The man who is always believed is he whose character is beyond suspicion in all things, who obeys all the laws of God, and whose simple declaration, therefore, is enough. A man that is truly a Christian, and leads a Christian life, does not need oaths and profaneness to make him believed.
3. It is no mark of a gentleman to swear. The most worthless and vile. the refuse of mankind, the drunkard and the prostitute, swear as well as the best dressed and educated gentleman. No particular endowments are requisite to give finish to the art of cursing. The basest and meanest of mankind swear with as much tact and skill as the most refined, and he that wishes to degrade himself to the very lowest level of pollution and shame should learn to be a common swearer. Any person has talents enough to learn to curse God and his fellowmen, and to pray - for every man who swears prays - that God would sink him and others into hell. No profane person knows but that God will hear his prayer, and send him to the regions of woe.
4. Profaneness does no one any good. Nobody is the richer, or wiser, or happier for it. It helps no one‘s morals or manners. It commends no one to any society. The profane man must be, of course, shut out from female society, and no refined conversation can consist with it. It is disgusting to the refined; abominable to the good; insulting to those with whom we associate; degrading to the mind; unprofitable, needless, and injurious in society; and awful in the sight of God.
5. God will not hold the profane swearer guiltless. Wantonly to profane His name, to call His vengeance down, to curse Him on His throne, to invoke damnation, is perhaps of all offences the most awful. And there is not in the universe more cause of amazement at His forbearance, than that God does not rise in vengeance, and smite the profane swearer at once to hell. Verily, in a world like this, where His name is profaned every day, and hour, and moment by thousands, God shows that He is slow to anger, and that His mercy is without bounds!
I saw that some of God's children have made a mistake in regard to oath taking, and Satan has taken advantage of this to oppress them, and take from them their Lord's money. I saw that the words of our Lord, “Swear not at all,” do not touch the judicial oath. “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” This refers to common conversation. Some exaggerate in their language. Some swear by their own life; others swear by their head—as sure as they live; as sure as they have a head. Some take heaven and earth to witness that such things are so. Some hope that God will strike them out of existence if what they are saying is not true. It is this kind of common swearing against which Jesus warns His disciples. 1T 201.1Read in context »
God's word condemns also the use of those meaningless phrases and expletives that border on profanity. It condemns the deceptive compliments, the evasions of truth, the exaggerations, the misrepresentations in trade, that are current in society and in the business world. “Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.” Matthew 5:37, R.V. Ed 236.1
“As a madman who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, Am not I in sport?” Proverbs 26:18, 19. Ed 236.2
Closely allied to gossip is the covert insinuation, the sly innuendo, by which the unclean in heart seek to insinuate the evil they dare not openly express. Every approach to these practices the youth should be taught to shun as they would shun the leprosy. Ed 236.3Read in context »
There are very many who do not fear to deceive their fellow men, but they have been taught, and have been impressed by the Spirit of God, that it is a fearful thing to lie to their Maker. When put under oath they are made to feel that they are not testifying merely before men, but before God; that if they bear false witness, it is to Him who reads the heart and who knows the exact truth. The knowledge of the fearful judgments that have followed this sin has a restraining influence upon them. MB 67.1
But if there is anyone who can consistently testify under oath, it is the Christian. He lives constantly as in the presence of God, knowing that every thought is open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do; and when required to do so in a lawful manner, it is right for him to appeal to God as a witness that what he says is the truth, and nothing but the truth. MB 67.2
Jesus proceeded to lay down a principle that would make oath taking needless. He teaches that the exact truth should be the law of speech. “Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.” R.V. MB 67.3Read in context »