The Apostle Paul Revisited: Paul Without Hair

Daily Sacrifice at the Second Temple The Temple Institute, Jerusalem

Daily Sacrifice at the Second Temple
The Temple Institute, Jerusalem

One of the things we Christians have missed in our spiritual education is the meanings of the various sacrifices God prescribed in the Temple service.  Each type of sacrifice teaches us about an attribute of God and about our relationship with Him.  Unfortunately, in most Christian teaching, the sacrifices are lumped together and dismissed under the assumption that the sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross did away with them all.  And yet that is not entirely true.  Yeshua was the Lamb of God, the one sacrifice that God Himself provided to take away the sin of the world according to the promise given through Abraham (Genesis 22:6-8) and announced by John the Baptist (John 1:29).  All the other sacrifices were those brought by man as acts of worship and other transactions with the Most High God.  According to what the Lord explained to the prophets, those sacrifices will be in operation during the Messianic age, and our King Yeshua Himself will be presiding over them (see Ezekiel 40-46, especially 45:18-46:18.  See also Isaiah 19:19-22, 56:4-8, Jeremiah 33:14-18; Zechariah 14:16-21).

In regard to the life of the Apostle Paul, one particular type of sacrifice has special relevance.  This is actually a set of sacrificial offerings required for those who had taken the vow of a Nazirite.  Those who took such vows did so for specific purposes and set time periods during which they were “separated” (set apart) to God.  When their vow was complete, they had to follow a prescribed protocol to be released from their obligations:

Now this is the law of the Nazirite:  When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting.  And he shall present his offering to the Lord:  one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.  Then the priest shall bring them before the Lord and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering; and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering.  Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.  And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair, and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Lord; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering.  After that the Nazirite may drink wine.  This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the Lord the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.  (Numbers 6:13-21 NKJV)

Look again at what the Nazirite must bring with his offering:

  • Burnt Offering:  one male lamb
  • Sin Offering:  one ewe lamb
  • Peace Offering:  one ram
  • Four varieties of Grain Offering:  one basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour, unleavened wafers, grain offering (roasted grain)
  • Drink offering
  • Other items according to specifics of the vow

That is an enormous expense!  The three valuable animals would be more than most people could afford.  Consequently, anyone who undertook a Nazirite vow would have to count the cost first.  Failing to complete the vow would mean far more than humiliation before the community; it would mean a breach of trust with the Holy God.

"Apostle St. Paul" El Greco

“Apostle St. Paul”
El Greco

Paul took such things very seriously.  He was, after all, a Pharisee well versed in the Law of Moses and in the customs of the Jews, and zealous toward God both before and after his acknowledgement of Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah (Philippians 3:2-6).  We should therefore pay attention when the book of Acts tells us that Paul undertook Nazirite obligations twice.  The first vow was in operation while he ministered in Corinth.  As the Scripture explains:

So Paul still remained a good while.  Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him.  He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.  (Acts 18:18 NKJV)

The second occasion occurred at last visit to Jerusalem.  Paul apparently had not taken the vow himself, but according to Luke’s account in Acts 21, he did undergo the Nazirite purification protocol:

And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.  On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.  When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord.  And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.  What then?  The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.  Therefore do what we tell you:  We have four men who have taken a vow.  Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.  But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”[1] (Acts 21:17-25, NKJV emphasis added)

Why would Paul agree to go through this process if, as is taught in Christian traditions, he did not regard the Law of Moses as applicable to believers in Jesus?  That is precisely the point the Apostle James is making when he urges Paul to complete the Nazirite purification requirements with four other Believers and pay the expenses of the other men.  Paul’s agreement means he must pay for five lambs, five ewes, and five rams, plus the bread and drink offerings and incidental charges.  That is an enormous expense!  In addition, he must go through the humiliation of having his head shaved again, all for the purpose of proving to the entire community that he did not teach anything contrary to the Law of Moses.

There are only two possible answers to the question of why Paul would do this:

  1. Paul was a liar who intended to deceive not only the Jewish leadership in the Temple, but the entire community of Believing Jews and all of Jerusalem.
  2. Paul was sincere, wanting to prove not only his adherence to the Law, but that he taught in accordance with it.

Regardless which of these alternatives we choose, we must do some serious rethinking about Paul.  If he was a liar, then he was not qualified to be an apostle, and therefore we should have nothing to do with the thirteen books of the New Testament he wrote.  However, if he was sincere, then it means the Church has misunderstood and misrepresented Paul for close to 2,000 years.  If that is the case, then we should look again at his writings and see what he is really saying about the Law.

There is scripture to help us out on this question.  It comes from someone who saw Paul in action and knew him well.  The Apostle Peter says this:

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (II Peter 3:14-16 NKJV)

Perhaps it is time we took Peter’s advice and reexamined Paul with new eyes.


[1] These requirements to Gentiles are explained in Acts 15.  There is a misconception that the Apostles exempted Gentile Believers in Yeshua from the requirement to learn and follow Torah (the Law of God), requiring instead that they adhere only to these four standards of conduct.  The truth is that the Apostles expected Gentile Believers to learn Torah as they matured in their faith, but knew it was unreasonable to require them to be circumcised and keep all the aspects of Torah immediately upon their salvation by faith in Yeshua.  That is why the Apostle James concluded his remarks on the subject by saying, “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”  (Acts 15:21 NKJV)


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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About Albert J. McCarn

I am a lifelong disciple of Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth, an avid student of the Bible, a devoted husband and father, a 29-year veteran of the United States Army, and a historian who connects people with their own stories.

5 responses to “The Apostle Paul Revisited: Paul Without Hair”

  1. blaine scogin says :

    Al,

    Brother your assertion that Gentile believers are under the Torah is simply not correct. Paul devoted one whole letter to this very matter. We know this letter as the Epistle of Galatians. In this letter Paul tells his readers that they are governed by the Holy Spirit not Moses.

    This is why Paul opens up the third chapter of Galatians by asking them did they receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith (Gal. 3:2). He also asks them after beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to be perfected in the flesh (Gal. 3:3).

    Will say more but want to see if this will post.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Blaine Scogin

    Like

    • The Barking Fox says :

      Hi Blaine!

      Thanks for your comment and for opening this line of dialogue. What first comes to mind is to ask this: if we non-Jewish believers in Yeshua are not under Torah, then what governs us? What is our standard of conduct? If there is some different standard between Jewish and non-Jewish believers, why did Paul instruct us this way:

      For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV)

      For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (Romans 10:12 NKJV)

      For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. (I Corinthians 12:12-14 NKJV)

      For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:14-18 NKJV)

      Remember that this is the Paul who used the following defense before the Jewish council (Sanhedrin) when accused of teaching against the Law (Torah):

      But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” (Acts 23:6 NKJV)

      Note that he did not address the issue of teaching against the Law, but rather identified with the Pharisees, his own sect (recall that he attested to the Pharisees’ zealousness for the Law in his epistles (see Acts 26:4-5; Romans 9:1-5, 10:1-4)). His claim to be on trial for his belief in the resurrection brought the Pharisees to his defense and split the Sanhedrin. Later, when testifying before the Roman authorities, Paul said:

      But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. (Acts 24:14 NKJV)

      When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.” (Acts 25:7, 8 NKJV)

      We may safely infer that when Paul said he had not offended against the law of the Jews, and that he believed all things written in the Law and the Prophets, he was well acquainted with such passages as these:

      One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.” (Exodus 12:49 NKJV)

      One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’ ” (Numbers 15:15, 16 NKJV)

      You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. (Numbers 15:29 NKJV)

      Now we have yet another conundrum. Either Paul has perjured himself, or he really has lived a Torah-observant life even years after receiving Yeshua as Messiah. And if this latter is true, then Paul has indeed been teaching others, both Jews and non-Jews, to follow Torah, for if he were teaching some kind of distinction in Messiah between Jew and non-Jew then he would be contradicting the very things he wrote in verses like Galatians 3:28.

      If we need any further indication of Paul’s attitude toward the Law, consider the following:

      To the non-Jewish congregation in Rome:
      Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Romans 3:27-31 NKJV)
      For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Romans 7:14 NKJV)
      For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25 NKJV)

      To the non-Jewish congregation in Corinth:
      For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (I Corinthians 9:19-23 NKJV)

      To Timothy, charged with discipling the non-Jewish congregation in Ephesus:
      But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. (I Timothy 1:8-11 NKJV) [Consider this passage in relation to Romans 3:23 and Mark 2:17.]
      All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16, 17 NKJV) [What Scripture is Paul writing about here? There was no “New Testament”, so it must have been the Law and the Prophets – Torah.]
      There is need to examine each of these passages in context, and I hope to do so in future blog posts. What I submit to you is that these passages indicate Paul has a favorable impression of the Law (Torah) as the provision of God to acquaint all people of sin, point them to salvation which is available only by faith in Messiah Yeshua, and give them standards of conduct for life that will produce blessing through obedience to God’s commandments.

      I will conclude with a brief note about the context of Galatians which is often lost on Christian readers. Paul’s discourse is not directed against the Law of God. Like Jesus in Mark 7 and Matthew 23, Paul writes against the Jewish traditions which do indeed produce an unbearable burden. Modern Rabbinical Judaism holds the same attitude toward salvation as the Pharisaic traditions practiced in the First Century. Specifically, the belief is that good works according to the Jewish sages’ interpretation of God’s Law (Torah) justifies a person, resulting in righteousness and salvation. In the First Century, as today, there was welcome and toleration for non-Jews who drew near to God, but there was no full acceptance until a “God-fearer” submitted to formal conversion to Judaism through circumcision, Temple sacrifice, and strict adherence to the halakhah, or Jewish customs. Of course, we have no Temple today, so there is no possibility of executing the sacrificial requirement, but the other requirements still stand. What angered Paul, and what caused the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem to consider these matters in Acts 15, was that Judaizers came to the province of Galatia and persuaded many non-Jewish believers in Yeshua that their belief in Yeshua for salvation was not sufficient until they submitted to this formal conversion to Judaism. Paul is explaining to the Galatians that such a false gospel of works is directly opposed to the gospel of salvation and justification by faith in Messiah alone. He is not saying that Torah no longer applies. Rather, he is warning the Galatians that they must not place their hope in the works-based gospel of the Judaizers which required them to adhere to the traditions of men rather than the Law of God.

      Thanks again for opening this dialogue. I realize this is an incomplete answer, and I ask your indulgence as I explore this topic in future posts and teachings. In the meantime, I recommend an excellent book on the subject, Galatians for the Practical Messianic, by J.K. McKee.

      Shalom,

      Al 

      Like

      • scoginbl@gmail.com says :

        Al,

        In your response to me you asked the question what standard governs non Jewish believers. Perhaps the question can be better asked what standard governs New Covenant believers?

        In John 1:17 we read,

        For the law was given to Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

        And again in Romans 10:4 we read,

        For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

        And Paul tells us in Galatians 3:24-25,

        Therefore the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may he justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

        Thus my answer based on the above verses is that new covenant believers consisting of both Jew and Gentile are governed by faith in Christ alone. This faith is worked out by the presence of Christ, the incarnate Word of God living inside of us who believe in him. Paul expresses this thought in Galatians 2:20 where he declares,

        I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.

        I might add the above verse describes Paul dying to the law by being crucified with Christ.

        The presence of Christ Himself living in us is the presence of the Holy Spirit. In 1st John 3:24 we are told,

        We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

        This is why Paul can tell.us in Galatians 5:18,

        But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

        And again in Galatians 5:16,

        But I say walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.

        There are more New Testament verses I could cite about the rule of the believer being the Holy Spirit. Certainly Romans 8 in the opening verses speak of the believer being governed by the Holy Spirit and the futility of living under the Law.

        For the believer who tries to live his Christian life by obeying the Law he will be headed for a Romans 7 experience. A defeated walk with Christ.

        I think to sum up New Covenant believers are governed by Jesus Christ living within them through His Holy Spirit.

        By Him,

        Blaine

        Sent from my Sprint phone.

        Like

      • blaine scogin says :

        Al,

        You ask by what standard are non Jewish believers governed by. The question can be better asked what or better who governs New Covenant believers? My answer. The Holy Spirit.

        Paul tells us in Rom. 5:6,

        But now that we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldest of the letter.

        In Gal.5:18 we are told,

        But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

        Indeed the indwelling Holy Spirit will produce His fruit of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against these things their us no law.(Gal.5:22-23).

        By Him,

        Blaine

        Like

      • The Barking Fox says :

        Good evening Blaine.

        Thanks for your response. If it were true as you say that a Believer trying to live the Christian life by obeying the Law will be headed for a defeated walk with Christ, then surely I would have given up in despair on this Torah-observant lifestyle long ago. However, I have been living in accordance with Torah (the Law) in ever increasing measure for well over a decade. I can testify that my life in Christ is far from defeated, and that the walk of faith for myself and my family has been one of ever greater victory, ever increasing blessing, and ever deeper understanding of the whole Word of God. This is true for the Messianic Believers I know, most of whom are not Jewish. None of us are even close to having this walk all figured out. It is a constant process to search the Scripture and learn to apply what it says, but it is the greatest adventure we have ever undertaken.

        I used to have these same questions you have posed, but now am quite satisfied with the full counsel of Scripture on these matters. Let me ask you a few more questions. This will help me understand your point of reference and clarify our communication.

        1. What are the specifics by which New Covenant Believers are to live? How is it that the Holy Spirit leads us into righteousness and holiness? How do we even know it is the Holy Spirit leading us? Is there anything in scripture that can put some meat on the bones of a nebulous assertion that we live by faith through the Presence of the Holy Spirit in us? (Suggestion: see what Moses, David, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel said about this subject, particularly Deuteronomy 29:4, 30:6; Psalm 119:9-16; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27-28.)

        2. What do you think “under the Law” means? What do you think Paul thought it meant? And if Paul thought it meant that Believers in Yeshua are no longer subject to any portion of God’s Torah, why did he teach and write from Torah and instruct others to do the same? (See Acts 13:13-52, 17:1-4, 9-12, 18:1-4, 24-29; II Timothy 2:15-16, 3:14-17).

        3. Are Law and Grace opposites of one another? If so, how? If not, how do they work together?

        Shalom,

        Al

        Like

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