Vol.XV No.V Pg.7
July 1978

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

In Acts 21:20-f, Paul apparently took part in Jewish ceremonial matters involving sacrifice. How can this be consistent with his teaching re. the Law and New Covenant? D.L.


McGarvey says, "I think it must be admitted that subsequent to the writing of the epistle to the Ephesians, and more especially that to the Hebrews, he could not consistently have done this... But in Paul's earlier epistles, though some things had been written which, carried to their logical consequences, involved all this, these points had not yet been clearly revealed to his mind, and much less to the minds of the other disciples." I quote this for your consideration, with due respect for McGarvey's line of reasoning; but it raises as many questions in my mind as it solves.

When Paul circumcised Timothy (16: 1-3) he had already "had no small dissension and disputation" with Judaizers (15:1-f). He knew what he was doing. If his Jerusalem visit of Gal. 2: 1 is the same as that of Acts 15: as I believe it was, he had refused to circumcise Titus (Gal. 2:3-5) prior to the circumcision of Timothy. Paul made a clear distinction between binding things of the old law, and making allowance for doing such things as matters of indifference. He could become "as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the Law, as under the Law: (1 Cor. 9:19-23) and at the same time give battle to those who would bind Judaism or the Law. Clearly, he acted in keeping with principle, and not in mortal fear of "what the brethren will think." Consider further, Judaism was a Theocracy: civil government and social regulations being found in the same "law" that contained religion. While Jerusalem and the Jewish economy stood, there was no separating daily life from the Temple. (Health laws required a man healed to go to a priest for ceremonial cleansing, Matt. 8:4; Lev. 14:1-f.) Vows, ceremonial rites, and "offerings" were an integral part of Jewish life, and like special "days" (Rom. 14:5-6) were deeply planted in the Jewish conscience. Paul knew the offerings, days, meats, etc., had lost their significance and he would not bind any of them. But he did not view these things from an Occidental distance as do we. They were daily "home town" transactions that he could take part in, NOT as affecting the universal scheme of redemption, but as a national practice. See Acts 14:25, "as touching Gentiles..."

James wanted to show "that thou walkest orderly and keepest the law." In many ways this was equivalent to saying today, "you keep the laws of the land, obey traffic signs, respect the constitution." Lenski thinks the specific reference is to the "law" of Num. 6: concerning Nazarite vows. This would show that Paul had not rebelled against "law and order" for the Jews; was not encouraging a revolution to overthrow the Jewish national codes.

In the final analysis, Paul was completely consistent with the principle of "do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:23-33). Read this passage, and carefully ponder its message.