Question: "What is a vow of silence?"
Answer: A vow of silence is a practice in which an individual commits to not speaking or talking for a specific period of time, usually for spiritual or meditative purposes. The practice has been observed by many religious orders throughout history, both Christian and non-Christian. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras required his students to observe vows of silence for significant periods of time as they learned his ways (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, ch. XVII).
Within Christianity, the practice is mostly observed in Catholic and monastic traditions as a part of their more formal religious structure. For example, The Rule of St. Benedict says, “Since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples“ (ch. 6), and “When they come out from Compline, no one shall be allowed to say anything from that time on. And if anyone should be found evading this rule of silence, let her undergo severe punishment“ (ch. 42). Ironically, some secular organizations have begun practicing vows of silence as a way to bring awareness to various social issues such as child poverty or the marginalization of certain people groups.
There is no mention in the Bible of a “vow of silence.” Therefore, Christians are not obligated to take a vow of silence. In fact, the Bible never commands a Christian to take a vow of any sort. There are a few examples in the Bible of people taking vows, but most of them are from the Old Testament and based in the Mosaic Law. In the book of Acts, Paul is recorded as taking a vow while on his missionary journeys (Acts 18:18). We don’t know the exact nature of the vow, but it was probably a Nazirite vow (see Numbers 6:1–21). Again, this was something Paul did voluntarily and not out of obligation. Such a decision by Paul is understandable as he sought to live above reproach amongst his fellow Jews (see 1 Corinthians 9:20).
Since Jesus completely fulfilled the requirements of the law through His life and ministry (Matthew 5:17–18), Christians are not obligated to keep any vows in order to appease God or fulfill His commands. Rather, the Bible teaches to simply keep your word. Jesus taught to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:37).
Though a Christian is not obligated to take a vow of silence, there’s still benefit in observing moments of quietness and internal reflection. God once revealed Himself to the prophet Elijah through a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11–13). Christians should be generally known as peaceful people: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). And James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
This is especially true for Christians living in Western, developed countries where life is “loud.” With a constant flow of “noise” coming from news agencies, sports, social media, phones, advertisements, and more, silence is a foreign concept to many people. A Christian can avoid such distractions by living a quiet and content life—being responsible before God and living humbly (see Ecclesiastes 2:24). A believer can seek out times of silence and purposefully shut out the clamor of the world: sitting in silence to pray, taking a media fast, turning off the phone for the weekend, or simply going out for a walk to enjoy the natural, “quiet” sounds of God’s creation.
So, while a Christian is not required to take an official vow of silence, it can nevertheless be beneficial to one’s spiritual growth to observe moments of quietness and reflection throughout life.