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.

The Will of God Through Prayer

“Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

‭‭1 John‬ ‭5:14‬ ‭

We must develop a prayer life that honors the will of God if our prayers are to be fruitful.

Matthew 8: The Storms Of Life

“But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, you of little faith? ” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭8:26‬ ‭

In Matthew 8 we see the disciples fearing for their life as a storm rages on the sea and they fear their boat will sink. Jesus is woken up from His sleep, He rebukes the disciples for having no faith and then He calms the storm. This story fascinates me. How could these disciples who have already witnessed the power of Jesus be so fearful when He was with them? The answer is when things looked bleak their faith waned. There are times when my faith has waned as well, a time when I was fearful even though I have seen the Lord move many times in my life. We must remember that Jesus Christ is with us in our boat as we sail the seas of life, and when a storm hits He can control the wind and the waves.

God Bless