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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.

Is making Oaths prohibited? Misunderstandings regarding the Sermon on the Mount

It is a common teaching that as Christians, we should not make oaths or swear in the name of God, and that Messiah taught explicitly against swearing in His Sermon on the Mount. At face value it seems that Christ said making oaths/swearing which was a precept from the Law of God was evil. Have we misunderstood Christ’s words in Matthew 5:33-37 ? further study maybe needed to check the validity of this claim.

Oaths in the Law of God
While Oaths and vows seem to be the same, a vow is a “solemn promise” made between two entities, while an oath is a commitment one makes towards telling the truth or any other matter usually by calling towards something greater than him/herself.

The law is clear that words of an oath cannot be broken and that false Oaths should not be made in God’s name. The amalgamation of these two laws are what Yeshua mentioned in Matthew 5:33.

Lev 19:12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
Num 30:2 If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

In the Law of God, it was expressly stated that if one makes an Oath, it should be made in the name of no other entity or pagan god, but YHVH‘s name.

Deu 10:20 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.
Deu 6:13 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

There was also other laws which governed breaking of oaths and being a witness of such acts.

Lev 5:1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.
Lev 5:4 Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these.

There are many cases in the Old Testament where an oath is made. It was strictly adhered to (Jos 2:12-14; 6:25) even if it was later revealed to be disadvantageous (Josh chap 9).

Missing the point of Matthew 5:34
When Christ says “Do not swear at all”, it is juxtaposed against the precept from the Mosaic Law “Do not swear falsely in God’s name, but complete any oaths you make”(Lev 19:12, Num 30:2). The Law was against swearing falsely in God’s Name. So here Messiah is simply saying do not swear falsely in any other matter or in any other entity whether it be Heaven, Earth, Jerusalem or your own head. The highlight remains on “falsehood”, not swearing itself.

Mat 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Verse 37 where the phrase “Let your yes be yes and no be no” is often the reason why many misunderstand this teaching. To state it simply, so far Christ has essentially only said that “you have heard it being said don’t swear falsely in God’s Name and that you should keep your oaths, but I say to you don’t swear by anything else falsely either”. He then adds the fact that swearing is not needed at all if you are a person who keeps his/her word. If you say yes and do it or no and don’t,(If you are a man/woman of his/her word) essentially there is no reason for swearing in God’s name or any entity.

Further proof that Messiah’s reasoning was only about swearing falsely in any matter
There is other evidence which can shed light on this passage, of which the Hebrew Matthew stands out. The Hebrew version of Matthew’s Gospel perfectly preserves the fact about falsehood as you can see below:

Mat 5:33 (Shem Tob – Hebrew Gospel of Matthew translated by George Howard) Again you have heard what was said to those of long ago: You shall not swear by my name falsely, but you shall return to the Lord your oath. But I say to you not to swear in vain in any matter, neither by heaven because it is the throne of God, nor by earth because it is the footstool of His feet, nor by (Jerusalem) because it is the city of God, nor by your head for you are not able to make one hair white or black. But let your words be yes yes or no no. Everything in addition to this is evil.

The Biblical Apocrypha book Sirach (200-175BCE) also carries the same theme of making oaths very conservatively, and keeping oneself altogether from making oaths which once you break, amount to sin and unrighteousness.

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 23:9-11 Don’t let your mouth get used to making solemn pledges,and don’t get accustomed to saying the name of the holy one. Just as a household slave who is constantly examined won’t be lacking bruises, so also the person who always swears and speaks the Lord’s name will never be cleansed from sin. People who make many solemn pledges will be full of lawlessness, and a scourge won’t depart from their house. If they break their solemn pledges, their sin is on them, and if they disregard it, they sin doubly, and if they swear falsely, they won’t be justified, but their houses will be full of misery.

Philo of Alexandria (20BCE – 50CE) who’s works influenced many church fathers had the same to say about oaths.

Philo: The Decalogue 84 That being which is the most beautiful, and the most beneficial to human life, and suitable to rational nature, swears not itself, because truth on every point is so innate within him that his bare word is accounted an oath. Next to not swearing at all, the second best thing is to keep one’s oath; for by the mere fact of swearing at all, the swearer shows that there is some suspicion of his not being trustworthy.

Matthew 5:37 is oddly similar to a passage in the central text of Rabbinical Judaism which also carries the same theme of keeping ones word and not making commitments which one does not intend on fulfilling.

Talmud, Bava Metzia 49a The Gemara raises an objection: Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: What is the meaning when the verse states: “A just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have” (Leviticus 19:36)? But wasn’t a hin included in an ephah? Why is it necessary to state both? Rather, this is an allusion that serves to say to you that your yes [hen] should be just, and your no should be just. Apparently, it is a mitzva for one to fulfill his promises. Abaye says: That verse means that one should not say one matter with his mouth and think one other matter in his heart. It is prohibited for one to make a commitment that he has no intention of fulfilling.

Conclusion
Words are connected to actions, and the power of words can be seen in the Laws of Oaths among others. When we say yes or no, we should all adhere to keep our word and as Philo explained; aim to be a person who is trustworthy enough to not need an oath from. As our Messiah showed us, we should not falsely swear in any name or entity although we are still able to make an oath if we need to, as long as we stay committed to fulfilling it by all and any means. It is better for us to be Christians who keep their word and be considered trustworthy enough to never have to or need to make an oath. Let us all keep away from evil by being true to our words.

Paul – falsely accused of breaking God’s Law

130093-004-9B9100F0Did Paul break God’s Law? Did he teach believers to do the same? one third of the New Testament writings consist of Paul’s letters, and it is a fact that his letters create most of the central doctrine of Christianity today. So it is advantageous for us to know whether Paul was indeed a breaker of God’s Law written in the Old Testament, and whether he taught the same to other believers. Or are all of these false accusations against a Law abiding Child of God? Let us look at the evidence.

Act 21:18-24 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and 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.

It is fairly clear that the accusations against him, such as – “Paul is teaching the Jews outside Judea, to forsake Moses (God’s Law), not to circumcise their children & walk after their customs” – were all false. According to James, Paul was “walking orderly, and keeping the Law”. But since there were rumors and accusations against Paul, the elders along with James wanted to publicly announce and demonstrate the truth to his accusers.

Now many would not really understand the deep meaning of the act that was performed to exhibit that Paul was obedient to God’s Law. Let us take a closer look at what Paul actually did to showcase his obedience.

Vows & Purification
It is clear that James asked Paul to “purify” himself with four others that had made a vow. But what was this “vow”, what was this “purification” and why did Paul purify himself along with these people?

Paul had made a Nazarite vow
In Acts 18:18 we see that Paul shaves his head because he had made a vow. The only vow made to God that had instructions to shave ones head was – a Nazarite Vow specifically mentioned in Numbers Chapter 6.

Nazarite Vow
The only vow of its kind mentioned in God’s Law, the Nazarite vow was all about separation and being consecrated (Nazarite – Nawzeer in Hebrew, means separation/consecration). Mentioned in detail in Numbers chapter 6, the Nazarite vow consisted of these specific instructions;

  • The Nazarite was to abstain from wine, intoxicating liquors and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes.
  • He/she had to refrain from cutting the hair, and allow the hair to grow.
  • He/she could not become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves.
  • At the end of the period of the vow, the Nazarite was to be purified by bringing one male lamb as a burnt offering, a female lamb as a sin offering and one ram as a peace offering along with a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, with a drink offering to the priest at the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • Finally the Nazarite should shave his head at the courtyard of the Temple, take the hair and put it in the fire as part of the peace offering.

James’ instructions
Even though Paul would have gone to the Temple to complete his Nazarite vow, by offering the necessary sacrifices and shaving his head once again, James saw that this was clearly not enough to make a declaration. He asked Paul to pay for the four other men as well for their purification, so they can also get their heads shaved.

Paul’s purification
In Act 21:26 Luke records “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.” Paul finished the vow and paid for the necessary sacrifices for purification, for himself and the four men. Later Paul would tell the Governor Felix that “Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult”(Act 24:18).

Conclusion
It is fairly clear that Paul was obedient to God’s Law, both because of James’ declaration that “the accusations/rumors were nothing because he walks orderly and keeps the law” as well as Paul’s act of taking a Nazarite vow and purification at the temple. Even today, the majority of Christians believe in the rumors and false accusations that were laid against Paul. If we would only read James’ words regarding Paul’s walk with God and understand the acts that Paul did, we would clearly see that he did not teach against God’s Law or break it in anyway.

What about the Gentiles?
Now most of us who read the above and agree that Paul indeed kept God’s Law and did not teach against it, would have a question about the need to obey God’s Law as Gentiles. In Acts 21:25, James himself says that they have written to the gentiles about their decision on what they should compulsorily observe, alluding to the judgement made in Acts 15. (A lengthy discussion can be found on this topic as a complete study by clicking on this link) This decision pertained to the believers coming in from the Gentile nations, and was the absolute minimum which they had to do, to be considered part of the congregation. The four key commandments which were, abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, strangled animals, blood & fornication, are all specifically taken from Leviticus chapter 17 & 18.

What has led to this big confusion and misunderstanding about Paul and his letters?
Paul is definitely one of the most misunderstood people in the New Testament. Being so far removed from the time and circumstances, as well as reading with proper context could be pointed out as the main reasons for this confusion.

Even the apostle Peter warned the congregations about Paul’s letters when he wrote “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest(pervert), as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked(lawless), fall from your own stedfastness (2Pet 3:16,17). Peter said that Paul’s letters are hard to understand, and his words are being twisted by the unlearned and unstable to be led to lawlessness.