Mosaic purification laws & Paul’s visit to Jerusalem
Last week we saw a side of Paul we don’t typically see. Paul had been personally resolved to go to Jerusalem SO MUCH that it blinded him to all the warnings given him by the Spirit through the church in nearly every town he had visited. Even the words of the prophet Agabus who traveled from Judea to Caesarea (a 3.5 day journey) to warn him seemed to go without contemplation and retrospection.
We learned from word studies that while the words associated with Paul’s decision – namely, “compelled in spirit” literally meant mentally compelled. While the words of those who warned him not to go were said to be “through the Spirit” which meant by the agency of the HolySpirit. So there remains no question that God did NOT tell Paul to go to Jerusalem but in fact warned him against it.
The strongest recorded statement we have as coming from the Spirit to Paul regarding this is found in Acts 21:4 and it says, “They repeatedly told Paul through the Spirit NOT to set foot in Jerusalem.”
As I looked into this further, the word “told” is a word which here is used in the sense of a charge or exhortation, which would make this a command, yet the translators of the New English translation, who have much more current understanding of the Greek used here seem to see this as a warning and not a command.
If this is true then, none of this amounted to disobedience, only a determination to go to Jerusalem which somehow was sponsored by something greater in Paul, that his sensitivity to the Spirit’s voice.
This is NOT a judgment call against our beloved Paul, but it is proof that he too was just a man and subject to error.
I suggested last week that part of this may have been a zealous heart for God which was not just willing to die, but perhaps even eager to do so. Not out of some suicidal death wish, but more likely from a latent sense of guilt over the deaths he caused while still lost, that was not yet fully reconciled to the grace of the cross.
It would be indeed hard to imagine the burdened awareness that many brothers and sisters whom he led to their deaths were people who if he were to meet them now, he would love with devotion and passion.
We all have our demons from the past, and whether what we are supposing may have been true in regard to Paul or not, it serves as a potent warning.
We must surrender ALL of our pasts to the Lord, knowing that in His love and mercy He called us in full view and in full knowledge of our failings – and He loved us and forgave us anyway! And not only that, He Who did not spare His Own Son for us, stands ever ready even still to forgive and encourage us towards the likeness of His Son!
So let’s pick back up with the warning of Agabus and then move forward with Paul to Jerusalem.
“(10) While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
(11) He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
It is important not to read into this. Agabus does not tell Paul NOT to go, only that IF he goes the Jews will capture him and hand him over to Roman officials.
“(12) When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
(13) Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
They were not just crying, they were weeping! The word here is and weeping is a good translation for it. It means To wail and lament. It implies not only the shedding of tears, but also every external expression of grief.
The result was a breaking of Paul’s heart!
Why did it break? Because regardless of whether he was appointed to go to Jerusalem or not – he was determined and probably felt he was supposed to. So his heart was divided between loving His lord and his love for these people.
“(14) Because he could not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done. (15) After these days we got ready and started up to Jerusalem. (16) Some of the disciples from Caesarea came along with us too, and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple from the earliest times, with whom we were to stay.”
“(17) When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. (18) The next day Paul went in with us to see James, and all the elders were there.
(19) When Paul had greeted them, he began to explain in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”
Remember we had speculated last week that it was in view of this event that while he witnessed the overwhelming response to the gospel in Ephesus that Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem. Also, there was his deep desire to enter into the joyful celebration of a Messianic Passover with his Jewish brethren that fueled the zeal in Paul to return.
“(20) When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to him,
“You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all ardent observers of the law.
(21) They have been informed about you – that you teach all the Jews now living among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.
(22) What then should we do?
They will no doubt hear that you have come. (23) So do what we tell you:
We have four men who have taken a vow; (24) take them and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved.
Then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law. (25) But regarding the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter, having decided that they should avoid meat that has been sacrificed to idols and blood and what has been strangled and sexual immorality.”
(26) Then Paul took the men the next day, and after he had purified himself along with them, he went to the temple and gave notice of the completion of the days of purification, when the sacrifice would be offered for each of them.”
Now no doubt you have some questions about now and if you don’t you have not been paying attention!
The Christian leaders in Jerusalem, namely the apostles and the elders, to whom Paul customarily presented himself when returning from a missionary journey – encouraged Paul to “purify himself” according to the law, and to pay for 4 JewishChristian brothers who were completing a vow (probably a Nazarite vow due to the shaving of the head) and pay for it – making him completely associated with and compliant to the act.
What are we to do with this?
Well first we have the Jewish believers before whom they were concerned Paul would be an offense.
These, though born again, were zealous for the law. Now if they were true Christians, they did not place any real saving efficacy to keeping these rituals – especially those associated with righteousness. Nevertheless they clearly saw them as important symbolically. Perhaps, this was due to the wording of the law, which set some of these things up as perpetual and therefore eternal.
We may find this difficult to identify with, but even we have a meal we partake of which, in itself, has no saving efficacy, but which we are taught by the scriptures has tremendous value and meaning. Furthermore we are all but commanded to partake of it often. So this should not seem too far-fetched.
These Jewish believers had heard of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles which included those Jews who traveled with him and those who came to Christ through his ministry among the cities of the Gentiles.
They had heard that he taught the Jews to live with no more connection to the law than the Gentiles.
In fact the wording here is rather strong. They had heard that Paul taught them to ‘rebel against and completely abandon Moses and the law’ – things Paul never ONE TIME advocated or taught ANYWHERE to ANYONE!
So what were these Christian Jewish leaders attempting to get Paul to go along with? One of the things involved purifying himself according to the law.
I am NOT certain what Paul was to purify himself of or how this said purification was to be performed. The only thing I’ve seen suggested was a ritual cleansing due to his travels in ‘unclean” Gentile territories. If this is the truth, this act would represent a pacifying gesture. However, I take exception with this since it would be in agreement with the need to be purified and a belief that these Gentiles were still unclean.
A preferred and more substantiated idea is the ritual purification one did in order to enter the Temple and before all major festivals – like Passover. All this entailed was a ritualistic washing in a Mikvah – a small bath of water – for scale, imagine a pool about the size of a large jacuzzi.
This is most likely what Paul was being asked to do. This was nothing more than a ceremonial uncleaness – not religious or sexual. As such, it was understood to be symbolic. It was a ritual given by God to teach that there were some things in the world which have a defiling or polluting effect on us.
In fact, this “may be” what Jesus was using as an example, even pointing to the cross, by washing the feet of His disciples. For even though washing the feet was customary, Jesus’ used it to teach His disciples.
If you remember, at first Peter objected to Jesus kneeling before him and washing his feet.
Jesus said, if you do not permit this you can have no part with Me.
Peter then asked Jesus to not stop with his feet, but to include his hands and his head.
Jesus said, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.”– John 13:10. Clearly the cleanness Jesus spoke of excluded Judas, and therefore MUST have meant truly clean.
Jesus had just told the disciples earlier that they were clean because of their reception and response to the word He had spoken to them. In which instance He was using the word as “pruned” but it is the same word.
So Jesus was saying they were already literally clean – bathed, but even so, just walking through the world one can pick up defiling and polluting influences and as such, do not need to bathe all over again, but only rinse the dirt off their feet. Much like they were instructed to shake off the dust of a city which rejected the Gospel off of their feet.
So, Paul was NOT participating in something like a blood sacrifice which was offering righteous purification – or he would have rebuked the leaders for suggesting it. This was nothing more than symbolic and therefore, if it worked towards peace and perhaps even a reception to the Gospel, Paul was all for it. He was also for people continuing on in the same basic way of life they had before coming to Christ, so long as it was not against Christ to do so.
We know that Paul had already come to such conclusions through his writings.
You see, due to the political events and rulers at this time we know that these events took place between 56-64AD. How we know this will be covered later today or in our next teaching. However, since we know this AND we know when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, we know that he had already resolved to do anything within his power and in keeping with his conscience towards God to facilitate bringing as many to Christ as he could.
Consider this passage which included thoughts of circumcision 1Cor. 7:17-24,
“(17) Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches. (18) Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. (19) Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God’s commandments is what counts. (20) Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. (21) Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. (22) For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave. (23) You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men. (24) In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God.”
And this passage which shows Paul’s resolve to not offend any against the gospel…
1Cor. 9:18-23,“(18) What then is my reward? That when I preach the gospel I may offer the gospel free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights in the gospel. (19) For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. (20) To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. (21) To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. (22) To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. (23) I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.”
“(27) When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from the province of Asia who had seen him in the temple area stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, (28) shouting,
“Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this sanctuary! Furthermore he has brought Greeks into the inner courts of the temple and made this holy place ritually unclean!”
(29) (For they had seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him previously, and they assumed Paul had brought him into the inner temple courts.)
(30) The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple courts, and immediately the doors were shut.
(31) While they were trying to kill him, a report was sent up to the commanding officer of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion.
(32) He immediately took soldiers and centurions and ran down to the crowd. When they saw the commanding officer and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
(33) Then the commanding officer came up and arrested him and ordered him to be tied up with two chains; he then asked who he was and what he had done.
(34) But some in the crowd shouted one thing, and others something else, and when the commanding officer was unable to find out the truth because of the disturbance, he ordered Paul to be brought into the barracks.
(35) When he came to the steps, Paul had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob, (36) for a crowd of people followed them, screaming, “Away with him!”
(37) As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commanding officer, “May I say something to you?”
The officer replied, “Do you know Greek? (38) Then you’re not that Egyptian who started a rebellion and led the four thousand men of the ‘Assassins’ into the wilderness some time ago?”
(39) Paul answered, “I am a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Please allow me to speak to the people.”
(40) When the commanding officer had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and gestured to the people with his hand. When they had become silent, he addressed them in Aramaic,
“(1) Brothers and fathers, listen to my defense that I now make to you.” (2) (When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter.)
Then Paul said,
(3) “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated with strictness under Gamaliel according to the law of our ancestors, and was zealous for God just as all of you are today.
(4) I persecuted this Way even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison, (5) as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me.
From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I was on my way to make arrests there and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
(6) As I was en route and near Damascus, about noon a very bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. (7) Then I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
(8) I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, Whom you are persecuting.’
(9) Those who were with me saw the light, but did not understand the voice of the One Who was speaking to me.
(10) So I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’
The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told about everything that you have been designated to do.’
(11) Since I could not see because of the brilliance of that light, I came to Damascus led by the hand of those who were with me. (12) A man named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who live there, (13) came to me and stood beside me and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ And at that very moment I looked up and saw him.
(14) Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has already chosen you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear a command from His mouth, (15) because you will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. (16) And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on His name.’
(17) When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance (18) and saw the Lord saying to me,
‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’
(19) I replied, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat those in the various synagogues who believed in You. (20) And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing nearby, approving, and guarding the cloaks of those who were killing him.’
(21) Then He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
(22) The crowd was listening to him until he said this.
Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Away with this man from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live!”
(23) While they were screaming and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust in the air, (24) the commanding officer ordered Paul to be brought back into the barracks. He told them to interrogate Paul by beating him with a lash so that he could find out the reason the crowd was shouting at Paul in this way.
(25) When they had stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing nearby,
“Is it legal for you to lash a man who is a Roman citizen without a proper trial?”
(26) When the centurion heard this, he went to the commanding officer and reported it, saying,
“What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”
(27) So the commanding officer came and asked Paul,
“Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
He replied, “Yes.”
(28) The commanding officer answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.”
“But I was even born a citizen,” Paul replied.
(29) Then those who were about to interrogate him stayed away from him, and the commanding officer was frightened when he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had had him tied up.
(30) The next day, because the commanding officer wanted to know the true reason Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and the whole council to assemble. He then brought Paul down and had him stand before them.”
…and THAT is where we will pick up next week.
So our takeaways today were…
- Observing an Old Covenant ritual, feast or festival is NOT sin SO LONG as it is done for its symbolic value and NOT for righteousness.
- Both circumcision and uncircumcision are NOTHING.
- Paul seems to allow for Jews living in accordance with the customs of the law, so long as they are NOT to obtain righteousness.
- Paul conformed to the concerns of the church in Jerusalem BECAUSE he could do so WITHOUT compromising his clear conscience before God.
- We know 100% that the chuch in Jerusalem whose leaders included James and Peter, would NOT have considered ANY Jew born again if they were looking to or depending upon ANY Old Covenant custom for salvation, righteousness, eternal life or the giving of the Spirit.
- Paul became all things to all men that by all means he may save some and avoid offense – SO LONG as it did not compromise his conscience before God!
- Don’t check your brain at the door. Use both common sense and the guidance of the Holy Spirit TOGETHER.
- If you have something you can use to your advantage for the gospel or your safety – USE IT!