The religious leaders of Jesus’ day developed a complex system of oath making and keeping. Oaths were categorized. Whether a spoken oath was binding or not, or whether a broken oath was punishable or not, all depended upon the type of oath made.
The Mishnah, written around 200 CE by Jewish scholars, preserved some of the teachings of the Pharisees and the Jews of Jesus’ day. It contains an entire section on oath-making. According to it, “Even a vow made by one who wants to compel his friend to eat with him by making a vow, and says beforehand, ‘All vows that I will make in the future – they are nullified,’ this statement is effective and his future vow is null, as long as he remembers the statement at the time he vows.” This is only one of many examples.
Into this culture, Jesus said, “Again, you have heard that it has been said to the people of old, ‘Do not break your oaths, but keep your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not make an oath, by any means.” There are no levels of binding and non-binding oaths in the Kingdom of Heaven. A simple yes or no is all that is necessary. (Matthew 5:33-17)
We may think this seemingly ridiculous system of truth telling was nothing but the construction of an earlier, less educated culture. Yet, even in our day, we have culturally constructed areas where “truth-stretching” is permissible or even encouraged. Per Careerbuilder.com, over half of human resource hiring managers have flagged a lie on a resume. Has our culture come to expect that responsibilities or skills will be “enhanced” when someone applies for a job? How about our last presidential election – the biggest job interview in the land? One columnist commented that we expect our politicians to lie. There are numerous situations in our culture where an integral version of the truth is not expected: Facebook, taxes, and in countless areas of seeming politeness – such as, “we’ll have to do lunch some time,” when we really don’t mean it.
Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word of 2016. Post-truth means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Our culture deemphasizes the importance of truthfulness. The solace of a dependable word is far more important than the self-gratifying deception. Christians demonstrate their Kingdom citizenship by being people of dependable words. How can you better be a dependable-word person?