Acts 18:18b At Cenchreae he(Paul) had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.
Here we see Paul keeping the Law of Moses regarding the Nazarite vow of Numbers chapter 6. If Paul taught that the Law of Moses was abolished why would he do this? Why would the Holy Spirit have Luke write this as if it were important information to relay to the reader of his letter? On the surface it seems to be quite an arbitrary comment in the context of the chapter. Yet, there it is, “in the Word of God“; Paul observing the Law of Moses decades after the ascension of Jesus.
If only so-called “moral Laws” are valid now, as some would argue, why would Paul keep this vow that mainstream theology calls a “ceremonial Law”?
In Acts 21 (below) James, the brother of Jesus, reaffirmed that this so-called “ceremonial Law” is still in effect and worthy of observance decades after the Messiah’s ascension. James encouraged Paul to “purify” himself and to pay for the “Temple offering” of four believers that James knew were taking the same vow that Paul took in Acts chapter 18:18 (above).
What does the text say?
Act 21:23 – 24, 26 23Do therefore what we tell you(Paul). 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… 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.
According to the Law of the Nazarite Vow from the Law of God given through Moses in Numbers 6, the “purification” and the “offering” that Paul paid for and participated in involves “animal sacrifices at the Temple” ~
Numbers 6:13-20 13“And this is the law for the Nazarite, when the time of his separation has been completed: he shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 14and he shall bring his gift to the LORD, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, 15and a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings. 16And the priest shall bring them before the LORD and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering, 17and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of peace offering to the LORD, with the basket of unleavened bread. The priest shall offer also its grain offering and its drink offering. 18And the Nazarite shall shave his consecrated head at the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire that is under the sacrifice of the peace offering. 19And the priest shall take the shoulder of the ram, when it is boiled, and one unleavened loaf out of the basket and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazarite, after he has shaved the hair of his consecration, 20and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the LORD. They are a holy portion for the priest, together with the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed. And after that the Nazarite may drink wine.
The apostle Paul, on his final journey to Jerusalem to meet with the Council of believers, agrees to participate in the Nazarite Vow from the Law of Moses for a second time.
What does the text say? ~
Acts 21:21-26 21and they have been told about you (Paul) 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. 25But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.
Again, why in the world would Paul keep this vow “if” the Law of Moses was done away with? Why would the Holy Spirit have Luke mention it “if” the Nazarite vow was abolished? Why is Paul condoning and participating in vows from the Law of Moses “if” it doesn’t apply anymore? This is even more surprising since he had just spent a great many years going throughout out all the nations “supposedly“ denouncing and condemning those that kept the Law of Moses?
Why isn’t Paul screaming bloody murder to James and the Council that “the Law of Moses is done away with and abolished” if, supposedly, that’s what he’s been teaching to his churches throughout all of his journeys? What a hypocrite! Paul, the ‘do as I say and not as I do’ apostle?!?
As I discussed in ‘You Yourself Also Live in Observance of the Law‘, the most common way for the mainstream theology to excuse away the Scriptural fact that Paul kept the ‘Law of the Nazarite’ is to throw out the haphazard declaration of “Well, Paul was a Jew not a gentile”. The argument that “Paul is a Jew and Jews can keep the Law” is illogical, hypocritical, unscriptural.
First of all, 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 the Law of Moses, but not abolished for the Jews? If Paul preached that it’s abolished, done away with, null and void throughout the known world and then turned right around to keep it himself, then he taught unsound and hypocritical doctrine.
Secondly, there isn’t a single verse to back up the idea that the Law of Moses is current and valid today for the “believers of Jewish origin” but abolished for the “believers of gentile origin”. 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.
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 the apostle 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! “The same“, at least according to Paul…
Therefore, Paul was either a hypocrite, mentally deranged or he has been misunderstood and he truly did keep the Law of Moses!
The Apostle Paul is one of the following:
- A hypocrite: he’s telling everyone he meets to not keep the Law of Moses, that the Law of Moses is abolished, yet he himself keeps it as a valid Law worth observing; “do as I say but not as I do…”
- Mentally unstable: because he doesn’t have a rational or a logically consistent doctrine; “hey Timothy, let me circumcise you so we can go tell all the other believers that if they get circumcised they’ve fallen from grace”! It’s abolished, it’s not, it’s abolished, it’s not, it’s abolished , it’s not…
- Misunderstood: as Peter states in his second letter, Paul is hard to understand and he did observe/keep the Law of Moses all his life, and he didn’t teach it was abolished ~
2 Peter 3:15-17 15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
His behavior can only be explained by one of these three possibilities. If Paul falls into the first or second category, then why are we listening to anything he has to say? If Paul is hypocrite or mentally unstable then he’s an unreliable source for any doctrine.
However, if Paul has been misunderstood, then the Law of Moses is not abolished, and we need to do what he recommends in many of his letters, which is to emulate him and do what he does:
1 Corinthians 4:16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
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.
2 Thessalonians 3:9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.
As 1 Corinthians 11:1 states, “be imitators of me as I am of Christ”; Christ taught and kept the Law of God given through Moses (please read ‘Examining the Scriptures‘), therefore, since Paul is an imitator of the Christ then we should do the same; not for justification but to be obedient, righteous, and to show our love for our Redeemer; to walk in the same way in which he walked (please read Justification vs. Righteousness).
What did John say of those claiming to be believers of the Christ? He said the same thing as Paul; to imitate Christ ~
1 John 1:6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
How did our Messiah walk? Jesus our Master, walked in obedience to the Law of God given through Moses!
How did Paul walk and how does he command us to walk?
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ – (Please read ‘Paul Commands Us to Uphold the Law‘)
Final thought: Is Israel grafted into the gentiles/nations or are the gentiles grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel? | Romans 11:17-24; Ephesians 2:11-12; Jeremiah 11:16
- For further study of Paul’s teachings, as well as the original Greek, please see the blog posts at the bottom of this page. Be a Berean, and test Paul’s doctrines to the “Scriptures”. Please ‘share’ this study, and thank you for your time!