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Question and Answer

Is a vow to refrain from something that is not sinful binding?


Suppose you used to think something was sin (i.e. smoking, drinking, dancing, etc.) and, as an adult, you promised God you would never do it. If you later become convinced it is not sin, does God hold you to that promise or, since the promise was based upon the view that it was sinful, and you no longer believe that, are you freed from that promise? I especially have in mind passages that tell us to keep our vows, even to our own hurt, so long as they are not sinful vows.

Thanks for your help.


Thank you for your question.

It is important that you understand the nature of a biblical oath. An oath is binding only if it is required or approved by God. In other words, an oath is binding only if it is agreeable to the Word of God. For example, the Roman Catholic priestly vow of celibacy is not binding because celibacy is not required by God. It is not authorized in the Word of God.

So, Psalm 15:4 (honoring a vow to God to one’s “own hurt”) refers to honoring a promise agreeable to or authorized by the Word of God, even when to do so may be very difficult. Perhaps it was a lawful vow but one rashly made, without due consideration of what honoring that vow might involve.

In your case, you have learned through your study of Scripture that what you previously thought was sin is not sin. Your evaluation was not in agreement with the Word of God; therefore, your vow was not authorized by Scripture. So, I believe that your vow is not binding.

I hope that this is a help to you.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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