Torah in the Book of the ACTS of the Apostles: Chapters 17-18

Acts 17

There are two statements in this chapter that appear to confirm our belief that what the Romans were riled up about was (1) Paul’s advocacy of Y’shua as King of Israel, which they took as a political threat, and (2) his refusal to acknowledge the Roman gods.

Paul_arrestedBut the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Y’shua.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.  Acts 17:5-8

A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Y’shua and the resurrection. Acts 17:18

A similar confirmation is found later in on Chapter 19, where we hear of a huge uproar created by idol-makers who objected to Paul’s teaching that idols are not true gods.

The Bereans

It is in Chapter 17 that we hear the account of the Bereans, as well as other groups of both orthodox and Hellenistic Jews who favorably received Paul’s message.

Now the Berean Jews 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. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.   Acts 17:11, NIV

PaulTurnsToThe GentilesThe Jews in the little dead-end town of Berea were excited about Paul’s message.  On the other hand, the Greeks mentioned here were genuine Greeks and Romans (not Hellenistic Jews), who did not believe in a resurrection of the dead and to whom the very idea was distasteful.  Many of them sneered at Paul’s message as that of an ignoramus, but his intriguing statements about Y’shua drew enough interest that even some of them returned to hear more about this Jewish Messiah, and ‘many’ even became disciples themselves!

And of course the Berean Jews, who took the time to compare Paul’s message and Y’shua’s teaching to the Tanakh, recognized the truth of the message and acknowledged Y’shua as the Messiah King of Israel.

Chapter 18 – Off to Court we go….

Chapter 18 is interesting because, during most of the considerable time period it covers, Paul is teaching among Jews and Greeks (Hellenistic Jews), rather than to Gentiles. In only one community did he “shake out his clothes against them” and turn to the Gentiles instead.  Even when he left the Jewish synagogue, he found refuge with the Jewish President of the same synagogue, who had become a believer in Messiah!

At one point, “the Jews” (almost always a code phrase for ‘the local Jewish religious leaders’) took Paul to court, accusing him of persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.  (Acts 18:13) The case was kicked out of the Roman-administered court as being a religious matter rather than a civil matter.

And the Charges Are…?

The specific charge is not explained. We can only propose that perhaps the accusers felt that Y’shua was not Messiah, so it would be illegal to worship Him, or perhaps they objected to Paul’s obedience to ‘the Jerusalem decision’ that new believers did not have to be immediately circumcised nor go through rabbinic acceptance procedures.

The only genuine hint comes in verses 14 and 15:

Acts_of_the_Apostles_Chapter_17-6_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio [the Roman judge] said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own [religious] law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” Acts 18:14-15

The statement that the charge involves questions about words and names and your own [religious] law allows us to suppose that – at the very least – there was a dispute about the meaning of certain religious terms and how they affected worship.

 This symbol says: The Name of YHVH is BANNED!  Is this offensive to you?  IT SHOULD BE!
This symbol says: The Name of YHVH is BANNED! Is this offensive to you? IT SHOULD BE!

The mention of ‘names’ is particularly interesting.  A strong argument has been presented by some that Y’shua taught His disciples the scriptural principle that it was perfectly acceptable to reverently pronounce the Name of YHVH. Contrary to scripture, some orthodox Jews saw this as pure blasphemy, and a later generation actually set in place a civil law that permitted such a ‘blasphemer’ to be executed (a penalty which could only be carried out under Roman approval and supervision, perhaps explaining why they took Paul to a Roman court).

Was this one of the issues that Paul was facing in the synagogues? He certainly would not have used The Name amongst the Jews until he had taught on the subject and they had accepted the teaching, but did he attempt to teach on the subject only to meet with fervent resistance?   We can only suppose….

Nazarite 2

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.   Acts 18:18, NIV

First a little explanation of what was going on:

The most remarkable vow among the Jews was that of the Nazarite, [1] by which a man made a solemn promise to God to abstain from wine, and from all intoxicating liquors, to let the hair grow, not to enter any house polluted by having a dead body in it, or to attend any funeral. This vow generally lasted eight days, sometimes a month, sometimes during a definite period fixed by themselves, and sometimes during their whole lives…. Those who made the vow out[side] of Palestine, and who could not come to the temple when the vow was expired, contented themselves with observing the abstinence required by the Law, and cutting off the hair where they were. This I suppose to have been the case with Paul. His hair he cut off at the expiration of the vow at Cenchrea, though he delayed to perfect the vow by the proper ceremonies until he reached Jerusalem, Acts 21:23-24.  [2]

So here we have Paul, who is supposedly teaching that ‘Torah has been done away with,’ but who is still participating in one of the most time-honored Torah customs.  (See Numbers 6:1-21)

Some have done Paul the injustice of proposing that he was merely trying to be ‘all things to all men,’ but a true man of God does not stoop to dishonesty to show love for others.   If he truly believed that ‘Torah had been done away with,’ it would have been dishonest of Paul to make himself appear to be Torah-observant in order to curry favor with observant Jews.  He was a man who ‘knew the Truth, and the Truth had set him free.’ (John 8:32)  If he believed that Y’shua had ‘set him free’ from Torah, he would not have insulted his Master’s sacrifice by returning to Torah!

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. Pro 26:11

torahIf we are to give Paul credit for the godly character that he surely possessed, we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that he remained a Torah-observant Jew throughout his ministry – not because he was trying to appease the Jews, but because he believed it to be his obligation as a righteous follower of Y’shua.

If he believed that this obligation extended only to genetic Jews, we must point out that he was only human and was subject to error, as we all are. (See our discussion in Chapter 16)  However, we will examine many of his own statements in other epistles that make it abundantly clear that Paul taught and expected all believers to be Torah-observant.

THE BOOK OF ACTSIntroduction * Chapters 1-5 * Chapters 6-10 * Chapters 11-12 * Chapter 13 (Part 1) * Chapter 13 (Part 2)Chapters 14-15 * Chapter 16 * Chapters 17-18 * Chapters 19-20Chapters 21-26 * Chapters 27-28

By John and Sue Wyatt,

© John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[1] A Nazarite and a Nazarene are two different things. The Nazarite is one who has taken a Nazarite vow. (Lev 6) A Nazarene was a descendant of David (from the religious community centered in Nazareth) and/or a follower of Y’shua the Nazarene, Son of David, and Messiah-King of Israel.

[2]  Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft


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