Acts 21:18-26

18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;

21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.

23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.

24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.

25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except  that they should keep themselves from thingsoffered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

Peter was the Christ-appointed leader of the Messianic Church in those early days when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (See Matthew 16:19; Acts 1:15; 2:14; 2:37; 5:29, etc.). We have seen too, how James, “the Lord’s brother” (not even one of the twelve) gradually gained the ascendancy over Peter, probably because of his physical relationship to our Lord. Thus we find Peter reporting to “James and to the brethren” in Acts 12:17. Later Paul mentions James alone as present with Peter at Jerusalem during an earlier visit there (Galatians 1:19). Next we find Peter merely testifying at the council at Jerusalem while James presides and brings the council to close with the words : “Werefore, I decide” (Acts 15:19). Still later, at Antioch, we see Peter intimidated by “certain who came from James,” so that he separates himself from Gentile believers with whom he has been enjoying fellowship (Galatians 2:11-12). And now Paul and his companions go in unto James, and so final is his authority that the record states merely that “the elders were present” (Acts 21:18). At the council, some 14 years previous, “the apostles and elders” had gathered together to discuss Gentile liberty from the law (Acts 15:6). Now there is no trace of evidence that any of the apostles are even present; the record mentions only “James and the elders.” If any of the twelve apostles are to be included among the “elders,” but are not even designated as aposltes, we have still further evidence of the secondary character of their position at this time. James, whose very name means “Supplanter,” has wholly taken over Peter’s position. — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 13-14.

forsake Moses (v.21) = apostasy from Moses

Years before, at the great Jerusalem council, Peter had stated that God had put “no difference” between them and the Gentiles, purifying the Gentiles’ hearts by faith. He had further urged his brethren to to place a yoke upon the neck of the Gentile disciples which neither the Jewish fathers nor their children had been able to bear (Acts 15:9-10). He had even gone so far as to say: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11).

As a result of this magnificent testimony James, Peter, John and the whole church had given solemn and public recognition to Paul as the apostle of the uncircumcision and the apostle of grace (Acts 15:23-29; Galatians 2:7-9). The church at Jerusalem should have gone on from there, as Peter did (2 Peter 3:15-18) and should have now accepted Paul in accordance with that agreement. But under James and his party they had declined and gone backward, rather than forward, spiritually. — Stam, page 17.

Paul did teach that the law had been fulfilled in Christ and that it was therefore unnecessary to observe its ceremonial rites — and he taught this not only to the Gentiles but also to the Jews which were among them.

“After the reading of the law and the prophets” in the Pisidian synagogue, the rules asked Paul for a “word of exhortation.” In response the apostles gave them a word of exhortation in respect to each. With respect to the law he exhorted them not to trust in it, but to trust in Christ, saying: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). — Stam, page 23.

must certainly meet (v.22) — a meeting in opposition to Paul

pay their expenses (v.24) — It was considered meritorious among rich Jews to pay the expenses for sacrifices for poor Nazarites

shave their heads (v.24) — upon accomplishing their vows during which they were forbidden to do so

Their proposition, therefore, was this: Paul himself was evidently not under a vow at this time, but they had four men who wee, and Paul could join publicly with them in their vow by purifying himself and paying for the sacrifices marking the comsummation of their vow — a considerable amount, since two doves or pigeons, one he-lamb, one ewe lamb and a ram had to be offered for each of the four (Numbers 6).

This procedure was evidently not uncommon at that time. Indeed, Josephus tells how Agrippa I courted Jewish favor by thus financing Nazarite vows. — Stam, page 29

Why should he try to prove to the Jews that he “walked orderly and kept the law” when he certainly had not done so among the Gentiles?

He ahd come to Jerusalem to bring an offering to the poor saints there and to “testify the gospel of the grace of God.” There is no record that the offering was gratefully received, and surely he could not “testify the gospel of the grace of God” by offering blood sacrifices. But even the sacrifices were not actually offered. So far from James’ plan succeeding, a great commotion and Paul’s arrest “When the seven days were almost ended,” prevented him from having any part in the offering of the proposed sacrifices. — Stam, pages 35-36.

written (v.25) — in response to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:20)

announce (v.26) — declare to the officiating priests

What to make of all this? I think Paul made a huge mistake. He made it because of his love for his fellow Jews, but it was a huge mistake, nonetheless. The Holy Spirit had warned him, and even told him directly, not to go to Jerusalem. Paul went, and it only led to more error.

James and his elders obviously had come up in advance with a plan. Worst case scenario, they were trying to undermine Paul’s message. Even best case scenario — that they were trying to prevent a riot — was a dismal failure. But weren’t these Jews who were so upset by Paul’s teaching under James’ leadership? Isn’t it likely that they held the views they held because, to some extent, James held the same views. We can see in Galatians 2 that he certainly did.

What of James statement that if Paul took the vow, “all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law (v.24)?  Those “things” weren’t nothing. Paul had said exactly those things, and written them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans and Galatians.

So Paul, under pressure from those he had come so far to help, made a last-ditch effort to work things out apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading. He went along with the four men to the temple and prepared to offer sacrifices. Ironside (Lectures on the Book of Acts, page 512) goes so far as to say: “It would have nulified to a large extent the testimony of the apostle Paul in the days to come. Imagine him stepping up with them to the altar and offering animal sacrifices — a virtual denial of the one sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  To prevent this, the Holy Spirit saw to it that Paul was arrested and physically made unable to complete the vows.

To sum up, here’s why I’m sure Paul was wrong:

  1. He rejected repeated warnings and instructions by the Holy Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.
  2. He didn’t defend himself when James misrepresented his (Paul’s) ministry.
  3. He submitted to the leadership of the Jerusalem church whom he had previously called “those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me” (Galatians 2:8).
  4. He went to the temple with the four men and observed the dead rituals of the law.

As a result, his ministry to the Gentiles was hindered, the Jerusalem church was no further along in seeing the truth of grace, and Paul was arrested and thrown in jail.

God in His grace, comforted Paul and allowed him further ministry. If He didn’t deal with us in our fallen state, He couldn’t deal with us at all.

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