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Vow

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(נֶדֶר, neder, a technical word for the idea; εὐχή, a prayer, as sometimes rendered) defined as a religious undertaking, either,

1. Positive, to do or perform; or,

2. Negative, to abstain from doing or performing a certain thing. Vows rest on a human view of religious obligations, assuming, as they do, that a kind of recompense is to be made to God for good enjoyed, or consideration offered for good desiderated, or a gratuity presented to buy off an impending or threatened ill. They were quite in place in a system of religion which so largely consisted of doing or not doing certain outward acts, with a view of pleasing Jehovah and gaining his favor. The Israelite, who had been taught by performances of daily recurrence to consider particular ceremonies as essential to his possessing the divine favor, may easily have been led to the conviction which existed probably in the primitive ages of the world, that voluntary oblations and self-imposed sacrifices had a special value in the sight of God. When once this conviction had led to corresponding practice, it could not be otherwise than of the highest consequence that these sacred promises, which in sanctity differed little from oaths, should be religiously and scrupulously observed. Before a vow is taken there may be strong reasons why it should not be made; but when it is once, assumed, a new obligation is contracted, which has the greater force because of its voluntary nature, a new element is introduced, which strongly requires the observance of the vow, if the bonds of morality are not to be seriously relaxed. For example, a person may be of opinion that total abstinence is in itself not a virtue nor of general obligation, but he cannot doubt that "breaking the pledge," when once taken, is an act of immorality that cannot be repeated without undermining the very foundations of character; whence it obviously appears that caution should be observed, not only in keeping, but also in leading men to make, pledges, vows, and promises.

The practice of making vows, i.e. incurring voluntary obligations to the Deity, on fulfillment of certain conditions, such as deliverance from death or danger, success in enterprises, and the like, is of extremely ancient date, and common in all systems of religion. The earliest mention of a vow is that of Jacob, who, after his vision at Beth-el, promised that in case of his safe return he would dedicate to Jehovah the tenth of his goods, and make the place in which he had set up the memorial stone a place of-worship (Genesis 28:18-22; Genesis 31:13). Vows in general are also mentioned in the Book of Job (Job 22:27). With great propriety the performance of these voluntary undertakings was accounted by the Hebrews a highly religious duty (Judges 11:35; Ecclesiastes 5:4-5). The Words of the last text are too emphatic, and in the present day too important, not to be cited: "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (comp. Psalms 66:13 sq.; Psalms 76:11; Psalms 116:18).

Among instances of heathen usage in this respect the following passages may be cited: Jeremiah 44:25,: and Jonah 1:16; Homer, II. 1, 64, 93; 6:93, 308; Odyss. 3, 382; Xenoph., Anab. 3, 2, 12; Virgil, Georg. 1,436; Aen., 5, 234; Horace, Carm. 1. 5,13; 3, 29, 59; Livy, 22:9, 10; Cicero, Att. 8:16; Justin, 21:3-a passage which speaks of immoral vows; Veil. Pat. 2, 48.

I. Jewish Vows. The law, therefore, did not introduce, but regulated the practice of vows. The views which guided the Mosaic legislation were not dissimilar to those just expounded. Like a wise lawgiver, Moses, in this and other particulars, did not attempt to sunder the line of continuity between the past and the present. He found vows in practice; he aimed to regulate what it would have, been folly to try to root out (Deuteronomy 23:21 sq.). The words in Deuteronomy 23:22 are clearly in agreement with our remarks: "If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee" (see Am. Presb. Rev. Jul', 1867). The Bible speaks of three kinds of vows, for each of which the Heb. has a distinctive term: namely, vows of devotion in general (נֶדֶר, neder, properly so called); vows of abstinence (אֵָסר, esdr, or אַסָּר, issar, Numbers 30:3 sq.); and those of destruction (חֶרֶם, cherem, ἀνάθεμα ). In the present article we confine our attention to vows of the first class only, referring the other two classes to CORBAN and ANATHEMA. (In the treatment of this part of the topic we chiefly follow the abstract of the Levitical statutes found in Smith, s.v.)

(I.) As to vows of the first class (neder), the following rules are laid down in the Jewish law: A man might devote to sacred uses possessions of persons, but not the first-born either of man or beast, which was devoted already (Leviticus 27:26). (See FIRST-BORN).

1. If he vowed land, he might either redeem it or not. If he intended to redeem, two points were to be considered (1) the rate of redemption; (2) the distance, prospectively and retrospectively, from the year of jubilee. The price of redemption was fixed at fifty shekels of silver for the quantity of land which a homer of barley (eight bushels) would suffice to sow (Leviticus 26:16; see Knobel ad loc.). This payment might be abated under the direction of the priest according to the distance of time from the jubilee year. But at whatever time it was redeemed, he was required to add to the redemption-price one fifth (twenty per cent.) of the estimated value. If he sold the land in the meantime, it might not then be redeemed at all, but was to go to the priests in the jubilee year (Leviticus 26:20). (See LAND).

The purchaser of land, in case he devoted and also wished to redeem it, was required to pay a redemption price according to the priestly valuation first mentioned, but without the additional fifth. In this case, however, the land was to revert in the jubilee to its original owner (Leviticus 27:16; Leviticus 27:24; Leviticus 25:27; Keil, Uebr. Arch. § 66, 80).

The valuation here laid down is evidently based on the notion of annual value. Supposing land to require for seed about three bushels of barley per acre, the homer, at the rate of thirty-two pecks, or eight bushels, would be sufficient for about two and a half or three acres. Fifty shekels, twenty-five ounces of silver, at five shillings the ounce, would give £6 vs.; and the yearly valuation would thus amount to about £2 per acre.

The owner who wished to redeem would thus be required to pay either an annual rent or a redemption price answering to the number of years short of the jubilee, but deducting sabbatical years (Leviticus 25:3; Leviticus 25:15-16), and adding, a fifth, or twenty percent in either case. Thus, if a man devoted an acre of land in the jubilee year, and redeemed it in the same year, he would pay a redemption price of 496 =43 years value; +20 percent = £103 4s., or an annual rent, of £2 8s.; a rate by no means excessive when we consider (1) the prospect of restoration in the jubilee; (2) the undoubted fertility of the soil, which even now, under all disadvantages, sometimes yields a hundred fold (Burckhardt, Syria, p. 297).

If he refused or was unable to redeem, either the next of kin (Goel) came forward, as he had liberty to do, or, if no, redemption was effected, the land became the property of the priests (Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 27:21, Ruth 3:12; Ruth 4:1, etc.).

In the case of a house devoted, irrespective of the land it occupied, its value was to be assessed by the priest, and a fifth added to the redemption- price in case it was redeemed (Leviticus 27:15). Whether the rule held good regarding houses in walled cities, viz. that the liberty of redemption lasted only for one year, is not certain; but as it does not appear that houses devoted but not redeemed became the property of the priests, and as the Levites and priests had special towns assigned to them, it seems likely that the price only of the house, and not the house itself, was made over to sacred uses, and thus that the act of consecration of a house means, in fact, the consecration of its value. The Mishna, however, says that if a devoted house fell down, the owner was not liable to payment, but that he was liable if he had devoted the value of the house (Esrakin, 5, 5).

2. Animals fit for sacrifice, if devoted, were not to be redeemed or changed, and if a man attempted to do so, he was required to bring both the devotee and the changeling (Leviticus 27:9-10; Leviticus 27:33). They were to be free from blemish (Malachi 1:14). An animal unfit for sacrifice might be redeemed, with the addition to the priest's valuation of a fifth, or it became the property of the priests (Leviticus 27:12-13). (See OFFERING).

3. The case of persons devoted stood thus: A man might devote either himself, his child (not the firstborn), or his slave. If no redemption took place, the devoted person became a slave of the sanctuary (see the case of Absalom, 2 Samuel 15:8; Michaeis, § 124, 1, 166. ed. Smith). (See NAZARITE). Otherwise he might he redeemed at a valuation according to age and sex, on the following scale (Leviticus 27:1-7)

 

A.

$

cts.

1. A male from 1 month to 5 years old, 5 shekels

3

10

2. From 5 years to 20 years, 20 shekels

12

40

3. From 20 years to 60 years, 50 shekels

31

00

4. Above 60 years, 15 shekels

9

30

B.

 

 

1. Females from one month to 5 years, 3 shekels

1

86

2. From 5 years to 20 years, 10 shekels

6

20

3. From 20 years to 60 years, 30 shekels

18

60

4. Above 60 years, 10 shekels

6

20

If the person were too poor to pay the redemption-price, his value was to be estimated by the priest, not, as Michaelis says, the civil magistrate (Leviticus 27:8; Deuteronomy 21:5; Michaelis, § 145, 2, 283).

(II.) Among general regulations affecting vows of this class, the following may be mentioned:

1. Vows were entirely voluntary, but once made were regarded as compulsory, and evasion of performance of them was held to be contrary to true religion (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21; Ecclesiastes 5:4). 2. If persons in a dependent condition made vows as an unmarried daughter living in her father's house, or a wife, even if she afterwards became a widow, the vow, if in the first case her father, or in the second her husband, heard and disallowed it, was void; but if they heard without disallowance, it was to remain good (Numbers 30:3). Whether this principle extended to all children and to slaves is wholly uncertain, as no mention is made of them in Scripture, nor by Philo when he discusses the question (De Spec. Leg. § 6, 2, 274, ed. Mangey). Michaelis thinks the omission of sons implies absence of power to control them (§ 83, 1, 447).

3. Votive offerings arising from the produce of any impure traffic were wholly forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:18). A question has risen on this part of the subject as to the meaning of the word כֶּלֶב, kileb, "dog," which is understood to refer either to immoral intercourse of the grossest kind, or literally and simply to the usual meaning of the word. The prohibition against dedication to sacred uses of gain obtained by female prostitution was doubtless directed against the practice which prevailed in Phoenicia, Babylonia, and Syria, of which mention is made in Leviticus 19:29; Baruch 6:43; Herod. 1, 199; Strabo, p. 561; August. De Civ. Dei, 4:10, and other authorities quoted by Spencer ( De Leg. Hebr. 2, 35, 566). Following out this view, and bearing in mind the mention made in 2 Kings 23:7, of a practice evidently connected with idolatrous worship, the word keleb has been sometimes rendered cincedus; some have understood it to refer to the first-born, but Spencer himself, 2, 35, 572; Josephus, Ant. 4:8, 9; Gesen. Thesaur. 2, 685, and the Mishna, Temurah, 6:3, all understand dog in the literal sense. (See DOG).

Vows in general and their binding force as a test of religion are mentioned, Job 22:27; Proverbs 7:14; Psalms 22:25; Psalms 50:14; Psalms 56:12; Psalms 66:13; Isaiah 19:21; Habakkuk 1:15.

(III.) Certain refinements on votive consecrations are noticed in the Mishna, e.g.:

1. No evasion of a vow was to be allowed which substituted a part for the whole, as, "I vowed a sheep, but not the bones" (Nedar. 2, 5).

2. A man devoting an ox or a house was not liable if the ox was lost or the house fell down; but otherwise, if he had devoted the value of the one or the other of these.

3. No devotions might be made within two years before the jubilee, nor redemptions within the year following it. If a son redeemed his father's land, he was to restore it to him in the jubilee (Erakin, 7:3).

4. A man might devote some of his flock, herd, and heathen slaves, but not all these (Erakin 8:4).

5. Devotions by priests were not redeemable, but were transferred to other priests (Erakin, 8:6).

6. A man who vowed not to sleep on a bed, might sleep on a skin if he pleased (Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 673).

7. The sums of money arising from votive consecrations were divided into two parts, sacred (1) to the altar; (2) to the repairs of the Temple (Reland, Ant. 10:4).

It seems that the practice of shaving the head at the expiration of a votive period was not limited to the Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18; Acts 21:24).

II. Christian Vows. The practice of vows, though evidently not forbidden, as the above case of Paul (Acts 18:18) serves to show, does not seem to have been at all common in the apostolical Church. With the civil establishment under Constantine, however, and especially under the growing influence of monasticism, it early gained extensive and powerful prevalence. Bingham cites the ecclesiastical instances and regulations chiefly affecting church property and religious orders (Christ. Aniq. bk. 16: 150, 7:§ 9), but they apply mostly to medieval times.

"There is some difference of opinion respecting the origin and extent of monastic vows. Some authors affirm that they were made legally binding and indissoluble as early as the Council of Chalcedon; but the more general opinion is that, though considered obligatory in foroa conscientice, according to their nature, no civil disability or irreversible obligation was incurred by them till the time of Boniface VIII, late in the 13th century. The three solemn vows, as they are termed, of the monastic orders are poverty, chastity, and obedience, to which others are occasionally annexed by certain religious orders. For example, the fourth vow of the Jesuits places every member at the absolute disposal of the Roman pontiff, to be employed by him in whatever service may be thought most to the advantage of the Holy See. The earliest lawful age for embracing the monastic profession has varied at different periods and in different countries; it was fixed by the Council of Trent at sixteen years, before which period no religious vow is of any legal validity. Within the first five years the vow may be protested against on the ground of want of consent, insufficient age, or irregularity of novitiate; but after the expiration of that period it is held to be indissoluble. Certain extraordinary vows for instance, that of pilgrimage to Rome can only be dispensed with by the pope; others may be relaxed by the intervention of the ordinary of the diocese." (See MONASTICISM).

In the Church of Rome the subject of vows assumes extraordinary proportions. "The objects of these engagements among Catholics are very various; but they are drawn, for the most part, from what are called the evangelical counsels,' in contradistinction to precepts' or commands' the most ordinary subject of vows being the so-called evangelical' virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Pilgrimages, however, acts of abstinence, or other self-mortifications, whether of the body or of the will, special prayers or religious exercises, are frequently made the object of vows; and there is another large class of more material objects, as the building of churches, monasteries, hospitals, and other works of public interest or utility, to which mediaeval Europe was indebted for many of its most magnificent memorials of piety and of art. Vows, in the Roman Church law, are either simple' or solemn.' The principal difference between them consists in the legal effects of the solemn' vow, which, where the subject of such vow is chastity, renders not merely unlawful, but null and void, a marriage subsequently contracted. A simple' vow of chastity makes it unlawful to marry, but, except in the Jesuit Society, does not invalidate a marriage, if subsequently contracted. Catholics acknowledge in the Church a power of dispensing in vows; but this is held to be rather declaratory than remissory, and it is not acknowledged in the case of vows which involve any right of a third party. Bishops are held to possess the power of dispensing in simple vows generally; but the power of dispensing in solemn vows and in. certain simple vows as, for example, that of absolute and perpetual chastity, and of the greater pilgrimages is reserved to the pope. The practical operation of the canon law regarding vows has evidently been much modified, even in Catholic countries, since the French Revolution, and the subsequent political changes; but this must be understood to regard chiefly their external aid purely juridical effects. So far as concerns their spiritual obligation, the modern Roman theology recognizes little, if any, change." See Wetter und. Velte, Kircleni-Lex. s.v.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Vow'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/v/vow.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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