Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 15 No. 2 February 2013
Page 15

Can We Offer Vows to God
According to the New Testament?

Louis Rushmore

Louis RushmoreWhat is a vow? In English, a vow is a solemn promise by which a person binds himself to the substance of the promise – an action, a conduct or a condition (Merriam-Webster). In short, a vow is a binding promise; it is a declaration of a promise. A vow is a stronger form of answering in the affirmative (yes) or in the negative (no). A vow involves a commitment.

In Hebrew, the word translated “vow” means “a thing promised” (Strong’s). In Greek, the word translated “vow” means “a wish, expressed as a petition to God” whereby a person obligates himself. The first occurrence of the word “vow” in the Bible illustrates the nature of a vow.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord  shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:20-22 NKJV).

Later, God acknowledged the vow Jacob had made and directed him back to his family (Genesis 31:13). Evidently, the vow was acceptable to God – not only the substance of the vow, but the act of making a vow itself. Furthermore and still later, vows were accommodated under Judaism into that God-given religion (Leviticus 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23, 38). One type of vow pertained to becoming a Nazarite (Numbers 6:2-5), and that type of a vow evidently initiated while Judaism was still in force was concluded in keeping with the vow after Christianity had been established (Acts 18:18; 21:23-24).

Some form of the word “vow” in our English Bibles appears 93 times. The serious nature of making vows to God appears in Ecclesiastes 5:4-5. “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed, Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”

Summarized, a vow is a binding promise, a commitment, an obligation or a stronger form of saying “yes” or “no” to something. It pertains to an action, a conduct or a condition. Vowing is comparable to swearing an oath. So, can we offer vows to God according to the New Testament?

Generally, Christians ought to allow their affirmative (yes) or negative (no) answers to sufficiently represent their responses and commitments whenever and wherever possible. Jesus had this to say.

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord."  But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No." For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Our Lord’s half-brother reiterated this message. “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment” (James 5:12).

In keeping with the two previous passages by Jesus and James, we must not attempt to fortify our responses by swearing oaths based on the association of our statements with revered persons or objects (e.g., heaven, God’s throne, ‘my mother’s grave,’ etc.). The thinking was that if one’s statement was not accompanied by an oath or swearing to it, then he was not obligated to honor his word. “Yes” or “No” ought to be enough said. Especially the word of a Christian should be his bond or guarantee.

However, in the sense that a vow usually refers to an obligation or a commitment, there are other types of vows that even Christians commonly make, irrespective of whether we call them vows. Wedding vows often mark a marriage ceremony declaring the mutual commitment of a groom and a bride to enter into that marriage. Essentially, the financial contract to buy a car or a home is a vow or an obligation into which one enters in keeping with legal and commercial requirements. Frequently, at the beginning of a new year, people announce resolutions, which are comparable to vows; unfortunately, few people honor those vows, perhaps because they were made rashly and with too little commitment.

Many a person has vowed a vow in times of trouble. Humans are disposed to bargain with God when in doubt or despair. Once the crisis is over, the vow is often forgotten. The real test of character is whether we keep our word. The Christian’s word should be his bond. We should be careful not to make a rash vow. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. When you make a vow, keep it, even if it is hard to do so. (Taylor 22)

When one becomes a Christian, he or she announces to the world his or her vow to renounce Satan and his sinful ways. In addition, vows tell people of one’s stance, can thereby indicate strength of character, and they help fortify the will (Elkins 2, 4). “It pays to keep our commitments; it pays to obey God. …1 Corinthians 15:58…Revelation 2:10…” (Gibbons 3).

In conclusion, the word of a Christian ought to be his binding promise, without the need to validate or fortify his response otherwise. Yet, when a Christian voluntarily or involuntarily swears an oath (or affirms), makes a vow to God or his fellow man, enters into an obligation or undertakes a commitment, the child of God must do so truthfully. Furthermore, he or she must refrain from basing the validity of the oath or vow on heaven, God’s throne, his mother’s grave, etc. Christians will do well to make as few vows (promises, etc.) and be sure to keep the ones that they do make to the best of their ability.

Works Cited

Elkins, Garland. “Only One Year to Live.” Yokefellow 26.2 (1999): 2, 4.

Gibbons, Pat. “A Dream, a Ladder, and a Vow.” West Virginia Christian. 8.3 (2001): 3.

Merriam-Webster, I. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, 1996.

Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.

Taylor, Irene C. “Give Them to the Lord.” Firm Foundation. 110.7 (1995): 22.

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