|While Jesus was on earth, he and his disciples practiced
the religion that God gave to the Israelites through Moses. The
guidelines they followed were found primarily in the
Torah*, which is the first five books
of the Old Testament -- the writings of Moses. The Torah contains a
variety of information including history, the Ten Commandments, and
instructions pertaining to finance, government, family, health, farming,
dress, feasts, and worship.
It was at some time after the death of Jesus that Christians stopped
observing the Old Testament laws. Exactly when that change occurred is
not clear in the Bible. Many people believe the change was made by Jesus
himself immediately after the resurrection. However, there is compelling
evidence in the book of Acts that the change did not occur until much
This article examines all the evidence in the book of Acts that
indicates whether or not the apostles and early Christians were still
following the Old Testament laws. The context of the story is important.
It would be a good idea to read the whole book of Acts to understand the
passages covered in this study.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New
International Version (NIV).
The Torah should not be confused with the Talmud which was written
later. The Talmud contains traditions, laws, and interpretations that
were added by the Jewish rabbis. Jesus spoke against some of those
interpretations and called them the "traditions of men". (Mark 7:8)
Some of the laws of Torah could only be followed under specific
circumstances. Animal sacrifices and many other religious rituals could
only be performed by the descendents of Aaron while on duty as priests at
the temple in Jerusalem. The civil laws were to be enforced only by
properly appointed judges in Israel.
Evidence From Acts
Although much of the evidence in this first section of Acts is
indirect, it is all consistent with the plain, confirming evidence found
later in the story.
Before Christ ascended
So when they met
together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to
restore the kingdom to Israel?"
Just prior to Christ’s ascension the disciples were still
expecting the Old Testament kingdom of Israel to be restored. That
expectation is a clue that the disciples were probably still
observing the laws of the Torah. As Jews they knew that the
restoration of the kingdom of Israel was dependent on Israel’s
obedience to the law.
Then they returned to
Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's
walk from the city.
When Luke wrote this story many years later, he was still
measuring distances according to the traditional Jewish Sabbath
laws. He wrote the book of Acts sometime after the final events of
Acts had taken place - probably in AD 63 or 70.
When the day of
Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a
sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled
the whole house where they were sitting.
The Feast of Pentecost was one of the seven annual religious
festivals of the Jews (Lev.
23:15-21). Pentecost, which means "fiftieth", occurred
exactly fifty days after the Day of the Wave Sheaf (which was after
Passover during the Feast of Unleavened Bread). The Feast of
Pentecost commemorated God's giving of the law at Mt. Sinai 50 days
after the Israelites escaped from Egypt following the first
Passover. Pentecost also marked the beginning of the wheat harvest
in the spring. Special offerings of wheat bread, baked from the
first wheat of the harvest, were brought to the Lord. No regular
work was done, and a sacred assembly was held at the Temple.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers it is likely
that they were meeting somewhere in the Temple precincts to observe
the Feast of Pentecost. Luke tells us that after the ascension of
Jesus (just 10 days before Pentecost), the believers "stayed
continually at the temple, praising God." (Luke
24:53) Luke says that following Pentecost, "Every
day they continued to meet together in the temple courts."(
Acts 2:46) The use of the word "house" in Acts
2:2 doesn't necessarily exclude the meeting rooms that were
available around the Temple courtyard -- that particular Greek word
for "house" is sometimes translated as "temple".
Christ's death as the Lamb of God coincided exactly with the
Feast of Passover. The significance of the Old Testament Feasts did
not end there. God also chose to commemorate the Feast of Pentecost
by pouring out the Holy Spirit on that day. So this Feast that
marked the beginning of the wheat harvest coincided exactly with the
beginning of the harvest of souls under the influence of the Holy
Spirit. Some of the other Feasts incorporate themes and imagery of
events that are not yet completed -- judgment and redemption.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every
nation under heaven.
Then Peter stood up with
the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews
and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you;
listen carefully to what I say.
Peter was speaking to Jews from all over the world that had come
to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost. Now if Christ had
already done away with these feasts, this would have been a great
time for Peter to explain to all these people that they no longer
needed to waste their time and resources coming to Jerusalem for the
feasts. But in his sermon Peter did not even allude to any such
changes to the law.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three
thousand were added to their number that day.
When these people were convicted by the Holy Spirit, there was no
need for them to abandon their Jewish faith. They simply accepted
Jesus as the Messiah that had been foretold in the Jewish
In the Temple
Every day they continued
to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their
homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God
and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to
their number daily those who were being saved.
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of
prayer--at three in the afternoon.
These first Christians didn't go off by themselves to worship
away from the noise and bustle of the Jewish temple. Rather, they
continued to meet at the temple where the regular Jewish worship
rituals and animal sacrifices were going on.
If the Christians were not living according to the Torah, why did
they choose to meet in the very place where the Torah was still
being taught and practiced? Actually, if the Christians had been
breaking the Jewish religious laws they would not have been welcome
in the temple courts, and they would not have enjoyed the favor of
the other Jews who had come to the temple to worship.
When Peter saw this, he
said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you
stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man
Here again Peter has the people’s attention. If he believed the
Jews were wasting their energy observing the laws of the Old
Testament, he could have told them so. But he didn't.
Great fear seized the
whole church and all who heard about these events. The apostles
performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And
all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No
one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by
The Christians continued to meet at the temple and they were
still respected by the Jewish worshippers that came to the temple to
offer sacrifices. That makes it evident that the apostles were not
preaching in opposition to the rituals of the temple.
Acts 5:19, 20
But during the night an
angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.
"Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the
full message of this new life."
The angel instructs the apostles to preach at the temple the full
message of the new Christian life. If the Torah had been annulled
and Christians were not supposed to observe its laws any more, the
apostles would have started teaching that message in the temple
courts. But they didn't. At least Luke didn't record it. Nor did he
record any temple riots, which such a message surely would have
caused. Later Stephen was falsely accused of speaking against the
law, and certain Jews stirred up the people against him. If the
apostles had actually been speaking against the Law of Moses, the
people would have stirred themselves up against the apostles.
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored
by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the
men be put outside for a little while.
Therefore, in the
present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For
if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But
if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will
only find yourselves fighting against God." His speech persuaded
By this time the apostles were well known in Jerusalem. If they
were not living according to the Torah, the people would have known
about it. Gamaliel said, "If
it is from God … you will only be fighting against God".
It’s highly unlikely that Gamaliel would have been able to convince
the rest of the Jewish Sanhedrin that Torah-breaking men might
possibly be working for God. To illustrate how unlikely this was,
you might try going down to your local Jewish synagogue and in less
than 5 minutes (or 5 months) persuade the Jewish elders and rabbis
that the pastor of your Christian church has a valid work to do for
God preaching at the synagogue, and that if the synagogue leaders
resist that work they might be fighting against God.
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they
never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is
The apostles continued to go to the Jewish temple to teach that
Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews.
Brothers, choose seven
men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and
wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give
our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." This proposal
pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and
of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas,
and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
These are the men chosen by the church to be deacons. Notice that
Nicolas is described as a convert to Judaism. The Christians weren't
called Christians yet, so we can't expect Luke to describe Nicolas
as a convert to Christianity. However, it is apparent that the Holy
Spirit and the apostles didn't consider the Jewish religion an
obstacle to Christian believers. The rest of the deacons were Jews
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen
speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God." So they
stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law.
They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They
produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops
speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have
heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place
and change the customs Moses handed down to us."
The enemies of Stephen would not have needed the false witnesses
if Stephen had been disobeying the laws of the Old Testament. In
that case, truthful witnesses would have easily condemned him before
the Sanhedrin. The fact that they needed false witnesses to accuse
Stephen implies that he was actually obedient to the laws of the
Then the high priest asked him, "Are these charges true?" To this
he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory
appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia,
before he lived in Haran.
This is Stephen’s opportunity to explain to the Jewish leaders
any changes that Jesus made to the laws that Moses handed down. The
false witnesses brought up the topic of disputed laws and changed
customs, and the high priest asked if it was true. In answering the
question Stephen reviewed the Old Testament history, but he did not
say anything that could be understood as being critical of Old
Testament laws, nor did he indicate that any changes were made to
those laws. In fact, Stephen described the writings of Moses in a
rather positive manner -- “[Moses]
received living words to
pass on to us.” (Acts
Stephen did say one thing that might be construed as speaking
against the temple. Regarding Solomon’s temple he said, "However,
the Most High does not live in houses made by men.” (Acts
7:48) and he quoted from Isaiah 66 to support his point.
Saul persecutes the believers
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against
the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for
letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there
who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as
prisoners to Jerusalem.
Christianity was referred to as “the Way”. It is significant
that Saul went to the Jewish synagogues rather than to churches in
order to find the Christians.
"'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue
to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you.’”
Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them
punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession
against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
In order to worship or teach in the synagogues, the Christians
would have needed to observe the Jewish Sabbath as well as enough of
the other Old Testament laws to be accepted as Jews in the
synagogues. Since Saul needed to force the Christians to blaspheme,
it is likely they weren’t guilty of intentionally breaking any of
the laws of the Torah.
According to one of the traditional laws of the Jews, it is
considered blasphemous to say God’s personal name, “Yahweh” (or
perhaps “Jehovah”). This tradition may have been copied from the
Babylonians while the Jews were in captivity. Since that tradition
is contrary to the Old Testament teachings, it is likely that Jesus
and his followers did not adhere to it.
A devout observer of the law
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to
him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. The Lord told
him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man
from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
Later, Paul (Saul) includes important details about Ananias as he
retells the story:
“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the
law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.”
The law that Paul mentions here was undoubtedly the law of Moses
because Paul was defending himself before a crowd of Jews who would
not have accepted any other law as valid.
It is evident that Ananias was not just an oddball among the
Christians because he was highly respected by all the Jews in
Damascus. At that time all the Christians were Jews, and in
Damascus the Christians met in the synagogues with the Jews.
Ananias had the respect of both the Christian Jews and the
God also approved of Ananias. Out of all the available
Christians, Ananias was selected as the one to restore Saul’s sight,
baptize him with the Holy Spirit, and commission him as an apostle.
The description of Ananias as a "devout observer of the law"
clearly confirms what could only be inferred from the earlier
evidence in Acts – the followers of Jesus had not yet abandoned the
observance of Old Testament laws.
Saul as a Christian
|As a zealous Pharisee and a Jew, Saul carefully observed the
laws of Moses before he became a Christian. Because Saul was
baptized by Ananias who was a devout observer of the law, it is
reasonable to expect that Saul would continue to observe the Torah
after he became a Christian. This is substantiated later in Acts.
The NIV Study Bible acknowledges that as a Christian Paul
observed the Old Testament laws. In the study helps for
1 Corinthians 9:20 the authors say,
"For the Jews sake Paul conformed to the Jewish law."
and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent
several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to
preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God
Saul joined the Christians at the Jewish synagogues and
proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. A man who was not observing the
Torah would not have been allowed to preach in the synagogues.
Saul returns to Jerusalem
When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they
were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a
As a believer, Saul’s appearance and behavior had not changed
noticeably. At least the other believers couldn't see the difference
from a safe distance.
The Torah required Israelites to wear tassels on their clothing
as a reminder of the commands of the Lord. (Num. 15:38)
If Saul had removed those tassels from his clothes when he became a
Christian, it seems the disciples would have noticed that change.
However, if Saul had removed the tassels from his clothes he
wouldn’t have been as welcome at the temple or in the Jewish
"When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell
into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me.
'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your
testimony about me.'
After becoming a Christian, Saul still went to the Jewish temple
to pray. Although the veil of this temple had been supernaturally
torn at the moment when Jesus died a few years earlier, it is
evident that the Lord still met with those who came there to
He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was
being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and
something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four
corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as
reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him,
"Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied.
"I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to
him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made
clean." This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was
taken back to heaven.
Even though the voice repeatedly tells him to eat, Peter refuses
and replies, “ Surely
not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
This clearly shows that Peter had been faithfully obeying the Old
Testament guidelines regarding unclean and clean (or kosher) foods.
This also shows that Peter did not believe or practice what some
people assume Jesus was teaching in
Mark 7:19, where Jesus supposedly
declared all foods “clean”. Using a literal translation to study
that passage in context shows that Peter was correct. That’s not
surprising since Peter was actually there while Jesus was teaching.
The issue in
Mark 7 was a ceremonial washing of
hands, which was one of the “traditions of men” that the Jews had
added to the commands of God. The food in question in
Mark 7 was already kosher.
Peter’s vision is sometimes interpreted to mean that God was at
this time doing away with the regulations in the Torah regarding
clean and unclean foods. Such an interpretation does not agree with
Peter’s interpretation of the vision in verses 28 and 34.
The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a
righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish
people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that
he could hear what you have to say."
Cornelius was apparently already acquainted with the Jewish laws.
He said to them: ”You are well aware that it is against our law for
a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me
that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”
Peter’s interpretation of the vision did not relate to food at
all – it was about people. When Peter returns to Jerusalem later,
it is evident that he had not started eating “unclean” foods.
Obviously Peter was still carefully observing the Jewish laws --
it took a special vision from God to make him willing to come to
Cornelius’s house. The law that prohibited associating with Gentiles
was not even a part of the Torah -- it was apparently one of the
regulations that had been added by the Jews.
Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God
does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear
him and do what is right.
Peter again stated what he had learned from the vision. The
vision was about people, not food.
The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished
that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the
Up until this time, all of the Christian believers had been
either Jews or Gentiles that had fully converted to Judaism.
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the
Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up
to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said,
"You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."
The believers in Jerusalem were concerned that Peter was not
properly observing the Jewish laws. Notice that Peter was
criticized, not for the food he ate, but for the people he had
So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the
Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?"
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised
God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance
The believers in Jerusalem concurred with Peter’s explanation of
the events. No mention was made of any changes to the Torah’s
instructions regarding clean foods.
The Evidence From Acts
To the Gentiles
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in
connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus
and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them,
however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began
to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the
At this time some Christian believers started reaching out
to give the gospel to non-Jews as well as Jews.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he
found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year
Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers
of people. The disciples were called Christians first at
Although the believers in Antioch included Gentiles as well
as Jews, nothing is said to indicate that the believers in
Antioch behaved any differently than the believers in
Jerusalem who were observing the law.
The word “church” is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia”,
which means an assembly of people. It can refer to the people
assembled at a Jewish synagogue, a meeting of Christians, or
to other assemblies of people.
In prison for the feasts
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who
belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had
James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When
he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter
also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to
be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod
intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
Although Luke mentions the Jewish feasts of Passover and
Unleavened Bread, he does not say here whether or not the
Christians were actually observing the feasts.
Ever since the 4th century, western Christians have
generally ignored the Jewish feasts. It’s easy to assume that
the apostles did the same as we do. However, considering the
high regard that the apostles had for the law of Moses, it is
more likely that the Christians were observing the feasts
First missionary journey of Paul
|As Paul and Barnabus traveled to the various
cities, they went to worship and teach in the Jewish
When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God
in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
In order to be welcome in the Jewish synagogues of the
city, Paul and Barnabus must have been following the Old
From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath
they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading
from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word
to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of
encouragement for the people, please speak." Standing up,
Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you
Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!
"Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus
the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him
everyone who believes is justified from everything you could
not be justified from by the law of Moses.
Although Paul was observing the Jewish laws, he did not
teach people to rely on the law for salvation. He makes it
clear that the law was not for the purpose of justification.
The Torah describes many offences for which the law
provided no remedy -- the guilty person was to be "cut off
from his people". Forgiveness for those sins became
available through Jesus.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people
invited them to speak further about these things on the next
Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the
Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and
Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in
the grace of God.
If the Christians had been worshipping on Sundays, as is
commonly assumed, Paul could have invited the people to meet
with the Christians the following day, rather than have them
wait until the next Sabbath.
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the
word of the Lord.
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish
synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number
of Jews and Gentiles believed.
The dispute in Antioch
From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been
committed to the grace of God for the work they had now
completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church
together and reported all that God had done through them and
how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they
stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the
brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom
taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and
Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and
Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to
go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this
Because Antioch was the first church to have a significant
number of Gentile believers, they were the first group to
grapple with the issue of what should be required of Gentile
converts before they would be considered full members of the
assembly of Christian believers. The requirements for
membership are not the same as the requirements for salvation,
although they are so closely related that some people might
not recognize the difference. That may have been the case
with the men who were teaching, "Unless
you are circumcised ... you cannot be saved." However,
those men may not have been referring to salvation at all --
the Greek word translated as "be saved" also means "be
healed", "do well" or "be made whole".
The issue in Antioch was whether or not male converts
needed to be circumcised when they joined the Christian
assembly. This was an issue that was also disputed within
Judaism at that time. The Pharisees interpreted the law of
Moses to mean that all males had to be circumcised. Some other
sects within Judaism interpreted the law to mean that only
eight-day old male babies were to be circumcised and that
adult converts fulfilled this requirement by agreeing to
circumcise any future baby boys. The dispute in Antioch
boiled down to a matter of interpretation of the law. They
had to appeal to a higher authority for a decision on this
issue because Paul's position could not be proven from
existing Scripture, and he did not agree with the prevailing
interpretation of the law among Christian Jews.
The Council in Jerusalem
Acts 15: 4-5
came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the
apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had
done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to
the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles
must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."
This statement of the believing Pharisees seems to imply
that circumcision was not the primary dispute at Antioch, but
was only part of a larger issue -- whether or not the Gentile
believers were supposed to observe the whole law of Moses.
Additionally, it is often assumed from the Pharisees'
statement that because Paul opposed these men, Paul must have
been teaching the Gentile believers to disregard the law of
Moses. However, these interpretations contradict other
evidence within the context of Acts 15 which shows that
obedience to the law of Moses was not part of the dispute at
Antioch. That evidence will be presented in context below.
Some of the original implications of the Pharisees'
argument may have been lost in translation, especially if the
original discussion took place in Hebrew or Aramaic and was
subsequently translated into Greek and then into English. The
Greek text of this passage suggests two alternative
interpretations of the Pharisees' argument, either of which
which would harmonize with the overall context of Acts 15.
- One interpretation of the Greek is that the Pharisees
were arguing that the Gentile believers must be circumcised
because allowing them to remain uncircumcised would erode
the the authority of the Torah, something which all of the
believers agreed should be upheld. Their assertion could be
understood as “The Gentiles must be circumcised, and
thereby uphold the law of Moses.” This would
confirm that the primary issue was still circumcision, as it
had been at Antioch.
- Another possible interpretation of the Greek is that
these Christian Pharisees were advocating not only
circumcision, but also the man-made traditions and laws of
the rabbis that had been added to Jewish law in order to
"guard" the Torah. (For example, the Old Testament teaches
that a person is not to carry a burden on the Sabbath, but
the rabbis taught that a person is not to carry anything at
all on the Sabbath.) These stricter regulations were
supposed to prevent the Jews from inadvertently breaking the
Torah. In this verse, the words "to
obey" are translated from the Greek verb tereo
which means literally "to guard". The argument of the
Pharisees can be translated as "The Gentiles must be
circumcised and commanded to guard the law of Moses,"
with the implication that the Gentiles should be taught to
observe the man-made laws that the rabbis put in place to
guard the Torah. This intention would have become clear in
the discussion which ensued.
The apostles and elders met to consider this question.
The fact that the apostles seriously discussed this
question shows that they still had high regard for the law of
Moses and considered such questions to be important.
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them:
"Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among
you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of
the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that
he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he
did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he
purified their hearts by faith.
Peter reminds the elders about the first uncircumcised
believers and how they received the Holy Spirit at the house
of Cornelius in Caesarea. Peter says specifically that God
made no distinction between the Gentile believers and the
Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks
of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have
been able to bear?
Is it possible that Peter could have been referring to the
law of Moses as an unbearable yoke? Remember, this is the
same Peter that exclaimed, "Surely
not, Lord!" when in a vision he was told to disobey the
dietary laws. (Acts
10:14) It would have been rather uncharacteristic
for Peter to refer to the Law of Moses as an unbearable yoke.
Years later when the elders spoke of the Christians where
Peter lived they said, "many
thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous
for the law." (Acts
21:20) Apparently they observed the law of Moses
quite enthusiastically, so it would have been totally untrue
for Peter to say the law of Moses was something they had been
unable to bear. Such a statement would have directly
contradicted the Scriptures which describe the law as a
delight and something to rejoice about. (Psalm
119) It would also have been disagreeing with Paul
who wrote, "For
in my inner being I delight in God's law," (Romans
7:22) and with Moses who wrote, "Now
what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or
beyond your reach." (Deut
So, what was the yoke that Peter was speaking about? We
don't know for certain what he had in mind, but there are some
other options to consider. Peter could have been referring to
what Jesus said about the man-made requirements that had been
added by the Pharisees but were not actually part of the
Torah. "They tie
up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they
themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."
23:4) Another possibility is suggested by the
tense of the verb in the Greek, which indicates that bearing
the yoke was a one-time event, rather than an ongoing process.
In that case, Peter would not be referring to a life-long
practice such as observing the laws of the Jews. Peter may
have been addressing the original question regarding adult
circumcision for the Gentile converts. As Jews, the apostles
and their fathers had all been circumcised when they were
eight days old, so they had not been required to undergo
circumcision as adults. Requiring the Gentiles to be
circumcised as adults would have made it more difficult for
Gentiles to become Christians than it was for Jews.
No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that
we are saved, just as they are."
Again Peter makes no distinction between the Gentiles and
the Jews – they are both saved by grace. The Jewish
Christians were observing the laws of Moses and were saved by
grace, so the Gentile believers would also be able to observe
the laws of Moses while being saved by grace.
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas
and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God
had done among the Gentiles through them.
When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me.
Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern
by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words
of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins
I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant
of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear
my name, says the Lord, who does these things' that have
been known for ages.’
James called on the authority of the Old Testament prophets
to support what Peter had said and what James was about to
recommend. Although the elders in Jerusalem had the authority
to interpret the laws, they didn't presume to have the
authority to change the law.
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it
difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
On many issues pertaining to the interpretation of the law,
the Christian believers followed the teachings of the
Pharisees. However, James realized that it would be quite a
burden on the Gentile Christians to require adult converts to
be circumcised. His recommendation followed the precedent
that God set when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the new
Gentile converts in the situation that Peter (Simon) had
spoken about earlier. It also agreed with the teaching of the
Jewish sects that interpreted the law less literally than did
Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from
food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat
of strangled animals and from blood.
These four requirements listed by James were all part of
the law of Moses and pertained specifically to foreigners
living in Israel:
abstain from food polluted
"Say to them:
'Any Israelite or any alien living among them who
offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it
to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to
the LORD--that man must be cut off from his people.'" (To
guard more carefully against idolatry, this command was
interpreted by the Jews to prohibit eating any meat that
had been offered in a prohibited manner.)
from sexual immorality
Leviticus 18:6-26 lists
a wide range of sexually immoral activities and ends with,
native-born and the aliens living among you must
not do any of these detestable things,”
from the meat of strangled
"'Any Israelite or any alien living among you who
hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out
the blood and cover it with earth,
"'Anyone, whether native-born or alien, who eats
anything found dead or torn by wild animals must wash his
clothes and bathe with water, and he will be ceremonially
unclean till evening; then he will be clean."
and from blood
"'Any Israelite or any alien living among them who
eats any blood--I will set my face against that person who
eats blood and will cut him off from his people."
|Rather than canceling or withdrawing these
Old Testament regulations, James and the apostles actually
extended the scope of these regulations by applying them to
Gentile believers living outside the land of Israel.
There is a significant correlation between these
requirements suggested by James and the requirements that the
Jewish rabbis required for their Gentile converts to Judaism.
Besides these four requirements the rabbis also required
baptism, circumcision for males, and additional instruction
from the Torah.
For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest
times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
James knew that the Gentile converts were already receiving
the necessary Torah instruction each Sabbath as they met with
the Christian believers.
Except for baptism and circumcision, James had listed all
of the normal requirements for Gentiles joining into Judaism.
Baptism was not an issue for the church at Antioch because the
Gentile believers were already being baptized by Paul and
others. So, by purposely leaving circumcision out of the list
of requirements, James was giving a direct answer to the
original question of the Antioch believers -- "Do adult
converts need to become circumcised when they join the
Christian assembly?" Because these guidelines for Gentile
converts to Christianity were nearly identical to the rabbis'
requirements for converts to Judaism, it is evident that the
Christians also thought of their Gentile converts as being
adopted into the people of Israel.
There certainly would have been more debate regarding those
guidelines if the apostles had actually intended to exempt the
Gentile believers from the entire law of Moses and replace it
with only four guidelines for Christian behavior. Surely they
would not have exempted the Gentiles from "Love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5)
your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18)
which Jesus endorsed as the greatest of commandments. Also,
Peter had just finished saying (twice) that God did not
differentiate between the Gentile believers and the Jewish
believers, so we could expect that Peter (along with Paul)
would have opposed any decision that created a distinction
between the two groups of Christians.
Among Christians today it is recognized that the four
requirements James listed for Gentile believers do not
comprise a complete guide for Christian behavior. Every
church bases its discipleship program for new believers on a
much broader foundation. The apostles also expected Gentile
converts to receive additional training, and James
specifically mentions the teachings of Moses as the foundation
of discipleship training for Gentile Christians. Paul also
recommended the writings of Moses for instructing both Jewish
and Gentile believers (1
2 Tim 3:16).
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided
to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with
Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and
Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. With them
they sent the following letter:
and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in
Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. We have heard
that some went out from us without our authorization and
disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.
So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you
with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul-- men who have
risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to
confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed
good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with
anything beyond the following requirements: You are to
abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from
the meat of strangled animals and from sexual
immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
The phrase "It
seemed good to the Holy Spirit" refers to the precedent
that was set when the Holy Spirit fell on the devout but
uncircumcised Gentiles of Cornelius’ household (Acts
10). Both Peter and James referred to that
incident while explaining the reasons for their
Notice that the apostles' letter to Antioch does not refer
at all to salvation or to any requirements for being saved.
So it appears that in the original dispute over circumcision
at Antioch, "being saved" was not the primary issue. It is
possible that the men who had stirred up trouble in Antioch
were saying, "Unless you are circumcised ... you cannot
do well" (see comments on Acts 15:1 above). In that
case, "doing well" would have been the primary issue. That is
the issue the apostles addressed at the conclusion of the
letter -- "If you
keep yourself free from such things, you will do well."
To avoid any misunderstanding, the elders from Jerusalem
sent a delegation to Antioch to deliver the letter.
Christians today would be more likely to understand the intent
of the apostles’ letter if it was explained to them by a
delegation of Torah-observant believers like the men who
delivered the letter to Antioch.
The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they
gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The
people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.
Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to
encourage and strengthen the brothers. After spending some
time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the
blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But
Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many
others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
The believers in Antioch received the letter as a welcome
answer to their original question regarding circumcision for
Gentile converts. The men from Jerusalem stayed for some time
to minister and teach in Antioch without any new problems
developing between the Gentile and Jewish believers.
That would not have been the case if the believers in
Antioch had understood the letter to mean that Gentile
believers did not need to learn or observe the Torah. It would
have created in the local church a distinction between two
classes of believers based on race. Maintaining unity within
such a church would have been difficult if the Gentile
Christians had been observing only the four guidelines sent
from Jerusalem, while the men who had just arrived from
Jerusalem were continuing to observe and teach the Torah with
the other Jewish Christians in Antioch. There would have been
an unavoidable tendency for the church to become racially
segregated as both Jews and Gentiles avoided the awkward
situations that would have been caused by conflicting
practices such as kosher foods, Sabbath, the Biblical feasts,
and teaching the Torah. You can imagine the difficulties a
Torah-observant Christian like Paul might have today if he
were the pastor of an average Christian congregation. The
absence of subsequent controversy at Antioch strongly suggests
that the Gentile converts were being taught to follow the same
Old Testament guidelines that the Jewish Christians were
We know from what Peter said (Acts
15:9, 11), and from Paul's writings (Gal.
3:28), and from Jesus' final instructions to his
28:19-20) that there was not to be a distinction
between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Because the
apostle's decision applied only to Gentile converts, not to
Jewish believers, the decision could not have been intended to
exempt the Gentile believers from learning to follow the laws
of Moses which the Jewish believers were still observing.
The decision of the apostles in Jerusalem regarding
circumcision for Gentile converts was not accepted by some of
the Jewish Christians in other congregations. In his letters
to the various churches, Paul urged the Jewish believers to
accept the uncircumcised believers as equal brothers and
assured the Gentile believers of their equality in Christ.
Circumcision of Timothy
He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named
Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but
whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium
spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the
journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived
in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
In spite of what Paul wrote elsewhere in the New Testament
regarding circumcision, it is apparent that Paul considered
circumcision of Christian believers to be an acceptable
Evidence From Acts
Bereans evaluate Paul's message
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians,
for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the
Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
The Old Testament writings were the only Scriptures available at
that time. So the Bereans used the Old Testament to evaluate Paul's
teachings to see if they were true. Paul's teachings must have
agreed entirely with the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament
Scriptures, otherwise those Bereans would have rejected Paul's
Sabbath and synagogues
From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading
city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several
days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river,
where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began
to speak to the women who had gathered there.
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to
Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom
was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he
reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews
They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He
himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
Paul completes a vow
Paul stayed on in
Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for
Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had
his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.
Although it is not certain what kind of vow Paul had made, the
cutting off of the hair was typical of the Nazirite vow (Numbers
6). Later Paul could have fulfilled the parts of his vow
that required making offerings at the temple in Jerusalem. (Acts
Keep this feast
(KJV) But bade
them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that
cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will.
And he sailed from Ephesus.
Paul was willing to go out of his way to observe the Jewish
feasts. This reference to the feast is omitted in some modern
versions of the Bible.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to
Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the
Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he
spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he
knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the
synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to
their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Paul's companions Priscilla and Aquila found Apollos speaking in
the synagogue. It was not unusual for Christians to worship and
speak in the Jewish synagogues, even though they would be expected
to live according to the Old Testament regulations.
Paul in Ephesus
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months,
arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them
became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the
Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had
discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for
two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province
of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
During the two years that Paul taught in Ephesus the Jews
continued to come listen to Paul's teaching. Most of the Jews would
have stayed away if Paul had been teaching in opposition to the
Feast of Unleavened Bread
But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and
five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven
The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasts seven days and comes right
after the Passover in the spring. The mention of the feast here
indicates that Paul and his companions probably observed it. They
were traveling in a country where there would be little reason to
use a Jewish feast as a time reference, unless they celebrated it.
If they had not celebrated the feast, Luke could have easily added a
clarifying phrase like "which we no longer observed". There is no
such clarification anywhere in Acts.
The resurrection of Jesus came right during the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, so it is significant to notice that Luke did not
write "we sailed from Philippi a few days after Easter." If the
Christians had actually been ignoring the Old Testament feasts, Luke
would have mentioned the celebration of the resurrection rather than
the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
On the first day of the week
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul
spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day,
kept on talking until midnight.
This is the only passage in Acts that mentions Sunday or the
first day of the week. Because each Jewish day started and ended at
sundown, this meeting probably occurred on a Saturday night, after
the Sabbath had ended. In the New English Bible this verse
reads, "On the Saturday
night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to
leave next day, addressed them, and went on speaking until midnight."
So Paul probably spent that particular Sunday traveling rather than
To Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost
Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the
province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if
possible, by the day of Pentecost.
The Feast of Pentecost was one of the three times each year when
the Israelites traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. Paul
evidently wanted to participate in the Feast of Pentecost. Later,
while he was on trial before governor Felix, Paul clearly stated the
reason he had traveled to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of
Pentecost: "You can
easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to
Jerusalem to worship." (Acts
All are zealous for the law
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The
next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the
elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what
God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they
heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see,
brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them
are zealous for the law.
James couldn't have made it any plainer that at this time the
Christian believers in Jerusalem were eagerly observing the law.
The attitude of these believers toward the law may have been
caused by their acceptance of the new covenant that was promised by
God through Jeremiah the prophet:
"I will put my law in
their minds and write it on their hearts." (see
Jeremiah 31:31-33) These
believers may also be an example of "the
obedience that comes from faith" that was the goal of Paul's
apostleship. (Romans 1:5)
False Rumors about Paul and the law
They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among
the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise
their children or live according to our customs.
The Jewish people in Jerusalem had known about Paul before he was
a Christian and about his reputation as a strict Pharisee. They
also knew that Paul left Jerusalem and was no longer cooperating
with the Sanhedrin and the leading Pharisees. Rumors concerning
this significant change would have circulated among the Jews during
the years that Paul had been away from Jerusalem. Rumors had
probably also come to Jerusalem from the Jews in other areas where
Paul was working. But now many of the Jews in Jerusalem had become
Christians. They were zealous for the law and had doubts about Paul
because of what they'd heard about him over the years.
Then everybody will know
What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so
do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a
vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their
expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody
will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you
yourself are living in obedience to the law.
James and the apostles who were acquainted with Paul knew that
the reports were false. If Paul joined in the purification rites it
would be obvious to everyone that Paul was living in obedience to
Paul did join in the purification rites. As far as we know, he
was completely willing to do so.
So today everyone should know that Paul himself was living in
obedience to the law of Moses. There was no truth in the rumors
that Paul was teaching people to turn away from Moses.
Unfortunately, some people would rather portray Paul as a clever
hypocrite - acting like a Christian when he's with Christians,
acting like a Jew when he's with Jews, and acting like a Gentile
when he's with Gentiles - as if Paul might gain some missionary
advantage by doing so. We know that Paul did not approve of that
kind of hypocrisy because he had publicly rebuked Peter for such
If Paul had been in the habit of disregarding the law of Moses,
it would have been deceitful for Paul to join in the purification
rites knowing that everyone would think he had been living according
to the law. It also would have been deceitful for James and the
elders to recommend a course of action that would have intentionally
misled the believers in Jerusalem.
As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision
that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood,
from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."
James reaffirmed the decision reached in Acts 15 that Gentile
converts were to follow the Torah requirements for foreigners in
Israel, but were not required to be circumcised as adults.
The King James Version includes the phrase, "that
they observe no such thing." If this
phrase was in the original manuscript of Acts, it could have
referred to the law, to the purification rituals, or to the
practices falsely attributed to Paul -- turning away from Moses,
neglecting to circumcise the children, and abandoning the Jewish
The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them.
Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days
of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of
If the vow Paul took in Acts 18:18 was a Nazirite vow (Numbers
6), these purifications rites and offerings would have
fulfilled the parts of his vow that could only be accomplished at
the Temple in Jerusalem.
It had been more than twenty-five years since Jesus had died, yet
it was still acceptable for Christians to go to the Jewish temple to
worship and take part in the rituals. This was Paul's final visit
to Jerusalem -- he would soon become a prisoner. The last place he
went as a free man was to the Jewish temple to worship.
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province
of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and
seized him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who
teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this
place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and
defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the
Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him
into the temple area.)
Paul was not the only one who had traveled to Jerusalem for the
Feast of Pentecost. Some of the Jews from Asia recognized Paul.
Although their accusations against Paul were false, the temple riot
(described in subsequent verses) illustrates the enthusiasm with
which the Jews protected the temple from those who were suspected of
Before the Sanhedrin
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, "My brothers, I have
fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day."
Many Christians today could say with all honesty the same thing
that Paul said. However, a few moments later Paul also states that
he is a Pharisee. That defines much more clearly what he and the
Sanhedrin understood as his duty to God.
At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to
strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, "God will strike
you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to
the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be
struck!" Those who were standing near Paul said, "You dare to
insult God's high priest?" Paul replied, "Brothers, I did not
realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not
speak evil about the ruler of your people.'"
Paul implies that he would not have disobeyed the Torah by
insulting the high priest if he had known Ananias was the high
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others
Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a
Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope
in the resurrection of the dead."
Although Paul evidently said this in order to take advantage of
the dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, it would not
have worked if Paul had not been living in accordance with the law
of Moses. In that case, it would probably have been laughter,
rather than a dispute, that broke out in the Sanhedrin when Paul
claimed to be a Pharisee.
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who
were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. "We find nothing
wrong with this man," they said. "What if a spirit or an angel has
spoken to him?"
Although the Asian Jews had made serious charges against Paul,
there was enough evidence to show that Paul's claim to being a
Pharisee was valid. Some of the Pharisees declared, "We
find nothing wrong with this man." It is doubtful they would
have said this about a man who was not following the teachings of
Moses. The passages following this show how determined the Jews
were to be rid of Paul, which makes this vindication of Paul by some
of his enemies even more significant.
The Lord's approval
The following night the
Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified
about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
Although some Christians today are critical of Paul's choice to
go through the purification ritual which led to his arrest at the
Jewish temple, the Lord apparently does not share that opinion at
all. In Jerusalem Paul had testified as a Torah-observant believer
in Jesus, deliberately making it clear to all that he upheld the law
In the court of Felix
"We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots
among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the
Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized
The Jews considered Paul to be a leader of the Nazarenes, which
was a sect of Judaism. History records that the sect of the
Nazarenes accepted Jesus as the Messiah and continued to observe the
laws of Moses. The sect existed in the synagogues until at least the
My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or
stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city.
And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against
me. However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a
follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything
that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I
have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a
resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive
always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
Paul denied most of the charges against him, but he did not deny
being a Nazarene or a follower of the Way, which the Jews called a
sect. Apparently Paul also considered Christianity to be a part of
the Jewish religion.
Paul clearly states, "I
believe everything that agrees with the Law and the Prophets."
The "Law and the Prophets" was the term the Jews used for the Old
"After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my
people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was
ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing
this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any
Paul describes himself as "ceremonially clean" according to the
Torah. Paul evidently was not afraid to comply with some of the
In the court of Festus
When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood
around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they
could not prove. Then Paul made his defense: "I have done nothing
wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple or against
Paul plainly testified that he had done nothing wrong against the
law of the Jews.
Before Agrippa and Festus
"The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child,
from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in
Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if
they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our
religion, I lived as a Pharisee.
Apparently Paul's behavior had been fairly consistent ever since
he was a child. If Paul was no longer living as a Pharisee, then
what he said about being a Pharisee would have been rather
irrelevant. The Jews had not accused him for things he had done
before he became a Christian.
It's not likely that Paul would have invited the Jews to verify
that he lived as a Pharisee unless he was still living as a
Pharisee. The Jews would have been eager to challenge, rather than
verify, Paul's testimony.
Notice that Paul says, "our religion" instead of "their
religion". Paul still thought of himself as a part of the Jewish
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all
Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent
and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
This is an unusual summary of Paul's preaching. Although Paul
preached salvation by grace, he also taught that there was a proper
place for the deeds that resulted from repentance and a relationship
Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time
you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Paul replied, "Short time
or long--I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to
me today may become what I am, except for these chains."
Sometimes people assume that Paul continued following the laws of
Moses only because of his unique role as an apostle to both Jews and
Gentiles. Notice, however, that Paul's prayer was for everyone
listening to become, not just a Christian as Agrippa suggested, but
a Christian specifically like Paul himself. Paul believed that he
was an appropriate role model for all Christians, whether they were
Gentiles or not. He wrote, "Therefore
I urge you to imitate me." (1
Corinthians 4:16) and
“Follow my example, as I
follow the example of Christ.” (1
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous
because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them...
A footnote in the NIV Bible says "the Fast" refers to the
Day of Atonement. This feast occurred in the fall and was the only
Jewish festival that involved fasting. When Luke wrote the story of
Acts, he expected that Christians who later read the story would be
familiar with the Fast and know what time of year it occurred. That
would not be likely unless they continued to observe the Fast.
Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When
they had assembled, Paul said to them: "My brothers, although I have
done nothing against our people or against the customs of our
ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the
Nearly at the end of his life and ministry, Paul declares to the
Jewish leaders in Rome that he has done nothing against the Jews or
against their customs.
When did the disciples of Jesus stop observing
the Old Testament laws?
|The book of Acts contains no evidence that the
apostles ever stopped observing the Old Testament laws. Instead it
depicts Spirit-filled and grace-based Christians who continued to
observe the laws of the Torah, not legalistically in order earn
salvation, but in order to honor God as they walked out the
Christian life in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus.
It was sometime after the book of Acts was completed that
Christians began to turn away from following the Old Testament.