Did The Apostle Paul Really Keep the Law of Moses  After His Conversion??

While one can easily point out that sacrifices were offered during New Testament Times, the real question is not 'Were they offered?' but 'Were Christ's priesthood teaching the people to offer them?'  This begs the larger question:  'Were the apostles still keeping the Law of Moses after Christ's death?'


Acts chapter 21 portrays an interesting, and oft misinterpreted passage of scripture.  If one quickly reads Acts 21:26,  some may conclude Paul is practicing the Mosaic Law--in New Testament times.. This couldn't be further from the truth.  Read the rest of this passage to learn what Paul was really 'up to.' Reading the chapter in context, the real story becomes self evident.  


The story appears on the left (below), and comments to assist appear on the right (below).  Hopefully they'll help one catch the real meaning of the story.


Read to end of this page to catch important conclusions.


While one can easily point out that sacrifices were offered during New Testament Times, the real question is not 'Were they offered?' but 'Were Christ's priesthood teaching the people to offer them?'  This begs the larger question:  'Were the apostles still keeping the Law of Moses after Christ's death?'


Acts chapter 21 portrays an interesting, and oft misinterpreted passage of scripture.  If one quickly reads Acts 21:26,  some may conclude Paul is practicing the Mosaic Law--in New Testament times.. This couldn't be further from the truth.  Read the rest of this passage to learn what Paul was really 'up to.' Reading the chapter in context, the real story becomes self evident.  


The story appears on the left (below), and comments to assist appear on the right (below).  Hopefully they'll help one catch the real meaning of the story.


Read to end of this page to catch important conclusions.



Acts 21, as found in Bible:

Commentary on 

Events of Acts 21:

21:1 And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara;

21:2 And finding a ship sailing over unto Phoenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.

21:3 Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unlade her burden.


Paul's travels...

21:4 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days; who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
21:5 And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city; and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.

21:6 And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again.

21:7 And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.

21:8 And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea; and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.

21:9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.

Paul continues his travels, apparently unheeding the warning, and enters a house of an Evangelist.  His daughters also prophesy, although their words are not revealed.
21:10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus.

21:11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.


Now, Agabus, a prophet from the land of Jerusalem comes and prophesies via the Holy Ghost, that the Jews at Jerusalem will bind Paul and deliver them to the Gentiles.
21:12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.

21:13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

21:14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.


Fearless and cavalier, Paul is not persuaded.  He is ready to head to Jerusalem and give his life, if needed, for the name of Jesus. 

Brave, but brash, he heads to Jerusalem, while those warning him are reduced to saying, "God's will be done.'

21:15 And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.

21:16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.


Paul reaches Jerusalem, after the previous warnings not to enter.
21:17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

21:18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.


Paul meets with other apostles in a joyous reunion.
21:19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. Paul starts telling how much success he's had spreading the word among the Gentiles.  Remember, many Jews still had a hard time accepting that anyone other than a Jew had 'access' to salvation.
21:20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law*; The brethren take joy to hear of Paul's success among the Gentiles, but then the tone becomes more serious.  They give Paul a 'heads up' warning: "...remember how there are still many thousands of Jews who practice and follow ("zealous of") the Law* of Moses?" 

(*Law=Nomos in Greek=Law of Moses/Torah in Hebrew).

21:21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. (The apostles continue to Paul):

 "Well, these same Mosaic abiding Jews here have heard that you've been teaching Jews in the outskirts to stop keeping the Law of Moses."

21:22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together; for they will hear that thou art come. (their speech continues)

"...And Paul, realize that these same Mosaic-practicing Jews will get together and here that you are here in Jerusalem."

The intent of the Apostles must be recognized at this passage.  The Apostles are desperate to keep the peace and don't want a riot because Paul is in town.  

To keep the peace, a scheme follows...

21:23 Do therefore this that we say to thee; We have four men which have a vow on them;

21:24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads; and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.


Here is what the apostles scheme:  they want Paul to take four men with him to the temple for the upcoming feast, and keep the Law of Moses with them so that 'all may know that those things...are nothing." 

In other words, they're saying "Put on a show that you still keep the Law of Moses so that the news that's preceded you will be construed as false rumor.  We want the news to be that you still keep the law."

21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. The apostles acknowledge that they agree that the Gentiles should not be being taught the Mosaic Law.
21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. Paul goes along with the caper.  Understand, that the only reason he is at the temple is to start a rumor that he is still practicing the Mosaic Law as did so many Jews.  Paul has been preaching against the Law of Moses since he understood it was fulfilled in Christ's death.

21:27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

21:28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help; this is the man, that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

21:29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus and Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

21:30 And all the city was moved, and the people ran together; and they took, and drew him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut.


Paul almost pulls the caper off--he's been there seven days, but some Jews recognize him, (grabbing him as was prophesied), dragging him out of the temple crying: 'This was the man we found teaching everyone against the Law of Moses, and now he's polluting our Holy Temple.
21:31 And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar; The Jews want to kill Paul. 

 Does this sound like the correct response if Paul was really keeping 'The Law?'  Here is the point:  Paul was not practicing the Law of Moses--he was merely trying to look the part to keep peace in Jerusalem!  

Needless to say, the plan failed.


21:32 Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them; and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.

21:33 Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done.

21:34 And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude; and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle.

21:35 And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.

21:36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.

But not wanting to look the guilty part,  when the Roman soldiers come in response to the riot, the Jews stop beating Paul and scatter.
21:37 And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, may I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?  
21:38 Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?

21:39 But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.

21:40 And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying,



Without elaborating further, in chapter 22 Paul has the mob quieted as he makes his defense, telling them he was brought up on the law.  

But when Paul gets to the part in the testimony about God telling him to do the will of 'the Just One' (Acts 22:14) and then repeats that he's been commanded to tell the Gentiles that they also get a piece of salvation (another no-no), the mob responds in their usual manner:  they're ready to filet him (Acts 22:22).

(Also, the other reference which is often alluded to is Acts 24:17-18.  Paul is simply rehearsing the events of Acts 21 some years later.  He wasn't changing his position about The Law)

What is the obvious conclusion?  

Paul never was practicing the Law of Moses here, he was merely looking the part in attempt to prevent an inevitable riot.  In fact, a thorough summary of all of Paul's acts and writings will be provided (in another document) to share the obvious message the Law of Moses was fulfilled.

This was a the vivid example of what Paul meant when he said (I Cor. 9:20-23

' unto the Jews I BECAME AS A JEW, THAT I MIGHT GAIN THE JEWS; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law… To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 AND I DO THIS FOR THE GOSPEL'S SAKE, that I might be partaker thereof with you.' 

The obvious message was that neither Paul nor the Apostles were teaching the multitudes to follow the Law of Moses--they understood it had served its purpose and was now fulfilled. 

Why is this important to realize?

In this day of Gentile Christianity, many Christians read Paul's writings regarding 'works of the Law' and think it means 'works have nothing to do with salvation.'

This is an incorrect thought of man (remember, Revelation teaches all will be judged by their works.)  We apply our perceived modern definition to 'works' in a manner which did not exist in the day Paul was writing.  

The 'works' Paul was writing about were the works of the Law of Moses.  He was writing to many converted Jews who had been practicing the Law of Moses (killing lambs at Passover, etc.), for 1500 years.  To hear that the Law of Moses didn't need to be heeded anymore was the biggest news since the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.  That's why Paul wrote about it so much--many were struggling with this fundamental issue.  Further, the reason Paul writes about 'Grace' so much, is because the definition of 'Grace' was God's offering on the cross--it was by God's grace that it happened--without it, salvation would not be possible. 

Paul is trying to teach that Christ was the way to salvation, encompassed by the word 'grace,' not the Law of Moses, which was encompassed by the word 'works' and 'works of the law.'

Therefore, when Paul was differentiating 'works' from 'grace,' he was trying to get the message through to indoctrinated Jews that salvation did not come by the 'works of the Law of Moses,' but by Jesus Christ, the gracious gift, who was the very purpose and point of the Law.  

Being saved 'by grace,' does not mean that there is nothing we have to do.  It means that it was by God's grace that the atonement occurred--we are still responsible to respond the way Christ would have us.  This is the plan of salvation.

When we read epistles, we are literally 'reading someone else's mail.'  These were Jews writing to Jews.  With this understanding of the true meaning of what Paul meant when he said we aren't saved by 'works' (i.e. of the Law of Moses), re-read sections of Galatians, Ephesians, Romans, etc.  The true understanding will be eye-opening.

 Just imagine....

If a person from our day were to be teleported back into Paul's day and join him on his preaching circuit with our modern Christian message suggesting '...there's nothing you have to do, just say you believe in Jesus and you'll be saved...'

How would Paul respond?

After Paul looked at you like you had three heads, he would undoubtedly set the record straight, teaching that Jesus' plan of salvation starts with: 

  1. Faith in God and the atonement;
  2. Sincere repentance;
  3. Baptism by water and
  4. Baptism by laying on of hands, both by one having authority;
  5. Enduring to the end living a life of good works, which brings more grace;
  6. Resurrection;
  7. Eternal judgment  and Eternal Life

(See 'Two Minute Guide to the Plan of Salvation')

Paul would continue to explain that the meaning of 'grace' is 'the offering of Jesus as the sacrifice for sin--something that we could not do.'  We unlock the power of this grace, or this sacrificial offering through repentance.  Without the offering of Christ (i.e. 'grace') we could not be saved.  But it is incumbent upon all who wish to enter into the straight and narrow gate, to come in as Christ prescribed.

After this, Paul would undoubtedly introduce you to James, who emphasized that to only say we believe puts us on no different par with Satan and his angels, and that faith without works is dead; he would have us meet John whose vision explains how we'd be judged by our works; and he would certainly show Jesus own words which taught that those accountable who will not be repentant and baptized are damned.


Our application of 'works' as well as the appearance of Paul in Acts 21, is a misunderstanding of the dilemma in Paul's day.  It is not the understanding of Christianity as Christ taught it.


Read other papers on the Law of Moses:

Twelve Facts about the Law of Moses in the New Testament 

Twelve Facts about the Law of Moses in the Book of Mormon




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