Are we allowed to swear in the Name of YHVH?
Are we allowed to swear in the Name of YHVH? According to the Sermon on the Mount, we are not allowed to swear at all, while the Torah allows us. Is there any contradiction between the Torah and the Messiah? It is true, of course, as we are all aware, that if anyone who claims to be the Messiah has changed, annulled even one law of the Torah and taught the others to do so, he cannot be the Messiah.
Yet, the Torah and the Sermon on the Mount appear to express two contradictory views on the importance of swearing in the name of YHVH. Contradictions tend to make people take sides. And many have taken their side, according to what they have chosen to believe in.
In the following, we will explain what one needs to know about taking an oath in the Name of the Creator, as we will explain the whole matter in the following vein.
But first, we need to clarify what the dubious word “to swear” means, since the present author uses English to write this article.
In English, the verb to swear is one of those words that have a dual meaning: (1) to make a solemn statement, to promise undertaking to do something or affirming that something is the case. Or, we may say: to take a solemn oath as to the truth of a statement. (2) to use offensive language, especially as an expression of anger.
But, since the English translations of the Bible use (1), rather than (2), so, we must rephrase our question to “Can we take an oath in the Name of YHVH?”
The Torah clearly allows us to vow in the Name of the Creator, as we read thus,
And do not swear falsely by My Name and so profane the Name of your Elohim. I am Yehovah. (Lev 19:12)
Fear Yehovah your Elohim and serve Him and swear by His Name. (Deu 6:13) (See also Num 30:2, Num 30:13, Deu 10:20, Deu 23:21)
Are these laws purely theoretical or do they have a deeper purpose, because the Torah’s use of words is never incidental?
From these verses, we understand that YHVH allows us to take an oath in His Set-apart Name, but at only one condition: do it truthfully. In the article Honor the Name of YHVH! Do not use it in vain! we explained what it means not to use the Name of the Creator in vain, namely, it must not be said casually, in an unconcerned manner, or spoken so often that its meaning is diminished or lessened the authority, dignity, or reputation of The Highest. We concluded that speaking with deceit, swearing falsely, or using an idol’s name is the same as to bring The Name of YHVH in vain, to naught, that is, to desecrate and profane it. Let it not be!
We need however to make it clear that YHVH does not require us to take any oath in His Name. But if we take an oath for whatever reason, He will require us to do according to what we have vowed.
When you make a vow to Yehovah your Elohim, do not delay to pay it, for Yehovah your Elohim is certainly requiring it of you, and it shall be sin in you. (Deu 23:21)
This is crystal clear and there is little room for ambiguity. However, in the King James’ version of Mat 5:33-34 we read something that raises the eyebrow.
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, swear not at all … (Mat 5:33-34 KJV)
Regrettably, this translation, like most others, is not easy to read and extremely inaccurate, as it is not grounded in the Torah and therefore problematic. Let us explain.
We see here the Messiah is quoting from the Torah in the first part of the statement. In the second part, however, he is very concrete by saying, “Swear not at all”. We are faced with the problem: the Heavenly Father allows, but the Son prohibits. This is not so, because Scripture does not come to make things obscure but to explain.
Can we rethink what we read in KJV, for it is impossible for the Torah to be wrong?
But before we continue any further, notice in English the conjunction “but” in the phrase “But I say unto you”. The grammatical role of the conjunction “but” is to introduce comparison, contradiction, contrast, or something unexpected. “But” also means however, on the contrary. By saying “but” [in English], the Messiah then went on to change the tone forbidding any oath or vow, whatsoever. This is what the command “swear not at all” means.
So, are we at all allowed to swear in the Name of YHVH, or we are forbidden? The controversy comes from the discrepancy we are facing, namely, between the conflicting facts in the Torah and the “New Testament”. The Torah allows us to take an oath, but per the King James’ version of the Bible, we are absolutely forbidden. Where is then the truth? And should we even ask this absurd question in the first place?
The problem in the KJV text is caused by the translation of a small and dubious word in the Greek manuscript: δέ de.
The Hebrew “vav” vs. the Greek “de”
The Greek word δέ de, is adversatively used to express antithesis or opposition, and it is often translated as “but” in English. De can be also used as a continuative to conjoin words, phrases, clauses or sentences, translated as “and”, “moreover”. This dubious Greek word that opens to doubt or suspicion in the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is found behind the English “but”.
There is however another Greek word with the meaning of and, also, even, so, then, too. This is the word καί kai, as seen in verse 30: “and if your right hand …”
What is the difference between de and kai? Kai connects words or phrases smoothly and strictly coordinated while de is a conjunction of antitheses and interrupts thoughts by joining them.
Conveniently, however, the translators have chosen to render δέ de as “but”, over καί kai, “and”, “moreover”, in order to introduce contradiction or contrast between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament”. Said in a different way, the Messiah is saying, “The Old Testament told you not to swear falsely, but I am telling you not to swear at all”. Even in English this does not make sense at all. Thus far English.
So, where can we find the answer to our problem in KJV text?
The answer we find is in the original Hebrew text of Matthew, as it appears in Hebrew Gospel of Matthew by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995, page 21. We read thus,
Again, you heard what was said to those of long ago, ‘You shall not swear by My Name falsely, but shall return to HaShem your oath.’ And I say to you not to swear in vain in any matter, neither by heaven, because it is throne of Elohim. (Mat 5:33-34)
Note: The present author took the liberty to make Howard’s translation closer to Hebrew by replacing “but” with “and”, since this is the meaning of the Hebrew word vav; “HaShem”, Heb. “The Name”, per the Jewish scribal tradition, is the substitute for the Name of the Creator Yehovah. We now return to the text.
The correctness of this translation will be placed beyond all doubt as we will explain below, for it is illogical and counter intuitive to say that the Torah or the Messiah establish contradictions.
The Hebrew word vav means “hook”, “peg”, and it is so called in allusion to the ancient Hebrew pictograph of this letter. A peg is used to secure the tent in place.
Vav is also a letter in the Hebrew alephbet that appears in Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in our verse. In Hebrew grammar, this letter can mean to add a clause to another clause in the sentence, as a peg or nail can be used in the same manner to add something to something else.
The letter vav therefore is used throughout the Hebrew Scripture and also in the phrase in Mat 5:34 to mean “and”, “ואָנִי ve’ani (And I) say to you not to swear …”. Do we see the difference? Yeshua is not introducing antithesis or opposition but asserts firmly that if you take an oath before the Father, never ever take it with a false purpose.
In English, clauses that begin with “if” or “when” are typically completed by clauses that begin with “then”. But Hebrew has no specialized word to express “then” and therefore it must be recognized by content rather than by the presence of a specific word. In the place of “then”, Hebrew may use the multi-purpose particle vav, or may leave it as is.
Letter vav has one more meaning, that makes Yeshua’s statements even more assertive. We read,
And Solomon loved many foreign wives and (vav) the daughter of Pharaoh. (1Ki 11:1)
Did King Solomon not have 1,000 wives and concubines? Was the daughter of Pharaoh his one thousand and first wife, so that it was necessary to say “and”? No, Solomon had 1,000 women and the Egyptian was one of them, the most favorable one.
So, how can we understand the other meaning of vav in this case but to translate it as “moreover”, “especially”. Solomon loved all his women, but he especially or moreover loved the daughter of Pharaoh; she was his beloved wife.
How do JPS (Jewish Publication Society) and KJV (King James’ version of the Bible) translate 1Ki 11:1? JPS reads “besides” and KJV: “together with”, but more properly we need to translate vav here as “and moreover the daughter of Pharaoh”.
Therefore, when we re-read the statement of Yeshua in verse 34, and in his statements in the Sermon on the Mount that use the Hebrew conjunction vav, we do not have the perception of his words being antithesis or opposition to the Torah of YHVH, but on the contrary, they are affirmation of His Father’s laws.
And how has George Howard rendered ואָנִי ve’ani, “And I say to you…”? He appears to be heavily influenced by the traditional Christian translation and renders the word as “But I say to you …”
The other significant alteration of the Hebrew text of Matthew is the omission of the word “falsely”, which makes the phrase “You shall not swear falsely, but you shall not swear at all” of little sense. Why did the translators feel it was necessary to omit “falsely” as this would not agree with the Torah? What is the difference?
According to the rabbinic laws, swearing falsely, i.e., intentionally, in the explicit Name of the Creator is an unforgivable sin, and rightly so. But one swears falsely by the heaven, by the earth, or by Jerusalem, even by His short Name Yah, as long as the Name is not uttered in the oath, the sin is forgivable. But Yeshua says, “Moreover, I say to you, do not swear falsely at all”. This makes a perfect sense.
The reader should have noticed by now the typical Hebraic thought in Hebrew Matthew versus the Greek thought. The substantial difference between the two texts is that in Greek, Jesus forbids us to swear at all, while in Hebrew, Yeshua forbids us to swear “in vain” (Heb. falsely) at all. Another difference which comes subsequently from such a rendering, and which has a theological consequence is that in Greek, Jesus has changed the Law, while in Hebrew, Yeshua upholds the Law and is consistent and faithful to the Torah.
In other words, if the Greek text were correct, then the Messiah had indeed changed the Torah (commonly known as “the Law”), and the Christians have a right to their claim that the Christ has abolished the Law. But this will be until the return of the Messiah, when he will explain everything.
If however, the Hebrew text is correct, then the Messiah has upheld the Torah and taught the others to do so. The difference between the Hebrew and Greek is like day and night. (Read more) Evidently, for the translators this “insignificant” word falsely was not of any importance, and they simply decided to omit it. The traditional commentaries fall short on why there is no mention of the word “falsely” if Yeshua was quoting from the Torah. The critics, translators, and theologians have invented a contradiction between the Torah and the words of the Messiah that should not have been there. This is disturbing!
Such small “adjustments” are not uncommon in the Greek text of Matthew. What is even more disturbing is that we can find blunders in the translations such as, for example, misquoting a prophet in Mat 27:9; something the disciple could not have possibly done. In Mat 27:9, the Greek text wrongly attributes the prophecy to Jeremiah, while the Hebrew text correctly quotes the Hebrew Tanak. We have Scriptural proof of this in the article Did Matthew mistake to quote Jeremiah? – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
So, when these small “adjustments” are exposed, as we have done this in other places, and we compare diligently verse by verse the Greek and the Hebrew texts of Matthew, and when all differences thus come up on the surface, the intelligent reader will discover which manuscript is the original source of the Gospel of Matthew.
It is remarkable that despite such huge changes in the Sermon on the Mount and in other places, there are people who still support the Greek primacy of the Gospel of Matthew and of the Apostolic Writings.
Where is the real problem?
Due to the loss of the ability to read Greek in the Roman empire, the early Greek manuscripts of the “New Testament” were largely neglected during the Middle Ages (from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries), although their influence continued in the Byzantine empire and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
During the Reformation, however, the interest in these manuscripts provided a basis for restoration and translation of what was longtime forgotten. This led to the compilation of variants of the manuscripts and often fragments of them which became known as the textus receptus, “received text”. Ironically, most if not all translations of the “New Testament” from Greek to other western languages were made through Latin.
In 1516, the first printed edition of the Greek “New Testament” was published by Desiderius Erasmus (Dutch theologian, 1466-1536). This Greek text would be known as the Textus Receptus of the Church. This first edition was based solely on six manuscripts, while later editions used ten. That is why we have the Textus Receptus with variants, because it is a compilation of the different Greek sources.
The problem Erasmus faced was that none of the Greek manuscripts were complete. Portions of these Greek manuscripts were not preserved, which made Erasmus translate many portions of Revelation from Latin Vulgate back into Greek in order to have a decent text of Revelation. The reason Erasmus did this work is because the Church did a poor job to preserve the Apostolic Writings in the first place. This neglection made Erasmus compile all existing Greek texts into Textus Receptus with variants showing that he had used more than just one Greek manuscript.
Had Erasmus not saved and compiled into one the existing Greek manuscripts, we could not have had what is called today the “New Testament”, but we call it The Apostolic Writings. This Textus Receptus, compiled from the poorly preserved Greek manuscripts, served as “evidence” by which the Christianity embraced the primacy of the Greek text, and which later served as the basis for many renditions of the “New Testament”.
One of these renditions is The King James translation of the Bible (KJV). KJV is considered the most influential English translation that has had a strong effect on subsequent translations. But KJV was not the first translation of the Bible into English. The first translation was done by the theologian William Tyndale (ca. 1494-1536), who wrote the first complete English translation of the Bible. Based on his translation, Geneva Bible came into existence, and consequently all modern western renditions most of which are merely offshoots of Geneva Bible. Therefore, the most popular KJV is in fact a copy of Geneva Bible. It is for this reason that we in Time of Reckoning Ministry call KJV “King James’ version of the Bible”.
To conclude this important topic, are we allowed to take an oath in the Name of YHVH? A solid foundation is established for the conclusion that we are allowed.
From all the above we learned (and the faithful reader needs not reminding concerning the command YHVH) not to add to nor to subtract from His Word. This is the command Mosheh our teacher gave us in order to protect us from “small oversights” that brought such a huge distortion to the Bible,
Do not add to the Word which I command you, and do not take away from it, so as to guard the commands of Yehovah your Elohim which I am commanding you. (Deu 4:2) (See also Deu 12:32, Jer 26:2, Pro 30:6, Rev 22:18-19)
It should not occur to anyone that the Torah can be altered. This is stated simply to be understood simply. Yet, as we showed above, such “small oversights” crept into the Apostolic Writings. We will have no more to say upon this point presently.
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