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.

Savior And Lord

There are people in the pews today that profess Jesus as their savior but they know him not as their Lord. There is a distinction that must be made between savior and lord. To profess Jesus is your savior is to understand the redemption brought forth by the sacrifice that was made by Christ on Calvary. To profess Jesus as your Lord is to allow him to be the sovereign king in your life. When Jesus is lord it is his will be done in your life and not your own. Undoubtedly, many people say Jesus is their savior but know him not as their lord but the reality is Christ the redeemer, Christ the savior is only this to you if he is your lord.

2 Timothy 4: Paul’s Closing Words

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I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:  Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NKJV)

As the second letter to Timothy draws to a close we find a charge given to Timothy to preach the word in season and out. The word choice here is clear. Timothy is to preach not any word but the Word. That word of course is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians we need to be growing in our faith so we can ensure the word we are proclaiming is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are to stand firm on the true Gospel even if some people turn from sound doctrine and to a message that is suited to their personal satisfaction. As biblical Christians it is our charge to carry to the world the word, in order to be faithful evangelist.

2 Timothy 1- Spirit of Power and Love

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 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day,  greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy,  when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 TIM 1:3-7, NKJV)

In order to understand 2nd Timothy, it is best to read this letter as if we are gazing over the shoulder of Timothy as he reads this passionate letter from his mentor in the faith. We should do all we can to immerse ourselves in the time and setting of Paul and Timothy. As mentioned in the previous post, Paul is writing Timothy from prison. Paul had previously been in prison but this time was different. In the book of Acts we learn Paul is imprisoned in his home and the outlook of his incarceration was favorable. However, this time things have changed, Paul is in a dungeon prison and he was certain he was facing the death penalty.

Paul with this knowledge wrote this letter with the future of faith in mind. He knew he had ran the race, and now he was ready to receive his award. However, Paul was concerned for the church and was writing to a young Timothy some final instructions. In short it is fair to say that 2nd Timothy is a bit of a last will and testament from Paul to the early church.

Paul opens his letter in similar fashion to his other writings. Declaring himself the author and noting his status as an apostle of Jesus Christ. However, Paul refers to Timothy as his beloved son. Paul lead Timothy in the faith and their connection was that of father and son. That is the lens in which we should read this letter. A father writing his final words to a son.

Paul after commending Timothy on his authentic faith and telling him of how he prays for him day and night seeks to comfort Timothy by ensuring him God does not give a spirit of fear but of power and love. As Christians these words of Paul speak to us today. There are obstacles that all Christians will face. However, we must recognize that we are to trust God, and have the knowledge to understand that God does not want us to dwell in fear, but to know the power and love God has given to all Christians.