Acts 21:26 states, “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” (NKJV). This is, admittedly, a difficult scripture. Was Paul indeed “practicing a sacrificial ceremony” and, if he was, did this contradict his message that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross was the enough to save the sinner. We need to examine this a little further.

In verses 15-17 we learn that Paul arrived in Jerusalem (where he hoped to preach the gospel to his Jewish brethren) and he says that “the brethren received us gladly” (verse 17). So far, so good! The next day he met with James (a prominent Christian leader in the Jerusalem assembly) and all the elders and told them how God had blessed his labors among the Gentiles and “they glorified the Lord” (verses 18-20a). This is also good! But then they turn to Paul and said, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 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. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 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.” We learn from this passage that many true believers, including James, were still “zealous for the law.” Did this mean they were still trying to keep the Law to be saved and justified before God? No, for in verse 25 they remind Paul of the letter they had written to believing Gentiles telling them that they did NOT have to observe the law to be saved. To understand the history behind that letter I would encourage you to read Acts 15:1-29. Thus they were NOT asking Paul to do something that would compromise the truth of the Gospel, but it would show his fellow-Jews that he was still keeping the CUSTOMS of the Law.

In our verse we see that Paul did as they asked and went through the purification ceremony with those four men. We believe Paul may have been thinking, “If I do this, I won’t be compromising the gospel and perhaps I’ll be able to ‘gain the ear’ of unsaved Jews so they will hear the gospel and be saved.” This would be in keeping with what Paul wrote to the saints at Corinth in 1st Corinthians 9:20, “and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews.” Paul would do anything he could to win the souls of his beloved Jewish brethren even if it meant adopting their customs once again (for he himself had stopped practicing all the rituals and ceremonies of the Law), as long as it didn’t lead them to believe that they still had to “keep the Law to be saved.”

Was Paul justified in going through a Jewish vow in order to win the hearts of unsaved Jews? Some believe he was and would say this was merely part of the “Jewish culture” (and not a matter of salvation) and thus the integrity of the gospel wasn’t compromised one iota. Others believe he went too far in appeasing the Jews who were “zealous for the Law” and may indeed have given his unsaved brethren the impression that one must adhere to every “jot and tittle” of the Law in order to be saved. We may not say with certainty which view is correct, but we DO KNOW that Paul’s hope to ‘gain the ear’ of his Jewish brethren never came about. Seven days later a riot broke out, Paul was dragged out of the temple and nearly killed, and was then arrested by the Roman authorities (verses 27-36). So, the very act that Paul submitted to in order to PACIFY the Jews ended up PROVOKING them. (265.7) (DO)