Act 21:18-24 18On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him (Paul), “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus, all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself (Paul) also live in observance of the law.
This is perhaps the most obvious passage in all of the Scriptures that proves Paul himself not only kept the Law of God given through Moses, but he never taught that it was abolished. Obviously, James knew that Paul was misunderstood, as we are warned that he could be in 2 Peter 3:16-17, so he encouraged Paul to prove that he did not teach against circumcision or the Law of Moses. In Acts 21:26 Paul willfully performs a “so-called ceremonial” purification, from the Law of Moses, to prove that “there is nothing in what they have been told about you” and that he “lived in observance of the Law” as James says in verse 24 above.
In verse 21 above, James is concerned because he knows there are rumors about Paul, rumors that he taught against Moses and circumcision. However, James knows this to be false, as he clearly states in verse 24, “that there is nothing in what they have been told about you (Paul)“. What were they told about Paul? Again, verse 21 states that some were told that Paul taught “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs”. According to the Holy Spirit inspired Luke, who wrote this letter of Acts, this is a false accusation brought against Paul.
What does the text say?
Acts 21:24b “Thus, all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.“
In verse 24 here, the word “live“ in the Greek is Strong’s G4748 στοιχεῖς/stoicheis which is in the Present Tense (decades after the cross). This is from a derivative of steicho: to march in (military) rank (keep step), i.e. (figuratively) to conform to virtue and piety — walk (orderly). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states stoicheis to mean: to walk, to direct one’s life, to live.
Also, in verse 24 and in the Present Tense (decades after the cross) is the word “observance“. In the Greek this is Strong’s G5442 φυλάσσων/phylássōn and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states this to mean: to guard, i.e. to care for, to take care not to violate; to observe.
What does the Word of God say about the Apostle Paul and the Law of Moses? It says he “marched to”, kept in step with” and “directed his life to guard, observe and not violate” the Law of Moses, and this is declared decades after the ascension of Jesus.
Regarding those rumors that Paul taught others to forsake the Law of Moses and to not circumcise the male children; these were also false accusations according to the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God (See my blog “Zealous for the Law“).
However, these “false accusations” regarding Paul here in Acts chapter 21 are either ignored or are being taught as “true accusations“ by mainstream teachers.
Not only does the Word of God state that Paul did not teach against circumcision nor against the Law of Moses, but the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God states that Paul himself was living his life observing the Law of Moses when James spoke these words!
Yet, the mainstream Christian church has for centuries and still is teaching that Paul taught that the Law was abolished and done away with.
The current mainstream doctrine teaches the opposite of what the Word of God teaches. Why?
A common way for the mainstream church to excuse away this scriptural fact about Paul, is to throw out the haphazard declaration “Well, Paul was a Jew not a gentile”. The argument that “Paul is a Jew and only Jews can keep the Law” is illogical, hypocritical, unscriptural; it’s false for three reasons:
- First off, the Law of Moses is either abolished or it’s not. Period. How in the world could it be abolished for the gentiles, who never had it in the first place, and not be abolished for the Jews?
- Secondly, if Paul preached that it’s abolished, done away with, null and void throughout the known world and keeps it himself then he’s teaching hypocritically unsound doctrine.
- Lastly, there isn’t a single Scripture to back up the idea that the Law of Moses is current and valid today for the “Jewish believers” but abolished for the “believers who used to be gentile”.
However, there are numerous verses out of Paul’s own mouth where he emphatically states that there is no difference between Jew and Greek, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. In Christ, whatever is right for one is right for the all.
What does the text say?
Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Galatians 3:28-29 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Ephesians 3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
ALL are the same before the Lord. According Paul there is no Jew and there is no Greek before God; “If”, if you are in Christ then you are “Abraham’s offspring”! According to Paul, “all in Christ” are the same. The same father Abraham, the same offspring and the same heir. Not one set of rules for the Jewish believer and a different set of rules for the gentile believer. The same offspring, the same body, the same heir.
According to Paul all are the same. All are equal in the body of Christ before God.
Even with all the “misunderstood” verses in Paul’s letters, these verses in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ conclusively settles the matter. Paul did not teach against the Law of Moses or circumcision, but he did personally observe and keep the Law of God as given through Moses decades after ‘the Cross’!
Final thought: Paul instructs us many times in his letters to imitate him, to do the things he does (See 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; Philippians 3:17, 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). What did he do? Paul lived in observance of the Law.