Vows: What did Jesus mean?

Discover the Jewish Background of the New Testament

  • Did Paul take a vow?

    There are several New Testament texts that call into question this absolutist approach to Jesus’ words. First of all, in Matt. 26:63-64, Jesus himself replies to the High Priest’s question “under oath”. There are further examples connected to Paul. Not only does Paul invoke God’s name twice to assure the truth of his claims (Gal. 1:20; 2 Cor. 1:23), but he actually takes vows, probably Nazirite vows as described in Num. 6.  

    What did Jesus mean?

    A Nazirite had to abstain from alcohol and from cutting his hair. At the end of the period of his vow, he shaved his hair and offered a sacrifice. In Acts, Paul both respected Nazirite vows (Acts 21:23-24) and took vows himself (Acts 18:18). Therefore, Jesus’ words should not be understood as a complete prohibition of vows. Jesus speaks about the goal for his followers: to be so trustworthy in keeping their words that oaths prove unnecessary.   

    Vows – from Judaism to Christianity

    Jesus is not unique in addressing this issue; different Jewish texts of this period discuss oaths. For instance, even though there is no prohibition against swearing in the Dead Sea texts themselves, Josephus writes that the Essenes avoid oaths and what they say is stronger than an oath. Enroll in our live online course, Jewish Background of the New Testament to see the important parallels between New Testament and Second Temple literature more clearly. 

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