Can vows never be broken?


I have a similar situation as some of the questions you received regarding OCD vows and also the one who sent his question about whether or not he must remain in poverty. Though, whether or not it was a passing thought is still a question for me, because I really don't remember what happened exactly and what I felt at the moment because it was then I got happy. The "promise" was about refraining from marriage when actually this is something I really really desire. I know now that OCD attacks me at my vulnerabilities.

This is a bit weird, but I find comfort in Leviticus 5:4-5, even though it's basically saying I'm guilty. From my understanding, it's the rash vow itself that's a sin, and that I should confess, repent and refrain from making promises again, and the atonement was paid fully on the cross by Jesus. I find comfort in this verse because it allows me to know that I'm not bound by the sin after I repent. However, I'm struck again, some commentaries mention that it's the act of breaking the promise that's sinful, hence I should refrain from breaking it. This makes me feel uneasy because then I would be bound forever, and I would be living in sin if I broke that vow even once. Also, there's a lot of mentions of "freedom" in the new testament once we seek Jesus Christ, but I doubt that they refer to vows. 1 John 1:9 's also provided hope because it "cleanses us from all unrighteousness", which I'm hoping to stretch out to situations like mine. I hope you can provide some insights into this!

In conclusion, I have a lot of doubts. I'm living in uncertainty. It is really bothering me.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has been described as a doubter's disorder. The person suffering from it is always unsure. But it can also be viewed as having an intolerance of risk [Fletcher Wortmann, "The Danger of Doubt: The Ruthless and Frequently Misunderstood Logic of OCD"]. The sufferer is striving for greater perfection in his life than God expects. He adds rules and requirements more stringent than God has ever made because they might make him more acceptable to God. I believe this problem is what Solomon warned against. "Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16). Since no one can exceed God's righteousness and we all come short of living without sin, the OCD sufferer has set himself up for failure.

You think you might have made a vow to not marry. There are no witnesses to this supposed vow. There is only a vague fear that it might have happened. This isn't a true vow. This is a pop-up thought brought about by OCD. Notice how you locked yourself up. You aren't certain so you can't be certain that you took care of the matter.

Christians are to be honest. Vows have no additional weight for a Christian because there should be no difference when you always tell the truth. "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil" (Matthew 5:37).

The future is unknown. It is in the hand of God. We can make plans for the future, but we cannot honestly state what the future is going to bring. Therefore, making promises about what we are going to do will likely lead to failure. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil" (James 2:13-16).

God doesn't ask any to offer up sacrifices of suffering to Him. Whether you marry or not doesn't make a difference to Him. "But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned" (I Corinthians 7:28). There are times when marriage might not be the best choice, such as during persecution. There are times when remaining single might not be the best choice, such as dealing with the temptation to have sex. But you don't gain God's respect by giving up something you want. "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) --in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:20-23). What God requires is obedience to what He has commanded.

This is why Jesus taught us not to offer vows. They serve no purpose and can be a trap. If someone requires a vow (like the statement that you have been honest on your tax forms), then you give it because someone else required it, but you know you were honest anyway.

If you make a vow that goes against God's commands, then you must "break" the vow. Promising to sin is not going to get you to heaven. If you promised something and found you could not keep your word, then you apologize to the person you made the promise to and you apologize to God for lying. Broken promises are not some order of sin greater than others. The same God who said to keep your promises also said not to steal. We all strive to not sin, but sometimes sins happen and when they do, we repent of the sin (change our behavior and attitude), confess our fault to God, and then move on knowing that God forgave us (I John 1:5-2:1). If I steal, I strive to change and confess my sin to God. If I break a promise, I strive to change and confess my sin to God.

This is what it comes down to: OCD creates doubt. You have to counter it by putting your trust in God.


Thank you. This really cleared up some things and encouraged me to be reflective of myself. I realized that I had drifted so far away into pessimistic assumptions. I got lost because of my own mindset. I pray that God would help me overcome whatever the root problem may be.

God bless you.


Hi Mr. Hamilton,

I'm very sorry to bother you again. I know I have OCD, but I just can't help but ask about this. I hope you understand.

Prior to the OCD episode, I've discussed, I had an episode where I obsessed over the question of "did I vow celibacy in my childhood?" It went on for a few weeks, maybe even a month. During this time, I often repeated to myself the statement "promise not to have sex" either under my breath or just in a low voice. I did this to see whether or not the statement came out and sounded familiar as if I've done it in the past, so I was doing some sort of analysis here to see whether or not I vowed it in my childhood. I purposely left out the pronoun "I" before the word "promise" to make sure I was not making the promise, just trying to figure things out.

Now, it is all coming back to haunt me. I know God knows my heart, but I'm distressed with the fact that it wasn't just a thought, it was actually spoken, even though I made sure not to include "I", nor did I actually want to make any vows. Do you think this counts as a vow? Scriptures say that I cannot tell the messenger that it was a mistake; this is what's bothering me.

The thing is, I know that the breaking of vows is a sin, and can be forgiven for the breaking. However, the things I'm experiencing are more related to the future, so technically I have not broken any vows yet, but it's tormenting to think that I'm potentially in any sort of bondage. According to Leviticus 5:4-5, does it mean that I can confess the making of the vow and beg for forgiveness, and it will be given to me (I John 1:9), thus I am free? Is that how those verses should be interpreted?

Once again, I apologize for coming back on this topic.


Notice how your compulsion is once again trying to trap you in the past. You understand that a pop-up thought cannot be a vow now, so you now add muttering something under your breath.

Vows are typically intentional. The person knows he is making a promise, but in your case, you were wondering if you might have said something in your childhood, but you are uncertain -- a typical OCD response. Vows are witnesses. Other people can confirm that the promise was made. This, again, is not true in your case. Therefore, I would conclude that you did not make a vow of celibacy. I would not even count a childhood statement of "Eww, I'm never going to have sex" because children have no idea what they are talking about. Under the Old Law, and even today under modern law, a child's promise is not enforceable.

In addition to all of this, I note that there was no reason for the vow. God certainly isn't impressed when someone decides not to have sex. After all, He created men with the desire for sex and instituted marriage as the state where you can have sex. Thus, the statement (if it even happened) was just a statement.

But to answer your question, if you realize that you made a foolish vow now that you are older, then go to God in prayer and admit that you made a foolish commitment, which was thoughtless and sinful on your part. Then go on with your life. Yes, you are not supposed to lie. But even a broken promise is forgivable when a person turns away from his sin.

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