A few members, out of mistaken zeal, have taken foolish vows. This article explains what every member needs to know about vows.
OVER the past months it has come to our attention that a few well-meaning members have been vowing foolishly. This must stop! God does not require any of us to vow. But — and if — you do freely vow, God will hold you to it in the judgment! It is time we reconsidered the question of taking vows. When are vows binding? Which vows, taken before conversion, are binding? Is the individual free to determine for himself if his vow is binding?
What Is a Vow?
First let us understand what a vow is. Webster defines a vow as: "1. A solemn promise or pledge; especially one made to God... dedicating oneself to an act, service, or way of life. ... 2. a promise of love and fidelity: as, marriage vows." Now notice the Bible basis of vowing. "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better it is that thou shouldest not vow than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Eccles. 5:4-5). Too many individuals make rash vows and wake up too late to realize they should never have made such a solemn promise. Many individuals are not SPIRITUALLY MATURE enough even to know the difference between a foolish vow and a wise vow. Now notice Deuteronomy 23:21-23, from the Jewish Translation: When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it will be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt observe and do; according as thou hast vowed freely unto the Lord thy God, even that which thou hast promised with thy mouth." According to the original Hebrew text, a vow must be FREELY taken before God if it is to be binding. This verse in the King James Version is not properly rendered. The verse is not talking about "free will offerings," but about vows freely taken. These verses make it clear that every vow which God binds on an individual must be kept. But not all vows are bound by God.
When NOT Responsible for a Vow
So important in God's sight is the matter of taking a vow that one entire chapter in the Bible is devoted to this very question! Turn to Numbers 30. Beginning with the last part of verse 1: "This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded." Here is a command of God. Notice what it says: "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord ... he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. If a woman also vow a vow to the Lord, and bind herself by a bond being in her father's house in her youth; and her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her; then all her vows shall stand..." (Verses 3 and 4). Here we have the case of a young woman who is still residing with her parents. If she has taken a vow and her father does not disapprove, then her vows are to stand. She is bound to keep her vows. But now consider verse 5. "If her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her." Here we have the case of a young girl who is not mature enough to be responsible for taking a vow. If her father — at the time when he hears about his daughter's vow — regards it a foolish vow, he has the power and the authority to disannul it. In that case the young girl is not responsible for that vow. God forgives her for having taken such a rash vow. God does not require her to perform it. Here we have the Biblical example of a mature human being who has the power to annul the vow of a person not old enough or spiritually mature enough to be responsible for taking a vow. Now notice verse 6. "And if she had at all an husband when she vowed or uttered ought out of her lips, wherewith she bound her soul; and her husband heard it, and held his peace at her in the day that he heard it; then her vow shall stand, and her bonds wherewith she bound her soul shall stand." In this case a wife has taken a vow. If her husband, upon hearing of the vow, does not regard it as a foolish vow then she is bound to keep her vow. But now notice verse 8: "But if her husband disallowed her on the day that he heard it; then he shall make her vow which she vowed, and that which she uttered with her lips, wherewith she bound her soul, of none effect: and the Lord shall forgive her." This is a very important verse. Notice what it means!
The Husband's Responsibility
If a wife takes a rash vow and her husband — when he first hears of it — disapproves of it, she is not bound to her vow. The husband is the head of the wife. God makes the man responsible for the vows of his wife! Notice that in the case of, the wife or the daughter, mentioned here in Numbers 30, a vow may be annulled AT THE TIME THE RESPONSIBLE PARTY HEARS OF IT. A vow does not have to be annulled at the time it is taken, but at the time when it is heard by the responsible party whose right is to make the decision whether that vow is binding. Now continue with verses 9 and 10. "But every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her. And if she vowed in her husband's house, or bound her soul by a bond with an oath; and her husband heard it and held his peace at her, and disallowed her not; then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she bound her soul shall stand. But if her husband hath utterly made them void on the day he heard them; then whatsoever proceedeth out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning the bond of her soul, shall not stand: HER HUSBAND HATH MADE THEM VOID; and the Lord shall forgive her. Now notice verse 13 especially. "Every vow... HER HUSBAND MAY ESTABLISH IT, OR HER HUSBAND MAY MAKE IT VOID." Notice! In God's sight it is the man's responsibility to establish or to rescind his wife's vow. It is also the father's responsibility to establish or to rescind his daughter's vow. Since the question of taking a vow involves the matter of responsibility, and since God is no respecter of persons, it is also the responsibility of the father to disannul or to approve HIS SONS VOWS as well as those of his daughter. Only when a boy reaches maturity docs he become solely responsible for his own vows. In the last portion of verse 14 God again makes it the man's responsibility to confirm his wife's vow. Many husbands, of course, do not recognize their responsibility. They have never been taught their responsibility in the matter of vows. Let us suppose, for example, that a husband who knew nothing about God's command in Numbers 30 regarded his wile's vow, at the time she made it, a foolish vow. He disapproved of it even though he did not know that he could rescind it. Later the knowledge of the truth comes to him. God opens his mind to see that it was his responsibility to rescind his wife's vow at the time she took it. Can he, at this later time, rescind it? The answer is YES! Since it was his conviction that his wife's vow was foolish but he did not know he could annul it, then he may at that later date annul it once the knowledge of the truth is come. He actually did so in PRINCIPLE when be first heard it. He is now merely FORMALIZING it! But if he approved Of his wife's VOW at first HE CANNOT LATER CHANGE HIS MIND! His wife's vow is binding.
Jesus gave His ministers the power to bind and to loose. This power includes the matter of deciding whether marriage VOWS are binding. Notice Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18:18, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Not only has God made it a responsibility of a husband or a father to make binding decisions in matters of vows, but God also makes it a ministerial responsibility. God's ministers are Elders. They are called Elders because they are spiritually mature. Most people are not spiritually mature. They are babes — not spiritually qualified to decide whether vows are binding. In many cases they cannot even discern if their vow is foolish or wise. God, then, makes it a ministerial responsibility to determine for those who are spiritually immature whether or not their vows are binding. Even in the Old Testament the responsibility to make binding decisions was vested in the Elders and leaders of the community. Turn to Deuteronomy 17:8-11, "If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment... being matters of controversy, within thy gates; then thou shalt arise and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; and thou shalt come unto the priest the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment: and thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall show thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they informed thee: according to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee, to the right hand, or to the left." God determines right from wrong. God reveals to his ministers, through examples in the Bible, when vows — or any matter of controversy — are binding. God, who is in heaven, has made it the responsibility of His ministers to make decisions for the people according to His law and the examples of Scripture. Notice verse 11 especially. It is the responsibility of the leaders, the ministers, to act as God'$ servants and agents in determining whether vows are binding. If the ministers have determined that a vow is not binding, God then holds them — the ministers — responsible for having made that decision. The people are free from that responsibility. In like manner God holds the husband responsible for determining his wife's vow. His wife is free of responsibility when once the husband has rendered a decision. It is the husband whom God holds responsible. Or in the case of children, it is the father whom God holds responsible. The children are free from responsibility once the parent has exercised his responsibility. The reason God makes certain people responsible for others in matters of vows is due to this important fact: most people are not spiritually mature enough to know when to vow and when not to vow. It is to safeguard them that God made parents responsible for children, husbands responsible for wives and the ministers responsible for God's Church. God makes it the responsibility of those who are spiritually more mature to judge matters for those who are spiritually less mature. Some of you may have taken vows. Are those vows binding? Here are some examples which show how God judges the taking of vows.
A young man finds that the fellows with whom he has kept company drink beer to excess. After becoming interested in religion he decides he will never again touch beer. He makes a vow to that effect. Is such a vow binding? If the young fellow is away from home, earning his own living and is responsible directly to himself, that vow is binding. Of course, if he were a young fellow at home and his father was responsible for the family, then it could become his father's decision to rescind the vow. But if the father did not disapprove when hearing of it, that vow would become binding. Here is another common example. With more zeal than wisdom, some men and women vow never to cut their hair. Let us take the case of a woman who vows never again to cut her hair. Is such a vow binding? Let us suppose this woman is married to a converted man. If her husband does not disapprove of her vow, that vow is binding. If her husband disapproves, it is not binding. But it happens in many cases that women are married to unconverted husbands. If her unconverted husband when he hears of the vow doesn't disapprove, it becomes binding. Now suppose the woman were living alone. According to Numbers 30 she is held responsible for her vow. The vow is binding. There is no commandment in the Bible which requires a woman to cut her hair. God's ministers then have no authority to rescind her vow. But suppose a man vows never to cut his hair and beard. Is such a vow binding? Notice the example that Paul gives us in the New Testament. "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her — for a covering" (I Cor. 11:14-15). It is the responsibility of God's ministers to enforce the practice that no man wear long hair in God's Church because it is a shame to do so. It therefore is the responsibility of God's ministers who are spiritually mature to rescind the vow of any man who has vowed never to cut his hair and beard. This man's vow is not binding in God's sight. Yes, it's high time we understood the matter of vowing. God does not require us to take a vow. It is far better not to vow than to vow and not perform. Most people make rash vows. They are not mature enough to know what kind of vow is a wise vow. Since God does not require a vow, God's ministers today can never recommend that you take a vow. But if you have taken a vow and your vow is binding, you must perform it!