Acts

Acts 21:15-36 Removing Obstacles But Suffering Still.

Finally, Paul and his colleagues arrive in Jerusalem, along with some friends from Caesarea, including one Mnason with whom they would lodge (vv. 15-16). They were received gladly, and the next day Paul went with his colleagues to James, “and all the elders were present” (v. 18 Cf. 15:4, 12-13; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). Paul repeated what he had said earlier, that God was working through him among the Gentiles, and many were added to the number of the church (v. 19 Cf. 20:24; Rom. 15:18-19; I Tim. 2:7). James and those gathered with him rejoiced at the news from Paul and his colleagues, but they also had some good news for their guests-“how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law” (v. 20).* Nevertheless, they were concerned that Paul was encouraging Jewish converts from following the ceremonial customs (v. 21). However, Paul’s approach was not to forbid, but to oppose the idea that these ceremonial customs were necessary for salvation. In particular, Paul went to great lengths to show that baptism was the sign of the new covenant, so that it in effect replaced the covenantal significance of circumcision.

In light of Paul’s flexibility on these customs, he agrees to the recommendation of James and his colleagues, and joins with four other men in being “purified,” taking a vow, and paying to have their heads shaved, before they met with the assembly or church (vv. 22-24 Cf. 18:18; Nu. 6:1-21). By repeating that these same practices should not be pressed upon the Gentiles, James and his colleagues were showing that these things did apply strictly to the ceremonial law, and these were not necessary for salvation, whether in the present or in the past (v. 25). So Luke records that Paul followed through on this recommendation, with the days of purification lasting seven days (vv. 26 Cf. 24:18). Sure enough, there were apostate Jews who laid false accusations against Paul. Had Paul not followed the recommendation of the church in Jerusalem, it would have certainly been a roadblock to the preaching of the gospel (vv. 27-29 Cf. 22:22). However, the crowd went into an uproar and began beating Paul, and they were only prevented from killing him at this time, because the commander of the local garrison arrived to stop them (vv. 30-36). Paul’s time of departure had not yet arrived (Cf. 23:27; 24:7).

* “Thousands of Jewish Christians strictly observed the Mosaic law. While many of these no doubt resented the fact that Gentile Christians were not required to observe the ceremonial law of Moses (v. 25; 15:1-31), the charge here was that Paul was encouraging Jews to forsake the law as well (v. 21). Such a charge may have been prompted by reports that Paul himself did not follow the Jewish ceremonial law when in Gentile company. Though Paul had no objection to Jews following their ancestral customs, he opposed any attempt to make such observance in some way necessary for salvation (Rom. 14:1-8; Gal. 5:2-6). Always careful to avoid giving unnecessary offense, Paul’s flexibility in such matters shows that the interests of the gospel were always foremost in his mind” (NGSB p.1749).

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