Acts 21 – Did (Christian) Paul Keep the Law?

paul66Based on Paul’s behavior in Acts, it may well be he would have told the Jews to continue keeping the Law.  He required Timothy be circumcised (16:3) and he had made a vow while in Corinth (18:18). When he is before the Sanhedrin, Paul claims he has continued to keep the law (23:1). This is curious considering the reputation Paul has for preaching a “Law-Free” gospel among the Gentiles. To what extent he kept the boundary markers of the Law these conservatives Jews would have expected from him.

Paul claims to have a “good conscience” in 23:1. The verb Luke uses refers to living as a good citizen (πολιτεύομαι) and is the same work Paul uses in Phil 1:27 for having a “manner of life” worthy of the Gospel. In the Maccabean literature the verb refers to living one’s life in accordance with Jewish traditions (2 Macc 6:1, 11:25; 3 Macc 3:4, 4 Macc 2:8).

4 Macc 2:23“To the mind he gave the law; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.”

Paul therefore claims loyalty to the Law while at the same time evangelizing the Gentiles and teaching them they are not under the Law. It is clear from Paul’s letters he does not advocate freedom from Law as a license to sin, but when people heard Paul teaches a law-free Gospel, they appear to have thought the very worst.

In order to prove to Paul’s detractors that he is stull loyal to the Law, James proposes Paul prove sponsor a Nazarite vow for a few you men (21:22-25).   Dunn rightly observes that James does not deny the rumor: “the advice of James and the elders is carefully calibrated.  They do not disown the rumors.  Instead they suggest that Paul disprove the rumors by his own action, by showing that he himself still lived in observance of the Law” (Dunn, Acts, 287).  The fact that James drops out of the story after Paul’s arrest is a mystery – why does James not come to the aid of Paul?  No Christians are willing to defend Paul when he goes before the Sanhedrin.  Why is this?  It seems as though Paul has less support in Jerusalem in A.D. 58 than we might have expected.

Does Paul make a mistake in sponsoring the vow in the Temple?  Some people think it would have been unlike Paul to “keep Law” at this point in his career.  What is his ultimate motivation for doing this?  Does he really need to “prove himself” to be faithful at this late date?



50 thoughts on “Acts 21 – Did (Christian) Paul Keep the Law?

  1. Although Paul’s theology at this point did not hold the Law as a necessity for Christian living, I think he indulged aspects of it in order that he might win some unbelievers to Christ (1Cor. 9:22). This would have been received by different people in drastically different ways. The Jews who were skeptical of Christianity would have seen it as a way toward common ground between the Law and the new idea of Grace Paul had taught. On the other hand, however, new Christians, both Jew and Gentile converts, could have been very confused by this. Paul’s heavy emphasis on salvation through Grace and not the Law would have seemed completely contradictory to his indulgence in certain practices such as a Nazarite vow. I don’t see this as a “mistake” per se, but it simultaneously does not seem to fit with Paul’s overall theology.

  2. It seems like it was a confusing thing that Paul would follow this and yet preach a different message. Quarles explains that if a person were to take a Nazarite vow they could not come in contact with a dead person or they had to start over. Even going into a gentile house could be a reason that Paul would have to start the process over again since they stepped on gentile land and because gentiles didn’t properly bury their dead, they were now defiled by association with a corpse. Not only this but it appears that Gentiles were not even permitted to take a Nazarite vow (198). This would have further differentiated Paul from the Gentiles as he was going through a purification that seems to be exclusive of those to whom Paul was sent to preach. I think that perhaps this was the reason that James thought this was a good idea since it would isolate Paul from Gentiles for a time and perhaps calm those rumors down. I do not think it was a sin for Paul to participate in this vow. It did not seem to produce the results for which James was hoping.

    Quarles, Charles L. Illustrated Life of Paul. Nashville, TN: B & H Group, 2014. Print

  3. Trent, I agree with what you say here. We know from his letter to the Corinthians that Paul claims to have been all things to all men. He writes that for the weak he was weak, and that he did all these things to win more people for the sake of the gospel. In this section in 1 Corinthians 9, he says twice that though he was free from all and that though he is not under the law, he still became those things to show them more of Christ. I think that there is a lot of value in Paul agreeing to the vow because it shows that he meant it when he wrote that. I also think that this statement made by Trent, “Paul’s heavy emphasis on salvation through Grace and not the Law would have seemed completely contradictory to his indulgence in certain practices such as a Nazarite vow.” had a lot of weight to it. I can definitely see how that could be a thought that people would have, but I think that this could have been an opportunity for Paul to say that it was not his strength that got him through the vow, but his desire to win souls for God and that it was God’s strength that got him through it. Just a thought. That being said, I do not think that Paul was wrong in doing the vow.

  4. Paul never states that we are free from the Law of God as Satan would have you believe, rather we are free from the condemnation of the law through the sacrifice of Christ. His taking of the Nazarene vow is to prove to the Jews that the accusations made against him for teaching lawlessness are false. Not that it did much good, almost all denominations today (all that I have looked at and compared to the Truth of Gods Word) teach some form of disobedience, this is evidenced in New Testament warnings of false teachers, Satan’s ministers, wolves among us. By the time Constantine In the year 321 A.D., Constantine decreed, “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. Sunday law the beginning of the Roman Church the blending of pagan ideology with Christian principals, The slaughter of Saints, to this day Liquifying blood of the Saints, False Prophecy = False Prophet.

    I Am The Way The Truth and The Life. Yeshua is Lord, Jesus is Lord

    Matthew 5:18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

    Have heaven and earth disappeared? Is the Word of God True? Do you think Jesus or Paul is a Liar? I highly recommend this sight I have not studied It completely but thus far (I was brought up baptist and some of there teachings were hard but after trying to disprove) found to be true.

    • Yes, we don’t break the Law, the Law breaks us. We died and though the Law exists it has no authority over us anymore (because we died in Christ). (Gal 2:19, Rom 7:4). And in fact the Gentiles were never under the Law. We were hopeless, without God in this world (Eph 2:12).

      And in case the Bible was not clear enough, the Temple was destroyed and the Jews dispersed so that it is now impossible to keep the Law as there is no Temple and no Levites. And as we know failing to keep even one point in the Law is the same as breaking it all. (Jam 2:10).

      Paul puts it this way, “Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!” (Gal 5:11-12, HCSB)

      • So we don’t need to keep the ten commandments anymore? or do we?

        “The Gentiles were never under the Law. We were hopeless, without God in this world.” — What about Nineveh then? They were Gentiles long before Jesus came, and God saved them when they repented.

      • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demonstrates his followers will go beyond the Ten Commandments by not hating and becoming angry, or lusting in one’s heart. The Ten Commandments are general principles God requires of all people in all times, they are the foundation for the more specific commands in the rest of the Law.

        Most Christian use of the law is hit/miss. They tend to cherry-pick the things they like (the sex stuff) and ignore the stuff they don’t like or don’t understand (sacrifice, wearing tassels, Sabbath, boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, etc.)

  5. 4/10
    Upon reading this blog post It immediately brought my mind to think about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22 where Paul boldly sates that he desires to become all things to all men in order to win as many for Christ as he can. Paul’s life is one that is on display for the world to see bth Jews and Gentiles. Paul knew it was important to relate to both sides in order for people to listen to him and not discredit his words completely. Paul didn’t preach that we no longer had to follow the law instead that there was no longer and condemnation of the law because now we had Jesus Christ. Paul takes the Nazarene vow not because he believes it will save him but to be able to relate to those who firmly believed in it. His goal was to be able to catch as many souls for Christ as he could and if this was one way to open the eyes and ears of those listening then he would do it. The life of Paul is one we should be careful not so skip by, instead we should take time to understand why he did what he did while on his missionary journeys. God was leading and directing him and it is so important that we not lose sight of what is truly important. This is being a light and doing what we can to help others come to know Christ as their savior.

    • Great Post Elenrae! I agree with you that Paul preached and related to both messages to benefit and connect with both Jews and Gentiles. 1 Corinthians Paul stated that he wanted to win as many men for Christ that he could. I think by relating to the different groups would allow him to gain trust so that he could preach to them so they could also be followers of Christ.

  6. I was interested when seeing the article title of what this was going to be about. I immediately thought of Paul’s writing in his letter to the Romans where he writes “for what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3). When we think of Paul’s ministry through a mid-Acts dispensational lens, its so clear that so much of Paul’s ministry was to bring forth the Gospel to both Jew and Gentile. Through that teaching we get the concept that following the law is not necessary for salvation but instead it is a result of God’s grace. According to the article, “he would have told the Jews to continue keeping the Law. He required Timothy be circumcised (16:3) and he had made a vow while in Corinth (18:18). When he is before the Sanhedrin, Paul claims he has continued to keep the law (23:1). This is curious considering the reputation Paul has for preaching a “Law-Free” gospel among the Gentiles”. In my opinion, this was done because Paul lived in the culture among the Jews and even keeping those aspects of the Law really doesn’t have anything to do with salvation. I wouldn’t say that Paul made a mistake but instead he just wanted to prove to the Jews that the false accusations made against him for teaching lawlessness are false and don’t reflect his gospel.

    • I agree Troy. While it was no longer required for circumcision or a lot of the traditional laws to take place, Paul did live at a time where it was the culture and practice. I think that there is a difference between following tradition and believing that the tradition saves you. Paul preached a “Law-Free” gospel, but he also encouraged the culture and tradition.

  7. The whole point of the law-free gospel is to make the point that the gentiles are accepted in to the plan that God has and not having to abide by the old covenant. Jews are to keep the old ways, but to a point they are to share in the ways of the gentiles to show report and respect when in there homes and the gentiles do the same for the Jews. This was clearly shown in the vision that Peter had in Acts 10. Why is it that Paul is being question for if he is keeping the law? Paul is preaching for both sides and showing that there are specific things that Jews are to apply to their faith walk and things that he Gentiles are meant to true to. I don’t think that Paul should be questioned at all by if he is obeying the law.

  8. Through sponsoring a vow within the temple Paul is trying to show people that he is very similar to them, he knows where they are coming from. He is appealing to their ways, he is doing the respectful thing in this case. Elenrae mentioned 1 Corinthians 9:22 and I think this is Pauls response to keeping the law. The verse says he will become all things to all people in order to grow the Kingdom. Paul is doing things that are respectful to the people he is inviting into a new way of life. Sometimes it takes someone empathizing with you in order for them to see that a change needs to or can be made.

  9. I know that a lot of people have quotes Paul’s way of ministry of becoming all things to all people, and I think that is the most important part of understanding why Paul did this. I think that Paul sponsored the Nazarite vow so that he could some what keep the peace, not because he didn’t believe in what he was preaching. He told of a law-free Gospel, and that is still true even thought he went through with this. A level of respect was kept between Paul and these people now because he did this and I think that is important to note.

  10. The book of Acts could have been re-named the journey of Paul and I think everyone would be okay with that. Paul several times claims that he is loyal to the law throughout scripture, does this make him a good keeper of the law though? In Acts, Paul is teaching, preaching, and doing all of these good works but sometimes there are things that he does that seem odd or out of character. The Article points out several instances as to where Paul makes vows, or “continues to keep the law. But how can you keep the law, and then serve God and keep the commandments? We can read in scripture that Paul preached on “Law-Free gospel” but I think that the way Paul had acted in Acts is a good representation that he wants to reach the people of the time, he wanted to at least still respect in some ways the traditions of the people while teaching them new ways. Basically he wanted to know the culture enough to gain respect from the people.

  11. In Acts 21, we see many rumors speculate against Paul. Rumors about him preaching a “law-free” gospel in the way they acted and lived. One of these things being to not circumcise a child, which is a tradition and law for Jews. In hopes of restoring peace, he agreed to take and fulfill the vow. When Paul is questioned about how he feels about the boundaries Jews expected for him, he noted that he had a good conscience. I wonder if this would also resonate with not making your brother stumble. Paul was not trying to hurt his brothers and sister, he did not want to sugar-coat the truth, rather, he wanted to speak truth into their lives. I do not think Paul made a mistake, yes these people were unfaithful, but Paul needed to take a step further in showing how much he cared and was passionate about what he believed. This was not a matter of proving himself to them, but of showing his loyalty to them and being an example through this situation. Dunn writes about it as showing the truth in actions as an observance to the Law. Paul wanted them to know that he was not above the law or the people. They were all sinners in need of God’s grace. His ultimate motivation is to serve God and do what it takes to further his kingdom. Yes, keeping this Nazareth vow would be a bit tricky, and contradicting to what he was teaching, but it was an encouragement to others here.

  12. This story does hold some interesting facts and details. Why would a Christian Paul feel the need to keep the law in such a dramatic as to take a Nazarite vow? Was this a contradiction to what he himself had been teaching? How does this story fit into the rest of the narrative? I would suggest that Paul takes this vow to show that he still believes the law is good. He is willing to follow the law because it sets good boundaries for someone’s life, and it is not like he was going around telling people to avoid the law so they could go about sinning (Long). He was offering a law-free salvation, because salvation is a no strings attached relationship with God. He was making that clear to the Gentiles, but it was not settling well with the Jews (Acts 21:27). His participation in the vow was a display that he still valued the law, but it seems that was not enough for the Jewish people. Furthermore, it seems that his taking of the vow may have pushed some Gentiles away. It does seem confusing that he would participate in the law, openly, while not pushing others to follow it. However, what seems to be missed with this story, is that Paul was ultimately loyal to the Messiah, not to the Jews (Jipp 116). He followed God and His Law, because of Jesus and the way He was a fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17). Some of Paul’s actions may seem to be confusing, but in reality, he was attempting to reach everyone with the message of a Savior. He did it in radical ways, such as following the law, but not preaching it as the only way to God. He sat in a strange place between the Jews and the Gentiles in order to reach them both with the Good News.

  13. Yes Paul and Peter and james and Luke and John still taught and kept Gods law or instructions

  14. Paul’s dynamic of “keeping the Law” and preaching it does not matter anymore, has always been a topic of interest. In fact, it is confusing at times. Paul rebukes Peter publicly for initially eating with the Gentiles and then doing away with them to appease the Jewish crowd (Gal. 2:11-16). Peter was a Jew, who lived like a Gentile but was teaching by example that if you were a Gentile you had to conform to the Jewish customs. This is not the dynamic Paul promoted, rather he wanted the Jews to realize that faith in Christ was the only thing that justified them, no tradition, custom or work would make them more acceptable to God. The Gentile audience is not all that familiar with Jewish customs so how can they be expected to convert to Judaism and Christianity at the same time?

    It is my belief that Paul was very aware of and respectful of other’s consciences (Rom. 14, 1 Cor. 8). He himself made it known to his audience that he has lived before God with a clean conscience. Polhill states, “The implication is that he had nothing on his own mind to condemn him, that he had been faithful in his conduct toward God in every respect (Polhill. Acts p. 468). That is an interesting way to put it, for nothing in his mind to condemn means he has not sinned or operated in a law mindset. Paul says that there is no condemnation for those in Christ, so if you are in Christ how can one be condemned? (Rom. 8:1).

    For Jews, they were condemned when they broke a law or ritual, for Gentiles they would have been under the impression that you had to abide in Jewish Law before converting to Christianity. In addition, the Gentiles were condemned by the Jewish crowd if they did have faith in Christ and did not practice circumcision or other Jewish customs.

    In Acts 15, the Pharisee sect has a problem with Gentiles converting void of circumcision and Peter goes on to say that God knows people’s hearts, and accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, making no distinction between them and Jews because God has cleansed their hearts through faith (15:8-9). Afterwards, James makes the point that they should not make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God, instead tell them they are to abstain from food offered to idols, sexual immorality, strangled meat and consuming blood (Acts 15:19-20). Why did James conclude this? Because it was according to this Gentile audience’s conscience. If they were to go against their conscience it would be sin for them (Rom. 14:23).

    Paul makes mention of this in verse 25 of Acts 21, specifically that they should continue to do what they were instructed in chapter 15.
    Paul seemingly keeps the Law because, though he knows it does not add to his salvation or maintain it, he grew up with that where it communicated honor and integrity to God and those who practice it. Paul is not trying to be a law-abiding citizen necessarily, but he knows that faith fulfills the Law (Rom. 3:31). Therefore, he is a “Law abiding” citizen by faith in Christ.

    Lastly, for Paul to say his conscience was clean then that also means you can have a seared or dead conscience as well. Paul tells Timothy that in the last days people will stray from the truth and be deceived by evil spirits. These people Paul’s says are “hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). Therefore, we can conclude that Paul always remained in faith and therefore “in Christ”. To stray away from this kind of faith would mean that you were searing your conscience and becoming deceived and okay with evil. Paul was just concerned bout people’s state of conscience and ministered effectively in that way.

  15. Much like other Jewish Christians, it is realistic to expect that Paul would have maintained some sort of obedience to the Law simply because it was his whole life leading up to his conversion. It is like the example given in class, when students are under specific rules for four years when that ban is suddenly lifted they will either maintain some of those living standards or go off the deep end and live ‘recklessly’ simply because they can.

    The Jerusalem Jewish leaders accepted, praised, and supported the work Paul was doing among the Gentiles, which speaks to his status as a faithful Jew (Jipp 114). Even though Paul knew there was no need to follow the Law because of the grace given by Christ, he still chose to appease the Jews by participating in certain practices to show his allegiance to the Law (Timothy circumcised, Nazarite vow). This reminds me of Romans 14:13 where Paul seems to be directly talking about people who are faithful to the Law despite their belief and confession in Christ. Ultimately, Paul is faithful to Judaism through his allegiance to the Messiah, which is shown by his inclusion and ministry to the Gentiles.

    • As Nat states, Paul chooses to act like a Jew in practice as a part of who he one was not out of necessity but as a discipline of mind, heart, and spirit to what he sees as being close to God. Paul’s actions are don’t disprove his love and loyalty to God or the church. Paul’s standards were of grace and the law as a way to continue strengthening and focusing on God. Paul’s keeps the laws as a symbol that reflects where he has been and brings elements of it into his ministry. James test Paul in what he holds higher Paul chooses to practice the law not be controlled by it.

      In the same manner that reflects into the world, we are living in today. If we being to idolize theology or the law over the grace of God we become a modern today Pharisee of the Christian faith. We have to find a balance of grace and practice of the law as a heart issue.

  16. I would say that Paul did not really have a reason to totally stop practicing the Law. We see this play out whenever he is around his Jewish brothers. An example would be in Acts 25 when he says that he has never made an offense to the law. He was raised Jewish and spent his whole life following the boundary markers that Jews practice. Something we talked about in class was that the Jews did not actually find the Law to be a heavy yoke. They saw it as an outworking of their relationship with God, and it was probably pretty easy to stay in those boundary markers when around a community of Jews. Paul says to the Jews he was like a jew and to the Greeks like a Greek (1Corinthians 9:20).

    However, Paul says that it is an unnecessary yoke on the shoulders of the Gentiles (Act 15:10). I think the confusion comes in when he explains to the Gentiles that they do not need to become Jewish when they start following Christ. Because Paul is Jewish and has the knowledge and ability to follow the law, doing things like the Nazarite vow would make sense. But only in the presence of those who understand its purpose. And considering this passage in chapter 21, it sounds like the Jews themselves are misusing this vow as a means for Paul to “prove” himself to them. This seems an inappropriate use of the vow, but Paul seems to humor them for their own sake by doing it.

  17. I think what Paul is doing by keeping the law is keeping himself able to teach the Jews the Gospel. He’s “becoming a Jew in order to win the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20) by this logic. By keeping himself under the law, he is trying to reach those who aren’t saved and keeping themselves under the law. Because keeping the Jewish Law is how those before Christ were to live, it’s not a sin to practice the values of the Law. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that “all scripture is breathed out by God,” which includes the OT. Old Testament Law is not suddenly a sin just because it is unnecessary.
    Oppositely, the Gentiles never had the Law, therefore it wouldn’t be practical to suddenly make them keep the Law, whereas the Jews have lived by the Law for a long time and it was all they knew. It’s understandable why they would think that Paul is trying to profane the Law by preaching that it isn’t needed, but by Paul keeping the Law, he is trying to respect the Jews in order to effectively preach to them. The Gentiles only needed faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit to be saved, they didn’t need to keep the Law since it wouldn’t save them. The Law can’t save the Jews either, since it’s impossible for them to keep, but it’s not surprising that they would feel that they need to continue to keep it, even if they are saved. Paul didn’t take the Nazarite vow to prove a point of his faithfulness, but rather to show that the claims against him were wrong. So I think that Paul did keep the law, especially having been a Pharisee, but also fully understood the need to be saved by Grace.

  18. I mean, from some experience, sometimes keeping the law is just a different way of watering your spiritual plant, so to speak. We all do things differently, and sometimes the routine of it is what helps nourish us. It’s different for everyone.

    I doubt Paul was showing off his faith in any way, he wasn’t a “flexing” man. Despite his incredibly long sentences. Perhaps this was just what worked best for him.

  19. I think that people misunderstand the issues of that time. Paul was up against Jews who believed that the only way to be saved was through circumcision and faith in Christ. That if you had faith in Christ but not circumcised you wouldn’t be saved. You wouldn’t be accepted by God without circumcision. Paul was not teaching against the law, ever. He was explaining that we are not saved by circumcision, this is also the case in Ephesians. He obeyed the law, the law was still being taught, we see the discussion in Acts 15 where Paul and James and Peter went to talk with the Jewish leaders about the gentiles and these were men who were sacrificing to idols, drinking animal blood and fornicating with the temple priestesses. They decided that it was impossible for them to obey all of the law right away, it was a yoke they couldn’t handle. So for now they would abstain from drinking blood, eating meat strangled and fornication, so they were turning away from the behaviours of their previous religion. They also said that Moses was read in every city on every sabbath and they could essentially learn the law of Moses that way. We are no longer UNDER the curse of the law, which is death. We are now free from the law of sin and death, this does not mean that we are to not obey the law. God said that the new covenant would be to replace our hearts with a heart of flesh and place his laws in our hearts and put His spirt in us so that we would be careful to obey his law and his statutes. Jesus also said that He did not come to abolish the law and that not one bit of it would be done away with until both heaven and earth passed away. 1John says that we know we abide in Him if we obey His commandments, this is how we know that we know him. James says that we are to obey the commandments and that faith without works is dead. We have an active faith, we have faith and trust in God’s word and not just read it but do it. Paul says it’s not hearers of the law who are just but doers of the law. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, do we actually believe all of what the bible teaches or do we just cherry pick the parts that we like? Why do we think the law is abolished when that contradicts what Jesus and the other apostles said? Do we believe in the true Gospel?

  20. When I was in elementary school around the age of 9, I remember going to gym class where the PE teacher was constantly telling my class to run laps around the gym several times per period. What I found to be so hypocritical, was the fact that my gym teacher never ran along with us students, but just expected us to do what he himself did not want to do (and trust me he could have used the exercise). This could be similar to how the Jews viewed Paul during the first century when he was ministering to the Gentiles. Three things Paul claimed that seem to contradict each other was that Jews should keep practicing the Law (Acts 16:3), the gospel he preached was Law-free so the Gentiles did not have to keep it (Acts 21:21), and that he himself had continued to keep the Law throughout his ministry (Acts 23:1). Even though Paul taught his “students” (the Gentiles) that keeping the Law was not necessary for salvation, he turned around and did the exact opposite by keeping the Law and even proving he kept the law in Acts 21:23-26. Rather than this frustrating the Gentiles, we see the Jews becoming more frustrated with Paul as he is “attacked in the temple by a mob incited by the false charge that he had violated the temple” (Polhill, p.2132). Even though Paul had kept the Law and proved himself by taking the Nazarite vow, there was still mistrust and hypocrisy seen by the Jews in Paul. Long states “when people heard Paul teaches a law-free Gospel, they appear to have thought the very worst,” and we see this played out through their reactions. I think that Paul’s motivation behind keeping the Law up until this point was to reach as many people as he could, Jew and Gentile alike. By keeping the Law, I think Paul hoped to minister to practicing Jews and show them that the Gospel did not require them to give up Judaism and its practices. Rather, the Gospel called them to place their faith in Jesus instead of the Law.

  21. Keeping the jewish law required extensive knowledge of the scripture. Living in Jerusalem, you would be surrounded by people who knew the law and could point you in the right direction of what steps you had to take or couldn’t take (like on the Sabbath). In Acts 21 Paul is faced with questions from some Jews about his keeping of the law. Keep in mind, the law is of the utmost important to the Jewish people, especially in Jerusalem. Paul in this chapter, is becoming what he had to become in order to win them over just like he states in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. I think he did the Nazarite vow in order to win the Jews for Christ. They had knowledge of the scripture and in order to relate with them and to appeal to their requirements, Paul keeps the Jewish law.

    By keeping the Jewish law, Paul was not turning away from the Lord or disregarding the truth. Rather he was just relating to the people he was speaking with. Also, I am sure he did not want to cause an uproar or a scene about something so insignificant, however if it was something that was totally against what Christ had taught he would have not done what they asked. Whatever it takes to share the gospel with people, as long as it does not interfere with what Christ lived out and spoke, Paul did. I think we can all learn something from Paul in this chapter. Sometimes we can be so quick to judge something so insignificant that we can interfere with our relationship and the sharing of the gospel.

  22. As one reads the book of Acts, the dichotomy and distinction between the Jewish and gentile believers’ approach to the law become apparent. While Jewish believers, generally speaking, continue keeping and following the law, the gentile believers were not required to. This separation of practice between the gentiles and Jewish believers was arguing strongly by Paul. Yet, the question must arise, did Paul himself keep the law? As Long notes, in Acts 23, Paul claims to have fulfilled his duty in “good conscience”. This greek term is also used in Maccabean literature to refer to a Jew who is following the traditions. Furthermore, through Paul’s actions in the book of Acts, one can conclude that he held other Jewish people to the standard of the law. For example, in Acts 16:3, Paul requires Timothy to be circumcised before joining him on his missionary journeys.
    From these points, we can suggest that Paul kept the law and claimed loyalty to the Jewish traditions, while still arguing that gentiles were not held the standard of the law. As proof for Paul’s allegiance to the law, James proposes that he sponsors a Nazarite vow of a few young men. This event would help disprove the rumor, acknowledged in Acts 21:21, that he was advocating for the Jews to turn away from the ways of Moses. As Dunn elaborates, James did not deny the rumors, rather, through Paul’s keeping of the law, attempts to disprove the notion that Paul promotes the abandonment of the ways of Moses.

  23. It is an interesting interruption in the Acts story. James and the rest of the council ask Paul to prove his loyalty to the Law. As Long states, “In order to prove to Paul’s detractors that he is still loyal to the Law, James proposes Paul prove sponsor a Nazarite vow for a few you men” (Long). I find this interesting, and wonder how it applies today. Paul has been preaching to the Gentiles, that they are free of the Jewish law. This is not an excuse to live in sin, but merely frees that from the practices that God originally required of his people. Paul, however, is still Jewish, as the church in Jerusalem. It seems that the Jewish Jerusalem church has still been holding fast to the law despite Christ’s death in fulfillment of it. This does not appear to be wrong. Paul seems to happily comply with the sponsorship of a vow, and continues to practice in the Jewish traditions. This makes me wonder what it would be like for a Jewish believer today. Are they still expected to follow in the law, because that is their heritage and culture? As a Gentile, that may not be required for me, but is it wrong to celebrate and respect Jewish traditions? My best friend’s family, although Christians, often celebrate many of the Jewish feasts and holidays, and will often participate in a kosher diet and a traditional Sabbath during that time. This is something that they and their church do on a regular basis. They mean it respectfully as well as educationally. I would be curious about Paul’s thoughts on that.

  24. In Acts 20, Paul is anxious to be back to Jerusalem before the Passover, which indicates he still is sensitive to this aspect of Jewish culture. But later, when prophets and people dear to Paul warned and pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem, he answers by saying he is compelled by the Lord (Acts 21). So, Paul also had a specific mission fueling his coming to Jerusalem. Once he meets with the apostles and delivers the gift, he is just waiting for what is next. He does not know what will happen. Going along with James’ suggestion is consistent with his chameleon habit of adapting to the surrounding culture. In 1 Corinthians 9:20 says, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” I believe Paul mostly lived as a Jew because he was a Jew, but he did not feel bound by being under the Law. He observed practices from the law as part his worship to God, but not under the weight of its bondage. He did what James suggested to help maintain harmony and help clarify that Paul was not blatantly “breaking” the law like his opposers were suggesting. After Paul suffers through the uprising against him in the temple and is apprehended by the Romans, Acts 23:11 shares how the Lord encourages Paul and reveals his next mission. God meant for Paul to go through that so Paul could go to Rome. As much as it becomes clear that Paul was not guilty as his case escalates, Paul still insisted in appealing to Caesar, showing that he is completely on board with his new mission.

  25. I do not think that it is wrong for Paul to keep the law as he was indeed a Jew, but he knew his calling was to preach to the gentiles regardless of his past life and current lifestyle. Paul was probably thrown into a really hard position here because his calling was to show the law was not needed anymore for salvation, but Jews still held on to their traditions, and they held on hard; the Jews held on to these traditions even after hearing what Paul had to say, so Paul made his message more geared toward the Gentiles since they listened and the Jews did not. I think a big part of why Paul actually followed the law for the most part, through such things as the vow in the temple you mention here in the blog ,are because he wanted to reach the Jews and show him his reliability and credibility still keeping them close for ministering possibilities and leading by example.

  26. Many great comments but some miss the big picture, along with some inaccuracies.

    First – Paul did Not keep the Law of Moses.

    His associations with Gentiles were strictly forbidden, along with dozens of other laws & practices. When dwelling on biblical topics, I always try and fit All we’ve read on our blackboard. I think that helps greatly.

    James had a tough job. He did not believe in Jesus even though he lived with him and talks just like him! Paradoxically, James and Paul only believed when the Resurrected Lord appeared to them. Yet they are on completely opposite sides of the Christian spectrum. It’s fascinating.

    You would think, Paul, stopped in the very act of rebellion, would understand Grace through faith deeper than any man alive(and he demonstrates that conclusion). James – spent his entire life hearing & witnessing Messiah at his very dinner table but instead mocked him – also needs a Supernatural appearance to turn him…… But he still doesn’t fully understand Grace at this point in his life and will not fully let go of Moses. So incredibly interesting. Look, if you told me my brother was God, I could be excused for not grasping the fullness of it all.

    Paul & James are on the farthest sides of the *tension found in authentic 1st century Christianity. James is best to interpreted only through Paul, as James is more a historical picture of the gospel in its infancy. (of course the Catholics do just the opposite in order to exert power over the lay people.)

    Now, the crux. Paul is warned multiple times, in Old Testament fashion, that he will be in chains if he goes to Jerusalem. Jesus was falsely accused of breaking the Law, now it is Paul’s turn. He is following in the Lord’s footsteps. He enters the Temple, he walks the same tightrope Jesus does – knowing the Law cannot save the people from their sins – but is a Shadow – a dress rehearsal picturing Messiah and devotion to God. The vow was a good one to agree to. Remember Paul had taken a Vow in Cenchreae earlier.

    After being falsely accused, lied about as Jesus was, and arrested we see the Main reason why Paul listened to James.
    Acts 23:11
    The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

    Paul knowing thru Prophets he will be in Chains propels this single action into a series of events that caused the Eternal Gospel to go before the Jews in the holy land from the Pharisee appointed Destroyer of churches who met the Lord on the Damascus road, to guards, soldiers, courts, leaders, and kings – all the way to his sacrifice for Truth.

    Remember how Paul explains in Romans that in some cases it is not the actions but the thoughts & beliefs behind them that God judges. We’ll read that in Rom 13-14. I know 1st Corinthians helps as many have posted but these chapters answer Paul’s actions better… Noting first

    Romans 13

    Submission to Governing Authorities
    13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

    The end of 14 states what I mentioned about what is in Paul’s *mind instead of seeing his *actions as a repudiation or mistake.

    In regard to the Law of Moses, it was the Law of the Jews. Because it is from God and pictures Messiah, Paul had no problem with it in Jerusalem. Why James and the Zealous Christian jews had a faith that could not fully let go of Moses is explained partially in Romans but the Temple being destroyed would take care of that. That the Temple stood for 40 years after Christ may have been a blessing to save more Jews who had this lifelong zeal for the glory of the Law. It’s a weak faith but Christ said only a kernel was needed to move mountains. Many of them died for that faith so we should not think of ourselves as better. It actually may be infinitely stronger than ours.

    Love the website and the great people here.

  27. If we are not free from the Law of God, but the condemnation of it, then are we not required to follow the Law? If we do not have to follow the Law (eg. the Sabbath), then why wouldn’t I also be free to lie, steal, murder, etc?

  28. Within this story in Acts 21, Paul had a lot of different kinds of behaviors within this time period. Paul had to go before many different higher up people and defend himself for something that wasn’t true. When it came to Paul talking about the Law, he said that he continued to follow it. This can be confusing to some people reading Acts 21, the reason is because when Paul said he was following the law but also talking and evangelizing to the genitals. When trying to prove that he was still following the law there were others that were Christians pushing that he wasn’t. For example, within this post P.Long talked about how James didn’t come and help Paul when he was being accused. It was interesting to me to hear that no Christians came to the aid of Paul when he was being accused of things that the Christians knew he didn’t do. I think when it comes to Paul having to prove himself in front of people is very hard to do especially on themselves having those doubts and also having a hard time getting people to hear their side of the story.

  29. Looking at Paul taking the vow to prove his loyalty to the Christians at Jerusalem seems to have a good reason behind it. The Christians at Jerusalem have been wary of Paul throughout the entire book of Acts. One of the biggest arguments that can be seen in the early church is about Paul and his message to the Gentiles. Some in the church could still be on edge with Paul and may not believe truly that he did what he told them he would. Also, the Jews when seeing Paul now specially were questioning if Paul was trying to get Jews to disobey the sacred laws (Polhill, 2016, pg. 2131). The Law is still held in high regard to the Jewish Christians, and they could not stand for Paul teaching against it to native Jews if he truly were. For Paul to show that he was not against them he had to do the vow with them (Polhill, p. 2131). The vow was needed for him to help provide the Jewish Christians the trust they needed. This I believe was his ultimate motive for his partaking in the vow. He wanted to show his fellow brother that he in fact was not against them. Paul, I think was constantly trying to prove himself to the Jews, Christian’s Jews, or non-Christian. They all had a very hard time getting in step with Paul’s call.

  30. After reading Acts 21, it was very evident that many of Paul’s teachings, and beliefs did not fully align with what many of the other Jews were taught, or what they believed. Paul’s beliefs would have been seen as very radical, or even disloyal to the law altogether. Paul fully believed that it was his duty to reach the Gentiles after his encounter with the lord, and he truly believed that it was not necessary for them to be under the law, in order to be saved. The fact that he was teaching them that abiding by the law was not necessary for salvation really did not resonate well with the Jews. Many of the other Jews did not feel that Gentiles were actually worthy and that they would be required to follow Jewish laws. It is clear that many Jews resent Paul’s teachings, and also quite interesting that none of the Apostles actually did step in to help Paul when he was finally arrested.

  31. After reading this blog post, Paul’s behavior in Acts may seem to me that he still listened and was following the Law of Moses, but that does not necessarily mean that he taught Gentiles to do the same. It is important to note that Paul’s approach varied depending on his audience. To the Jews, he became as a Jew, but to the Gentiles, he did not require circumcision or adherence to the Law (1 Corinthians 9:20). When Paul required Timothy to be circumcised, it was likely because Timothy’s mother was Jewish, and Paul did not want his ministry hindered by potential Jewish opposition. In Acts 23:1, when Paul claims to have a “good conscience,” he is not necessarily claiming to have kept the Law perfectly. Rather, he is asserting that he has acted in accordance with his convictions and principles. As Dunn notes, Paul’s loyalty to the Law was not an issue in and of itself; it was only a problem when it interfered with his message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. It is also important to note that this was a strategic move to appease conservative Jews and maintain unity in the church. It was not a sign that Paul had gone back on his teachings.

  32. This blog post on Acts 21 made me think. This question is something that isn’t crucial to think about but it is a fun topic. The behavior of Paul in Acts as described in the blog post tells us that he makes Jews continue to practice the law. This would lead us to assume that he would follow the law as Paul is a Jew and a pharisee at that. I love reading this post because it helped me see all the points one that specifically stood out to me is the fact that Paul specifically says in front of the Sanhedrin that he keeps the law. Paul also has a good conscience and to me that is enough evidence but what would Paul’s life look like if he didn’t keep the law? I would like to imagine that Paul would have gotten persuaded even more than he did even being a law-following Jew. Paul is an individual who had flaws so the questions you pose at the end of the blog post are interesting to think about. I think Paul follows the law because he was born into the law and he knows that Gentiles don’t need to follow the law. He knows the distinction and holds that tight to his ways and his heart.

  33. After reading Acts 21, it interesting to look at Paul and if he had or needed to keep the law at this point in his ministry. Paul’s mission up to this point is to bring any Jew or Gentile to Christ. Paul states that he has been keeping the law and hasn’t parted from it. Mr. Long shares in his blog post that Paul does not go around teaching the law to the Gentiles. Also, how close to the law does Paul expect the Jews to stay by the law. He does not tell Gentiles that they must convert to Judaism and follow the law in order to be saved. Rather, he tells the Jews to continue to follow the law that was given to them. When the Jews request that Paul should submit to the Nazarite vow, some people view this as a sin from Paul. I think of this as Paul trying to re-connect with these Jews. His audience is no longer the focus on the Gentiles, but at this moment his audience are the Jews fighting against him. In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul shares the purpose of his ministry and that is to become all to reach a few. If Paul believes taking this vow will start to turn the heads of these Jewish people, then so be it. It is clear however that Paul is willing to take the vow if he believes it will be able to further the gospel.

  34. It seems strange that Paul would teach it unnecessary to keep the Law while still practicing the Law himself, but I don’t think that was his main point. He wasn’t teaching people to throw the Law out and forget it exists, he was teaching that it was no longer restraining them. They were no longer bound by the Law because of what Jesus had done through his sacrifice on the cross. Paul says that we should not sin just because we know we will receive grace; we should continue to serve God and live according to God’s will. But, why then did Paul practice the Law if it was no longer necessary?
    It seems to me that making the Nazarite vow would make Paul’s ministry work more difficult. Polhill (2008) explains that those under the Nazarite vow would, “abstain from wine… avoid any contact that would defile them (such as contact with a dead body); and would not cut their hair” (p. 2132). By adhering to the restrictions under the Nazarite vow, Paul was less free to enter Gentile homes and interact with people who might defile him. However, Polhill continues, “If Paul went with them and personally paid for the cost of their offering, it would show that he did not object to Jewish converts following OT customs voluntarily, so long as those same customs were not required of Gentile believers” (p. 2132). Clearly, Paul didn’t have an issue with people following or not following the Law. What beliefs they held were more important than what actions they took. But for Paul, it was important for him to uphold not only the Law, but also his beliefs.

  35. Based on the text of Paul’s method of evangelism, it can be said that Paul still held the Law to be valuable and significant, however, he also understood that while it was still valuable it was no longer the road that led to salvation. In preaching a Law-free gospel to Gentiles it was also to help better reach them. It is said that wherever he went he reasoned with people, meaning he had to get together with Gentiles and converse with them in the spiritual state that they were in. For example, when Paul was in the Areopagus he reasoned with the men but had he followed the Law he wouldn’t have been able to be in the same room let alone talk to them. As mentioned in the blog this, however, was not Paul’s head-nod to people indicating that they could sin, simply that it was not a requirement for their salvation. It is obvious that Jesus was now the bridge to reaching the Gentiles but Paul still took part in being under the vow to demonstrate that he had nothing against Jews who decided to continue following the Law (Polhill, 2132).

  36. My first thought for why James did not help aid Paul was because he just was unable. But after realizing nobody came to aid Paul, I feel that there had to be something deeper. This made me think that it is very possible that Paul and James had a disagreement, this could be because of their differing backgrounds. While I can see why some people would see Paul sponsoring the vows in the temple as a mistake, I do not. To dispute this, I looked at 1 Corinthians 9:20, where Paul says to Jews he became like a Jew, in order to win the Jews. Paul did this in order for him to have any chance to save some. Looking at this, I believe Paul continued to watch over the Jews while he was preaching to the Gentiles. I do not believe that Paul was trying to prove himself of his faith, I think he is simply trying to give strengthen whatever chance he had to save anybody. As stated earlier, he wanted to become all things to all people, giving him the best chance to save (1 Cor 9:22).

  37. After much discussion about this in class and in church, I tend to lean towards the idea that yes, Paul kept some of the law because he was a Jew. The thing is that Paul knew that the rituals didn’t buy any favor with God or make him a better person or Christian. Paul talks so much in the New Testament about The Spirit and how that is the new Law. Therefore, when Paul follows the law, he recognizes the importance of his heart above all else. Without the spirit and a renewed heart, the practices of the law mean nothing. We even see this in Psalms 51:16-17 when David recognizes that the ritual means nothing, but God cares about one’s heart and where it’s at in terms of the right relationship with Him. This is also why David was a man after God’s own heart because David recognized God’s grace and the importance of acknowledging to God his sins; David was open to God and was vulnerable before Him. God always emphasizes the heart above all things! 1 Sam 16:7 is one of my favorite passages because God sees clearly and deeply the heart of man and He knows are thinking. This is why confession is such an important spiritual discipline daily because it is how one humbles themselves before God and is able to change their thinking to the right perspective. So, Paul recognized the heart is what matters and therefore if a person’s heart isn’t in the right place, then what they do doesn’t matter. If their heart is in the right place, then that is what truly matters.

  38. I do not believe Paul made a mistake by sponsoring the vow in the Temple. As we talked about in previous class periods, Paul did not “give up his Jewish card.” He did not fully convert from Judaism to Christianity as *we* might think of converting, rather he came to a new understanding of Judaism, one that recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah that was prophesied about in the Old Testament.

    I don’t really understand the arguments that Paul is somehow hypocritical for advocating that Jews keep the Law and that the Gentiles do not, nor do I understand the argument that Paul is somehow doing wrong by sponsoring the vow. I think sometimes people get hung up on the fact that Paul has “switched his focus” to the Gentiles, as if that means he has written the Jews off completely. Paul is still ethnically and in many ways still religiously Jewish, albeit with a belief in Jesus as Messiah. Why wouldn’t Paul do everything possible to maintain relationships with the Jews? If sponsoring a vow in the Temple is what it took for James and the others to trust him, to believe that Paul has not walked away from Judaism, and perhaps to truly listen to him, why shouldn’t he?

    Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 that “To the Jew I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law….I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Paul is willing to do *whatever it takes* (even if it means angering some people) in order to win as many over to God as possible. Paul was “willing to adopt the Jewish way of life temporarily to gain a hearing among Jews,” if that is what it took to get them to listen (Polhill, p. 2204). To take this Vow would not hurt his cause for the Gentiles, since “they would not care one way or the other!” (Long Notes, p. 137). I do not believe Paul was sinning by taking such a vow, and did so in order to reach as many people as possible for the gospel. One important thing to note is that Jesus’ death “nullified the distinctly Jewish parts of the Mosaic law,” but that does not mean that the Law became sinful to follow–especially for those who were ethnically Jewish (Polhill, p. 2204). The Law is not a requirement anymore, but I don’t believe that the somehow immediately became sinful to follow after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  39. “Paul never claims that we are free from the law of God, as Satan would have you believe, but rather we are free from the condemnation of the law through the sacrifice of Christ.”

    This is not so. Paul does not say we are not under the curse of the law, but we are not under the law /as if we could be under the law without the curse – Romans 6:14/. The law of Moses is never without the curse!!!

    Gal 3:10 For they that are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

    The power of sin is the law of Moses. (1 Corinthians 15:56) Christ did not die that the Christian might keep the law of Moses, but that the Christian might keep the law of Christ.

    Romans 3:21 Now the righteousness of God has been revealed without the law,
    Then let no one mess with keeping the law of Moses, for one cannot be saved by Christ under grace and also under the curse of the law of Moses at the same time.

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