Matt. 5:33-37 (Part 1)

5:33ff IRENAEUS: Jesus enjoined Christians not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all. Against Heresies, 1.408.

IRENAEUS: And, “It has been said, 'Do not forswear yourself.' But I say to you, do not swear at all; but let your conversation be, 'Yes, yes,' and 'No, no.'” Against Heresies, 1.477.

TATIAN: “You have heard also that it was said to the ancients, 'Do not lie, but perform your oaths to God:' but I say to you, 'Do not swear at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is a footstool under his feet; nor yet by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither swear by your head, for you can not make in it one lock of hair black or white.' But your word shall be either 'Yes' or 'No,' and what is in excess of this is of the evil one.” The Diatessaron, 9.57.

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: The man of proved character in such piety is far from being apt to lie and to swear. For an oath is a decisive affirmation, with the taking of the divine name. For how can he, that is once faithful, show himself unfaithful, so as to require an oath; and so that his life may not be a sure and decisive oath? He lives, and walks, and shows the trustworthiness of his affirmation in an unwavering and sure life and speech. And if the wrong lies in the judgment of one who does and says something, and not in the suffering of one who has been wronged, he will neither lie nor commit perjury so as to wrong the Deity, knowing that it by nature is incapable of being harmed. Nor yet will he lie or commit any transgression, for the sake of the neighbor whom he has learned to love, though he is not on terms of intimacy. Much more, consequently, will he not lie or perjure himself on his own account, since he never with his will can be found doing wrong to himself.

But he does not even swear, preferring to make confirmation, in affirmation by “yes,” and in denial by “no.” For it is an oath to swear, or to produce anything from the mind in the way of confirmation in the shape of an oath. It suffices, then, with him, to add to an affirmation or denial the expression “I say truly,” for confirmation to those who do not perceive the certainty of his answer. For he ought, I think, to maintain a life calculated to inspire confidence towards those without, so that an oath may not even be asked; and towards himself and those with whom he associates good feeling, which is voluntary righteousness.

The Christian swears truly, but is not apt to swear, having rarely recourse to an oath, just as we have said. And his speaking truth on oath arises from his accord with the truth. This speaking truth on oath, then, is found to be the result of correctness in duties. Where, then, is the necessity for an oath to him who lives in accordance with the extreme of truth? He, then, that does not even swear will be far from perjuring himself. And he who does not transgress in what is ratified by compacts, will never swear; since the ratification of the violation and of the fulfillment is by actions; as certainly lying and perjury in affirming and swearing are contrary to duty. But he who lives justly, transgressing in none of his duties, when the judgment of truth is scrutinized, swears truth by his acts. Accordingly, testimony by the tongue is in his case superfluous.

Therefore, persuaded always that God is everywhere, and fearing not to speak the truth, and knowing that it is unworthy of him to lie, he is satisfied with the divine consciousness and his own alone. And so he does not lie, nor does anything at all contrary to his compacts. And so he swears not even when asked for his oath; nor does he ever deny, so as to speak falsehood, though he should die by tortures. The Stromata, 2.537-538.

CYPRIAN: We must not swear. In Solomon: “A man that swears much shall be filled with iniquity, and the plague shall not depart from his house; and if he swears vainly, he shall not be justified.” Of this same matter, according to Matthew: “Again, you have heard that it was said to them of old, 'Do not swear falsely, but perform your oaths to the Lord.' I say to you, 'Do not swear at all: neither by heaven, because it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, because it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King; neither swear by your head, because you can't make one hair white or black.' But let your discourse be, 'Yes, yes;' 'No, no:' for whatever is fuller than these is of evil.” The Treatises of Cyprian, 5.536-537.

5:34ff THE DIDACHE: You shall not forswear yourself, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall not bear a grudge. 7.377.

POLYCARP: Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice.

And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, the proconsul sought to persuade him to deny Christ, saying, “Have respect to your old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, such as, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, 'Away with the Atheists.'”

But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.”

Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ.”

Polycarp declared, “Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

The proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar.”

Polycarp answered, “Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and do not pretend to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.”

The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.”

But Polycarp said, “To you I have thought it right to offer an account of my faith; for we are taught to give all due honor (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.” Martyrdom of Polycarp, 1.41.

HERMAS: Again he said to me, “Love the truth, and let nothing but truth proceed from your mouth,6 that the spirit which God has placed in your flesh may be found truthful before all men; and the Lord, who dwells in you, will be glorified, because the Lord is truthful in every word, and in Him is no falsehood. They therefore who lie deny the Lord, and rob Him, not giving back to Him the deposit which they have received. For they received from Him a spirit free from falsehood. If they give him back this spirit untruthful, they pollute the commandment of the Lord, and become robbers.” On hearing these words, I wept most violently. When he saw me weeping, he said to me, “Why do you weep?”

And I said, “Because, sir, I do not know if I can be saved.”

“Why?” he said.

And I said, “Because, sir, I never spoke a true word in my life, but have

ever spoken cunningly to all, and have affirmed a lie for the truth to all; and no one ever contradicted me, but credit was given to my word. How then can I live, since I have acted thus?”

And he said to me, “Your feelings are indeed right and sound, for you ought as a servant of God to have walked in truth, and not to have joined an evil conscience with the spirit of truth, nor to have caused sadness to the holy and true Spirit.”

And I said to him, “Never, sir, did I listen to these words with so much attention.”

And he said to me, “Now you hear them, and keep them, that even the falsehoods which you formerly told in your transactions may come to be believed through the truthfulness of your present statements. For even they can become worthy of credit. If you keep these precepts, and from this time forward you speak nothing but the truth, it will be possible for you to obtain life. And whosoever shall hear this commandment, and depart from that great wickedness falsehood, shall live to God.” 2.21.

© OTR 2023