Acts 21:20-21 20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “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.”
Here we have thousands of Jews who believe in the Messiah yet are zealous for the Law. James, the leader of all the Christians, is telling Paul that they heard a rumor that he was preaching to the Jews out among the nations/gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses and to not circumcise their children.
“What is to be done?” cries James in the next verse.
Do we see James and the Council setting these thousands of believers straight by telling them to forsake Moses? Does James cry out “Don’t worry about them Paul, we’ll tell them the Law of Moses has been abolished”?
No, he does not.
James and the Jerusalem Council know that Paul did not tell anyone to forsake Moses nor circumcision. They also know that Paul keeps the Law of Moses himself, and he proves this by fulfilling the Nazarite vow at the temple. He performs the Nazarite purification and sacrificial offering decreed in the Law of Moses.
What does the text say?
Acts 21:22-24 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 also live in observance of the law.
The rationale used to “explain away” these verses is twofold, and both are in error.
Error #1: Paul must have told the gentiles to forsake Moses, because the verses state Paul didn’t tell the Jews who were among the gentiles to forsake Moses.
The mainstream Christian teachers have “invented” false assumptions through illogical reasoning that has led to a convenient, however, erroneous conclusion.
The illogical reasoning goes as follows ~
- Paul did not tell the Jews to forsake Moses
- Gentiles are not Jews
- Therefore, Paul did tell the gentiles to forsake Moses
The automatic assumption for most teachers is to say, “See, Paul did not tell the ‘Jews’ to forsake Moses! Therefore, he ‘must have’ told the gentiles ‘to’ forsake Moses.”
That assumption is the error.
The actual text in the Word of God does not have the words “so he did tell the gentiles to forsake Moses” in it. Just assuming, or ‘reading between the lines’ is atrocious hermeneutics. That is called eisegesis, which is the interpretation of reading into the text ones one biased ideas.
The reason this an “invented” false assumption is because it was impossible for Paul to tell the pagan-gentiles to forsake something they never even had.
The word “forsake” in the Greek is G646 – ἀποστασίαν/apostisian. This word is only used one other time in the New Covenant Scriptures. Paul uses it in 2 Thessalonians where he is describing the great falling away from the faith at the end of days. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states this word to mean: a falling away, defection, apostasy. Webster’s Dictionary 1828 defines “apostasy” as: An abandonment of what one has professed; a total desertion, or departure from one’s faith or religion.
Words mean things.
Luke wrote this word “apostisian” under God’s inspiration, so we must look at the true definition and usage of the word in order to understand the context of what is being conveyed.
In order to forsake a thing, you first must belong to it. It was impossible for Paul to tell the pagan-gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses. The pagan-gentiles coming into the faith could not “fall away from, or abandon Moses”. They could not possibly “defect, desert or depart from following Moses”; they never had Moses to begin with. This “invented assumption” that Paul told the Pagans to forsake Moses based on Acts 21:20-21 is unscriptural man-made dogma.
Error #2: Paul and the Jerusalem council of elders taught that the Law of Moses could be obeyed by the Jewish believers but that it cannot be obeyed by the gentile believers.
This second critical error is propagated from the first error and is similar to the first. This is another invented false assumption.
Acts 21:20-26 above blatantly proclaims that those thousands among the Jews who are believers in Jesus (v.20) and are zealous for the Law (Present Tense in the Greek).
The word “zealous” in the Greek is Strong’s G2207, ζηλωταὶ/ zēlōtai. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states this word as: one burning with zeal; to defend and uphold a thing, vehemently contending for a thing (zealous for): νόμου, Acts 21:20.
James and Paul are going to prove to these “zealous for the Law believers in Jesus” that Paul did not teach anyone to forsake the Law of Moses. Not only that, but just like these “zealous for the Law believers in Jesus”, Paul also lived in observance of the Law of Moses.
This is a scriptural fact, that Paul lived in obedience to the Law of Moses. Period. He never taught those that already obeyed the Law of Moses to stop obeying it. Period. That is what the Word of God states: Acts 21:20-24.
The majority of today’s mainstream Christian churches do not teach this. They teach the exact opposite of what the Word of God says.
A few teachers, however, do agree with this fact. But, they incorrectly assume that the Jews who believed in Jesus, can and did obey the Law of Moses, but somehow, it’s blasphemy for the non-Jew who believes in Jesus to obey the Law of Moses.
That assumption is the error.
How could the “the Law of Moses be ‘done away with’ and ‘abolished’” for some believers and not others?
It is “assumed” by some today that the Law of Moses is bondage and legalism for pagan-gentiles coming into the faith but not for Jews coming into the faith? What kind of crazy doctrine is that? Please read ‘Freedom or Bondage‘.
How could Jesus, a Jew and the Messiah of Israel, “do away with” the Law of Moses for the “nations” that never knew about the Law, but not “do away with” it for his own people Israel?
Either the Law of Moses is valid and current (as Paul and the Jerusalem elders taught) or it’s abolished (as the church today teaches); it cannot be both at the same time! There can only be one doctrine for the body of Christ.
Out of Paul’s own mouth we the answer. He zealously states that there is no difference between Jew and Greek, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile for those that are in the body of Christ.
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” you are in Christ then you are “Abraham’s offspring”!
According to Paul, “all that are in Christ” are the same. The same father Abraham, the same offspring, the same Spirit and the same heir.
There is not one set of rules for the Jew coming into faith and a different set of rules for the pagan coming into faith.
According to Paul, all are the same. The same offspring, the same Spirit, the same body, the same heir.
The facts are plain in Acts 21:20-24. The context is, that thousands of believers in Jesus are zealous for the Law of Moses. James and the Jerusalem elders not only condone this, but they encourage the observing and keeping of the Law of Moses decades after the cross. Paul even proves that he also lives in observance of the Law.
Now that we’ve all read this, “what is to be done”?
What does the text say?
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Philippians 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (please read ‘Paul Commands Us to Uphold the Law‘.
That sounds a bit like what God the Son said, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” ~ Luke 16:17
And again, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” ~ Matthew 5:18
Heaven and earth are still here…
Back to Paul ~
Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Romans 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
Romans 7:25 So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind
Paul pleads and commands us to imitate him. Therefore, we should follow the instructions and commands of God as given through Moses, just as he did. We do not obey the Law of Moses to be justified. As Paul frequently reminds us, we are justified only by the merciful gift of God through the redeeming blood of Jesus. And just like Paul, we should also live in observance of the Law because we love our Redeemer and King. As obedient bond-servants we are not our own, we have been bought with a price.
If you are a follower of Christ, let me ask you about the commands you do obey. Are you justified because you repented of your sins? Does not committing adultery or sexual immorality justify you? Does not stealing or murdering justify you? Are you justified because you tithe? Are you justified because you don’t lie or gossip?
No, of course not. Yet, you obey these commands and they are straight out of Moses. You obey them because they are God’s Righteous Instructions/Laws.
How is obeying “do not commit adultery” perfectly fine, yet “remember the Sabbath Day” is legalism? How is “tithing” perfectly fine to obey, yet “observing the LORD’s Feasts” is bondage?
Final Thoughts: Remember that James and the Jerusalem council decreed that new believers coming into the faith from the “nations/gentiles” must first repent from there ungodly ways by obeying four specific commands from the Law of Moses. He also said they would hear the rest of the Law by going to the synagogue “every Sabbath” to hear Moses preached. This is the message Paul took to his assemblies among the “nations/gentiles”. | Acts 15:19-21