Acts 21:21-26 – The Early Christians and the Law

We are presenting the following excerpts from studies of others; we do not necessarily agree with all details as presented, but believe these to be beneficial to our readers. Names of Bible books have been expanded to aid in searches.

The first is an excerpt from Study V of Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 6, pages 227-229:.

The account of Paul’s course, recorded in Acts 21:20-26, is reflected upon as being contrary to his own teachings of the truth. It is claimed that it was because of wrong doing in this instance that Paul was permitted to suffer so much as a prisoner and was finally sent to Rome. But such a view is not borne out by Scripture-stated facts. The record shows that throughout this entire experience Paul had the sympathy and approval of all the other apostles, and, above all, the Lord’s continued favor. His course was at the instance of the other apostles. It was testified to him by prophecy, before he went to Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-14), that bonds and imprisonment awaited him; and it was in obedience to his convictions of duty that he braved all those predicted adversities. And when in the very midst of his trouble, we read, “The Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome'”; and later we find the Lord again showing him favor, as we read, “There stood by me the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” (Acts 23:11; 27:23,24.) In view of these facts, we must seek an understanding of Paul’s course in correspondence with his uniformly bold and noble course–esteeming very highly the work and testimony which God not only did not reprove, but on the contrary approved.

Coming then to the examination of Acts 21:21-27, we notice (verse 21) that Paul had not taught that Jewish converts should not circumcise their children; nor did he repudiate the Mosaic law — rather, he honored it, by pointing out the greater and grander realities which Moses’ law so forcibly typified. So far, therefore, from repudiating Moses, he honored Moses and the Law, saying, The law is just and holy and good, and that by it the knowledge of the heinousness of sin had been increased; that the Law was so grand that no imperfect man could obey it fully, and that Christ, by keeping it, had won its rewards, and now under a New Covenant was offering everlasting life and blessings to those unable to keep it, who, by faith, accepted as the covering of their imperfections, his perfect obedience and sacrifice.

Certain ceremonies of the Jewish dispensation were typical of spiritual truths belonging to the Gospel age, such as the fasts, the celebration of new moons and Sabbath days and feasts. The apostle clearly shows that the Gospel of the New Covenant neither enjoins nor forbids these (the Lord’s Supper and Baptism being the only injunctions of a symbolic character commanded us, and they, new ones). — Colossians 2:16,17; Luke 22:19; Matthew 28:19.

One of these Jewish symbolic rites was that observed by Paul and the four Jews, which we are now examining, termed “purifying.” Being Jews, they had a right, if they chose, not only to consecrate themselves to God, in Christ, but also to perform the symbol of this purification. And this is what they did — the men who were with Paul having made, additionally, a vow to humiliate themselves, before the Lord and the people, by having their heads shaven. These symbolic ceremonies cost something; and the charges presumably made up the “offering” of money — so much for each, to defray the expenses of the Temple.

Paul never taught the Jews that they were free from the Law, — but, on the contrary, that the Law had dominion over each of them so long as he lived. He showed, however, that if a Jew accepted Christ, and became “dead with him,” it settled the claims of the Law Covenant upon such, and made them God’s freemen in Christ. (Romans 7:1-4) But he did teach the Gentile converts that they had never been under the Jewish Law Covenant, and that for them to attempt the practice of Jewish Law ceremonies and rites would imply that they were trusting in those symbols for their salvation, and not relying wholly upon the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. And to this all of the apostles assented. — See Acts 21:25; 15:20,23-29.

The following is from Frank Shallieu’s commentary on The Acts of the Apostles, pages 147, 148.

“Many thousands of Jews … which believe … are all zealous of the law”; that is, although many thousands of Jews became Christians, they continued to follow the Law faithfully. It was difficult for some to discard their old beliefs. For this reason, some of the brethren advised Paul to minimize any confrontations with the Jews by shaving his head under the Nazarite vow and going to the Temple with four others who had also taken Nazarite vows and shaved their heads. Many Jewish Christians urged Christians to obey the Law as well as the precepts of Christ.

With the Galatians, Paul had tried to show that the Jew was no longer obligated to follow the ceremonial features of the Law but that voluntary compliance was permissible under certain circumstances. Making the Law mandatory was the wrong principle. For example, Paul refused to have Titus circumcised but did have Timothy circumcised (Galatians 2:3-5; Acts 16:1-3). To the Jews, Paul was a Jew, and to the Gentiles, he was a Gentile in order to win converts (1 Corinthians 9:20,21). In other words, to comply with a feature of the Law under peer pressure would be compromising principle, but to voluntarily, in advance, follow a custom of the Jews was a different matter. If a Jewish Christian wanted to take a Nazarite vow or to tear his clothes and put ashes on his head in connection with mourning, he could do so. Here in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, the brethren thought Paul would be better received and heard by both Jews and Jewish Christians if he did not appear too radical.

Contrary to comments from three Reprint articles in the Expanded Biblical Comments, Paul properly followed the advice of the brethren. Although his actions boomeranged, as we shall subsequently see, he was correct to take the Nazarite vow and go with the other four. On multiple occasions, Paul demonstrated his courage, so he was not peer-pressured in taking the vow. He was simply listening to advice from the brethren, and he had been solicitous of going to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, evidently intending to take a vow anyway.

When the brethren realized his intention, they suggested he go to the Temple with four others. That way people would see him and conclude he was not that radical, for sometimes people exaggerate what they seem to think is a fault in others. From a sanctified common-sense standpoint, Paul’s following the advice of the brethren might have brought positive results, but as the Lord had foreseen, trouble would ensue and Paul had been told earlier what awaited him in Jerusalem. His reply was, “I am ready to be bound in Jerusalem and to die for Christ” (Acts 21:13 paraphrase).

And in regard to wisdom, Paul had more wisdom than any of the other brethren. Therefore, he acted within his rights. On another occasion, Paul said that he could eat meat offered to idols but that doing so might stumble others. Offering meat to an idol did not affect the meat, for the idol was like a nonexistent entity. However, he was very careful in regard to the consciences of others. While he felt free to do certain things, he refrained when doing so would offend a brother. Paul was considerate of the feelings of others, and now, in this situation in Jerusalem, he was considerate of the brethren who were giving him advice.

Comment: Paul was told that persecution awaited him, so he may have followed this advice for an even higher motive, which was to show the brethren that whatever Providence determined would happen and nothing man could do would change the situation. Then his actions in following the advice would be even more to his credit.

Comment: It was difficult for some to make the transition from the Law to liberty in Christ, and Paul was trying to help them.

Regarding eating things sacrificed to idols, see our study:
For the Sake of the Other’s Conscience

Some other studies related this this:

The Jewish Influence in the Early Church Meetings

A Question of Motive

Luke 1:41,42 – Elizabeth’s Devotion

Text: Luke 1:41,42: It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

The scripture says (Luke 1:6) that Elizabeth and Zechariah were both “righteous”, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of Yahweh. We are not to think that they were justified, made righteous, by keeping the Law, for as Paul stated, “by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in [Yahweh’s] sight” (Romans 3:20), and “a man is not justified by the works of the law”. (Galatians 2:16) Thus, like Abraham, their being “righteous” would have to be by faith (Romans 4:1-14), faith in Yahweh and the promises of God, of which the Law is a shadow. (Colossians 2:16,17; Hebrews 8:4,5; 10:1,4,10) By means of their faith, as well as by a demonstration of that faith by their works, they were walking “blamelessly” in those commandments.

The couple were childless, and were evidently beyond the age of having children. (Luke 1:7) Zechariah was a priest of the the division of Abijah. Elizabeth was a daughter of the tribe of Aaron. As Zechariah went about his priestly duties, an angel of Yahweh appeared to him who told him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were to have a son, whose name was to be “John”. (Luke 1:11-13) The name “John” (A common Anglization of the Hebrew form is “Yochanan”) means “Yah[weh] is gracious”. This name is in harmony with the message that John was to proclaim, as we will see later.

No doubt, the message to Zechariah from the angel Gabriel was meant to be a reward for the past faithfulness of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and this news was to meant bring joy to Zechariah and Elizabeth. (Luke 1:14) Nevertheless, Zechariah evidently forgot the power of Yahweh, as had been demonstrated in the scriptures (Genesis 18:9-14; 1 Samuel 1:5-27; 2 Kings 4:14-17), and thus expressed doubt concerning what the angel Gabriel had said to him. (Luke 1:18) Because of his disbelief, Gabriel said he would not be able to speak until the time when John was born, fulfilling the words that Gabriel had given to Zechariah. — Luke 1:19,20.

Elizabeth is described in the Bible as a relative of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus. (Luke 1:36) Although we are not told in the Greek manuscripts exactly what this relationship was, the King James Version renders the word for “relative” (Strong’s #4773) as “cousin”.

Elizabeth, when she had conceived, immediately demonstrated her faith in Yahweh and devotion to Yahweh by saying: ‘Yahweh has done to me in the days in which he looked at me, to take away my reproach among men.’ This was certainly a demonstration of humility. Rather than saying, “How righteous I am that God would give me a son”, she spoke of the reproach that had come upon her through her husband’s disbelief.

Gabriel said concerning Elizabeth’s son: “He will be great in the sight of Yahweh, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink.” (Luke 1:15) This does not say that he would “great” in the eyes of men, but rather that he would be great in the sight of Yahweh. Except for his disciples, and those who became disciples of Jesus, during John obtained no great standing before men. Indeed, he was treated as criminal by Herod. Jesus, however, stated that there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist. — Matthew 11:11.

When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s faith and devotion was again shown in her attitude toward Mary. When she heard the greeting of Mary, we are told that her unborn child leaped in her womb, and Mary was filled with the holy spirit, the spirit of devotion, dedication. Again, she did not express any attitude of religious superiority, but said to Mary: “”Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42,43) By her words, we know that there was some knowledge spread concerning the birth of the promised one, the one whom David referred to as “my lord.” (Psalm 110:1) Likewise, Elizabeth felt favored to have the mother of the one she called “my lord” to visit her. Rather than extolling herself, Elizabeth had the proper spirit within her, and spoke well of the blessing that Mary had, and at the same time showed her devotion to Yahweh and the one promised by Yahweh, saying: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from Yahweh!” (Luke 1:45) It has been suggested that Elizabeth was comparing Mary’ belief with Zechariah’s unbelief in this statement.

Gabriel, in his proclamation to Zechariah, made some reference to several prophecies, as well as a type, in the Old Testament that was to be be fulfilled in Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s promised son. Gabriel stated concerning John: “He will turn many of the children of Israel to Yahweh, their God.” (Luke 1:16) Gabriel here refers to the prophecy of Malachi 4:5,6. In saying that John would go before the “face” of Yahweh in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), Gabriel is saying that Elijah in some way serves as a type of the work that John did, in “spirit and power”. The work concerning the “face” of Yahweh is recorded in Malachi 3:1. Although most translations fail to use the word “face” in Malachi, the Hebrew word for “face”, often transliterated as “Paniym”, is in the Hebrew text. The prophecy in Malachi foretells that John the Baptist “would prepare the way before my face”, that is, before the face of Yahweh, and thus Gabriel speaks of John as going before, in the presence of, the “face” of Yahweh. The “face” of Yahweh represents the favor, the kindness, of Yahweh, which when his face is turned favorable, averts his wrath. (Numbers 6:25; 1 Kings 13:6; 2 Kings 13:4; 1 Chronicles 16:11; 2 Chronicles 33:12; Psalm 4:6; 13:1; 30:7; 80:19; 105:4; Isaiah 8:17; 54:8) This favor, grace, of Yahweh is represented in the name John, which means “Yah[weh] is gracious.” John prepared the way before Yahweh’s face, that is, he softened Yahweh’s face toward the people. This he did by proclaiming to the people a message of repentance toward Yahweh. To the extent that his message was received by those who had a heart of repentance, John the Baptist did make ready a people prepared, made ready, for Yahweh. (Luke 1:17) A people made ready before the face of Yahweh was needed as a people ready to receive the other “messenger” that Yahweh was sending, that is, our Lord Jesus, who was also foretold to as the “messenger of the covenant” in Malachi 3:1.

Background scripture from the World English Bible translation, with the Holy Name supplied.

Luke 1:5-24,39-45

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the priestly division of Abijah. He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of [Yahweh]. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. 8 Now it happened, while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to enter into the temple of [Yahweh] and burn incense. 10 The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 An angel of [Yahweh] appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell on him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, because your request has been heard, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of [Yahweh], and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to [Yahweh], their God. 17 He will go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for [Yahweh].” 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 Behold, you will be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things will happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” 21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marveled while he delayed in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple. He continued making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 It happened, when the days of his service were fulfilled, he departed to his house. 24 After these days Elizabeth, his wife, conceived, and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus has [Yahweh] done to me in the days in which he looked at me, to take away my reproach among men.” …

39 Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, 40 and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy! 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from [Yahweh]!”

Related studies by others (I do not necessarily agree with all conclusions presented by others):

The Dawn’s study on this can be found at:

Some related studies:

Preparing for a Kingdom

The Forerunner of Christ

Elias Shall First Come

Baptism of Jesus and Announcement of His Work

Luke 1:26-36,46-55 – Mary’s Commitment

Mary said, “My soul magnifies [Yahweh]. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” — Luke 1:46,47.

How wonderfully happy Mary must have been to know that she had been chosen by the Most High of the universe to give birth to one who had so long promised! It was imperative that this promised one be born into this world, but not “of this world”, as is the case with the rest of mankind (John 8:23), if the promised one could be savior sent by Yahweh. None of Adam’s progeny could redeem himself or his brother from the crooked condition that God placed mankind under due to Adam’s sin. (Psalm 49:7; Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13; Romans 1:24,26; 3:9; 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22) There is no new creation (Ecclesiastes 1:9) that comes from the present source of Adam’s offspring, since all of Adam’s offspring, as such, cannot be made straight.  (Ecclesiastes 1:15) It is only by being reckonedly transferred from the offspring of Adam to being the offspring of God that those who were once offspring of Adam, who were once sons of disobedience and wrath, become “not of this world”, but “sons of God,” as was Adam before Adam sinned. — Ephesians 2:2,3; Luke 3:18; John 1:12; 17:14,16.

Mary correctly attributed salvation to Yahweh, her God. This is true because Yahweh is the author, the source, of the salvation that is provided by means of Jesus. Yahweh is the provider of salvation, since it was Yahweh who prepared the sinless body of Jesus. (Hebrews 10:5) Likewise, the very name of Jesus (Joshua, meaning “Yah is savior”) attributes salvation to Yahweh.

Jesus’ birth is emphasized as not being of the source of this world in the words of Luke 1:32: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” He was the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), the seed of the promise made to Abraham by faith, and, by Jesus’ unswerving faithfulness to Yahweh (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 3:2; 5:8,9; 13:8: Revelation 1:5), Jesus became that seed of Abraham, having the offsetting price necessary to redeem mankind (1 Timothy 2:5,6), and thus fulfill the promise that through the seed of Abraham all the nations would be blessed.– Genesis 28:14.

Mary proclaims the holiness of Yahweh’s name. (Luke 1:49) This is probably in reference to Psalm 111:9: “He has sent redemption to his people. He has ordained his covenant forever. His name is holy and awesome!” The covenant referred to is the Law Covenant through Moses. That covenant is forever. Nevertheless, that ordained covenant resulted not in redemption, but in a further condemnation of the people of Israel. Jesus, rather than setting aside that covenant, came for fulfill, establish, that covenant in accordance with holiness of the name of Yahweh. By his obedience, he not only established the justness of God’s law covenant, but also had the means by which he could offer a sacrifice to release those under the Law and its condemnation.

The Dawn’s treatment of this lesson:

A brief comment regarding Jesus as the “seed of the woman”:  We do not conclude that Jesus’ being the “seed of woman” is meant to say that Jesus was the actually the offspring of a woman as opposed to being the offspring of a man, at least not in the sense that Jesus had received the genes of a woman but not man, but rather it signifies that he was to become the offspring of the promise of God, especially as given through the covenant with Abraham, which covenant is symbolized by a woman. (Galatians 4:24,25) He was, however, the offspring of a woman in the sense that he came forth from the womb of Mary (Galatians 4:4), and thus was counted in the lineage of David.

See our study on the Seed of David

Scriptures from the World English with the holy name supplied:

Luke 1:26
Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
Luke 1:27
to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Luke 1:28
Having come in to her, the angel said, “Rejoice, you highly favored one! [Yahweh] is with you. Blessed are you among women!”
Luke 1:29
But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be.
Luke 1:30
The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Luke 1:31
Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’
Luke 1:32
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. [Yahweh] God will give to him the throne of his father, David,
Luke 1:33
and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end of his kingdom.”
Luke 1:34
Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
Luke 1:35
The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one which is born from you will be called the Son of God.
Luke 1:36
Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
Luke 1:37
For no word from God will be void of power.”
Luke 1:38
Mary said, “Behold, the handmaid of [Yahweh]; be it to me according to your word.” The angel departed from her.

Luke 1:46
Mary said, “My soul magnifies [Yahweh].
Luke 1:47
My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,
Luke 1:48
For he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.
Luke 1:49
For he who is mighty has done to me great things. Holy is his name.
Luke 1:50
His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him.
Luke 1:51
He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
Luke 1:52
He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly.
Luke 1:53
He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty.
Luke 1:54
He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy
Luke 1:55
(As he spoke to our fathers) Toward Abraham and his seed forever.”