Vows, Oaths And Foreswearing – Matthew 5:33-37

It has been seven months since my last Bible study. I am embarrassed. And believe it or not, but today’s topic is about vows/oath keeping (also see devotional – With An Oath, We Have Made Ourselves Debtors).

Prehistory

In January 2020, when my wife and I launched this website as our Internet Ministry, we delegated certain responsibilities to each other. My wife got part to cover in Weekly Insights, and my part was Daily Devotionals and Bible Study every week.

The first three months were good, everything according to plan. But then we got busy at work and other stuff, and eventually, we failed to keep our promises.

And now again we reassigned our responsibilities in the ministry. Now, we promised each other that my wife Erwina will cover the Daily Devotionals, and I will take care of the Weekly Insights and Bible Study. But this time my Bible Study will be bi-weekly instead of weekly 😉

Is not it good timing though. What do you think? The end of the year, the beginning of the new year. The typical time for people to do their New Year Resolutions. Just like we did a year ago. Well, God willing.

While you are reading this Bible Study, please think about, What is your New Year Resolution? What is the purpose to keep it?

Bible Study

In today’s Bible Study, we continue on “The Sermon on the Mount“. Please, check the previous studies on this topic:

  1. The Beatitudes – Jesus’ guidelines for Believers
  2. The Similitudes of Beatitudes
  3. Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law
  4. Angry Enough to Murder
  5. Lustful Mind is Corrupted Heart
  6. Divorce – Matthew 5:31-32

Bible Passage to Study

33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. - Matthew 5:33-37 KJV

Passage Overview

When Jesus said in verse 33, “you have heard that it was said to those of old“, He was referring to the Law of Moses given in the Pentateuch (which Jews call the Torah). Namely, the verses found in:

  • The laws concerning society – Leviticus 19:12;
  • The regulations regarding vows – Numbers 6:5-2, 30:2;
  • The law of acceptance into the congregation – Deuteronomy 23:21-23.

Although the teachings that Jesus set forth were directed to the twelve disciples, the great multitude gathered to listen to it as well. Evidently, the great majority of them were illiterate: they could not write, nor read, neither they knew the Law of Moses other than what they heard from the scribes and Pharisees.

Therefore, knowing His crowd, Jesus did not condemn them but explained in plain language. Unlike in Matthew 23, well-known “7 woes”, where Jesus Christ condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and blindness to the Law that they knew so well.

What is Wrong with Vows or Oaths?

When I read through the passage of Matthew 5:33-37, the first question that popped up in my head was, “Why would Jesus ever forbid anyone to vow?” Since there are many examples in the Bible of giving and keeping the vows and oaths. Moreover, oaths and vows are commended in Scripture.

First, let us look into the meaning of the words “vow” and “oath”.

Vocabulary

Here is how Encyclopedia.com defines these two words: “Vows and oaths therefore affect a person’s whole being; they put one’s very existence in pawn. There is a distinct difference, however, between an oath and a vow: a vow is merely a personal promise, whereas an oath is a promise made before some institutional authority.

But is it true in the Bible? The word used in the Bible is the Hebrew word “nadar” or “neder” – to promise (positively, to do or give something to God); a promise to God. The word is found 25 times in the Old Testament and simply means a solemn promise to God or the thing promised. The word is used to describe the object or intent of vow 5:

  • a Nazarite vow;
  • a vow made by wife and husband;
  • a vow made by people in a difficult situation.

Now, let us go through some of the vows that we can find in the Bible for the sake of investigation and finding the truth.

Jacob’s Vow

In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob vowed to the Lord. He said, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear…“. Then Jacob promised to worship the Lord God and to give a tenth to Him.

First, the word “if” we have to read with the connotation of “since”. Jacob would never bargain with God. This is rather Jacob’s grateful response to God’s blessings towards him in Genesis 28:13-15.

Jacob was thankful because God promised him a land; He promised to bless his family richly and to multiply the number of his descendants. Moreover, God promised to be with Jacob all the time and not to leave him wherever he goes.

Second, definitely, that vow of Jacob was unconditional. Jacob was reciprocating God’s love and generosity by vowing that the Lord will always be his God and that he will serve Him as long as he lives 1.

Samson’s Vow

There was a man named Manoah. His wife was barren and had no children. So the angel appeared to the woman and told her that she will bear a son. Thus, she has to be careful, – no wine, no unclean food. Also, the angel said that the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the very birth (Judges 13:1-5).

Any man or woman can take a vow to become a Nazarite. It is a voluntary act, for a limited time and has certain requirements: (1) abstinence from alcoholic drinks; (2) no cutting of a hair; and (3) no contact with the dead.

But Samson’s vow is an unusual one. First, Samson did not take his vow voluntarily. But rather God chose Samson in order to fulfil His plan of further deliverance of Israel. Second, his vow was not limited, but it was to the day of his death. Lastly, undoubtedly Samson failed to keep a Nazarite vow breaking all three rules (Judges 16:17, 19; 14:6-9; 14:10-20; 15:15).

As can be seen, Samson’s vow is God’s divine plan to use him against the Philistines, even if Samson cannot keep the vow by his own will and strength 4.

Hannah’s Vow

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, was one of the two wives of Elkanah. At first, she had no children, unlike the other wife named Peninnah. Hannah was in agony and discouraged that she was barren. So, In 1 Samuel 1:11, she vowed to God.

First, obviously, Hannah was asking God for His divine intervention in her desperate situation. Thus, she was not demanding, but rather begging God to bless her with a baby boy.

Second, Hannah’s vow was a conditional one. She was asking for something that did not happen yet. Hannah was praying for a child and in return, she promised to devote a boy to His honour and joyfully use him in God’s service 2.

This is another way to become a Nazarite. Parents have a right to dedicate their children to God’s ministry, as a living sacrifice. So do we, by the way, and in this case, our sacred duty is to serve God faithfully with all our hearts and with all our minds, all the days of our life.

And that is the holy duty of every Christian as per Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20. Now, the question for you: What do you think about that duty? Do you keep God’s commandment, to carry on the Great Commission?

Also, read our today’s devotional – How To Start The Year Right?

Paul’s Vow

In the Book of Acts chapter 18, “Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth.” Every Sabbath he was testifying to the Jews in synagogues “that Jesus was the Christ.” Additionally, Paul was preaching the Gospel to the Greeks. Thus, many people, especially Jews, wanted Paul’s death.

Then God, knowing about Paul’s anxiousness for rapidly increasing danger, spoke to him in the night by vision (Acts 18:10). The Lord assured Paul, that He will protect him with the help of many men that He has in the city. Also, He comforted Paul and expressed His compassion that He feels for him.

That is why, in Acts 18:18 Paul took a Nazarites vow – a special pledge of separation and devotion to God (Numbers 6:2-5, 13-21). To show God his gratitude for a promise to protect him during his ministry in Corinth 3.

Thus, Paul promised not to cut his hair while he is in Corinth. And in one year and six months when Paul was about to leave Corinth, he shorn his hair. That was a typical Nazarites vow, unlike vows of Samson in Judges 13:5, Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:11, and John the Baptist in Luke 1:15, where their vows were a lifetime and in some cases involuntarily.

First Conclusion – Nature and Purpose

As we have studied four cases of vows in the Bible, we can sum it up and make some kind of a conclusion regarding the nature and purpose of vows.

  1. A vow is a thoughtful gratitude, – a result of God’s divine intervention in the life of a person or a nation, regardless of either it is ante-factum or post-factum.
  2. It is God’s call, a mission for a person or a nation specifically chosen by God.
  3. A vow is a covenant between two or more people sealed by God’s witness. The first example, the marriage (read about marriage and divorce) vows – is a covenant between one man and one woman committed to stepping into the lifelong relationship established and protected by God. The second example would be vows made by the members of the church to devote their lives (time, money, service, etc.) for the sake of the community for God’s glory.

Some verses to refer to are:

  • God’s name in vain – Exodus 20:7, Deuteronomy 5:11
  • God’s Throne – Revelation 4:2, Isaiah 66:1
  • His Footstool – Acts 7:49, Isaiah 66:1
  • Christians’ speech to be with grace – Colossians 4:6
  • Swear by the temple and gold thereof – Matthew 23:16, 18, 22
  • City of the Great King, the City of God – Psalm 48:2, 87:3

Final Conclusion

So far we have investigated the nature and reason for the vows. Still, we have not answered the main question, What is wrong with vows? Why did Jesus Christ so rigidly prohibit all kinds of vows, foreswearing and oaths? Well, did He though?

Remember in the beginning I have mentioned that Jesus spoke not just to His twelve disciples but to many other people, who happened to followed Christ everywhere He went?

So, image for a moment people, whose religious experience either perverted by their pagan neighbours or by hypocritical Pharisees. All that they know is a little bit of the Mosaic Law and its practice and a lot of pagan practices when they were foreswearing by the names of their gods and literally about everything.

The Pharisees did not make the situation any better. They knew well about the regulations regarding vows. Moreover, they knew that “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain” – Exodus 20:7. Nevertheless, they used God’s name to add credibility to their words. Thus, foreswearing by God’s name, temple, tabernacle, heavens and everything that He created.

That is what Jesus was teaching those people and we, too, must learn from Him. Jesus did not cancel vows and oaths, there is nothing wrong with it. Clearly, our Lord told us not to give the promise to do something, but simply to say our YES or NO.

References:

  1. The Henry Morris Bible Study – KJV
  2. The Matthew Henry Bible Study – KJV
  3. The MacArthur Study Bible – ESV
  4. ESV Study Bible
  5. Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible KJV

More to explorer

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

Let's keep in touch,

have a question? prayer request?

Send us an e-mail

Subscribe

to our newsletter

Receive daily updates

[email-subscribers-form id="1"]