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

2 Corinthians 3 – The Law, the Veil, and the New Covenant

Since certain verses in 2 Corinthians 3 are often cited and given applications out of context, we are presenting below a few comments on this whole chapter as related to the law and new covenants.

2 Corinthians 3:1 – Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as do some, letters of commendation to you or from you?

There were those who were making the false charge that Paul had appointed himself as an apostle, and was thus commending himself as such. — 2 Corinthians 5:12; 10:8.

Paul is saying his commendation as an apostle came through Christ, and he did not need a letter of commendation from the church in Corinth, nor did he need a letter of commendation from anyone else so as to speak to the Christians in Corinth as an apostle. — 2 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 1:17-19.

2 Corinthians 3:2 — You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.

Paul is saying that the Corinthian Christians are themselves a testimony that he was an apostle, since he had brought so many of them to Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:3 — being revealed that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh.

The Corinthians Christians serve as a testimony of Paul’s ministry, not by anything written on tablets of stone, but rather what had become written in the tablets of their heart. By this he also begins to bring into focus the Law covenant, which was written on stones, and he contrasts what is written with the spirit of Yahweh with that written by means of the human hand through Moses. “The Spirit of the living God” parallels “spirit of the Lord” or “spirit of Yahweh” in 2 Corinthians 3:17, denoting the influence, power, of God’s holy spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:4 – Such confidence we have through Christ toward [Yahweh].

The testimony of Paul’s work with the Corinthian brothers adds to Paul’s confidence that he is not a false apostle, and that his repentance toward Yahweh through Jesus had been accepted, and that he was indeed appointed by God and Jesus as an apostle. The turning, the repentance, is toward Yahweh, through Christ. The turning is not toward Christ, but toward the God and Father of Jesus through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:5 – Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from [Yahweh].

Paul did not claim his salvation from sin and death by obedience to the Law, which would meant that his sufficiency would have been of himself, but rather he claimed that which had been provided by Yahweh, as shown in the next verse.

2 Corinthians 3:6 — Who also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul contrasts the new covenant with that of the Old Law Covenant through Moses, and shows that the Law Covenant kills, it condemns, since sinful flesh cannot obey that Law.

2 Corinthians 3:7 – But if the service of death, written engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away.

The service of the Law Covenant is called “the service of death,” since it was weak because of the sinful flesh, and thus, rather than bringing anyone to life, it condemned the one seeking life through that Law to death. And yet, the Law Covenant itself “came with glory;” it was the light by which one could have life if one could obey that light. But due to the bondage of corruption that is upon mankind by means of Adam’s sin, that which would have been to life, became death.

2 Corinthians 3:8 – Won’t service of the Spirit be with much more glory?

The spirit here is the promised spirit of the new covenant, the power, or reckoning of which, is attained by “tasting” of power of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5), when the spirit will be poured out upon all peoples. (Jeremiah 30,31) The new creation that comes through the blood of the new covenant does not fall short of the glory of Yahweh, and is thus with much more glory than trying to attain righteousness through the Law Covenant, for no one was ever justified, made straight, by that Law so that he could say that he did not fall short of the glory of Yahweh. — Romans 3:23.

2 Corinthians 3:9 – For if the service of condemnation has glory, the service of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.

The law condemns, but the Law is the light of Yahweh (Proverbs 6:23), by which, if one should obey that Law, he would live. Jesus obeyed that Law and became the light of Yahweh amongst men. (John 1:4,5) The law, having its own glory, while it provided a typical glory toward those under the Law, did not provide the glory of a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), which does not fall short of the glory of Yahweh.

The service of righteousness is first of all, the service of Jesus, who became our righteousness, and secondarily, of all who are justified through his righteous blood, and who, as new creatures, are thus servants of righteousness.

2 Corinthians 3:10 – For most assuredly that which has been made glorious has not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasses.

That which has been made glorious through faith in Jesus surpasses the glory of the Law Covenant, since the Law Covenant proved ineffectual to restoring those under the Law to the glory of God due to the sinful flesh. — Romans 8:3.

2 Corinthians 3:11 – For if that which passes away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

That which is passing away is the Law Covenant. It does not pass away as long as there is still one Jew who is under that Law. Each Jew who turns toward Yahweh in repentance, through Christ, becomes dead to the Law, and for that one, the Law has passed away.

2 Corinthians 3:12 – Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech.

By what has been given to him through Christ, Paul claims the right to speak boldly by means of the spirit that had been given to him, not just as new creature, but as an apostle of Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:13 and not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel wouldn’t look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away.

The reference is to when Moses came down from the mountain after he had seen the glory of Yahweh. His face shone with the brightness of the glory of Yahweh, so that, he covered his face that the glory would not shine upon, and that the people could gaze upon, the glory of Yahweh. Paul is using that veil as a figure of how the Jew could not bring himself into the glory of Yahweh by means of keeping the Law.

2 Corinthians 3:14 – But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, because [by means of] Christ it passes away.
2 Corinthians 3:15 – But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

The obstructive veil is still upon the Jew to this day, who reads the Law, for his heart is hardened without Christ, being of sinful nature, and unable to bring himself into the righteousness that is not short of the glory of God. The law condemns, because of man’s sinful condition, it does not justify, and thus it cannot bring anyone into the righteousness that does not fall short of the glory of God. — Romans 3:20; 8:3; Galatians 2:16; 3:11.

The veil is a reference to the veil that Moses put over his face after receiving the ten commandments, since his face was aglow from having seen the glory of Yahweh. (Exodus 34:29-35) That veil is being used as type to demonstrate how the Jew who is still alive to the Law continues to fall short of the glory of Yahweh. — Romans 3:23.

A veil causes blindness (2 Corinthians 4:4), but here it is used more as a obstruction to the glory of Yahweh; they have not been made free from the law of sin and death. — Isaiah 60:1; Romans 8:2.

2 Corinthians 3:16 – But whenever one turns to [Yahweh], the veil is taken away.

One turns to Yahweh [not to Jesus] through repentance, through faith in the blood of Jesus, not by works of the Law. — Matthew 13:15; Mark 4:12; Luke 1:16; Acts 3:13,19,20; 20:21; 26:20; Hebrews 6:1.

2 Corinthians 3:17 – Now [Yahweh] is the spirit and where the spirit of [Yahweh] is, there is liberty.

Contrary to the way many use this verse, in either claiming that Jesus is a spirit being, or that God is a spirit being, the word “spirit” in in the first instance is not referring to the substance of God or Jesus, but rather of spirit, the one behind the New Covenant, which brings freedom, not just from the condemnation of the Law, but also from the condemnation of sin and death through Adam, through the blood of Jesus. Yahweh, through his holy spirit, can be said the spirit of the New Covenant, since the holy spirit belongs to Yahweh. It would not be proper, however, to turn that around so as to say, “The [holy] spirit is Yahweh.”

Nevertheless, as the “spirit” is used in 2 Corinthians 3:3 as belonging to the living God, likewise, the same in 2 Corinthians 3:17, where the spirit is identified as the spirit of Yahweh.

2 Corinthians 3:18 – But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of [Yahweh], are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from [Yahweh], the spirit.

“We all” here evidently means all the Jews who have become dead to the Law through Christ, although every Christian, whether he was ever a Jew under the Law or not, having become a new creation, he is with unveiled face as as to behold the glory of Yahweh. The latter part of the verse, however, can only apply to the Jew, who having been a servant of the Law, passes from the glory of that servitude into the glory of service to the New Covenant, so that he, as a new creation, does not fall short of the glory of the image of God. The Jew still reads that Law, and is thus still condemned by that Law, and world is corrupted and under the bondage of corruption, and thus we know that Law has not yet “passed away”, nor have the present heavens and earth passed away, giving way the age to come where there will no longer be the bondage of corruption (the crooked condition), but rather there will righteousness, straightness. (Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13; Matthew 5:18; 2 Peter 3:10,13) At the present time, it is only to those who taste of the blessing of that age to come through faith in Christ who are a new creation, and for whom the old has passed away, so that the new creature in this age is counted — through faith — as though belonging to that day yet to come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Hebrews 6:5; Revelation 21:1-5.

See also:

Yahweh, the Spirit and How God’s Son Condemned Sin in the Flesh

God’s Covenants (Herald Links)

The following links are written by Bible Students. While we agree with most of what is said, we do not necessarily agree with all that is said.

January/February 2010:

In the Beginning (God’s Covenants) Audio MP3

Obey and Live Audio MP3
The first covenant was between God and Adam. — Genesis 2:16,17

The Rainbow Covenant Audio MP3 — Genesis 9:16
God promised there would never be another flood.

The Harmony of the Covenants Audio MP3
God’s covenants work together to provide man’s salvation.

All the Nations Shall Be Blessed Audio MP3 – Abrahamic Covenant; Genesis 22:17.
God’s covenant with Abraham described his entire plan of salvation.

What Was the Purpose of the Law? Audio MP3 — Galatians 3:24.
The Law Covenant kept Israel a separated people.

The Barren One Will Rejoice Audio MP3 – Galatians 4:28.

I Will Make a New Covenant Audio MP3 – Jeremiah 31:31.
The New Covenant provides blessings for everyone.

The Prophecies and Promises of Jeremiah 31 Audio MP3
Jeremiah 31 contains promises of future blessing for Israel and all mankind.


Other Links:

A New CovenantConsiders the Old and New Testament use of this term, and analyzes some of the puzzling details regarding this covenant. – Jeremiah 31:31.

Noah’s Covenant and the Promise Covenant – Isaiah 54:9.