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.
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.” (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:
- 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.
- 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.
 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)