Taking Paul’s Letters in Context – Paul and the Nazarite Vow


This is perhaps one of the greatest revelations I have ever had regarding the New Testament text. Be it Antinomianism, Marcionism, replacement theology, or this present day “cheap grace”, “counterfeit grace”, and “grace not law” teachings – all these heresies come from one source – Paul’s letters, or at least the misinterpretation thereof.

We should never go as far as to say that Paul is a false apostle as Peter himself, in one of his last epistles acknowledges Paul as a “beloved brother” in the Lord.

Paul One of the Twelve Apostles?

Somebody may say, Paul took Judas’ place as part of the Twelve. But that is not what the scriptures say. Let’s read it:

And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles. [Acts 1:24-26 NKJV]

Paul wasn’t part of the twelve. He never was, and never will be. Matthias took the place of Judas. Paul was never mentioned as part of the Twelve.

Therefore, Paul, not being part of the twelve, has less authority than the Twelve. Consider this: Paul never walked and talked with Yeshua as the Twelve did.

There is no record of Paul ever meeting Yeshua in the flesh, as the Twelve have.

So Jesus said to [the Twelve], “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [Matthew 19:28 NKJV]

Paul was not there. He was not part of the Twelve. But according to the Word of the Lord, He will be judged by the Twelve. He is under the Twelve. And more specifically, he is under the three – Peter, James, and John.

Peter’s Authority

The Apostle Peter is a great authority. He was hand-picked by Yeshua to be one of the original twelve. Think about how important it was to be part of the twelve. It says in Revelation that their names are written on the foundation of the New Jerusalem.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. [Revelation 21:14 NKJV]

Within those twelve apostles, there are three that are part of the “inner circle” of our Lord. Yes, Yeshua was close to the twelve, and the twelve were the closest of all people to the Lord. But among the twelve, Peter, James, and John were the closest to the Lord. They went where the other nine didn’t. They were undoubtedly partakers of a relationship with Yehoshua that was closer than the other nine.

If ever there were a dispute about Yeshua between one of the three, and one of the nine, it would be prudent to put your trust in one of the three above all others. They would know better. They have more of the “inside scoop”.

But more specifically, let’s look at Peter. Peter is one of the greatest figures of the church.

He was:

  • The first disciple to profess Yeshua as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
  • The first disciple to walk on the water.
  • The first to the tomb.
  • The first to preach the gospel in the Book of Acts.

Peter was one of the closest to the Lord. Part of the inner circle of disciples, along with James, and John.

Peter’s Warning

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. (2 Peter 3:14-16 *last written words of Peter)

As one of the primary pillars of the church in the New Testament, and one of the closest disciples of Jesus, Peter is to the church what Einstein is to physics.
If Einstein told you that an equation is ‘hard to understand’, you better believe it’s hard to understand!
Likewise, if Peter told us that some of Paul’s teachings are hard to understand, and people misinterpret them to their destruction, you better believe that people misinterpret them to their own destruction!

What is Peter talking about?

Peter gives us this very serious warning. But he doesn’t give any details about what he is referring to.

We have a problem. We need to find out what Peter is referring to. We need to do some troubleshooting. The key to simple troubleshooting – backtracking!
Let’s trace Paul’s steps and find when Peter had an issue with people misunderstanding Paul.

New Testament chronology

The following is a list of New Testament books that either a) refer to Paul, or b) are written by Paul:

First Thessalonians – 52-53 AD
Second Thessalonians – 52-53 AD
Galatians – 55 AD
First Corinthians – 57 AD
Second Corinthians – 57 AD
Romans – 57-58 AD
Philippians – 62-63 AD
Colossians – 62-63 AD
Philemon – 62-63 AD
Ephesians – 62-63 AD
Acts – 64 AD 
First Timothy – 65 AD 
Titus – 65 AD
Second Timothy – 66 AD 
Hebrews? – 67 AD
Second Peter – 68 AD

Our starting point is Second Peter, as this is where Peter’s warning is found. Doing a chronological back-trace, we find nothing in Hebrews, Second Timothy, Titus, or First Timothy that alludes to anyone misunderstanding Paul’s teachings.

But when we get to the book of Acts, we find our answer.

Acts 21

18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 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; 21 “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. 22 “What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.
Acts 21
24 “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. 25 “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.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them. 27 Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, [NKJV]

Acts 21 Summary

  • Paul comes ‘home’ to the church of the Apostles and shares the good news of many Gentiles receiving the Word of God.
  • One of the three of Jesus’ inner circle, James, and the elders (who most likely consisted of many of the original 12 Apostles) praised God for the work of God among the Gentiles.
  • James, and ALL the elders confronted Paul about the ‘rumors’ they heard: that he was telling others to forsake law (Torah) given by Moses.
  • They all require Paul to prove that this is not true by sponsoring four men in their Nazarite vows, AND taking a Nazarite vow himself
  • Paul agreed without any objections!

Nazarite Vow

The word “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word nazir: “consecrated” or “separated”.

The Nazarite vow is the strictest of all vows in the Torah.
A person taking a Nazarite Vow is required to:

  • Abstain from all alcoholic beverages
  • Abstain from grapes, grape-skins, grape-seed.
  • Abstain from cutting your hair
  • Not to come near any corpse, even that of a family member.

The person who takes the Nazirite Vow can take it for any amount of time. But after the period of separation is over a person taking a Nazarite vow must present a variety of offerings, including:

  • a lamb as a burnt offering (olah),
  • an ewe as a sin-offering (hatat),
  • and a ram as a peace offering (shelamim),
  • a basket of unleavened bread,
  • grain offerings and drink offerings, which accompanied the peace offering.

They would also shave their head in the outer courtyard of the Temple (the Jerusalem Temple for Judaism) and then place the hair on the same fire as the peace offering.
The Nazarite vow is explained in detail in Numbers chapter 6

Why a Nazarite Vow?

Why did James, and all the elders of the church ask Paul take a Nazarite vow?

The Nazarite vow is the most powerful sign of obedience to the Torah. It’s like making someone sky-dive to prove that they are not afraid of heights. It is the greatest proof of Torah observance.

The leaders of the church demanded Paul take the Nazarite Vow AND sponsor four other men in their vows because the Nazarite Vow provides the greatest proof of Torah observance.

Paul Changed!

One of the most amazing things we find is that after Paul was confronted by the church leaders, he changed the content, and tone of his letters. Let’s look again at the list of New Testament books in chronological order:

First Thessalonians – 52-53 AD
Second Thessalonians – 52-53 AD
Galatians – 55 AD
First Corinthians – 57 AD
Second Corinthians – 57 AD
Romans – 57-58 AD
Philippians – 62-63 AD
Colossians – 62-63 AD
Philemon – 62-63 AD
Ephesians – 62-63 AD
Acts – 64 AD 
First Timothy – 65 AD 
Titus – 65 AD
Second Timothy – 66 AD 
Hebrews? – 67 AD
Second Peter – 68 AD

If you read these books in chronological order, you will find that Paul changed his writing style after the book of Acts. In First Timothy, Titus, Second Timothy, and Hebrews, Paul did not say anything about the “law” being abolished, ended, changed, nailed to the cross, etc… etc…

Instead we read in Titus that the grace of God TEACHES us to DENY ungodliness and worldly passions. So then, Paul confirms that the grace of God is not the opposite of the Law of God, rather, they work hand-in-hand. The grace of God teaches us to obey the Law of God.

But why this drastic change in Paul’s letters? Why did Paul change his writing style so much after the book of Acts?

There are only three possibilities:

  1. It’s just coincidence.
  2. Paul repented.
  3. Paul realized that people didn’t understand it properly, thus he changed his approach.

Was Asking Paul to Prove Torah Observance a Mistake?

Were James and ALL the elders wrong in demanding Paul prove his allegiance to the Torah by taking a Narazite vow?

Did none of the senior leaders of the white-hot Book of Acts Bible-living church know that we don’t have to obey the Torah anymore because Jesus did it for us?

Why didn’t anyone object to the proposal of Paul taking a Nazarite vow?

Is Mainstream Christianity Wrong?

Mainstream Christianity teaches that we don’t have to follow the guidelines and instructions of God given by Moses because Jesus already did that for us.

Is Jesus supposed to be a replacement, or an example for us to follow? You can’t have both.

Vital Notes:

  • Paul not only sponsored 4 men in their Nazarite vows, he took the vow himself proving his allegiance to the Law (Torah).
  • Paul offered animal sacrifices, one of which was a sin sacrifice – after the cross!
  • No one objected.
  • Not one of the ‘church fathers’ or church leaders had a problem with it. Do you?

2 thoughts on “Taking Paul’s Letters in Context – Paul and the Nazarite Vow”

  1. Greetings Christopher! I have read and reread this article but I am having a hard time with some things you mention. How does it follow that because James and the other elders of the Messianic assembly in Jerusalem require Paul to sponsor 4 men in a Nazarite vow and he himself participate in said vow that Paul repented or “Paul realized that people didn’t understand it properly, thus he changed his approach?” Acts 21:21 clearly states that a rumor had been spread that Paul “teach(es) all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses (Torah) telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” How does one make the leap from Paul being asked to prove that he never forsook the Torah and disprove the lie about him teaching Jews to not observe the Torah to Paul realizing that Jews and Gentile God-fearers should all obey the Torah? To suggest that because there is a change in tone or “content” of Paul’s post-Acts letters implies that Paul recanted his “previous position on Torah observance regarding Gentiles” is tantamount to the church of Christ claiming that the use of instruments in worship is wrong because the New Testament is silent on the issue in the gospels and epistles and therefore condemned through omission. You ask, “But why this drastic change in Paul’s letters? Why did Paul change his writing style so much after the book of Acts? Could it be that Paul fails to mention previous teachings in later letters because he already established his teaching on those matters in previous letters? Acts 15:1-11 is clearly about one thing, whether salvation comes by circumcision, that is, Gentiles becoming legally Jewish or not. And then in verse 5 of Acts 15, some Pharisees arose and claimed circumcision is not enough but all converts must also observe the entire Torah! So, the matter is discussed at length and Peter stands up and gives a very powerful statement; “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” The issue is salvation and how that salvation is received. Peter agrees with Paul and Barnabus that salvation is not through going “under the law” (context is legal conversion to Jewish status) but through grace. Thank you for your article and thoughts concerning these matters I have raised!

    • You are correct that Acts 21:21 speaks of the Jews only. However, as you read on, in verse 25, the Gentiles are also mentioned, saying “the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.”
      So then, in Acts 21:25, the apostles bring down specific laws that Gentiles are required to keep.
      As a side note, if the Gentile Churches today actually followed these laws, how much better would the world be! – seeing that today Christians have many idols, eat what they want, and sleep around because they believe they are “under grace”, and not the law.
      Getting back to what you said – yes, Acts 15 is primarily about circumcision.
      My point is that in Acts 15, the apostles lay down a law on the Gentiles. They name several things they demand of the Gentile converts. How did they come up with them? I don’t think they just spun a wheel, or pulled them out of a hat. A proper understanding of Jewish culture and history shows that these laws are more-or-less what modern Jews call “The Noahide Laws”. The key here is to understand the beliefs, customs, and culture of the Jews.
      Taking all things in context(culture), the purpose of the Noahide Law structure is to be the first step in the door of Torah observance. The Noahide Laws serve as an initial step, just to get your foot in the door, until you learn more about God, and His ways. Even today, in many Jewish circles, the Noahide laws are the initial stage for Gentiles in Torah observance. It is important to note that it is not the be-all-end-all of Torah observance. It is just “Stage 1”. So then, the Gentiles are charged with the Noahide Laws, as an “introductory rate” to the Torah. God doesn’t expect any more from them – at least until they learn more. That is the true context, and understanding here.
      Finally, your use of the term “under the law” in concerning. A few years ago I did a public lecture on this term. There is much to be said. More than I can write here.
      However, to give you a little food for thought: During my lecture I asked if anyone in attendance was “under the weather”. No one raised their hands.
      Does that mean that no one in the room was subject to the weather? Does that mean that the sun doesn’t shine on anybody? Or the rain never falls on anybody? Does that mean everyone lived in space?
      I’m sure you know that it means that no one in the room was experiencing the negative effects of the weather. Simply stated, no one was sick.
      Paul, being a self proclaimed Pharisee ALL his life, a Jew, wrote his letters from that perspective. In order to understand his letters properly, we must understand Jewish doctrine, culture, and history. Having said that, the term “under the law” carried a very similar meaning as our modern term “under the weather”.
      Simply stated, it just means, experiencing negative effects from the law. And how would anyone experience negative effects of the law? If they were in violation of it, of course. So then, it all comes down to repentance. God doesn’t command anyone to do something that is too hard to do. He is not an unreasonable tyrant. He even said at the end of the Torah that it is not too difficult to obey. Most Christians today will tell you the opposite. They will tell you that it is impossible to obey God’s law. Of course, they are dead wrong.
      To make it even more clear: If you drive legally, obeying the law, then you are not “under the law”. But if you drive like a maniac, get caught for speeding and they drag you to court, then you are “under the law”.

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