The Apostle Paul, his Nazarite Vow and his sacrifices at the Temple

The writings of Paul are often quoted by many to show that the “Law” was done away and that no one needs to adhere by it.

Paul never taught against the Law – in fact he adhered to it!
Apostle Paul who was called to preach the Gospel to the scattered nations, was falsely accused of breaking and teaching to break God’s Law in his day. A false accusation which is attributed to Paul to this very day. We clearly see that this accusation was false, in the request and proclamation James makes of Paul in Acts 21.

Act 21:20-24 And 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, and 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. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take 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.

Paul proclaims the same thing about himself, before Festus and some Jews who accused him of breaking the Law, in this way:

Act 25:7,8 And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.

Paul took on a nazarite vow offering sacrifices at the temple
The best example to show how much of an observant Jew Paul was, is to showcase his Nazarite Vow. The only vow which had the shaving of the head connected with it, was the Nazarite vow which started with the shaving of ones hair. At the end of his naziriteship a nazirite brings three offerings, a sin offering, a burnt offering and a peace offering, and shaves his hair (Num 6:13-18). Together these three offerings were called “the hair offering” at the time, for they were accompanied by the shaving of the hair.

Act 18:18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.

When Paul reached Jerusalem, James advised him to bear the cost of four other men who had the same vow with himself in completing the sacrifices in the Temple, to showcase that Paul was an observant Jew.

Act 21:20-27 And 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, and 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. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take 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. But 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.” Then 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. When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,

Thus, we see that Paul was an observant Jew who was accused falsely regarding the Law of God. A Nazarite vow was the perfect way to display the adherence to the Law, as it had a strict procedure that went along with it. We see this in the many rabbanical laws which were instituted around it mentioned in the Mishnah.

A nazirite vow of unspecified duration is for thirty days. If [the nazirite] shaved himself or bandits shaved him, it overturns thirty days. A nazirite who shaves himself, whether with scissors or a razor, or who singes [the ends of his hair], even a minimal amount, is liable. A nazirite may shampoo [his hair] and part it [with his fingers] but may not comb it. Rabbi Ishmael says: he is not to cleanse it with dirt because it causes the hair to fall out. Mishnah Nazir 6:3

Josephus also mentions the actions of a Nazarite in the following way:

Moreover, when any have made a sacred vow, I mean those that are called Nazarites, that suffer their hair to grow long, and use no wine; when they consecrate their hair, (4) and offer it for a sacrifice, they are to allot that hair for the Priests [to be thrown into the fire]. Antiquities of the Jews Book 4, Ch4, v4

Bearing the cost of a person who had taken a Nazarite Vow was allowed and it would have been a considerably large payment that Paul paid for 4 others with himself. Josephus writes about King Agrippa in Antiquities of the Jews Book 19, Chapter 6, verse1 in this way:

He also came to Jerusalem, and offered all the sacrifices that belonged to him: and omitted nothing which the law required. On which account he ordained that many of the Nazarites should have their heads shorn.

The Mishnah also records the allowance of paying for another’s vow in the following way:

[If one says,] “Behold, I am a nazirite and I take it upon myself to bring the hair offering of another nazirite”, and his friend heard and said “I too, and I take it upon myself to bring the hair offering of another nazirite”, then, if they are clever they will bring the other’s hair offering; otherwise they must bring hair offerings on behalf of other nazirites. Mishnah Nazir 2:5

Conclusion
Paul shows no qualms in taking a Nazarite Vow, Purifying himself, Entering the Temple, Bearing the cost for himself and 4 others for the Sacrifices which are made at the end of his purification period and offering sacrifices as per the commandment given in Numbers chapter 6. Paul’s own words and the words of James, further solidifies the fact that he lived a life according to the Law of Moses and never taught against the commandments of God. The events of Acts 21 are believed to have occured in AD55 which means, almost 25 years had passed since the Resurrection of Yeshua and Paul was still a believer who walked and taught God’s Law as well as the Good News of Messiah. Reading Numbers chapter 6 would give us a better understanding that Paul would have never spoken against The Law, The Temple or the Sacrifices as he himself took part in it.

6 thoughts on “The Apostle Paul, his Nazarite Vow and his sacrifices at the Temple

  1. Jerry Boor

    The Bible often records WHAT HAPPENED, it does not always give us the entire picture of WHY it happened or what was the thinking of the men who took a particular action. How do we know that YHVH was leading Paul to circumcise Timothy and to participate in the vow of the Nazarites, as you stated? Indeed, does this conflict with Paul’s many statements elsewhere (where perhaps he had matured spiritually) when he stated that circumcision = mutilation? (Philippians 3:2). He also stated in Galatians 5:2 – “if you become circumcised, Messiah will profit you nothing.”

    I’m sure you know the scriptures where the prophecy in the old testament states that the NEW covenant given to Israel’s descendants (and spiritually all the grafted in people of Yah) would NOT be like the old covenant – indeed, it is a different and better covenant and is so stated in many places. So, yes, I still believe in the Sabbath and the principals of the law wherein the law leads to Messiah, but such things as PHYSICAL CIRCUMCISION still being acceptable, I do not believe that is in accordance with the teachings of the new testament or of Paul. Circumcision of the FLESH under the old covenant became circumcision of the HEART under the new covenant (Romans 2:29). Thank you for allowing comemnts.

    CircumcisionInBible.WordPress.com

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Jerry,

      I hope you look at the following with a critical eye without any preconceived ideas:

      I’m sure you have read the statement James made about Paul, that “all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.”. As you know, they were informed that Paul was teaching to forsake Moses and not Circumcise their children. Should we not take James’ word seriously when he says that these rumours are all false?

      On the New Covenant, I want to point out that what was promised to be put in the inward parts and written in our hearts was the Law (Torah). I don’t believe we can add or take away from God’s Law, which is in itself breaking His Law.

      I want to make it very clear that Paul was fighting against the teaching that “salvation comes from physical circumcision”.

      In Gal 5:2 Paul does say “If you become circumcised, Messiah will profit you nothing.” – But please take a look at the argument again… Gal 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

      The issue is being “justified” by Law – in this case – circumcision as we see in Acts 15. Gal 6:12 is very clear about this group who was forcing circumcision on the Galatians. The issue is trying to attain salvation through circumcision.

      Circumcision of the heart is not an idea of the New Covenant but of the old. (Deut 10:16, Deut 30:6, Jer 4:4)

      On Philippians 3:2, is Paul not speaking of the circumcision party here? He speaks of a group and not an act. (Dogs, Evil workers & the Concision). Read Gal 5:12 where Paul mentions the same group in reference with mutilation.

      May you be a blessing to everyone around you
      Shalom.

      Reply
  2. Scott

    How did the believing Jews “observe” the whole, complete Law of Moses after the Destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D.? Moreover, why would Paul be asked to “observe” the complete precepts of the Torah, when it was known by God that it would be impossible to do so without a temple? Also, does not the scriptures state that whoever violates any part of the Law of Moses, violates the Law of Moses in it’s entirety? The very word, Torah, in Hebrew is a singular word, with a singular tense. This would make sense in light of what scripture has declared regarding violating any portion of the law and how such is equivalent to violating the “whole” law. Lastly, if the Law was “added because of transgressions until the seed should come…” what eternal “goodness can there be in a law that itself was not eternal but was temporary and added to serve as a tutor and to show us the nature of sin. Why was one of the reasons Paul gave for not requiring the gentile believers to “observe the law,” because it was a heavy yoke that even the Jews could not bear, if he didn’t also not think the Jews could bear it? This is really my last question: Why was the reason Paul gave to the Gentile believers for not being required to “observe” the law, also not a “valid” reason for the Jews to not be burdened by such a requirement?

    Reply
    1. RameshDeSilva Post author

      Dear Scott,
      Am I wrong to say, that your starting point for all of these arguments is that “we do not need to keep God’s Law” / “God’s Law does not apply to us”?

      The most common of all arguments is that we cannot keep one, so we should not keep all. Let’s say that my parents passed away. I cannot honor my parents like everyone else, but that does mean I can now steal and murder?

      What is the Law? It is the knowledge of Sin. God tells us what to do and what not to do through His Word/Torah. Now what should we do if we know that something is Sin? Should we keep away from it? This is why Sin is defined as transgression of the Law, in the New Testament. The Law is Holy, The commandment is Holy, Just and Good. We cannot blame the law for our sinfulness and say we do not need it. How then will you know what sin is? How would you stay away from sin? Or can we now as newborn Christians do whatever we please so that Grace may abound?
      Peter, not Paul spoke of the Yoke in Acts 15. What was the Yoke? Was it the Law? Did the council of elders convene to discuss whether the Law was applicable or was it the teaching that “Circumcision was a prerequisite for Salvation”? Please read Acts 15 again. What then was the Yoke? was it not this teaching, that everyone had to become a Jew (through circumcision) to receive salvation(become part of God’s people)? What was the conclusion? Did not James say that the Gentiles were required to observe the commands mentioned in Lev 17 & 18? And that they would learn the rest on the Sabbath Day, as the Torah is read everywhere on that day? The Torah does not make us righteous (provide salvation). Righteousness is through Faith. But what does a person who is regarded as righteous do? Does he/she live in Sin? this is when we need the Torah. To know what is right from wrong, as God sees it.
      Be a blessing to everyone around you
      Shalom!

      Reply
  3. Scott

    I made a distinction between the Law of Moses and the Law of Messiah, though it was implicit in the comments I drafted. Christ is the mediator of a “ better” covenant with better promises. A better covenant is a phrase that implicitly requires a covenant that was not as good as its replacement. This suggests that the Law of Moses is not the “better” covenant. Which law are you saying must be followed? The Law of Messiah or The Law of Moses?

    Also, you can’t separate the Law of Moses into parts; the Law of Moses is singular, a unit, not a series of precepts which can be broken individually without violating the entire Law of Moses. Lastly the Law of Messiah is written on the hearts of believers; there is no need to reference a written set of precepts to determine if one has violated the Law of Messiah.

    Reply
    1. RameshDeSilva Post author

      Dear Scott,
      What is the Law of Messiah? Is it different to the Law of Moses? What is the Better Covenant? Is it different to the Mosaic Covenant? Please find the answers for these through Scripture. Yes the New Covenant is a better covenant with better promises… but if we don’t know what the Better covenant is and what the better promises are, we are bound to confuse everything. Yes the Law is written in the hearts of Believers… but my question to you is… what is this Law? Do you know what constitutes the Law which is written in the hearts. If you know what the New Covenant is, according to the prophecies, you would know what is written on the hearts. It’s clearly spoken of by the prophets. The reason you say that there is no reason to reference a written set of precepts to determine if we have violated the Law of Messiah, is because you are unsure what is truly written on the heart. Before you make a distinction between the Law of Moses and the Law of Messiah, it is better that you learn what those are. Then you would be able to see whether there is a difference. My advise to you is that you turn towards the bible before making assumptions by what you have heard or read elsewhere. Try to take a critical stance. I have not given any of the answers to you, but directed you towards all of the questions you should ask. I hope and pray that you would discover the answers for yourself by the help of the Holy Spirit, and truly experience change.
      Be a blessing to everyone around you!
      Shalom

      Reply

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