In order to understand many things in the Bible, it is necessary to understand the concept of "Hyperbole."

hy·per·bo·le   (h-pűrb-l)
A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton.

[Latin hyperbol, from Greek huperbol, excess, from huperballein, to exceed  : huper, beyond; see hyper- + ballein, to throw; see gwel- in Indo-European Roots.]

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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\Hy*per"bo*le\, n. [L., fr. Gr?, prop., an overshooting, excess, fr. Gr. ? to throw over or beyond; "ype`r over + ? to throw. See Hyper-, Parable, and cf. Hyperbola.] (Rhet.) A figure of speech in which the expression is an evident exaggeration of the meaning intended to be conveyed, or by which things are represented as much greater or less, better or worse, than they really are; a statement exaggerated fancifully, through excitement, or for effect.

Our common forms of compliment are almost all of them extravagant hyperboles. --Blair.

Somebody has said of the boldest figure in rhetoric, the hyperbole, that it lies without deceiving. --Macaulay.

Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

On my "Test Oath" website, I discussed the meaning of an oath. I responded to some who say we should never take an oath:

Taking oaths has a long history among God's people.

Certain groups, however, have taken a statement of Jesus to mean we should never swear an oath at all. Ever. I have heard stories of Christians who have cut their hands off to "obey" Jesus. Literally, with a knife, one would cut his hand off. It was a proud symbol of their "total dedication" to Jesus.[3] You may remember that Jesus said,

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. {29} And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. {30} And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:28-30

"No more traditional religion for us!! We're led by the Spirit!" If you want to really follow Jesus you have to poke your eye out, right?

Wrong. We need to be sensible and Godly people. God doesn't want all His children to have only one hand and one eye. Jesus isn't saying "Cut your hand off!" He's saying "Don't lust!" Isn't that obvious? In fact, I would even say that anyone who pokes his eye out is disobeying Jesus. Jesus says that lust is so bad that it would be better to have only one eye and not lust than to have both eyes but keep lusting. "Don't lust!" is the point. But don't stop using your eyes altogether! God gave you eyes: use them the way He instructs you.

Here is my response to an email -- typical of many I receive -- from someone who may not have read the argument above.

Subj: Re: oaths 
Date: 9/30/2003 10:58:53 AM Central Daylight Time
From: KEVIN4VFT@aol.com
To: raymond.rongley@verizon.com

Thank you very much for writing. I appreciate your taking time to express your opinion.

In a message dated 9/30/2003 9:27:32 AM Central Daylight Time, raymond.rongley@verizon.com writes:

Matthew 5, 33 is unambiguous.  You may agree with it but distort it or
discard at your own risk.

Ray Rongley

Matthew 5
33   "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'

Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut 23:21, 23

I'm assuming you mean verse 34.
However, I do believe that Jesus was not prohibiting
ALL oaths, and that oath-taking is permitted.
The Apostle Paul took oaths many times:

Romans 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,
Romans 9:1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
2 Corinthians 1:18 But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.
2 Corinthians 1:23  Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.
2 Corinthians 11:31  The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
Galatians 1:20  (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)
Philippians 1:8  For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:5  For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness; God is witness.
1 Timothy 2:7  Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.

In Matthew 5:30, Jesus said, "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee."  I don't believe Jesus was actually commanding us to cut off our hands or poke out our eyes. In fact, I believe cutting off our hands would be a SIN. This is a form of rhetoric known as "hyperbole."

"Swear not at all" is also hyperbole, a way of saying "It is better not to swear at all than to take an oath and not keep it." It could even be argued that refusing to take an oath under certain circumstances would be a SIN.

But this is a peripheral consideration.

The point of my website is that even a Christian
who simply wants to "affirm" rather than "swear"
will not be permitted to do so, based on the myth
of "separation of church and state."

Any Christian who wants to affirm (not swear) that his
allegiance to God is greater than his allegiance to
the government cannot become an attorney or
even an American citizen.

Do you think this is fair?

Kevin Craig

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7


Subj: Re: oaths 
Date: 9/30/2003 7:17:12 PM Central Daylight Time
To: raymond.rongley@verizon.com

In a message dated 9/30/2003 6:16:30 PM Central Daylight Time, raymond.rongley@verizon.com writes:

For 40 years I liberally interpreted the bible and used my intellect to get the scripture to work with my intellectual understanding of reality.  I have now come to more and more to believe that Christ meant exactly what he said whether I like it or not.  I believe that the words express his thoughts weather I understand them or not.  I have a difficult time picturing a situation that my right hand would cause me to sin. But I hope that if it happens I will have the strength and the wisdom to cut it off. 

I appreciate your zeal. In general I agree with you.
I know that "science" is not neutral and unbiased.
I put the Bible ahead of "science" and professors
and presidents and the world's "experts." If the
Bible says the world was created in six 24-hour days,
I believe it no matter what the "experts" say. If the
Bible says the sun goes around the earth, I believe it.
If the Bible says "thou shalt not kill" and the generals
and the presidents and the commentators all say
we need to bomb a village full of innocent people
"back to the stone age," I will obey God and
disobey the generals and the presidents.
My allegiance to the Bible has cost me a license
to practice law. I do what the Bible says.

But I really hope you'll continue to think about
what the Bible is actually saying. I hope you'll
consider the possibility that Jesus is NOT saying
He wants you to poke your eye out -- EVER.
Jesus is saying He wants you NOT TO LUST,
and that it's SO IMPORTANT that you not lust
that it would be BETTER to poke your eye out
than to lust. But if you poke your eye out,
I assure you that your MIND is still capable
of lusting. If you poke your eye out INSTEAD
of stopping the lust, then you will have DISOBEYED
Jesus and the Bible.

Similarly, if you DON'T take an oath but you
COMMUNICATE a promise to someone, giving
them the  impression that you're going to do
something, and then you DON'T do what you
led them to believe, you will have DISOBEYED
Jesus even though you didn't take an oath.
Jesus isn't trying to get you or me to never take
an oath, He wants us to keep our word.

The more you read the words of Jesus the more
you will find that He uses strong language and
vivid images to convey truth. He spoke with
power, and His hearers were struck with
what He said, even staggered at His words.

In Matthew 6:6  Jesus said,

   But whenever you pray, go into your room and
   shut the door and pray to your Father who is in
   secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Some atheists have used this verse to attack the idea of
praying in a public assembly, such as a legislature, or
a classroom. But Jesus was not saying we could never
pray in front of anyone, or in the company of others.
He was saying -- in a shocking way, a way that would
jolt His hearers -- not to pray for the purpose of IMPRESSING
others. He exaggerated. He used language more powerful
than necessary to counter the errors of His hearers, whom
He described as an "adulterous generation." If you are not
a hypocrite in the habit of praying in front of others
just to
impress them
, you need not take Jesus literally. Jesus was
speaking to hypocrites. To gentle people like you and me, we
can still pray with others, because our purpose in
praying is not to impress, but to obey our heavenly
Father's command and do what is pleasing in His sight.
Please don't interpret this verse literally and stop
praying with your family, friends, and church.

(In fact, even hypocrites should not take this verse literally.
Even hypocrites should not stop praying in public.
They should stop praying HYPOCRITICALLY. They should
stop trying to impress others. That's what Jesus really

Jesus SAID go into your closet to pray, but Jesus
prayed in public, such as when He fed the five thousand.
The Apostles and early Christians prayed together
and in public, so they clearly understood that Jesus
was not to be taken literally when He said only pray
in your closet.

"Pray in a closet."
"Poke out your eye."
"Swear not at all."

Powerful language intended to create a different result.

In Luke 22, Jesus said that up until then He had told
the disciples not to worry about money, because
wherever they went preaching the gospel, they would
be greeted by hospitable people who would take care
of their needs. But now, He says, persecution is
coming. To stress this point, He says,

36   But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

Are you obeying Jesus by walking around town
naked, carrying a sword?
"No," you reply, "I can't carry a sword because
I cut off my hand!!" 

The Apostolic Christians had their hands, their eyes,
their clothes, prayed together, and took oaths if necessary,
but only in the name of the Lord. I think they correctly
understood what Jesus was saying.

Hope this helps.
Keep prayerfully reading the Bible, and keep me posted.

Kevin Craig

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7