PAUL AND THE NAZARITE VOW

The  account  of Paul's trip to Jerusalem and  his Nazarite  vow gives a clear picture of the apostles' and elders' views  and practices  concerning  the  existing temple  worship  system  and justification under the old agreements with national Israel and justification under the new agreement that had been established by Jesus Christ.

In order to establish the fact that Paul and others of the early church observed much of the temple worship system, it is important to understand that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow, which was part of the temple worship system. He had taken this vow sometime before going to Jerusalem. Moreover, once he was at the temple in Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices in conjunction with his vow. See Acts 15:26-27.

"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).

The  only vow that required one to cut off  all the hair on one's head was the  Nazarite vow.

The Nazarite Vow

Numbers 6:1-21 Paraphrased

"And  the Lord said to Moses, Speak to the  children  of Israel, and say to them, When either a man or a woman shall  separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves  to the Lord. He or she shall separate from wine and strong drink, and  shall drink no  wine vinegar, or strong  drink of vinegar,  nor drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist or dried grapes," (vs.1-3).

"All the days of this separation  nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk shall be eaten.. All the days of  the vow of this separation there shall no razor come upon the head: until the days of separation are  fulfilled to the Lord, and he or she shall be holy, and let the locks of  the hair of the head grow" (vs.4-5).

"All the days of the separation to the Lord he or she shall not touch a dead body, nor become unclean for a father, mother, brother, or sister that dies:  because of the consecration of  God is upon the separated one's head.  All  the  days of separation he or she is holy  to  the  Lord" (vs.6-8).

"And if any man dies suddenly by one who is separated, and defiles  the head of his consecration; then the head of the separated one must be shaved in the day of  cleansing, on the seventh day the head shall be shaved.  And  on the  eighth  day the separated one shall bring two turtledoves,  or two  young pigeons,  to  the priest, to the door of the  tabernacle  of the congregation" (vs.9-10).

"And  the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and  the other  for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for the separated one,  because of the sin caused by touching the dead, and he or she shall hallow their head that  same day.  And shall consecrate to the Lord the day of  separation,  and shall bring a lamb of the first year for  a  trespass offering:  but the days that were before shall be lost,  because the separation was defiled" (vs.11-12).

"And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of  separation  are  fulfilled: he or she shall be brought to the  door  of  the tabernacle  of the congregation: And offer an  offering to the Lord, one he-lamb of the first year without blemish for  a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without  blemish  for  a sin offering, and one ram without blemish  for peace offerings" (vs.13-14).

"And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and  their meal  offering,  and their drink offerings. And the  priest  shall bring them before the Lord, and shall offer his or her sin offering, and burnt offering" (vs.15-16).

"And he or she shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings to the  Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest  shall offer  also the meal offering, and the drink offering.  And  the Nazarite  shall shave the head of the separation at the  door  of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the  hair  of the  head  of the separation, and put it into the fire  which  is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings" (vs.17-18).

"And  the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the  ram,  and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened  wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of the separation is shaved: And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: this is holy for the priest,  with the  wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the  Nazarite may drink wine" (vs.19-20).

"This is the law of the Nazarite who has vowed, and of his or her  offering  to the Lord for the separation, beside that, that the separated one's  hand shall  get:  according to the vow which was vowed, so he or she must  do after the law of the separation" (v21).

Acts 21:15-27

"So shortly afterwards, we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. Some disciples from Caesarea accompanied us, and on  arrival we were guests at the home of Mnason, originally from Cyprus, one of  the early believers; and all the believers at Jerusalem  welcomed us cordially. The second day Paul took us with him to  meet with  James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. After  greetings were  exchanged,  Paul recounted the many  things  God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his work" (vs.15-19 LBP).

Zealous for the law

"You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have   believed, and all of them are zealous for the law" (v20 NIV).

What is the law that is being referred to?  Is it  the  Ten Commandments or some other law ? As we review  this event  it will become apparent that the law referred to  here  is the  sacrificial law which required the temple at  Jerusalem  for its practice.

Before coming to Jerusalem, Paul was accused  of  teaching the   Jews  to stop practicing the law of Moses:

"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. . ." (v21 NIV).

However, Paul did not teach the Jews to turn away from the law of Moses; he merely pointed out the fact that  circumcision and the practice of the law would not justify a person  before God:

"Be  it  known to you therefore, men and brethren,  that  through this  man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins: And by  him all  that believe are justified from all things, from  which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39 Para.).

In order to show the Jews that he still believed and taught the laws of the temple system of worship, which did not pertain to justification, Paul  was advised to participate in the rites of the Nazarite vow at the temple:

"What shall we do ? They will certainly hear that you have  come, 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 everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (vs.22-24 NIV).

It  is  extremely important to understand that Paul and  the  men spoken  of here were converted Jews who had taken a  Nazarite  vow, which had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin or justification.

This event clearly shows that, as late as 56-57 A.D., Paul and  the other apostles were teaching and practicing some of the laws that were a part of the first agreement.

"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" (v25 NIV).

It  is  clear that the apostles  knew it was  not  necessary  for Gentile  converts  to participate in the temple  worship  system  that God gave to Israel through Moses. However, they also knew it was permissible and expedient for themselves as  teachers of the way of God to participate in the temple worship system as an example to the Jews.

"The  next day Paul took the men and purified himself along  with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date  when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him" (vs.26-27 NIV).

Verse 26 and 27 are very important because they contain the following irrefutable proof that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow:

Paul Stands Accused Before Felix

Acts 24:14-18 KJV

In  defending  himself against the accusation of heresy before Felix, Paul  states  some very important beliefs and tells why he was in the temple in  the account of Acts 21:27.

Paul's Beliefs:

Paul Speaks  to Felix:

"But  this I confess to you, that after the way which  they  call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all  things which were written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.  And I do hereby exercise myself, to have always a conscience void  of offence toward God and toward men" (vs.14-16).

Notice the primary reason that Paul went to the temple:

"Now  after  many years I came to bring alms to  my  nation,  and offerings.  Wherein certain Jews from Asia found me  purified  in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult" (vs.17-18).

Here,  we see Paul observing part of the worship system  commanded under  God's  first agreement with national Israel. This  is  yet another  proof  that  Paul observed and  practiced  much  of  the temple worship system many years after his conversion.

Although an Israelitish Christian could partake of the  temple worship as Paul did, it was not mandatory for  a Christian  to  follow  or obey the temple  worship  system. However,  it still existed for about 40 years after the  death  and resurrection  of  Jesus.  See our study  concerning  the various agreements  that God has made with different people in  different ages of salvation.

Did  Paul's Nazarite vow, sacrifice, and giving of gifts  at  the temple  contradict the decision concerning the Law of Moses that the apostles and elders made, which is  recorded in Acts 15? Did his taking this vow  violate the  terms and conditions of the new agreement that Jesus  Christ instituted?  The  answer is an emphatic NO!  Paul  was  not seeking forgiveness of sin or justification before God  by  these acts;  he did them  because of a prior commitment and as a  witness  to  those who accused Paul of teaching against the  law  of Moses.

THE APOSTLES AND SACRIFICE

The  account  of Paul's trip to Jerusalem and  his  Nazarite  vow reveals the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ concerning  those who  were  sons of God and their relationship to the offering of sacrifices  after  the formation of the new covenant church.

This account clearly shows that certain aspects of the temple and sacrificial worship system are perfectly compatible with the  new agreement  that  was instituted by Jesus Christ and  that  these aspects  could  be practiced by the Father's sons  who  have  his spirit residing within them.

It  is also noteworthy to mention that Jesus Christ who had  the holy spirit without measure also participated in the sacrificial system as he lived his life and presented himself as the  perfect example of righteousness.

REMEMBER THE LAW

Under the first agreement with the people of national Israel, the Israelites were to perform certain physical acts as a reminder of the laws of God. Under the new agreement, the law is implanted within a  person by the holy spirit. Therefore, these physical  reminders are not necessary.

The following are two of the commands to the nation of Israel regarding  the law and its remembrance:

Fringes on the Garment

"Speak  to  the children of Israel, and bid them that  they  make them  fringes in the borders of their garments  throughout  their generations,  and that they put upon the fringe of the borders  a ribbon of blue: And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord,  and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your  own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God" (Num.15: 38-40 KJV).

Law on the Door Post

"Therefore  shall you lay these words in your heart and  in  your soul,  and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may  be as  frontlets  between your eyes. And you shall teach them  your children,  speaking of them when you sit in your house, and  when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them upon the door posts of your house, and upon your gates" (Deut.11:18-20 KJV).

Would  it  be wrong for a Christian to wear a fringe on their garments or write the commandments upon their door post?

It would not be wrong if the person  is  not doing these things to obtain justification before God; these laws were  a  part of the first agreement  between  God  and  national Israel,  but they are  not a part of the new  agreement  between  the Father and the elect of God.

However,  it would be wrong for  one called to  salvation  during the gospel age to perform these acts in hope of being justified. This would be trying to gain justification under the  law of  justification by works; thereby, it would deny  the  sacrifice  of Christ.

Notice what Paul says about trying to be justified by the law:

"Stand  fast therefore in the liberty wherein Christ has made  us free,  and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage.  Behold,  I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.  For I testify again to every man that  is  circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is  become of  no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the  law; you are fallen from grace" (Gal.5:1-4 Para.).

By Vernon O. Jones and B.L. Cocherell, file b4w5