[From ws4/17 p. 3 May 29-June 4]

“You must pay your vows to Jehovah.” – Mt 5:33

The opening paragraphs of this study article make it clear that a vow is a solemn promise or a sworn oath.  (Nu 30:2)  It then goes on to consider the sworn oaths made by two Hebrews who lived long before the Christian era: Jephthah and Hannah.  Both these oaths were the result of desperation, and didn’t turn out well for the parties involved, but the point being made is that despite the hardship the oaths caused, both individuals paid their vows to God. Does that mean we should make vows?  Is that the lesson from Scripture?  Or is the lesson that it is unwise to make vows, but if we choose to do so, we must pay the price?

The theme text seems to support the understanding that Christians can and should make vows to God.  However, since it is not included in the four “read” texts in the study (texts that are to be read out loud) let us examine it for ourselves.

Here, the article is quoting Jesus’ words and in isolation, it might seem to the reader that Jesus is supporting the idea that it is alright to make vows as long as one pays them to God.  The full text of verse 33 is: “Again you heard that it was said to those of ancient times: ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’”

So Jesus isn’t actually preaching the taking of vows, but referring to customs from ancient times.  Are these good customs? Does he approve of them?  As it turns out, he’s using these to contrast with what he says next.

 34 However, I say to you: Do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Do not swear by your head, since you cannot turn one hair white or black. 37 Just let your word ‘Yes’ mean yes, your ‘No,’ no, for what goes beyond these is from the wicked one.” (Mt 5:33-37)

Jesus is introducing something new for Christians. He’s telling us to break free from the traditions of the past, and he goes so far as to label them of Satanic origin, saying “what goes beyond these is from the wicked one”.

Given this, why does the writer extract a single phrase from Jesus’ new teaching—”You must pay your vows to Jehovah”—as if to attribute this to our Lord?  Does the writer of the article not understand that things have changed?  Has he not done his research?  If so, how did this oversight get through all the checks and balances that precede the publication of any study article?

It would appear that the thrust of the article favors the making of vows as they did in the ancient times. For example:

Now that we understand how serious it is to make a vow to God, let us consider these questions: What sort of vows might we as Christians make? Also, how determined should we be to keep our vows? – par. 9

Based on what Jesus tells us at Matthew 5:34, would not the answer to that first question be, “None”?  There is no “sort of vows” that we as Christians should make if we are to obey our Lord.

Your Dedication Vow

Paragraph 10 introduces the first vow the Governing Body wants us to make.

The most important vow that a Christian can make is the one with which he dedicates his life to Jehovah. – par. 10

If you feel you know Jesus, then ask yourself if he is the kind of king to give conflicting instructions to his people?  Would he tell us not to make vows at all, and then turn around and tell us to make a vow of dedication to God before baptism?

In introducing this “most important vow that a Christian can make”, the paragraph offers us no scriptural support.  The reason is that the only time the word “dedication” even appears in the Christian Scriptures is when it refers to the Jewish Festival of Dedication. (John 10:22)  As for the verb “dedicate”, it appears three times in the Christian Scriptures, but always in connection with Judaism and always in a somewhat negative light. (Mt 15:5; Mr 7:11; Lu 21:5)[i]

The paragraph does try to find support for this idea of a pre-baptism vow of dedication by citing Matthew 16:24 which reads:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and keep following me.” (Mt 16:24)

Disowning oneself and following in the footsteps of Jesus isn’t tantamount to making a sworn oath, is it?  Jesus is not speaking here of making a vow, but of a determination to be faithful and follow his life pattern. This is what the Children of God must do to attain to the prize of everlasting life.

Why does the Organization make such a big deal out of pushing the unscriptural idea of a dedication vow to Jehovah?  Are we really speaking about a vow to God, or is something else being implied?

Paragraph 10 says:

From that day forward, ‘he belongs to Jehovah.’ (Rom. 14:8) Anyone who makes a dedication vow should take it very seriously… – par. 10

The writer undermines his own argument by citing Romans 14:8.  In the original Greek, the divine name does not appear in this verse in any of the thousands of manuscripts available to us today. What does appear is “Lord” which refers to Jesus.  Now the idea that Christians belong to Jesus is well supported in Scripture. (Mr 9:38; Ro 1:6; 1Co 15:22)  In fact, Christians can only belong to Jehovah through the Christ.

“in turn you belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.” (1Co 3:23)

Now, some might argue that the name of Jehovah was removed in Romans 14:8 and substituted with “Lord”.  However, that doesn’t fit with the context.  Consider:

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:7-9)

Then paragraph 11 speaks of something I used to believe and teach my Bible students, though I now realize that I never researched it, but simply believed it because those instructing me were trusted.

Have you dedicated your life to Jehovah and symbolized your dedication by water baptism? If so, that is wonderful! – par. 11

“Symbolized your dedication by water baptism”.  It makes sense.  It seems logical.  However, it is unscriptural.  Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken the scriptural requirement of baptism and turned it into the little brother of dedication.  Dedication is the thing, and baptism is merely the outward symbol of one’s dedication vow.  However, this conflicts with what Peter reveals about baptism.

“That which corresponds to this is also now saving YOU, namely, baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1Pe 3:21)

Baptism is in itself a request made to God that he forgive us our sins because we have symbolically died to sin and risen from the waters to life.  This is the essence of Paul’s words at Romans 6:1-7.

Considering its lack of scriptural basis, why then is this Dedication Vow viewed as all important?

Recall that on your baptism day, before eyewitnesses, you were asked whether you had dedicated yourself to Jehovah and understood that “your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization.” – par. 11

The selection marked here by boldface is italicized and in a different font in the PDF version of this issue of The Watchtower.  Apparently, the Governing Body really wants this idea to hit home.

The paragraph continues by saying: “Your affirmative answers served as a public declaration of your unreserved dedication…”  If our baptism serves to identify us as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and membership implies submission to the authority of the organization, then it is in effect a “declaration of unreserved dedication” to the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is it not?

Your Marriage Vow

This articles discusses three vows which the Organization approves of.  The second of these is the marriage vow.  Perhaps by including a vow with which few see a problem, it hopes to validate the first and third vows it is promoting.

However, in light of Jesus’ command at Matthew 5:34, is it wrong to take marriage vows?

The Bible says nothing about marriage vows.  In Jesus’ day, when a man married, he walked to the home of his bride and then the couple walked to his home. The action of taking her into his home signified to all that they were married.  There is no record of vows being exchanged.

In most Western lands, vows are not required either.  Answering “I do”, when asked if you take someone to be your spouse, is not a vow.  Often, when we hear marriage vows spoken by the groom or bride, we realize that they are not vows at all, but declarations of intent.  A vow is a solemn oath made before God or to God.  Jesus tells us simply to ‘let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No”, no.’

Why does the Organization demand a sworn oath, a vow of dedication?

The Vow of Special Full-Time Servants

In paragraph 19, the article speaks of the third vow that the Organization requires some Jehovah’s Witnesses to make.  Remember that Jesus told us not to make vows because vows come from the Devil.  In requiring this third vow, does the Governing Body believe they have found an exception to Jesus’ commandment?  They say:

Currently, there are some 67,000 members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some perform Bethel service, others engage in construction or in circuit work, serve as field instructors or special pioneers or missionaries or as Assembly Hall or Bible school facility servants. They are all bound by a “Vow of Obedience and Poverty,” with which they agree to do whatever is assigned to them in the advancement of Kingdom interests, to live a simple lifestyle, and to abstain from secular employment without permission. – par. 19

For the record, this “Vow of Obedience and Poverty” states:

“I vow as follows:

  1. While a member of the Order, to live the simple, nonmaterialistic life-style that has traditionally existed for members of the Order;
  2. In the spirit of the inspired words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8) and the prophetic expression of the psalmist (Psalm 110:3), to volunteer my services to do whatever is assigned to me in the advancement of Kingdom interests wherever I am assigned by the Order;
  3. To be submissive to the theocratic arrangement for members of the Order (Hebrews 13:17);
  4. To devote my best full-time efforts to my assignment;
  5. To abstain from secular employment without permission from the Order;
  6. To turn over to the local organization of the Order all income received from any work or personal efforts in excess of my necessary living expenses, unless released from this vow by the Order;
  7. To accept such provisions for members of the Order (be they meals, lodging, expense reimbursements, or others) as are made in the country where I serve, regardless of the level of my responsibility or the value of my services;
  8. To be content and satisfied with the modest support that I receive from the Order as long as I am privileged to serve in the Order and not to expect any further remuneration should I choose to leave the Order or should the Order determine that I no longer qualify to serve in the Order (Matthew 6:30-33: 1 Timothy 6:6-8; Hebrews 13:5);
  9. To abide by the principles set out in God’s inspired Word, the Bible, in publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in policies dispensed by the Order, and to follow the directions of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses; and
  10. To accept readily any decision made by the Order regarding my membership status.

Why would Jesus condemn the making of vows?  Vows were common in Israel, but Jesus is bringing about change.  Why?  Because in his divine wisdom he knew where vows would lead.  Let us take the “Vow of Obedience and Poverty” as an example.

In paragraph 1, one vows to conform to a standard of living set by the traditions of men.

In paragraph 2, one vows to obey men in accepting any assignment they give.

In paragraph 3, one vows to submit to the authority hierarchy set up by men.

In paragraph 9, one vows to obey the Bible as well as the publications, policies, and directions of the Governing Body.

This vow is all about swearing obedience and allegiance to men.  The vow doesn’t include Jehovah nor Jesus, but does emphasize men.  Even paragraph 9 doesn’t include Jehovah in the oath, but only that one “abide by the principles set out in” the Bible.  Those principles are subject to the interpretation of the Governing Body as “guardians of doctrine”.[ii]  So paragraph 9 is really talking about obeying the publications, policies and directions of the leaders of JW.org.

Jesus never commanded his followers to obey men as they would God.  In fact, he said that one cannot serve two masters. (Mt 6:24)  His followers told the religious leaders of their day that, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

Imagine if the apostles had taken the “Vow of Obedience and Poverty” before that governing body—the Jewish religious leaders of their day?  What a conflict that would have created when told by these same leaders to stop witnessing on the basis of the name of Jesus.  They would have to break their vow which is a sin, or keep their vow and disobey God which is also a sin.  Little wonder that Jesus said that the making of vows comes from the wicked one.

A stalwart Witness will argue that there is no conflict today because the Governing Body has been appointed as the faithful and discreet slave by Jesus.  Therefore, what they tell us to do is what Jehovah wants us to do.  But there is a problem with this logic: The Bible says that “we all stumble many times.” (James 3:2) The publications agree.  In the February Study Edition of The Watchtower on page 26, we read: “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction.”

So what happens when one of the 67,000 members of the Order finds that the Governing Body has erred and is instructing him to do one thing while God’s law instructs him to do another?  For instance—to go with a real-world scenario—the legal desk of the Australia branch staffed by members of the Order is under investigation for failing to comply with the law of the land that requires crimes to be reported to the authorities.  God’s law requires us to obey the governments. (See Romans 13:1-7) So does the Christian obey the policies of men as he has vowed to do, or the commands of God?

To take another real-world scenario, the Governing Body instructs us to have no association with—not even to say hello to—someone who has resigned from the congregation.  In Australia, and in many other places, victims of child sexual abuse have been so demoralized by the poor treatment they received by the elders dealing with their case that they have taken the step of informing these older men that they no longer want to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The result is that the elders instruct everyone to treat this victim of abuse as a pariah, a disassociated one (disfellowshipping by another name).  There is no Scriptural basis for this policy of “disassociation”.  It originates from men, not from God.  What we are told by God is to “admonish the disorderly, speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all. 15 See that no one renders injury for injury to anyone else, but always pursue what is good toward one another and to all others.” (1Th 5:14, 15)

If someone does not want to be a Jehovah’s Witness anymore, there is no Bible command telling us to treat him or her like an apostate such as John describes. (2 John 8-11)  Yet that is exactly what men tell us to do, and any one of the 67,000 members of the Order would have to break his vow—a sin—to obey God in this matter.  The rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses would also have to break their implicit vow to the organization (See par. 11) if they were to disobey this unscriptural rule of disassociation.

Thus, it should come as no surprise to us that Jesus’ words are again proven true:  Making a vow is from the Devil.

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[i] Ironically, the reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays is that the only two occurrences in the Bible of a birthday celebration are linked to negative events.  It seems that this reasoning is not applied when it doesn’t suit them.

[ii] See Geoffrey Jackson’s testimony before the Australia Royal Commission.