Sacrifice a ‘Jewish Custom?!’ IVPNT: Acts Pt 4.

I have to begin by thanking Dr. William J. Larkin for showing me something I had not previously noticed in Acts.  I am very familiar with Paul’s Nazarite vow in Acts 21, but I had never noticed that Paul did this more than once!!  Larkin’s IVP New Testament Commentary on Acts, when addressing verse 18:18ff says,

At Corinth’s eastern port city, Cenchrea, seven miles southeast, the-lamb-illustration-1Paul cuts his hair, signaling the beginning of the end of a Nazirite vow (Num 6; m. Nazir). Evidently he had begun this vow after either the Macedonian or Corinthian vision, as a sign of earnest beseeching of the Lord for success in the mission to which Paul had been called (Acts 16:9-10; 18:9-10). Now in thanksgiving Paul ends the vow and thus recognizes that the Lord made good on his promises….

…Though Paul receives a positive response to his synagogue preaching (dialegomai, 17:2, 17; 18:4; see note at 17:2)—he is asked to stay longer—he makes a hasty departure. Though the time is short, perhaps he is still intent on getting to Jerusalem by Passover. The sea lanes opened on March 10, and in A.D. 52 Passover was in early April (Bruce 1988:356). Or he is hurrying there to complete his vow…

Here is a major challenge for Christendom.  More than once, Paul (Rabbi Shaul) is seen partaking in a Nazarite vow.  If you read Numbers 6, you will see the reason this is such a challenge is that to complete the vow, Paul has to offer multiple sacrifices in the Temple.

We see evidence of this in a much larger scale in Acts 20:21-26 when Paul not only pays for his own sacrifices, but pays for four other men to perform the vow with him…  That amounts to:

  • Five male lambs
  • Five ewe lambs
  • Five rams
  • Five grain offerings (unleavened bread with special oil)
  • Five drink offerings.

Big expense and a major sacrificial undertaking after Paul’s third ‘missionary’ journey.  He has already written,

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ…

Larkin minimizes it and attempts to explain it away as ‘Jewish custom’ in this manner:

The church leaders counsel Paul to combat words with action. Four pious but indigent men in the congregation have taken on themselves a Nazirite vow of limited duration (Num 6). By abstaining from products of the vine, not cutting their hair and avoiding ritual impurity, they have been showing thankfulness for past blessings, earnestness in petition or strong devotion to God. The multianimal sacrifice and cleansing ceremony at the end of the vow period, when the hair is cut and offered to God, is financially prohibitive (6:13-20). Paul is asked to bear the expenses of the four. This was a commonly recognized act of piety (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 19.294). To do so he must go through a seven-day ritual cleansing himself, because he has recently returned from Gentile lands (m. Oholot 2:3; 17:5; 18:6; Num 19:12). The intended result is that the rumors about Paul will be shown to be baseless and he will be seen living in obedience to the law. Lest Paul’s action be misunderstood in another direction, as making Jewish custom normative for Gentile Christians, the elders hasten to add that the Jerusalem Council decree is still in place (see discussion above at Acts 15:20, 29). It is repeated here in essential detail.

(Patience, we’ll address the last two sentences in a minute.)

Paul is taking a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6), under the recommendation of James the Just, and performing it to demonstrate that he is

  • keeping the Torah, and
  • NOT teaching against it!

Hello!  By performing the vow he is obedient to Torah!

Larkin refers to this as ‘Jewish custom.’  I refer to it as the breathed Word of God!  (I think the One who breathed it would agree with me…)

Larkin rightly says the intended result is that Paul will be seen as ‘living in obedience to the Law.’  Does Larkin mean that they are only doing it for appearance?  Wouldn’t that be deceptive?  Sin?  Or, does he mean that Paul is indeed walking according to the Law?

Either, Paul is ‘living in obedience to the Law,’ or he is not.  He cannot do both.  The Law says, in Deuteronomy 13 that one who teaches against the Law is to be put to death…  Paul knows this.  That is why this matter of false testimony was so serious!  If any of these charges of teaching against Torah, or acting against the everlasting covenant could be proved, then the Jews against Paul would have had a case!  Notice the false charges of teaching against Moses are a major theme!  (Acts 6:11-14; 21:24; 25:7)  They resort to FALSE charges precisely because he is NOT teaching against Torah!  He may be teaching against the customs of the elders, but not the Torah!  He examples Torah obedience over and over in Acts.  He NEVER examples disobedience!

In fact, just as Larkin labels it, Torah obedience IS piety!

Now, let’s look at Larkin’s immediate ‘back-pedaling’ for Gentile believers.  From the previous quote,

Lest Paul’s action be misunderstood in another direction, as making Jewish custom normative for Gentile Christians, the elders hasten to add that the Jerusalem Council decree is still in place (see discussion above at Acts 15:20, 29). It is repeated here in essential detail.

Larkin fails to understand why the Jerusalem Council decree is mentioned in connection with this Nazarite vow.  In fact, he believes it is mentioned for the exact opposite reason it is actually stated.  The reason it is mentioned is as a reminder that the Council had clearly instructed Paul and all believers to teach the basics of Torah to new Gentile believers so that they would be cleaned up and accepted into the Synagogue to learn Moses (Torah) on the sabbath (Acts 15:20-21)!  Mentioning this act by the Council is public evidence and a reminder that Paul was previously instructed to be sure to ‘walk orderly, keeping the law,’ and to teach Gentile converts in like manner.  And, he had complied!  (Otherwise, the Nazarite vow would have been a lie!)

As we have previously discussed, Larkin conveniently ignores Acts 15:21 because it does violence to his thesis of a ‘law-free gospel.’

Again, I am not picking on Larkin, I just happen to have his commentary on Acts and it is a good representation of some fallacies in Christian theology.  Truly looking at the Scriptures reveal the falsehood.

If one were to read further in this section of Larkin’s commentary, you will see him trot out the previously addressed false belief of a divided law.

Bottom-line: Sacrifice is not a ‘Jewish custom,’ and Paul’s participation in such was not out of step with the Jerusalem Council’s decree or Paul’s understanding of the everlasting nature of God’s Torah.  Rather, we do not understand and obey God’s law because we have been taught falsehood that we have inherited from generations of theologians that were off the track.

Jeremiah 6:16-19 and 16:19-21!


Next: Assumptions, Biases and Misdirection!

About Pete Rambo

Details in 'About' page @ Basically, husband of one, father of four. Pastor x 11 years, former business and military background. Micro-farmer. Messianic believer in Yeshua haMashiach!
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13 Responses to Sacrifice a ‘Jewish Custom?!’ IVPNT: Acts Pt 4.

  1. chaya1957 says:

    Pete, I am taking a wonderful online class through Coursera from the University of Netherlands Graduate School of Communication. We typically filter out what is unfamiliar or what we don’t desire to hear, and focus in on what appears important to us and, is familiar to us and already agrees with our viewpoint. I would also view this as a curse of blindness which is removed through repentance.

    Sometimes I read scripture, and sometimes it is so obvious I don’t know why people don’t see it, and sometimes it is like, “Where’s Waldo?” If you know you are supposed to look for Waldo, you might eventually find him.


    • Pete Rambo says:

      It really is a paradigm shift that starts with asking the right question. That question may be different for different people, but when they ask a question and honestly search for the truth in Scripture without allowing their focus to be distracts by ‘scholars,’ then the scales are loosed. Soon another question, then the floodgates of truth wash away the falsehood… But, yes, repentance is a must, else we are not prompted to ask more questions, or to look further…



      • chaya1957 says:

        Pete, I suspect you had the courage, or enough of a desire for truth that you were willing to take it wherever it led? Some people have said that when they earnestly began to search the scriptures and prayerfully seek answers, what they saw didn’t mesh with their tradition and theology, so the tradition got tossed in the trash. But, I suspect that for many, it is truth and scripture that get tossed aside in favor of what is more familiar and comfortable. You might like this:

        You have a reform background, correct? Perhaps you have some advice on approaching people in this venue?


      • Pete Rambo says:

        LOL! Yes, I am a recovering Reformed Pastor.

        My experience in discussion/debate with Reformed people is pretty limited. Most of them are very certain they have all the answers and don’t need to ask any questions… Sounds harsh, but is my experience.

        Honestly, the best I can do with them is to engage their works/champions online and expose the inconsistencies. This series is actually dealing with parts of a commentary written by a former mentor, PCA pastor and seminary professor. It is the best I can do.. NONE, as in NOT ONE pastor or former associate/elder/family member, etc, has come to me to engage in discussion. I have had to initiate every single personal exchange and every online discussion. And in most cases, they were extremely uncomfortable once outside the bounds of their proof-texts.

        Not much help… but it is what it is.

        I would NEVER have thought myself to have been in a cult, but that is the way I am seeing denominational systems of doctrine. Each has parts of the truth, but none wants to be challenged with anything outside their safe-zone.



  2. chaya1957 says:

    LOL, that reminds me of this guy who calls himself a recovering attorney. I hadn’t been so familiar with the neo-Calvinist cultic churches, (not the same as traditional Presbyterian, etc.) which would be quite different from the teachings of Spurgeon, who they claim is on the same page. Did you know that Spurgeon sincerely prayed for and believed that the Jewish people would be restored to the land of Israel? He thought that Messiah would return shortly afterward. He also wasn’t fond of Christmas and Easter, seeing them as pagan superstitions. Hmmm.

    Yes, there really is an arrogant attitude of, “I have the truth and don’t need to learn from anyone.” Paul said he saw as through a glass, but I suppose their idols/leaders don’t? It seems like there is a fear of curiosity. Someone wrote an article about, “The Ghost of Marcion,” and I believe it is that attitude, that fear and despising of all things Jewish that prevents any honest examination. I hadn’t been aware of how deep these feelings ran.

    I think things are going to split off in two directions. There are going to be those who have the scales lifted, as with Saul on the Damascus road, and there are those who are going to be strengthened and hardened as with Pharoah, which is a frightening proposition. This is something to show to your Macarthur-loving friends if you want them to never speak to you again:


    • Pete Rambo says:

      Spurgeon definitely saw/understood pieces… He still did not understand obedience to the Torah as he believed it was done away with, but I agree, he understood the pagan influences of the accepted holidays.

      Looking forward to reading this article, though it may be a day or two… I read your other link! Excellent!

      I, too, see a coming divide on par with Paul v. Pharaoh.

      You mention Marcion… I’ve been saving quotes… LOL! I want to do a series called ‘The (Not so) Quotable Church Fathers.’ I’ve got some quotes that just destroy any idea of saintliness among the fathers…

      Shabbat Shalom!


      • chaya1957 says:

        There was a woman I met on a discussion forum perhaps 12 years ago who had a webpage, “Historic Christian Antisemitism,” where she provided hundreds of quotations all in one place regarding the church fathers down through history, including those of the Protestant Reformation. Too bad it is gone, and I couldn’t find it on that site that saves old pages. But there are a number of good books on the subject.


  3. I have to agree with the first comment on the issue of “filtering out” things from the Scripture. And if we are “respecting persons” whom God clearly warns against because He is Not a “respector of persons”, then we will be lead astray and caught by that Roaring lion – liar.
    What I have discovered recently as I read the Scripture and record on audio is that I am hearing far more than I have ever heard. If no one else is benefited from this project, I have been benefited by just reading each word in the Scripture.
    Scripture even tells us that Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
    He did not say “faith comes by hearing some man’s interpretration of what the word of God says”.
    Man’s interpreation will always be flawed because God tells us already, “All men are liars”. And, “every man is right in his own eyes”.


  4. Pingback: Justifying Syncretism. IVPNT: Acts Pt. 5 | natsab

  5. Jack Jackson says:

    Also realize that Paul would have had to “sacrifice” those animals himself. If he was doing it for show, it would be sin, and also sin for killing those animals without a cause. If he wasn’t sacrificing them to YHVH, who do they say he was killing them for?

    Remember the sacrifices in Levitical Chapters 1 -5 required the one who brought them to do the killing. The Levites only sacrificed the “corporate sacrifices”. The Passover is not a corporate sacrifice and fits into none of the sacrifices described in Leviticus 1 – 5. Maybe the Passover sacrifices are also not done away with, as I discuss in the post on Passover on my blog.


  6. Pingback: Whatever you do, do NOT do this…. | natsab

  7. Pingback: R. C. Sproul, Jr., is only partly right… | natsab

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