In this message we shall continue to consider Paul’s situation in 21:18-26.
We have seen that, on the one hand, James and all the elders glorified God when they heard about the things God had done among the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry (vv. 18-20a). On the other hand, they pointed out to Paul that in Jerusalem thousands of Jews believed and were zealous for the law (v. 20). Furthermore, these believing Jews had been instructed concerning Paul that he taught “apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the customs” (v. 21). James and the elders went on to make the following requirement of Paul: “Four men are with us who have a vow on themselves; take these and be purified with them, and pay their expenses that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things of which they have been instructed concerning you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the law” (vv. 23-24). As we have seen, the vow mentioned here is the Nazarite vow (Num. 6:2-5). To be purified with the Nazarites was to become a Nazarite with them, joining them in their vow.
According to verse 24, Paul was told to be purified with the four men who had a vow on themselves and to pay their expenses. The first thing a Nazarite had to do was to purify himself in the presence of God. According to the custom at the time, the rich would often pay the expenses of the offerings needed for a Nazarite to complete his purification. Sometimes the poor Nazarites could not afford to pay for all the offerings. Thus, they needed someone to help them with the expenses. Those who helped the Nazarites in this way joined themselves to them.
Here in Acts 21, for Paul to be purified with the Nazarites and to pay their expenses was for him to be joined to them so that the four would then become five. In the words of James and the elders in Jerusalem, if Paul were to be purified with the Nazarites and pay their expenses, all the believing Jews would know that Paul himself also walked orderly, keeping the law. But was Paul keeping the law? He certainly was not keeping the law. Nevertheless, James and the elders told Paul to join himself to the four Nazarites so that the Jewish believers would see that he kept the law. This was a serious, terrible, and mistaken requirement made by James and the elders.
In 21:25 James and the elders said to Paul, “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should keep themselves from idol sacrifices and blood and anything strangled and fornication.” Their word here has the same old tone as that in chapter fifteen.
Acts 21:26 says, “Then Paul took the men on the following day, and having been purified with them entered into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of the purification, until the offering was offered for each one of them.” The completion spoken of here is the completion of the Nazarite vow (Num. 6:13).
I would call your attention to the word “having been purified.” Here we see that Paul had already been purified with the four Nazarites. He then took them into the temple and waited with them for the offering to be offered for each one. This time of waiting is indicated by the word “until.” Having been purified along with the four, Paul waited in the temple with them for the priest to come at the end of the completion on the seventh day to offer sacrifices for them all, including Paul.
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