23 Feb 2016

Acts: A Jewish Story, James & Paul’s Animal Sacrifice

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Church, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, James, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Patternism, Sectarianism, Unity, Worship

bible_book_scroll_acts_hrGrowing up with Acts

I grew up on the Book of Acts. If there was any book of the Bible I was convinced that we in Churches of Christ were the masters of it was Acts.

In reality, I grew up on portions of the Book of Acts. While the vast majority of the preaching I heard was topical, where we did our best to keep up with the preacher, a good portion of those topics had to do with “cases of conversion.”  In fact, I was taught that Acts was “The Book of Conversions.”  That is, Luke wrote Acts for the purpose of showing us how a person was supposed to become a “Christian.” So I memorized Acts 2.38, could talk about the Ethiopian going down into the water, and tell you how Saul was told to arise and be baptized. I even learned how to counter Baptist conversion stories in Acts 16 by not “leaving the jail to soon!” (My first sermon was called “Don’t Leave the Jail to Soon” in fact).

Yet I grew up only selected parts of Acts. In fact there were large portions of Acts that were terra incognita! After reading Acts beginning to end in the early 1990s I remember writing “for a book of conversions there is a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with conversion.”

Acts, however, is not a Book of Conversions and was never intended to be.  When I began to read Acts beginning to end, I “discovered” stuff I had never once heard a sermon on. I could tell you about all those legalistic, unbelieving, Jews just as I was taught.  I could tell you about Agrippa almost being persuaded. I could tell you the disciples were given the “divine name” (as I was taught) of “Christian” in Antioch.

But one discovery rocked my world … I don’t even remember talking about it in college and I took the Book of Acts with David Underwood at Heritage Christian University … and that was in Acts 21. I simply had never heard anything one way or the other about Paul and his vow in the temple.

It was a text that I had no idea what to do with. I dug into classic sources and learned that most in the Stone-Campbell Movement either ignored the text or claimed that Paul was either wrong or outright sinned. I wrote about that here: Paul the Jew, His Nazarite Vow, and Restorationist Response to It.

A Flaw in Our HermeneuticWLA_jewishmuseum_Greek_Torah_Scroll_from_Ionnina

Something happens when we read a work the way it was written however. In the ancient world a “book” was a scroll (think of a roll of paper towels).  With a scroll you cannot flip around to read a bit here and a bit there.  You read a whole column.  When that column is read you turn the scroll to unroll the next column.  A work was read beginning to end.  As an integrated narrative! This is important.

A major flaw in “our” hermeneutic has been taking the Bible piecemeal. We have collected isolated texts, often with little relation, and built mountains out of unexamined assumptions. We have not, typically, read in terms of unified narrative. Our approach to Luke-Acts is a case in point. Luke-Acts is a single unified book. The work needs to be read in light of its entire framework – and Luke does have a framework. When I began to read Acts, beginning to end, I began to see the book as a whole was not a book of conversions.  When I began to read Luke and Acts together as the single book they were even more discoveries to be made. See my article Reading Luke-Acts: Thoughts on Luke’s ‘Patternism.’

The narrative unity of Luke-Acts is important today because Paul, in Acts 21, is deeply troubling to those who know the story. And when we have to resort to outright dismissing three inspired men to satisfy our own position or to claim they sinned, something is seriously flawed. However, this text confronts all kinds of assumptions we have imposed upon the text from our out of context, rearranged, piecemeal approach to the Bible. Assuming Acts is a “Book of Conversion” leaves us completely unable to understand and interpret large amounts of “data” in Acts. Assuming that Luke is telling how God’s church left the narrowness of Jewish legalism to embrace “grace” leaves us not only unprepared to deal with Acts 21, but even stunned by it.

But what happens when we read Luke and Acts together? What happens when we ask, “does Luke teach that Jesus started a new religion?

Or “does Luke teach, in Acts, that God through Jesus has kept his gracious promises to the same people and renewed them, as he said he would and that the renewal of God’s ancient people would bring Gentiles to acknowledge the one true God?” “Does Luke teach that the followers of Jesus are the true Jews? and those that have rejected him are not true to Israel?” Reading Luke-Acts, as a single logical narrative, and in context, forces these questions on us and even answers them.

Pretend your Bible is a scroll and resist the modernistic notion to play hop scotch with the text.  Instead revel in the flow of the story … and watch a remarkably Jewish story emerge about the People of God.

Luke’s Jewish Story of the Messiah’s People

I think Acts 21 is a crucial text in the story of God’s people. As Luke relates it, the narrative is a pivot or hinge in the narrative. Paul returns to Jerusalem. He meets with the brethren, and joyous praise to God is given at the good news of his ministry among the nations (21.20). There is not even the slightest hint at controversy over the Gentile mission of Paul and his coworkers.  Instead there is thanksgiving for it. Luke says, “Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God” (Acts 21.19-20).

Rumors, there are always rumors, about Paul have filled the air though. But the rumors are not about Gentiles but JEWS.  The brethren do not believe these rumors. This is an important datum. But the rumors can lead to DISUNITY between God’s People.   Neither Paul nor James will be party to disunity.  Paul had after all just written his magnificent letter to the Romans where he waxes eloquently on unity, diversity and those that cause dissension {literally Paul wrote Romans prior to his journey back to Jerusalem so the ink was still wet on the parchment}. In that letter he speaks powerfully to Gentile anti-Semitic arrogance against Jews (Protestant readers frequently sweep these texts under the rug as inconvenient truths). So James and the elders, the same

The Temple has an enormous role in Luke/Acts

The Temple has an enormous role in Luke/Acts

folks responsible for the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15) come up with a way to show that Paul is not guilty of the rumors and that Jews can worship God faithfully one way and Gentiles can as well without being Jews (“but as for the Gentiles …” 21.25).

Acts 21 demonstrates the profound emphasis on unity of God’s one people that both Paul and James believed in.  Acts 21 is also Paul’s living commentary – inspired by the Holy Spirit – of his teaching in Romans, especially chapters 14 and 15.

However it was stated to me that Paul, James and the Jerusalem church sinned because they participated in temple worship, especially sacrifice in Acts 21. There is no basis for this charge.  My answer is that the entire understanding of Acts that allows a modern “Church of Christ” writer to declare that three inspired men were wrong is, itself, wrong. I cringe at the arrogance of it!

But the hermeneutic, in fact, flies directly in the face of Luke’s consistent Jewish emphasis that runs from Luke 1 to Acts 28. This emphasis is extremely consistent and we have to work hard to miss it.  Luke tells a Jewish story, about a Jewish Messiah who renews Israel and gathers the nations to himself.  I reject reading the Bible piecemeal.

I want to highlight this Lukan Jewish emphasis straight from the text. Stuff that is all over the narrative that our hermeneutic simply filters out because it does not fit with our preconceived assumptions. My references are representative and not exhaustive. Most are in Acts simply for ease sake but I will begin with Jesus …

Acts 21 is Part of a Larger Jewish Theme

Acts 21 far from being a sin, Luke would have us believe the activities of Acts 21 is par for the course and a celebration of unity.

1) The last thing the risen Jesus does is give the apostles an “Old Testament” theology lesson, Lk 24.44-49. Pretty important stuff to him it would appear.

These are my words that I spoke to you {referring back to his ministry} … that everything written about me  in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened the scriptures {has to be the law prophets & psalms}  and he said to them that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.”

This summary of Jesus’s “Old Testament” theology lesson shows up over and over in the Book of Acts.  The sermons recorded in Acts 2, 3, 4, 7 and 13, for example, are all expansions on these words right here.  The Gospel itself is “Old Testament” exposition in the Book of Acts.

2) the Spirit is poured out on Pentecost, a traditional time of covenant REnewal time and celebration of the giving of the Law of Moses on Mt Sinai (Luke makes numerous allusions to this in his narrative), Acts 2.

3) The Way is declared to be filled with the Spirit and directed by the apostles doctrine. This means, among other things, they devote themselves to Jewish hours of prayer which is the hours of sacrifice. The Way worships in the temple (Acts 2.42, 46). For more on the Jewish Hours of Prayer see my They Continued Steadfastly in … THE Prayers, Acts 2.42. Luke does not say that the early believers were simply prayer warriors they were devoted to “THE” prayers (the NIV is quite misleading here).

4) Acts 3.1ff is an illustration of “one day” in the life of the church at “THE hour of prayer.” Luke provides a window on his summary in 2.46, that “day by day” they gathered in the temple at the hour of sacrifice. Peter and John are heading to worship in the Temple.

Skipping stuff for the sake of brevity …

5) We learn that the disciples on the Way in Damascus meets in the synagogues, they were not separate from it (9.1-2). These disciples of the Lord Jesus were simply “messianic” Jews.

6) Even Cornelius is no raw pagan but keeps Jewish piety especially “the” prayers (10.1-3, 30, note the 3 o’clock is the hour of sacrifice and the same time as in 3.1ff; this was the same hour of sacrifice Zechariah entered the sanctuary all the way back in Luke 1.  Peter, we learn, was also praying at “noon” (10.9) one of the “hours of THE prayers” that Luke tells us that the Way was “devoted” to (2.42)

7) The “authority” claimed by James for EXCLUDING Gentile obligation to the ceremonial aspects of the Law, is the Law of Moses itself, rather than some apostolic declaration.  Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles is happening, according to James, because of God’s ancient Scripture and promise to King David. Note carefully the words quoted by James from Amos 9.11-12 in Acts 15.16-17, “I will REBUILD the dwelling of David … so that all OTHER PEOPLES may seek the Lord.” The Gentiles of Paul’s ministry are proof that God has restored his people Israel, the house of David.

But these Gentiles are not Jews! They are not bound to certain aspects of the Law … as the Law itself declared! This is declared explicitly in 15.21 with the use of “gar” or “for.” The Law declares what a resident alien living within the land of Israel is to do and that is exactly what the Council imposes upon Gentiles, see 15.21 and Leviticus 17.10-16 and 18.24-30. Gentile believers must follow the same basic requirements of the Law that any resident alien living in the land of Israel was required to follow. This is no burden, as the inspired James says “gar Moses has been read …”  That is FOR Moses is read in every city.

8) Luke says that Paul himself was a bearer of the letter of written by the elders under the Holy Spirit (15.22).  Interestingly enough  immediately after the Council, Paul circumcises Timothy who is a Jew, Acts 16.3 (this is Luke anticipating the charge in 21.21 and proving it is a lie beforehand).  Those who believe that Paul was anti-law have scratched their heads over what Paul does to Timothy.  But as we can see this part of a sustained thread in Acts rather than some isolated happening to poor Timothy.

9) Luke tells us of Paul’s adventure in Philippi which for a man who, supposedly, paid no attention to the Law, Paul is really strange.  There was no synagogue in Philippi so Paul went to the river “where we supposed there was a place of prayer” this was a “sabbath day” (16.13).

9) The very next chapter Luke records Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom” (17.2) Paul kept the Sabbath day. This is the identical phrase used of Jesus in Luke 4.16.  This is not an evangelistic opportunity for Paul but an expression of his righteousness and faithfulness to God.  It is part of Luke’s defense that Paul did nothing against the Law.

10) the very next chapter Luke tells us that Paul shaved his hair “because he was under a vow” (18.18). This can only be a Nazarite vow. By v.22 Paul is in Jerusalem and he could have made a sacrifice there. But since the text is silent I will only assert that in v.18 Paul clearly is depicted as doing OT worship. But we see here that Paul’s pattern of behavior, as Luke relates it, is completely, utterly, and typically Jewish.  Paul circumcises young Jewish men living in the Diaspora, he finds the place of prayer on the Sabbath when there is no synagogue, and he habitually attends synagogue worship on the Sabbath day … and he even does something as so “Old Testament” as taking a vow.  Paul is a Jewish apostle to the nations bringing a letter that he carries around with him from the Jerusalem Council.

11) While others in Paul’s party, Paul stays behind in Macedonia (probably at Lydia’s who is a Jewess, we know she is a resident from chapter 16) with “us” … that is his Jewish companions for the feast of Unleavened Bread, Acts 20.5-6.

They {named Gentiles in v.4} went ahead and were waiting for US in Troas; but WE sailed from Philippi AFTER THE DAYS of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them.

I grew up only reading v.7! Never once in my growing up years did a single preacher point out that Paul and his traveling companions are celebrating worship in the Feast of Unleavened Bread! But the text makes an explicit distinction between “us” and “them” (Paul wrote Romans just a short while before this unleavened bread festival). Gentiles did not have to keep the feast but Paul and his Jewish companions were totally free to keep it.

12) After the “days of Unleavened Bread,”  Paul declares his wish to be back in Jerusalem “on the day of Pentecost” (20.16) … given Luke’s stress so far this desire is because Paul wants to worship! In fact when he defends himself, in 24.11, 17, he states point blank he wanted to come to Jerusalem “to worship” and to “offer sacrifices.”  But our piecemeal approach to the text has left our puzzle all disjointed.

13) Luke records that the charge that Paul told Jews not to keep the Law was a lie (21.17-21). The charges were that Paul taught Jews to forsake Moses and not circumcise their children.  James, and the elders, know this is simply absurd.  Paul is, after all, a Pharisee (23.6)! But rumors are hard to quiet. The reader of Acts from the beginning is not surprised Paul has a problem with some non-believing Jews. But the reader knows full well the charges are false. Luke tells us of a Jew not circumcised by his parents and Paul had none of it. Timothy probably wished the rumors were true!

14) James and the elders of the Jerusalem church, recommend Paul join four hqdefaultbrothers currently under a vow. Luke has already prepared us for this in 18.18 and his telling us repeatedly of Paul’s kosher habits. So Paul slices an animals throat in 21.22-27 (cf Numbers 6 and the Mishnah tractate, The Vow). Neither Paul, James or any other man could have entered the Court of Israel without undergoing ceremonial washing btw.  The “bouncers” of the Temple, the Levites who guarded the gates, would have dealt severely with Paul or James or anyone else attempting to enter without being “clean.”

It is also important to simply read the text carefully.  The text does not say that local Jerusalem Jews caused Paul’s problem.  It was diaspora, Asian, Jews. Jews from Asia where Paul had already had severe problems (Acts 19).  James and the Jerusalem Church had been meeting in the Temple for years.  When the powers that be later had James killed it scandalized so many Jews that even Josephus wrote about it.

15) After the raucous in the Temple, Paul defends his actions no less than four times. In each defense Paul states the charges against him by the unbelieving Asian Jews were utterly false. His first defense includes the revelation that the man who brought him into the Way in the first place, Ananias, was “a devout man according to the law” (22.12). For years I have known about scales falling from Saul’s eyes and him being told to rise and be baptized.  But I missed that Ananias was a faithful law keeping messianic Jew. And this revelation of Paul is part of his defense! It shows that Paul has done nothing “against the law” nor has the followers of the Way.  They were “devout” like the brethren “zealous for the law” that James pointed to (21.20). Clearly this Torah man had no issues in telling Saul to be baptized.

16) Interestingly, Paul testifies that after his baptism, one of the first things he did was go to the Temple!!! Now why did this newly commissioned apostle to the Gentiles go to the Temple? For the same reason he circumcised Timothy, for the same reason he kept the Sabbath, for the same reason he kept the feast of Unleavened Bread and for the same reason he was in the Temple for Pentecost.  But note this, it was while “praying IN THE TEMPLE, I fell into a trance and SAW Jesus” (22.17-18). Luke expects that we would have read his book as he wrote it and he has already told us that Zechariah had a weird encounter at the hour of prayer in the temple (Lk 1), and Peter and Cornelius and of course every Jew knew Daniel did too, at the hour of prayer (and Jews also knew the story of Judith who in her virtue devoted herself to the hour of prayer at the evening sacrifice). It is not possible for Luke to make Paul any more a typical Jew than here.  See my blog Aroma of Incense: Shadow of the Temple in Luke’s Story of Jesus and the Way for a more detailed look at the tamid or temple sacrifice that Luke weaves into his whole 2 volume work.

sacrifice17) Next Paul defends himself before the Sanhedrin in two ways. They surprise modern folks but for the reader of Luke-Acts they are par for the course. He states baldy, and shockingly to many, “I AM A PHARISEE” … he does not say “I used to be a Pharisee.” Present tense.

Luke has given us all the “external” evidence needed to sustain this claim by Paul. Paul was routinely invited to speak in synagogues according to Luke. This would never have happened in a million years if Paul did not look like a rabbi! Had he been dressed like a pagan philosopher he would not be teaching. In Ephesus he is explicitly identified by the pagans themselves as a “Jew” (16.20). This comes from the manner in which Paul dressed. And second Paul says he is on trial for the resurrection/the hope of ISRAEL (23.6; 28.20). He is not on trial for being an apostle. He is not on trial for breaking the law because, as Luke has shown, he did not break it. He is on trial for what the OT scriptures stated (a tie in to Jesus’s words in Lk 24 mentioned at the head of this article).

18) In his next defense, this time before Felix, Paul reflects directly upon the events of Temple in chapter 21. He states as clearly as can be stated “I went up to Jerusalem TO WORSHIP” (reminding us of his desire to be in Jerusalem on Pentecost in 20.16). What kind of worship? Probably the same kind Paul wrote about recently to the Romans in 9.4 which Paul declared to be God’s grace and honor to Israel. But I don’t have to infer for Paul tells us “I came to bring alms to my nation AND TO OFFER SACRIFICES.” (24.17). Paul was going to worship in the Temple whether James suggested it or not. Paul went to the Temple without James’s suggestion every time he was in Jerusalem. Worship in the Temple was as much a part of Paul’s life as keeping the Sabbath. This text causes problems for moderns who side with Paul’s accusers in Acts 21 rather than with his own testimony and Luke’s narrative.  They grossly misunderstand Paul’s letter to the Galatians (which had been written years prior to this event!) which is about Gentiles relationship to the ceremonial Law and has nothing to do with Jewish.

19) In his defense, between 24.11 and 17, Paul declares he believes “everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets” (surely another Lukan tie in to Jesus’ OT Theology lesson in Lk 24!) this is simply a way of saying he is true to the Hebrew Bible, Paul nor Luke ever heard of the “Old Testament.”

20) Moving along to briefly note Paul’s words in his next defense before Festus.  I will quote the pertinent words that are a direct reply to the rumored charges we learn of in 21.21-22. “I have in no way committed an offense against the law of the Jews, or against the temple, or against the emperor” (25.8)

21) And my final example is another we just sort of “passover” without a moment of thought. This is an Old Testament calendar reference but it is interesting that Luke makes it in this manner. “… sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by” (Acts 27.9). This is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Luke even identifies it in the exact same way a traditional Jew would, and with no explanation! Why? Because that is how 1) Paul kept time and 2) that is how Luke’s original readers would have understood it. You do not bother to explain what you believe the person you are talking to already understands. They would have known because it meant something to them.

Survey Says

This brief overview of Luke’s Jewish emphasis shows Paul’s actions in the temple in Acts 21 is neither sin nor aberration. It is part of a book length thread that is conveniently ignored and erased from our consciousness when we play hopscotch with the Bible.

Read Luke-Acts from beginning to end. Over and over. Let Luke tell us his Holy Spirit given agenda. Forget the sectarian apologetics and simply deal with the text. Paul did not err. James did not err. The elders did not err. The Jerusalem church was not in error. They instead, by their own actions, showed the truth of Romans 14 and 15. James and Paul are one! They are united … even in liturgical diversity. And this is precisely, in the end, why many want to reject this text.  They would rather say Paul (typically, but not always, James and the Jerusalem church are just ignored or it is asserted that Paul caved to the legalistic pressure of the Jews) sinned! Truly unexamined assumptions are heavy burdens to bear.

Rather James and Paul lead the Way into a demonstration that God’s people are in fact ONE just as Paul had written in Ephesians 2, Romans 9-11, and scolded people for wanting to DIVIDE God’s people in Romans 14.

Luke’s “pattern” is a very Jewish one. Gentiles are brought into Israel, the restored house of David. Why do we simply sweep these abundant texts (and this is not all) away?

In Acts 21 the Apostles James and Paul practiced what they preached. Luke celebrates the unity that embarrasses many.


Luke’s Jewish emphasis is expressed in many more ways as the links in this article also demonstrate.  But for Luke’s further stress on the Tamid, or daily sacrifice in the Temple, to tell his story of Jesus and the Way (which often miss like so much of Luke’s Jewish story) see this link: Aroma of Incense: Shadow of the Temple in Luke’s Jewish Story of Jesus and the Way.

Further Resources for Bereans

Terrance Callan, “The Background of the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:20,29; 21:25),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 55 (1993): 284-297
Jacob Jervell, Luke and the People of God
_______, The Unknown Paul: Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History
Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity
Robert Tannehill, “The Story of Israel within the Lukan Narrative “
I. Howard Marshall, “Israel and the Story of Salvation” in Jesus and the Heritage of Israel: Luke’s Narrative Claim Upon Israel’s Legacy, edited by David P Moessner.

16 Responses to “Acts: A Jewish Story, James & Paul’s Animal Sacrifice”

  1. Matt Dabbs Says:

    Thank you for sharing this Bobby. This needs to be in a article like this for posterity sake.

    Working from memory here as I don’t remember where I read this but some have challenged it being a Nazarite vow because that would take 30 days but the 30 day rule was a later tradition that may not have been the case in Paul’s day and it is also possible the vow Paul takes is different than the one he pays for for the other guys.

    I also read somewhere that it is possible that the funds Paul used for the vow were from his collection from the mainly Gentile churches that even furthers the point of connection of reconciliation between the Jewish and Gentile Christians which takes this beyond Paul vs the Jerusalem elite but Paul’s churches by proxy endorsing this vow.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Matt I have read that Paul could have used some funds from the collection. It is certainly possible because the Vow was not cheap. If he did then that money would have been volunteered by those controlling those funds (Paul did not) and it would make a powerful statement about the oneness of the Jewish and Gentile believers.

  2. Matt Dabbs Says:

    McGarvey takes the view that Paul, like Peter in Acts 10, was wrong in his view here. This is a bit lengthy but gives most of his take on this,

    “This I confess to be the most difficult passage in Acts to fully understand, and to reconcile with the teaching of Paul on the subject of the Mosaic law. We shall have the exact state of the question before our minds, by inquiring, first, What was the exact position of the Jerusalem brethren in reference to the law? second, What had Paul actually taught upon the subject? and, third, How can the course pursued by both be reconciled to the mature apostolic teaching?
    First. It is stated, in this speech, of which James was doubtless the author, that the disciples about Jerusalem were “all zealous for the law.” They recognized the authority of Moses as still binding; for they complained that Paul taught “apostasy from Moses.” The specifications of this apostasy were, first, neglect of circumcision; second, abandonment of “the customs.” By “the customs” are meant those imposed by the law, among which, as seen in their proposition to Paul, were the Nazarite vows, with their burnt-offerings, sin-offerings, and meat-offerings, and, as seen in Paul’s epistles, abstinence from unclean meats, and the observance of Sabbath-days, holy days, new moons, and Sabbatic years.14
    Second. Our iniquity into Paul’s teaching on the subject must have separate reference to what he had taught before this time, and what he taught subsequently. None of his oral teachings on the subject are preserved by Luke, hence we are dependent for a knowledge of his present teaching upon those of his epistles which were written previous to this time. In none of the specifications above enumerated did he fully agree with his Jewish brethren. True, he granted the perpetuity of circumcision; yet not because he acknowledged with them the continued authority of the law, but because of the covenant with Abraham which preceded the law. As for the law, he taught that it had been “a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith, but after faith is come, we are no longer under the schoolmaster;” that, “now we are delivered from the law, being dead to that in which we were held;” that we are “become dead to the law by the body of Christ.” In repudiating the authority of the law, he necessarily repudiated all obligation to observe “the customs.” In reference to all these, he afterward said to the Colossians, that God had “blotted out the handwriting of ordinances which was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.” “Let no man, therefore, judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of Sabbaths; which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is Christ.” While thus repudiating the obligation to observe the ordinances, he admitted the innocence of their observance, and forbade any breach of fellowship on account of it, laying down in reference to them all, this rule: “Let not him who eats, despise him who eats not; and let not him who eats not, judge him who eats.” In reference, therefore, to meats and days, he and the judaizers agreed that the Jews might observe them; and they differed as to the ground of this conclusion: the latter affirming that it was a matter of duty; the former holding that it was a matter of indifference.
    Thus far we have omitted special mention of one custom, because its importance demands for it a separate consideration. We refer to sacrifices. It is evident, from the transaction before us, as observed above, that James and the brethren in Jerusalem regarded the offering of sacrifices as at least innocent; for they approved the course of the four Nazarites, and urged Paul to join with them in the service, though it required them to offer sacrifices, and even sin-offerings. They could not, indeed, very well avoid this opinion, since they admitted the continued authority of the Mosaic law. Though disagreeing with them as to the ground of their opinion, as in reference to the other customs, Paul evidently admitted the opinion itself, for he adopted their advice, and paid the expense of the sacrifices which the four Nazarites offered.
    Third. The commentators uniformly agree that Paul was right, and that the rites observed on this occasion are to be referred to that class which are indifferent, and in reference to which Paul acted upon the principle of being a Jew to the Jew, that he might win the Jew. This would not be objectionable, if the proceeding had reference merely to meats and drinks, holy days, etc., to which it appears to be confined in their view; for all these were indifferent then, and are not less so at the present day. Who would say that it would now be sinful to abstain from certain meats, and observe certain days as holy? But it is far different with bloody sacrifices. If disciples, either Jewish or Gentile, should now assemble in Jerusalem, construct an altar, appoint a priesthood, and offer sin-offerings, they could but be regarded as apostates from Christ. But why should it be regarded as a crime now, if it was innocent then?
    The truth is, that, up to this time, Paul had written nothing which directly conflicted with the service of the altar, and he did not yet understand the subject correctly. His mind, and those of all the brethren, were as yet in much the same condition on this subject that they were before the conversion of Cornelius, in reference to the reception of the uncircumcised into the Church. If we admit that the proposition above quoted from Galatians, affirming that “we are no longer under the law,” was, when fully understood, inconsistent with the continuance of the sacrifice, we make his case only the more likely like Peter’s in regard to the Gentiles; for he announced propositions, on Pentecost, which were inconsistent with his subsequent course, until he was made to better understand the force of his own words. Peter finally discovered that he was wrong in that matter, and Paul at length discovered that he was wrong, in his connection with the offerings of these Nazarites. Some years later, the whole question concerning the Aaronic priesthood and animal sacrifices was thrust more distinctly upon his mind, and the Holy Spirit made to him a more distinct revelation of the truth upon the subject, and caused him to develop it to the Churches, in Ephesians, Colossians, and especially in Hebrews. In the last-named Epistle, written during his imprisonment in Rome, he exhibited the utter inefficiency of animal sacrifices; the sacrifice of Christ, once for all, as the only sufficient sin-offering; and the abrogation of the Aaronic priesthood by that of Christ, who was now the only high priest and mediator between God and man. After these developments, he could not, for any earthly consideration, have repeated the transaction with the Nazarites; for it would have been to insult the great High Priest over the house of God, by presenting, before a human priest, an offering which could not take away sin, and which would proclaim the insufficiency of the blood of the atonement. We conclude, therefore, that the procedure described in the text was inconsistent with the truth as finally developed by the apostles, but not with so much of it as was then understood by Paul. This conclusion presents but another proof that the Holy Spirit, in leading the apostles “into the truth,” did so by a gradual development running through a series of years.
    When Paul finally was enabled to understand and develop the whole truth on this subject, no doubt the opinions and prejudices of the more liberal class of Jewish disciples yielded to his clear and conclusive arguments. But, doubtless, some still clung to the obsolete and unlawful service of the temple, assisting the unbelieving Jews to perpetuate it. Then came in the necessity for the destruction of their temple and city, so that it should be impossible for them to longer offer sacrifices which had been superseded. The destruction of the temple was not the legal termination of the Mosaic ritual; for it ceased to be legal with the death of Christ; but this brought to an end its illegal continuance.
    Before we dismiss this passage, there are two more points claiming a moment’s attention. First, the justness of the accusation which the brethren had heard against Paul. He had certainly taught the Jews that they were no longer under the law, and that “the customs” were no longer binding, and this was, in one sense, “apostasy from Moses.” But he had not, as he was charged, taught them to abandon the customs; for he had insisted that they were innocent; and, in reference to circumcision, he had given no ground of offense whatever. Hence the charge, as understood by those who preferred it, was false; and it was with the utmost propriety that Paul consented to disabuse their minds, though the means he adopted for that purpose was improper.
    The last point claiming attention is the nature of the purification which Paul underwent. The statement which we have rendered, he “purified himself with them,” is understood, by some commentators, to mean that he took part in their vow of abstinence. But for this meaning of the term, agnizo, there is no authority in the New Testament; everywhere else it means to purify, and Paul’s own statement to Felix, that “they found me purified in the temple,” in which he speaks of the same event, and uses the same word, is conclusive as to its meaning here. It will be remembered that no Jew who, like Paul, had been mingling with Gentiles, and disregarding the ceremonial cleanness of the law, was permitted to enter the outer court of the temple without being purified. This purification he must have undergone, and there is no evidence that he underwent any other. But it is said that he purified himself “with them,” which shows that they, too, were unclean. Now, when a Nazarite became unclean within the period of his vow, it was necessary that he should purify himself, shear his head on the seventh day, and on the eighth day bring certain offerings. Then he lost the days of his vow which had preceded the uncleanness, and had to begin the count anew from the day that the offering was presented. This is fully stated in the sixth chapter of Numbers, where the law of Nazarite is prescribed. Such was the condition of these Nazarites, as is further proved by the notice given of the “days of purification,” and the mention, in the next verse below, of “the seven days,” as of a period well known. Nazarites had no purification to perform except when they became unclean during their vow; and there was no period of seven days connected with their vow, except in the instance just mentioned. In this instance, as the head was to be sheared on the seventh day, and the offerings presented on the eighth, there were just seven whole days employed. Paul’s part was to give notice to the priest of the beginning of these days, and to pay the expenses of the offerings; but he had to purify himself before he went in for this purpose.”

    McGarvey, J. W. (1872). A commentary on Acts of Apostles (pp. 258–262). Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      McGarvey did indeed struggle with this text Matt. His struggle is rooted in his assumptions about the nature of Paul’s mission his supposed rejection of Judaism and the like. McGarvey is one that thinks Acts is a “Book of Conversions” and as helpful as he is in a number of places does not, in my judgment, really understand what Luke is doing in the book. His views on Paul’s Vow is largely negative. I survey Restoration attitudes toward Acts 21 in this blog: Paul the Jew; His Nazarite Vow; and Restorationist Response to It.

  3. Michael Arena Says:

    I have taught for years that God only had one religion: himself revealed in the Scriptures. We fail as the church to understand this simple fact.

  4. Royce Ogle Says:

    Bravo Bobby! You nailed it.

    BTW, I think it’s McGarvey who is wrong, not Paul.

  5. Dwight Says:

    Col.2 makes it clear that those who practiced the Sabbath, New Moon feast, etc were not to be judged in this. They were not wrong to do worship that had Jewish ties, but then again sacrifice was done way before the law came. It wasn’t Jewish, it was worship.
    The “early church fathers” were largely against the Jews, antisemitic, and thus rejected any thought of the early saints being Jewish or doing Jewish things, even condemning those things. Many today, especially in the conservative branches, follow the thought that to practice anything Jewish is sinful as that the things the Jews did were carnal in nature…those things that God commanded them to do.
    There was no contradiction in being a Christian Jew as Paul was, but there was in relying on the law as the savior, as only Jesus was the true path to God, of which the OT and Jewish nation laid out.

  6. Gil T Says:

    A really great article, Bobby.

    I absolutely reject the seriously mistaken explanation that Paul, James or the elders sinned in the matter of Paul offering sacrifice in the temple at Jerusalem. I believe, with all due respect and you may correct me if I am wrong, that your view is as that of those saints in Christ who chose to identify themselves as Messianic Jews. This is not a problem for me. I know you preach Jesus and him crucified as Lord and Savior. Even though I believe I understand and disagree with your understanding and explanation concerning Paul and his observance of the law it is does not pose a problem for me nor do I feel compelled to heap condemnation.

    I will, without going off topic, briefly remind you of another very serious overlook and disregard by the saints concerning Acts and it is as concerns Artemis.

    My comments are limited to your introduction and then from the respective points as numbered by you.

    What you refer to as a “new religion” (this latter term being one for which I have little use in my daily discussions and teaching opportunities) is the stuff that makes for great exchanges. However the term as neither 1) coined by twenty first saints in Christ, nor 2) Paul. Actually the term is “new covenant” was coined by Jeremiah and it probably did not go over any better with his audience than it did with our brothers and sisters following Pentecost. We know the prophets paid for their message with their lives and Stephen was the first of our brothers to suffer that same death. If the message of the apostles especially immediately after the days of Jesus were nothing different than the ol’ time religion the reaction by the Jews of threats, beatings and ultimately death do not square with such an explanation.

    Re: 8,10, 13 & 16
    Was the reason Paul had Timothy circumcised because this was the way of typical Jews? The reason as stated by Luke was that it was “because of the Jews who were in those parts.” It might be interesting to add to the reason given by Luke, but that is not what Luke wrote.

    Re: 17
    Yes, Paul does boldly assert that he IS a Pharisee in the present tense as you point out. My question, Bobby, is that if Paul dressed like a rabbi and a Pharisee why didn’t the Pharisees and Sadducees recognize him as such? Why did it take Paul declaring before the Sanhedrin that he was a Pharisee in Acts 23? He did not similarly denote himself as a Pharisee in Philippians 2 where his short list of, both good and bad, those things which he counted as lost.

    I will end with this brief understanding of mine concerning Paul’s participation in the temple sacrifice at Jerusalem. This does not pose a problem in the least. Paul was ever seeking and mindful of the opportunity to proclaim Jesus. This is exactly what resulted from the incident at the temple. This has led me to draw one implied lesson from this incident. It is the unashamed, unapologetic willingness of Paul to cease on a religious holiday (though you might say otherwise) to which he was not bound to observe it with diligently and respectfully even while seeking to proclaim Jesus. This is the opportunity which Christians have with the observances and celebrations of Christmas, Easter, and yes, even Halloween. Alas, these are lost.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Gil always glad to have your insightful remarks. Just a few words in reply.

      First, I am not a Messianic Jew. My understanding of Acts overall and Acts 21 in particular seems to agree with most contemporary scholarship. It is based on the book of Luke-Acts itself.

      Second, with regard to a “new religion.” Most Christians have assumed that “Christianity” is a new religion from that of Israel and the Jews of Jesus’ day. This view is based on a number of assumptions that simply have no basis in the text nor history. The word “new” in the phrase “new covenant” in both Hebrew and Greek can just as easily be translated as REnew. It does not mean BRAND new or a different kind of new. A “new” moon (same word) is not a different moon but the renewal of the same Moon. Luke regards the people of God as the same as the people of God in what we call the Old Testament. That old people has been “renewed.” I think this can be sustained exegetically all over the book of Acts.

      I think Paul’s fellow Jews did in fact recognize him and his “attire.” There is no evidence anywhere that I know of that suggests Paul dressed differently than Jesus or James … and I know Jesus dressed like a typical Jewish man.


  7. Dwight Says:

    In the conservative groups, this thought exercise would point towards that due to God’s command in the OT and then lack of command in the NT, then what Paul did would have been sinful. This is used to condemn IM.
    I believe Bobby, what you have shown is that it is neither commendable for salvation, nor condemnable as it was worship and/or service to God.
    It is not so much that he had to do this, but rather that he could do this without restrictions and sin.
    If it was indeed sinful to do what many retrofit as “carnal”, then Paul wouldn’t have done it. And he wouldn’t have let others do it. And he wouldn’t have been seen doing it.
    Paul understood the perfect law of liberty.

  8. Dwight Says:

    It has occurred to me that in Matt.5 we are told, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” and yet we don’t apply this to God. If God wants us to do something, then we should do it and then we should do it some more beyond what he asked for. We are not only complying, but desiring.
    Paul didn’t stop worshipping and observing in all ways to God, even when he was only really compelled to do some things…i.e. pray, sing, Lord’s Supper, etc. David didn’t have to write all of those psalms and yet he did. It almost shows how little we think of God to just do what God says “only” and no more when we can and where we can. It might be the least we can do, but it should be the most we can give.

  9. Gil T Says:

    I trust that you know there was nothing disparaging intended in reference to Messianic Jew, brother. Thank you for the clarification.
    What scholars agree and Christians assume, per your comment, is duly noted.

    As I have often stated there is not much be sustained or demolished on the basis of single word definitions. Let’s go with “new” as meaning “REnew.” I have contended for a long time a very similar point as yours, namely, that Acts 2 does not mark the beginning of a so-called, new religion. However, I want to be clear.

    The reality and the truth of the matter is that whether one refers to it as a new or a renewed covenant/religion neither one of these does anything to ease the Jewish conscience involving faith in a crucified Messiah let alone ascribing deity to that Messiah.

    You are correct. There is no evidence -whatsoever- that differently than Jesus and Peter. I would add to this moot point that there is no evidence that Paul, whether or not like Jesus and Peter, dressed like rabbi or Pharisee. It is you who have made that claim that Paul dressed like a Pharisee and it is a claim that does not hold up in the one setting where Paul was among those who would know a Pharisee because they themselves were Pharisees.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Gil I know you were not intending anything disparaging. I was just trying to clarify. I appreciate Messianic Jews and have many friends (and brothers) that attend Messianc synagogue (and I have been known to break bread with them). We frequently disagree on points of interpretation though as I believe often a medieval tradition of European Jewry is read back into the first century, which was Jewish but Jewish is not synonymous with “rabbinic.” Nothing wrong with those wonderful traditions in themselves they were just often not something that existed in the Second Temple period. But the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism is the primary interpretive context of Jesus and the early “church.” But as I have said Rabbinic and Jewish are not synonyms. Hope my point will help clarify rather than muddy the waters further on that.

      I do believe that Luke understand Pentecost as the REnewal of Israel. The Messiah has come, the Spirit is given as proof that the Messiah has come and God renews his covenant. As I state in the blog, and other ones, Pentecost was associated with covenant renewals already in Israel’s faith tradition and the giving of the covenant at Sinai in the first place. Luke makes many associations with those traditions as he tells the story that no Jew would have missed but often modern believers do not because were not raised in that culture. So the “new” covenant” is the REnewed covenant, the rebuilding of the House of David to use James’s words in Acts 15. The renewed people of God includes Gentiles. But it is still Israel, the same people God made the promise to in Joel, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

      I am not sure what you mean your fourth paragraph. “Ease the Jewish conscience?” I do not know what you mean by that.

      I believe that Luke tells us that Paul looks like a typical Jew. If Pagans in Ephesus can look at Paul and tell he is a Jew then it was apparently obvious. Paul never left his Jewish faith. Paul never even uses the word “Christian.” He clearly knows the word but he never addressed even one of his churches with such language.

      So at any rate if you want to read some incredibly stimulating stuff that goes in exquisite detail I recommend Jacob Jervell’s chapter “The Unknown Paul” in his book of the same title. If you cannot get a copy I will be glad to photocopy that chapter and forward it to you. Not saying it will change your mind or anything. Just saying you will be stimulated by it. 🙂 Blessings

  10. Gil T Says:

    Re: new/renewed covenant
    This is a moot point, Bobby. I do not have a problem or argument if you go with “REnewal” of the covenant instead of a new covenant. The problems that come with such a view of the word as “renewal” is as concerns the animal sacrifices and more under the law of Moses. You are not espousing anything which has not been heard, but I have also never heard a response which advocates for a renewal of the covenant _ without animal sacrifices? This would definitely not constitute a renewal under any Jewish history, understanding and practice of the law. The single biggest difference which involves a post-Pentecost renewal and why I refer to the Jewish conscience is that the human sacrifice (as they saw it) of Jesus was, to seriously understate it, unacceptable for the Jews.

    Re: Paul as a typical Jew
    Whether or not Luke presents Paul, as you state, as a typical Jew and how Paul was seen by pagans in Ephesus seem secondary to your point. Your primary point, which you have asserted as evidence that Paul was either a typical Jew or a Pharisee, was that he dressed as the latter. Yet, I posed the question to you why then was it that he was not recognized as a Pharisee before the Sanhedrin and in the presence of Sadducees and Pharisees? Paul had to declare to them that he was a Pharisee.

    I understand Paul never used the term Christian. Is this supposed to be taken as another proof that Paul was a typical Jew or a Pharisee? Is it to diminish or question the authenticity of the term as used by the apostle Peter? I would encourage you to go back to your point about Paul dressing as a Pharisee. Quite simply, I do not have a problem with Paul observing some, even much, of his old Jewish heritage. However to take that as a claim to argue that he continued to teach adherence to what amounts to a selective practice of a renewed covenant without animal sacrifice is its own problem and not of my making.

  11. Dwight Says:

    I’m not sure I buy ” So the “new” covenant” is the REnewed covenant, the rebuilding of the House of David to use James’s words in Acts 15. The renewed people of God includes Gentiles. But it is still Israel, the same people God made the promise to in Joel, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.” simply because it was a new testament as stated in Heb.8 ”
    The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them,
    declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.
    I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
    For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
    This was a prophetic statement about one replacing the other.

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