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"Insights" from the New Testament Greek

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 "Insights" from the New Testament Greek

By Bob Jones, Northside Bible Church, Jacksonville Florida


  In James 5:12, we find that the Apostle James considers the subject of this verse to be "above all things", and the important truth he wants us to know is, "swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." The English here sounds, to the modern reader, like "donít curse or use foul language, or you will be condemned", but the Greek text gives us some "insight".

  The King James word "condemnation" here is the Greek word "hupocrisin", meaning "hypocrisy". James 5:12 then is saying "do not fall into hypocrisy". A "hypocrite" at the time of Christ was a stage actor. The "hypocrite" on the stage was a man who played all the parts in the play. He would have a series of masks to wear as each character spoke, a "happy face", a "sad face", a "female face", all the faces required for the play, and would switch them to cover his face as each character in the play spoke. This saved a lot of money for the theater company, LOL.

  Jesus used the noun form "hupokritas", or hypocrite, all through the Gospels to describe the Pharisees and Scribes, the most outwardly religious and pious people of his day. Matthew 6:2-6 is a good example, where Jesus calls them hypocrites, or stage actors, because they made a big public show of how much money they gave in the synagogues, and they loved to pray long fancy prayers in public. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus called these same religious people "whitewashed tombstones", in that they looked good on the outside, but inside, were full of dead menís bones.

  Jamesí use of the word "swear" here is an amplification of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:34 - 37, where Jesus condemns the practice of "swearing", which means, to promise or threaten by an oath. Today, we primarily think of "swearing" as "cursing", but in the time of Christ, it didnít mean cursing, but meant to make a promise or threat and "swear" by something greater than themselves that they would follow through. In Matthew 5 Jesus gives the examples of "swearing" by the earth, by the city of Jerusalem, or swearing by their head. Today we hear people say "I swear to God", or "scouts honor", or "I swear on a stack of Bibles", to try to emphasize that they are telling the truth. This is what the New Testament means when we are told not to practice "swearing", but for our simple yes to mean yes and our no to mean no. Also, this is a matter of consistent Christian character, and does not mean that we should refuse to "swear to tell the truth" in a court of law, that is another matter entirely, and we must obey the law of our land.

  Now, concerning "cursing" and "foul language", what is considered "bad language" constantly changes with the times and what country you are in. Some "clean" words in America, for example, are considered filthy in England and vice versa. We find the key to good Christian speech in Titus 2:8, where we are told to use "sound speech, that cannot be condemned".

  James 5:12 tells us not to be a "two faced" hypocrite, but to say what we do and do what we say, having true Christian character and not needing to "swear by an oath" to get people to believe us.

  Bob Jones