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Why did Paul purify himself at the Temple?

Does it show we are under the law?

One argument used by those who try to say that the law has not passed is to show where Paul purified himself in the temple.

Acts 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.

Those that say that Paul followed the law use this to show that Paul did indeed follow the law of Moses and therefore Paul did not teach that the law had passed, seeing he himself followed it.

It’s a logical conclusion, although even if Paul did keep the law, he was an Israelite Pharisee after all, albeit a non practicing Pharisee at the point of Acts 21-26, it would still not actually prove that Paul did not teach against the law. Do as I say not do as I do as the old saying goes.

Anyway as with every verse that is taken on its own and used to prove a point we need to examine the verse in context and understanding and not simply take a verse on its own and apply our own interpretation into that said verse.


Paul had just arrived in Jerusalem, against the advice of disciples in Tyre who were led by the spirit to warn Paul.

Acts 21-  3Now 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. 4And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem

A prophet by the name of Ababus told that Paul would be bound by the Jews and handed over to the the Gentiles, in this case the Gentiles being the Romans.

Acts 21-  10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. 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.

But Paul was adamant that he was going to Jerusalem and would not only be willing to be bound for the name of the Lord but he was willing to die for it.

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

So it was the will of the Lord that Paul go to Jerusalem but through the holy spirit he was warned of what would happen once he got there, in order to prepare him for such consequences.

The BRETHREN (certain Jews) received him..gladly.

Acts 21- 17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.

Paul then met with James and the elders and told them of his ministry to the gentiles.

Acts 21- 18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.

James and the elders glorified the Lord. They also told him of the many thousands of Jews in Jerusalem that believed, yet they remained zealous (devoted) to the law.

Acts 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:

So this is the elders speaking to Paul. Telling him about the Jews now following Jesus but also telling him that those same Jews remained devoted to the law of Moses.  

Then they said to Paul that these believing Jews knew that he was teaching the Jews amongst the gentiles NOT to follow Moses.

Acts 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.

So it was a well known fact that Paul was teaching against following the customs of the law.

Paul however wasn’t forsaking Moses. Paul was actually preaching the Messiah, Jesus,  who was encompoused in Moses.

As Jesus himself attested to when he said that Moses wrote of him

John 5-46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.


The elders knew that the Jews would want to come together and see Paul.

Acts 21-  22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.

So they, the elders, asked Paul to join with the four men in their vow. This was a Nazarite vow, This wasn’t a requirement for all Jews to perform only those wishing to become a Nazarite (which could be from 30 days-to a lifetime)

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

James and the elders were concerned regarding the acceptance of Paul by the multitude seeing it was known that Paul was teaching against the law. The multitudes in Jerusalem who were in Christ remained devoted to the law that Paul was clearly preaching against. So they asked him to perform this ritual in a hope to appease the Jews who would come to see him.

This very clearly was not Paul’s idea. There is nothing in the text to indicate that Paul needed to perform this ritual. This was not a requirement of Paul under the law. The ritual was only meant for those wishing to become Nazarites and wasn’t performed by the vast majority of Jews. This was to show (to the Jews who were accepting Christ but still devoted to the law) that Paul walked orderly and kept the law, not because he was but in order to appease the multitude.

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

Paul didn’t keep the law, but he honoured the request so that he may be better accepted by the Jews and to bring the Jews to Christ. Although he himself did not require any purification of the law. He did not want to dishonour the temple of the Jews who still were “under” the law. Either of those who had accepted Christ as their Messiah or those that had not. He simply “became” a Jew in order to win the Jews.

Paul himself stated that he had become all things to all men. To those under the law he came under the law

1 Corinthians 9- 19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 20And 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; 21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22 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 this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

He did this for the GOSPELS sake, so that he could save as many as he could from every group. Paul did not perform the ritual for HIS sake.  

Jesus cleansed himself when he had no need to do so when he was baptised by John.
Jesus was not baptised through need but to fulfill righteousness.

Matthew 3-15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

Jesus allowed himself to be baptised for the remission of sins, even though he had none and had zero need to be baptised of John, but for the sake of his mission.  In the same way that Paul purified himself even though he had no need to do so.

We must again notice that the Elders had agreed that the Gentiles need not be brought in under the law.

Acts 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 thingsoffered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.


This was a reference to the letter that the Elders had written years earlier where at the council of Jerusalem it had been disputed whether the gentiles who were coming to Christ should be made to conform to the Jewish law. It was decided and agreed upon that they were NOT to be compelled to come under the Jewish law.


Acts 15- 22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren sendgreeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.


This is very clear that the Jewish elders at this point did not believe that gentiles should come under the law and they didn’t try to make Gentiles come under the law of Moses.

So Paul purified himself and entered into the temple until the 7 days be fulfilled. When after this an offering should be offered for every one of them.

Acts 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.

Notice here it states OFFERING not a sin sacrifice.

Although it is often stated that Paul offered a sacrifice after the sacrifice of Jesus, a  nazarite vow did NOT necessarily involve a sacrifice for sin at all.

A sacrifice for sin under the law of Moses would only be required if the Nazarite was unclean at the time he was taking the vow.  The full nazarite vow, which would have included abstinence from wine and strong drink as per the law in the book of Numbers would have started long before Paul “joined in” for the last 7 days.

Numbers 6- 3He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. 4All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.

Paul was not partaking in the full ritual only the final part. Pauls offering would not have been for a sin sacrifice but would have been a PEACE offering and a wave offering.

Numbers 6-  18 And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings. 19 And the priest shall take the sodden 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 his separation is shaven: 20And 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.


There was NO sin sacrifice in the part of the ritual that Paul had engaged in. He was already clean through Christ.

It must also be noted that Paul did NOT actually complete the ritual anyway. Paul in fact made no offering at all. The Jews from Asia stirred up the people BEFORE the 7 days were complete and Paul was ceased.

Acts 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

Again it is then again stated of Paul that he taught against the keeping of the law.

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

This verse when context and understanding is applied does not support the notion that anyone must follow the law of Moses and it certainly doesn’t teach that Gentile believers today must conform to the law of Moses in any way.

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