Acts 21 and 22 – Circumcision…. again –
Apparently the issue of circumcision was still a thorn in the side of the Body.
When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters 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. 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 [Greek: ethos – usage prescribed by law, institute]. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come… Acts 21:17-22 NIV
Rumors had been circulating that Paul was teaching the Jews in the Diaspora (the ‘Greeks’ or ‘Hellenes’) that they did not have to obey Torah. Since, in Jerusalem, the ‘many thousands of Jews there are which believe’ were ‘all zealous of the law’ (Acts 21:20), this was a matter of great concern – the elders did not wish to permit division and strife in the Body over so fundamental an issue.
“… 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 everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 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.” Acts 21:23-25 NIV
Paul will prove his adherence to Torah by finishing his own Nazarite vow at the temple and by paying the temple offerings for himself and four other Jews. It is hoped that this will convince the Jewish community that Paul is not advocating blasphemy and treason among his fellow Jews.
Is Paul Being Hypocritical?
Many teach that Paul was simply being “all things to all men” in this circumstance – that he was merely trying to quell disorder in the body. We believe this is incorrect and even unfair on several counts:
- It assumes that Paul was acting dishonestly – that he was not truly Torah-observant himself – despite the fact that he had taken his own Nazarite vow, and it is recorded that he called himself an observant Jew. In verse 24, the leadership acknowledges that there is no truth in the accusations.
- It assumes that he was teaching one thing to Jews and another to Gentiles, in opposition to the ancient scriptures which plainly indicate that Gentiles who identify with YHVH are to worship and behave in exactly the same way that genetic Hebrews are instructed to worship and behave. (Lev 17:8-16, Isa 56:1-7, and many others, including Paul’s own teaching in Romans.)
- It assumes that the Jerusalem leadership was willing to act dishonestly in order to restore peace in the body.
- And (if Paul really was teaching Diaspora Jews to disregard Torah, with the approval of the Jerusalem leadership, per verse 20), then the Jerusalem Jews were in error regarding the need to follow Torah, and their leadership was unwilling to lay themselves on the line and spell that out, thus allowing their flock to walk in error and in sin.
We have a hard time believing that any of these propositions could have truth in them!
Reader’s objection: “You are ignoring the obvious. It clearly says that Gentiles are not expected to comply with Torah!”
Response: We must remind the reader of our statement In our introduction to the NT series –
… any such new understanding must conform to the principles taught in the OT. If our understanding of a NT passage does not appear to correspond with OT principles, we need to take a much closer look at our understanding of the passage. This is a good indicator that we are misunderstanding something.
Not only does the Tanakh (OT) tell us repeatedly that all men are eternally subject to YHVH’s one law, but we will find in other epistles written by James, Paul, John and other apostles that they agree that all believers should demonstrate their love for YHVH by obedience to His Torah. 
Therefore, we must infer that verse 25 is an insertion,  or that James is in error by clinging to the old prejudice that Torah and the Covenant are only for genetic Israelites, or that James is once again merely confirming that new Gentile believers need not conform to rabbinic procedures in order to enter the Covenant community – a decision which is completely in accord with OT teaching. (Please see the Commentary on Acts Chapter 15.) Because of James’s other statements in the Book of James , we believe the latter is true – that he is merely absolving Gentiles of an onerous and unscriptural ‘membership process.’
Back to Paul:
As we have mentioned before, if the Jews had perceived that Paul was indeed teaching that they had been ‘released’ from Torah, they would have been offended to the point of killing him. This is exactly what is happening in Jerusalem in Chapters 21 and 22! Word had gotten around – falsely – that Paul was advocating non-adherence, and the Jerusalem Jews were ready to KILL him.
Notice that the Jews in Asia, to whom Paul had been preaching for the last two years, were NOT trying to kill him. They had heard him preach and knew what he was teaching – ‘live by Torah.’ It is the Jerusalem Jews, who have believed a false rumor, who are so upset. They understand that if their people were to fall away from YHVH’s standards, their entire nation would feel the consequences. From their perspective, Paul is teaching moral depravity and political sedition.
Paul is just barely able to get them to calm down and listen to him, and what he has to say is very enlightening.
Chapter 22 – The Gentile Issue Raises its Head Again
Speaking in Hebrew (which scholars are beginning to acknowledge was the lingua franca of the Judean Jews of the First Century), Paul begins by establishing his Hebraic descent, his pride in that heritage and his devotion to the Torah upon which it is based. His audience loves what he has to say and listens carefully and quietly. Paul goes on to explain his experiences regarding his meeting with Y’shua and his first days as a believer, all of which is well received. Then he says:
And he [Y’shua] said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. Acts 22:21
The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” Acts 22:22 NIV
As soon as Paul declares his mission to the detestable Gentiles, the Jews go into complete uproar and Paul has to be removed from their presence for his own safety!
This confirms to us that one of the primary reasons Paul experienced so much persecution was because he was inviting Gentiles into the Covenant family, which was perceived by the general Jewish populace as deeply offensive and even blasphemous.
The next day, Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin to explain himself.
The first Torah-pertinent passage in this chapter is verse 3:
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!”
Torah is the civil law of the nation. Paul is not a seditionist, and he upholds that law. He expects his judges to do the same and is outraged that they are violating the law. However, when he realizes that he has inadvertently broken the Law himself by insulting the High Priest, he (rather indirectly) apologizes:
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.’ [Referring to Exodus 22:28].
Torah was Paul’s guide in this entire circumstance.
Paul noticed that there were both Sadducees and Pharisees on the council before which he was being arraigned. Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, whereas Pharisees did. In the synagogues, one of the main objections Paul had encountered concerned his teaching that his Messiah Y’shua had suffered, died and then been resurrected, and that believers will share in that resurrection. This concept was a matter of great discussion and dissension among the Jews of that day. This gave Paul an idea.
But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” Acts 23:6
This was a very canny and astute statement on Paul’s part, though perhaps it was not technically true regarding the recorded charges which had brought him into court: The sight of the two sects in the courtroom must have reminded him of his experiences in the synagogues, so he smoothly redirected the controversy away from his own Torah-adherence (or supposed lack thereof) and his Gentile-friendly gospel, and to a subject that was a cause of division between his judges. He derailed the whole court! Once again he was removed from the chamber as the council disintegrated into warring factions!
Escape and retrial
Remember that Paul is falsely accused of teaching Jews to ignore Torah. This is why the Jerusalem leadership came up with a way to defend Paul’s honor. However, there were Jews who believed the accusation, and to them, the very idea was so offensive that 40 [colloq.: ‘a lot’] of them made a pact to kill Paul. The authorities got wind of the plot and whisked Paul off in the dead of night to Caesarea, where he was held pending arrival of his accusers for a formal arraignment.
The ‘accusers’ (a new group) arrived five days later, consisting of the High Priest Ananias, some elders, and an ‘orator’ (attorney) named Tertullus, who made this charge to the court:
For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: Acts 24:5
We’ve already seen that the Romans had the The Way (aka the Nazarenes) under surveillance because they believed the Nazarenes were politically subversive. Tertullus (a ‘Greek’ Jew) was capitalizing on this. He knew that the governor would not be the least bit interested in hearing accusations based on religious differences, so Tertullus ‘translated’ the accusations into a form the Romans would be interested in: sedition and treason; leadership of the politically suspect Nazarenes. These were severe accusations and were received with great attention.
Paul defended himself first by asserting that he had done nothing during his time in Jerusalem to have deserved the hostility shown to him. He does not deny that he is a Nazarene, however. In fact, he says:
But this I confess to you, that according to The Way, which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. Acts 24:14, NKJV
Note that Paul states forthrightly that he believes in the Law and the Prophets ‘in accord with the beliefs of The Way.’ To a Jew, one does not ‘believe’ in something unless he acts on it. Paul’s statement tells us that Torah-observance was a matter of doctrine in the early church, and that he and other followers of ‘The Way’ were Torah-observant and without fault before their brother Jews.
There is considerable historical documentation for our understanding that the Nazarenes were Torah-observant, not least of which are documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Jerome, Eusebius, etc. Paul is speaking truthfully. 
He goes on to state that the only thing they can accuse him of is his belief in the resurrection of Y’shua, which is not a crime. “And, by the way,” he asks, “where are the guys who originally accused me? According to Torah, they are supposed to be the ones appearing here!” (Acts 24:19, referring to Deut 19:15)
Two Years of Imprisonment
Governor Felix knew a little about The Way and wanted to know more. (He was also hoping for a bribe from Paul or Paul’s friends.) For two years he held Paul in Caesarea, calling for him once in a while for discussions, and hoping that either Paul or his friends would pay for his release. (And the Romans thought this was justice??)
Chapter 25 – They Never Give Up
The consistent underlying motive for the continuing Jewish persecution directed specifically towards Paul appears to have been profound resentment against his bringing Gentiles (the hated oppressor) into the synagogues and into the Covenant Community.
After two years, the Jerusalem Jews were still thirsting for Paul’s blood. The religious leaders wanted to get rid of him legally, but that meant going through the Roman authorities. They had to find some pretext on which to accuse Paul.
- The Torah-observance issue had been tried without success.
- Next Paul was accused of sedition and treason, but that hadn’t worked, either.
- Then they tried to get him sent to their own religious court – again with no success. (Acts 25:2-3)
Paul refused to go to Jerusalem to be judged by them – he knew what his fate would be. In fact, that last request actually escalated the situation to such an extent that, on the basis of his Roman citizenship, Paul claimed the right to appear before Caesar in Rome! (He had already been told in a vision that he would be ‘a witness’ in Rome [Acts 23:11], so Paul was quite willing to settle his fate in there.) Well, at least the Jerusalem Jews had gotten him out of their own hair!
The Three Main Issues
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Messiah should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles Acts 26:22
Here are the three issues that are causing Paul all the trouble: a ‘suffering’ (rather than a conquering) Messiah; resurrection; and Gentiles. The last is the most troublesome issue.
One of the authorities in the audience, Festus (Roman Procurator of Judea), immediately shouted:
…. Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad! Acts 26:24
Festus, brand new to his position as Governor of Judea, would have liked to be able to dismiss Paul as a madman – so much easier than trials and disputes with his new subjects, the Jews. But Herod Agrippa saw clearly that Paul was no madman – in fact he told Paul that he was almost convinced himself to become a Christian (the Hebrew version of this word would be ‘Messianic’). Herod felt that Paul should be set free, but since Paul had already appealed to Caesar, to Caesar he must go, in accordance with Roman law. Festus had to agree. Paul would be sent to Rome.
THE BOOK OF ACTS – Introduction * 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 19-20 * Chapters 21-26 * Chapters 27-28
By Sue and John Wyatt, firstname.lastname@example.org
© 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.
 Please see our articles on the books of Romans, James, Titus, Ephesians, Galatians, etc. Also see the articles entitled YESHUA TAUGHT US TO WALK IN TORAH (not yet posted, but available upon request) and EVIDENCE THAT TORAH WAS GIVEN TO ALL MEN AT CREATION.
 Much as it distresses us to have to admit it, there is clear evidence that scribes and copyists did alter, add to and subtract from the epistles. At the risk of appearing fanatical and heretical, we might suggest that this statement regarding the Gentiles was added later by a copyist for the purpose of doctrinal affirmation. There was actually no reason for James to make such a statement during this particular conversation, which concerned only Paul’s dealings with Jews. The verse truly appears to have been ‘added in,’ perhaps as a reassurance to Gentile readers who might get worried that they, too, like Paul, were supposed to keep Torah despite the ‘official doctrine’ of non-observance…. Just a thought, and not one on which we are insistent or even convinced.
 Please see our article on THE BOOK OF JAMES. (Not yet published.)
 There is very little in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that bears on the afterlife, and what does apply can be debated over endlessly, which is exactly what the Jews did and still do! A dyed-in-the-wool Sadducee would have had a hard time acknowledging Y’shua as Messiah, because Y’shua taught about angels, claimed to have been resurrected from the dead, and promised eternal life to his disciples, all of which profoundly contradicted Sadducee beliefs.
 The Nazarenes were the first believers. “The Nazarenes were similar to the Ebionites, in that they considered themselves Jews, maintained an adherence to the Law of Moses, and used only the Aramaic Gospel of the Hebrews, rejecting all the Canonical gospels. However, unlike half of the Ebionites, they accepted the Virgin Birth.” (Wikipedia – Nazarene (Sect), retrieved 2015-01-15 and referencing Krauss, Samuel. “Nazarenes”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-08-23, and Hegg, Tim (2007). “The Virgin Birth – An Inquiry into the Biblical Doctrine” (PDF). TorahResource. Retrieved 2007-08-13.