Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
B. F. Meyer
The language of oaths and vows--reserved in the Bible for extraordinary situations--by the end of the Second Temple period had become the language of the marketplace. Carelessness in swearing oaths and taking vows regularly led to swift regret. Religious leaders within Judaism accordingly found themselves confronted with two questions: Which oath and vow-formulae were binding? And how did one gain release from an oath or vow? A number of persons and groups within Judaism offered solutions to these problems: Philo, the Dead Sea Covenanters, the Pharisees, and Jesus, whose solution was the most radical of all. The thesis examines all these answers, sets all of them in context, and relates them to one another. It is particularly concerned to relate the answer of Jesus to those of his contemporaries. The peculiarly Jewish bent of the question of oaths has led some to doubt the authenticity of Jesus' prohibition. That is, the discussion in Matt 5:33-37 may have entered the tradition, not from Jesus, but directly from Judaism. Here, however, it is important to identify the occasion of Jesus' prohibition, to locate it in the context of Jesus' concern for sins of the tongue, the sanctification of God's name, and the radical demands of the Kingdom of God. A series of observations relevant to historicity, including a look at such comparable pericopes as Matt 23:16-22 and Mark 7:11, vindicates the prohibition of Jesus as probably historical. A new question arises, however, respecting the history of this tradition within the Matthean redaction. Did Matthew modify or deflect the thrust of Jesus' word? The critical probabilities favour a negative answer. Matthew at this point was probably Jesus' best interpreter. The dissertation proposes and defends the independent integrity of the stands on oaths and vows adopted by Philo, Qumran, and the Pharisees. It is their concern for the proper use of oaths that invites comparison with Jesus. The contrast between the answer of Jesus and other Jewish responses to the issue of oaths and vows is irreducible to the time-honoured distinctions between principle and casuistry, transparency and hypocrisy. Rather, the key question bears on whether the Hebrew Bible is the definitive authority. Jesus, with his distinctive vision of the Kingdom of God and its demands, disregards some of the problems with which others contend and claims an authority that transcends that of Moses: the will of God.
Martens, Jo-Ann A., "A second best voyage: Judaism and Jesus on oaths and vows" (1991). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3725.