Did Paul Practice Jewish Sacrifice After His Conversion?

Did Paul sacrifice animals and hold to Jewish law when he was in the temple after his conversion? This is a question that arises from the book of Acts. Two specific examples are the following two verses.

“So Paul went to the Temple the next day with the other men. They had already started the purification ritual, so he publicly announced the date when their vows would end and sacrifices would be offered for each of them.”
‭‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭21:26‬ ‭NLT

“After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God.”
‭‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭24:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There are a difference of opinion concerning this question from the book of Acts. The issue at stake concerns a possible hypocrisy of Paul or an inconsistency of his theology. Elsewhere, in the writings of Paul he is clear the Jewish law is no longer sufficient but it is Jesus Christ crucified and his resurrection that provide the means of forgiveness.

Starting with Acts 21:26 we see direct textual evidence that Paul participated in the ritual cleansing before entering the Temple. This behavior is surprising given the teachings of Paul that justification is from Christ alone.

“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:21-28‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So one could ask the question, why did Paul observe the ritual cleaning before entering the temple? The Bible does not provide a direct answer to this question. However, one can venture to say that Paul was acting in accordance to Jewish custom in order to stay innocent of any possible accusations that he was disregarding Jewish law. To disregard the law held true criminal penalties. Therefore, the ritual cleansing while a surprise would not necessarily fall into sin. Perhaps another reason for Paul participating in the ritual cleansing was his desire to reach others with the Gospel.

“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:19-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Paul admits in 1 Cor 9:19-22 that he was willing to become whatever he needed to become in order to preach Jesus. This tactic is used by missionaries today across the globe. Therefore, if Paul washed himself in order to preach Jesus then so be it as long as he avoided sin.

This leaves the second and more potent question. Did Paul provide an animal for sacrifice in the temple. Translations interpret this verse in different ways. In fact several translations do not render in English the wording “sacrifices to God”. Here are a few other popular translations and their handling of this verse.

“After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭24:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my nation,”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭24:17‬ ‭HCSB

“Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭24:17‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Comparing these translations it can appear to provide two different verses. With the NLT being an outsider with the rendering of “sacrifices to God”.

I chose the NIV, and HCSB as they are both a dynamic translation philosophy, which is the same as the NLT. A dynamic translation philosophy means the scholars behind the translation did not render the translation word for word. In a dynamic philosophy the interpreters concentrate more on thought for thought with the idea of reader comprehension in mind. The KJV is a formal translation that is more concerned with word for word and less with readability. But even the KJV uses some thought for thought as the Greek into English does not transfer word for word.

The truth is biblical interpretation is both an art and a science. If we return to the original language it is clear the NLT rendering and the other translations are faithful to the original language.

Here is the verse in Greek from the manuscript used by the NLT interpreters “δι᾽ἐτῶν δὲ πλειόνων , ἐλεημοσύναςποιήσων εἰς τὸ ἔθνος μουπαρεγενόμην καὶ προσφοράς” . With προσφοράς being the word that provides the translation “to offer sacrifices to God”. Elsewhere the NLT translation for this term is
“an offering, an offering, offering, offerings, sacrifices”

Each time this term is used for offering, it is in more the traditional sense.

“I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬
The rendering offering to God is the word προσφορὰ.

“Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬
Notice in this verse we have the terms offering and sacrifice. Interesting enough the term standing behind sacrifice in this verse is θυσίαν and not προσφορὰ which is standing behind the English word “offering”.

θυσίαν means
[a] sacrifice, an offering, offerings, sacrifice, sacrifices. But what is interesting here is the other verses that use this word for sacrifices.

“And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.””
‭‭Mark‬ ‭12:33‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Notice when this term is used it is used in direct relation to temple sacrifice. The previous term we explored is used more in offerings.

Putting it all together I fully believe Acts 24:17 is best understood as a offering of money. A sacrifice in the sense that Paul was giving something up for God. Therefore, it can be concluded based on the textual evidence from the original Greek manuscript that was used for the NLT translation that Paul did not sacrifice an animal in the temple.

A Little Greek, Grants Big Context

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Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth ( 2 TIM 2:15, NKJV)

The call to be diligent works in conjunction with the ability to rightly divide scripture. The word “diligent” is utilized in the NKJV and other translations. The English definition of diligent is” having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties”. The word σπούδασον is the Greek word from which the term diligent derives. This Greek word appears a total of two times in scripture. The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament asserts this usage of the term σπούδασον derives from the root word σπουδάζω. The same Lexicon states the term is an adverb used to add intensity and emphases. When understood like this one can translate this term with emphases saying “be diligent or as quickly as possible”. The Strongs Greek definition is “use speed, i.e. to make effort, be prompt or earnest:—do (give) diligence, be diligent (forward), endeavour, labour, study”. Utilizing either of these two resources helps an English reader understand the clear sense of urgency in the Greek manuscript that can be missed in the English translations. Therefore, it should be noted that an individual should be working with a sense of urgency to present themselves approved, and this of course will show itself in the ability to rightfully understand the word of God. The old saying is “context is key”, understanding the correct context of 2 TIM 2:15 can make a huge difference in interpretation.

High View of God

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In the opening pages of his book Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer opens with a pressing proposition. According to Tozer many Christians fail to produce a high view of God. Instead they utilize a low concept of God that is completely unworthy of the heavenly Father. The problem of a low view of God is it effects every aspect of a Christian walk.

A Christian develops a low view of God when they construct their understanding of God from their own mind and experiences that are not based in scripture. God has revealed Himself to the world through His word. However, many Christians neglect reading scripture which in turn leaves them oblivious to the true nature of God.  This results in Christians practicing a form of idolatry.

The sin of idolatry is the worship of any other god or object outside of the true God as revealed in the Bible. Idolatry does not require bowing at an alter of a physical object. A Christian who builds God in their own image is guilty of idolatry because they have replaced the God of the Bible with one they have constructed. This in turn results in the adoration and worship of a god that is not based in scripture.

A Christian needs to seek after the true nature of God and ensure that a high view of God as found in scripture is at the foundation of their faith. A building is only as good as the foundation that it is positioned on and this is true of the Christian faith as well. A Christian who has a false belief about the true nature of God will discover every other aspect of their faith will be in error. A Christian who is devoted to a high view of God and seeks after His nature in the Bible will have a faith set on a true foundation and their relationship with God will prosper.

Psalm 104 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Psalm 104

God the Creator

My soul, praise Yahweh! Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with majesty and splendor. He wraps Himself in light as if it were a robe, spreading out the sky like a canopy, laying the beams of His palace on the waters above, making the clouds His chariot, walking on the wings of the wind, and making the winds His messengers,[a] flames of fire His servants.

He established the earth on its foundations; it will never be shaken. You covered it with the deep as if it were a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At Your rebuke the waters fled; at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away— mountains rose and valleys sank[b]— to the place You established for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; they will never cover the earth again.

10 He causes the springs to gush into the valleys; they flow between the mountains. 11 They supply water for every wild beast; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 The birds of the sky live beside the springs; they sing among the foliage. 13 He waters the mountains from His palace; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of Your labor.

14 He causes grass to grow for the livestock and provides crops for man to cultivate, producing food from the earth, 15 wine that makes man’s heart glad— making his face shine with oil— and bread that sustains man’s heart.

16 The trees of the Lord flourish,[c] the cedars of Lebanon that He planted. 17 There the birds make their nests; the stork makes its home in the pine trees. 18 The high mountains are for the wild goats; the cliffs are a refuge for hyraxes.

19 He made the moon to mark the[d] festivals;[e] the sun knows when to set. 20 You bring darkness, and it becomes night, when all the forest animals stir. 21 The young lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. 22 The sun rises; they go back and lie down in their dens. 23 Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening.

24 How countless are Your works, Lord! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures.[f] 25 Here is the sea, vast and wide, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small. 26 There the ships move about, and Leviathan, which You formed to play there.

27 All of them wait for You to give them their food at the right time. 28 When You give it to them, they gather it; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When You send Your breath,[g] they are created, and You renew the face of the earth.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works. 32 He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke. 33 I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to Him; I will rejoice in the Lord. 35 May sinners vanish from the earth and wicked people be no more. My soul, praise Yahweh! Hallelujah!

 

Growing in Faith

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“ His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge,  knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness,  godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:3-7, HCSB).[1]

The above passage of scripture is known by many as the ladder of faith. The Bible teaches Christians to nurture their faith throughout their earthly life. A Christian who becomes complacent and is not actively seeking to grow their faith, will run the risk of operating outside the will of God. To grow faith one must constantly seek God in prayer.

The importance of prayer to the Christian walk can never be overstated. There are many issues facing the church in modern times. There is a need to fix the issue of biblical illiteracy.[2]  A need exists to better engage the community with evangelism. Furthermore, there is a need to teach the importance of love. These issues and more need to be addressed by the church.

However, one could surmise these challenges could be reduced to one major problem. The church needs to rediscover God. This is not to claim all Christians need to receive a PhD in Theology. The academic pursuit of God through the study of Theology is a noble pursuit, but this head knowledge of God is not sufficient to confront the current challenges facing the church.  Christians need to know God through an intimate personal relationship with him.

The first step for a Christian to develop their faith and build a personal relationship with God is to develop a real prayer life. A Christian should be praying daily, and communicating with God about all aspects of their life. This type of prayer is far greater than a routine prayer. A Christian should have a prayer list and a conversation ready when they approach the throne of their heavenly Father.

Real prayer has great power. Scripture gives a shining example as to the magnitude of the grace of God when a servant of God approaches His throne through sincere prayer. Moses knew God on a personal level, and God knew Moses, scripture states  “Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now. The Lord responded, “I have pardoned them as you requested” (Numbers 14:19-20). This is the type of response one can receive when God is not only their King but their best friend as well.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

[2] D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), xi.

Bibliography

Carson, D.A. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014