(KJV)Acts 21:21-24

And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. [22] What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. [23] Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; [24] Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.

(KJV)Acts 21:13

Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

(KJV)Galatians 1:10

For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

(KJV)Galatians 5:1-2

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. [2] Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

Paul said he would rather die for Christ than please men yet when he came to Jerusalem he compromised by agreeing to undergo the nazarite purification vow, when he had in no uncertain terms taught the Galatians to stand fast in their convictions & not be ensnared with the yoke of bondage. Does this not look like double dealing,it is designed to deceive or gratify the believing Jews & make them believe that Paul actually conformed to the ceremonial law,when his conduct among gentiles showed that he did not

  • First of all you should not use KJV quotes which are difficult to understand or read.
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 9:05
  • Paul opposed circumcision (especially for Gentiles) only as submission, allegience or subscription to Mosaic law [ie. when circumcision or the law is viewed as necessary for justification; as the teachings of judaizers]. His anti-circumcision teaching should be viewed in context to his gentile audience. He'd have no objection to Jews continuing certain ritual customs even in new covenant; as a sign of keeping jewish roots. A number of commentators note that, in a sense, Paul became a Jew that he might win the Jews (1Co 9:22).
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 9:19

5 Answers 5


It is important not to conflate the actual writings of the apostle Paul (Galatians) with an account written several decades later by an author who had not actually known Paul. While tradition may say that Luke, whom Paul knew at least when he wrote to Philemon, wrote Acts of the Apostles, the book itself was anonymous and makes no claim to authorship by Luke. If Paul is contradicted by what is written in Acts it is because the author of Acts misunderstood Paul, not because Paul was "double dealing".

Dennis E. Smith and Joseph B. Tyson say, in Acts and Christian Beginnings, page 262, that:

James informs Paul of certain suspicions about him, namely that he has been teaching Jewish believers to cease circumcising their sons and observing Torah. James also proposes a way for Paul to prove his fidelity to Torah, by supporting four members who are under a vow. Paul readily accepts this remedy, undergoes a ritual of purification, and goes to the temple to give notice about the completion of the vow.

So, yes, within the context of Acts, Paul does compromise his strongly held values, seeking to avoid a charge for which there was no basis. That he had only a few verses earlier asserted his willingness to die for his beliefs and values would support the appearance of duplicity on the part of Paul, if this episode was historically true.

Although Acts portrays the Jews as suggesting violence against Paul almost everywhere he went, the evidence of Paul's own epistles is that he was not at loggerheads with the Jews to any great extent. His greatest wish was to convert the Jews, but he was resigned to the futility of even attempting to do so. The historical Paul was most unlikely to have taken a Nazarite vow, so we should regard Acts as being in error in reporting this and in implying duplicity on his part.

  • @ Dick,without debating the authorship of Acts but still within its context did not Paul circumcise Timothy yet refuse to do the same to Titus, should we disregard the whole contents of the book of acts because of the uncertainity of the authorship Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 4:11
  • @collenndhlovu It is the consensus of critical scholars that when contradictions or inconsistencies exist between Paul's epistles and Acts, then the epistles should generally be accepted as historical and the account in Acts be ignored, at least to the extent of the inconsistency. Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 4:39
  • 2
    makes no claim to authorship -- except that pesky "we", of course.
    – Susan
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 6:51
  • @Susan That pesky "we" intimates some first-hand knowledge, either on the part of the author or of his source, but is not a claim to be Luke. The book is now considered to be written too late to have really been from another contemporary of Paul. Perhaps I should have made that clearer. Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 7:01
  • 2
    Thanks, your edit resolves my nitpicking quibble (though to my way of thinking one can't really adduce the book's own lack of claim to the contrary as support for a late date, since the narrator does cast himself in the 1st C. narrative).
    – Susan
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 8:50

Acts 21:17-25 (NRSV)

Paul Visits James at Jerusalem

17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.

21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.

25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled[a] and from fornication.

Paul did not compromise his Christian principles.

Paul returned to Jerusalem after a successful missionary tour among the Gentiles, they all praised God, then the Elders and the Apostles said to him.

Acts 21:20-21(NRSV)

“You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.”

Paul humbly complied and went through and did the rites of purification with the four men under vow.

This request did not violate the new Christians truths, as it was, what God had prescribed under the law. Paul humbly complied so that he would not be a stumbling block for all the newly converted Jewish Christians which they zealously still practiced many rites of the Law. By doing so Paul showed that Christians respected God’s arrangements. The rites under the Law ended when the Romans in 70 C.E. destroyed the temple, and so no longer were a hinders to Christians.

Had Paul not complied, many Jews would not associate with Christians as it would be considered that Christians lacked respect for God’s arrangements, The Sanhedrin would perhaps declare Christianity an apostasy and Jews that associated with Christians would be punished . Also Jewish converts to Christianity would be prevented from witnessing in the temple and the synagogues.

Albert Barnes concludes in regard to Acts 21:21-25:

The sum of the whole matter is this, that when the observance of the Jewish ceremonial law was urged as necessary to justification and acceptance with God, Paul resisted it; when it was demanded that its observance should be enjoined on the Gentiles, he opposed it: in all other cases he made no opposition to it, and was ready himself to comply with it, and willing that others should also.
-- Notes Explanatory and Practical on the Acts of the Apostles by ALBERT BARNES, p293

Barnes had much more to say before he drew this conclusion, and I would highly recommend taking the time to read the entirety of his comments on these verses.

  • +1 I have added Barnes' conclusion and simplified the reference to his work. If this is not satisfactory please edit to your liking.
    – enegue
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 2:21

To clearly answer the Q, we need to clarify a number of points. What was Pauls beliefs / teachings, what did James /elders & Jesus teach. What & why was Paul preaching what he was. Was he compromising for the good or advised to do so, or simply being ‘humble’, ‘courteous’, ‘pragmatic’ in an attempt to recruit. Or was he being ‘contradictory’ /‘hypocritical’.

Sub sections:

  1. Pauls teachings about the Law
  2. Reason for his teaching
  3. was Paul being humble, courteous, his letters take precedence etc…
  4. What did James the ‘Just’, Peter, elders, Jesus teaching
  5. Warnings i) general warnings ii) Revelation / Ephesians
  6. Conclusion

1 Pauls teachings

Acts 13:39 "Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses

Romans 9:16 - 16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9, NIV)

Romans 7:6 “But now we are ***released from the Law.. ***we serve not under the old written code but under the new life of the Spirit”.

Romans 4:5 "To the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness".

Roman 3:7 - But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto his glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner?

“…not a single human being will be made righteous in God’s sight through observance of the Law. For through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”. (Romans 3:20)

Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Eph 2:8-10 - For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life

“He (Jesus) brought the hostility to an end, by abolishing the Law of commandments with its regulations”. (Ephesians 2:14)

Galatians 1:12 For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:19-21 19 For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.

Titus 2:14 - 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

“the Scripture has all men imprisoned under sin” (Galatians 3:22)

Galatians 2:16 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

Gal. 5:4 "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace".

Galatians 5:1-4 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. [2] Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Titus 1:10-16 - 10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law!” (Romans 3:31).

Note: The last passage above is a bit confusing / contradictory – but the clear flavour is that Pauls position is that the old laws are abolished and saviour is by faith and not works.

2) Reason for his teaching what was Paul peaching and why?

Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: (Romans 15:20)

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1)

“Christ has ransomed us from the curse of the Law in as much as He became a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13)

1 Corinthians 9:22 ‘….I have become all things to all men …..’

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” – Romans 2:16 “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began…” – Romans 16:25

“Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:” – 2 Timothy 2:8

“I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole Law” (Gal5:2).

But now we are released from the Law.. we serve not under the old written code but under the new life of the Spirit” (Romans7:6).

1 Corinthians 7:40 40In my judgment, however, she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10

2 Timothy 1:11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by guile.

Note: from the above it is clear from the above passages that Paul’s teachings are HIS OWN, not of the Jesus This is Pauls Gospel

3) was Paul being humble / should Pauls letters take precedence over Acts etc…

The way I read Acts – there were rumours about Paul, which the Apostles understood were false. They advised Paul to do this to show that the rumours are not true. Paul never corrects then or says anything even though it is clear from his letters he was opposed to the law.

From Pauls preaching certainly was not humble, if anything he boasts about his own credentials and creating his own Gospel and believing he is the ‘master’ builder of the gospels & an Apostle, albeit only 12 Apostles.

He was not a leader or a main figure (this all came well after the apostles). No authority was given to him by the Apostles. They even choose men among them to send with Paul & Barnabas Acts 15:22 – clearly low in the pecking order.

Not only did he do what he was told he even purified himself.

The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. [Acts 21:26]

Paul’s message & practice are at odds.

4) What did James the ‘Just’, Peter, elders, Jesus teaching

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. [James 2:8-11]

James 2:20-24 - 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (2:26)

I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matthew 9:13)

Matt 23:3 3So practice and observe everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practic-es and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." [Matthew 5:17-20]

"So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:40-42)

"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (Matthew 7:23)

For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. (Mark 9:49)

"So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:28)

John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Revelation 2:20 - 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

Luke 16:17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

Blessed [are] the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. (Psalms 119:1)

Genesis 17:14 - Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that (for this purpose) He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness or us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us. [Deuteronomy 6:24-25]

Deuteronomy 30:15-16 - 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Note: from the above – it is clear that Jesus did not come to change the law or remove it. James and the apostles were strong in faith and there is no evidence that they would compromise.

5 i) WARNINGS general

Matthew 23:8–12 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:15 - 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. Matthew 24:24 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)

"`How can you say, "We [the Jews] are wise, for we have the law of the LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?' Jeremiah 8:8)"

Daniel 7:25 - He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.

Deuteronomy 13:5 - 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

Matthew 7:15 - Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

5 ii) Revelation / Ephesians

Revelation 2:1-6 The Message to Ephesus 2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false;

Ephesians 1:1 – Salutation - 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus:

Ephesians 1:10 - as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Acts 19:1 While Apol′los was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.

Acts 19:8-9 -8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; 9 but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyran′nus.

Acts 21: 27-28 27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place.”


  1. Paul practice and preaching are at odds
  2. Pauls teaching his own Gospel - “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. John 5:31
  3. Pauls teaching is at odds with Jesus & others
  4. Paul does not quote Jesus in his Gospels
  5. In relation to Acts – clearly rumors were spreading about Paul’s teachings
  6. Paul says nothing and does what he is told and even purifies himself contrary to his own teachings. Clearly, he had no authority

Peter was given all authority:
Matthew 16:18-19 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

  1. There are warning about false teachers
  2. Revelations 2 – talks about a false prophet preaching to the Ephesians and being rejected by the people. Paul preached and was rejected and confirms this himself - 2 Timothy 1:15
  3. Why was Paul preaching different to Jesus and the others;

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 - 19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul says - Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Jesus says: Matt 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

From Pauls own words, he will do whatever it takes to get followers

  • If you are going to slice and dice Scripture to make your point, perhaps your point is not consistent with the actual text...Galatians 2:1-10 deals specifically with another theory and it is clear the leaders of the church in Jerusalem understood and approved the Gospel Paul preached. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:48
  • In addition you have the Fourth Gospel, written years after Paul's death which affirms Paul's teachings and does so in the form of things which Jesus said. IOW, not only does the Fourth Gospel affirm the content of Paul's teachings, it affirms they are from Jesus Himself (as Paul claims Galatians 1:11-12). Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 16:38
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    @RevelationLad - Gal is Pauls words again - no one else - I've added a bit including Rev the false prophet to Ephesians. Paul clearly preaches different to Jesus. At best contradictory. Who is the messiah Paul or Jesus? Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:55
  • @another theory---If everything you say about Paul is true, why weren't all his writings thrown out of the Bible a long time ago? All that stuff does is confuse people, right?
    – moron
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 0:18
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    @moron 1) 2 Timothy 1:15 - 15You know that everyone in the Province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. [He was rejected - only later his writing were pushed forward] 2) Its not about confusion, its about finding the truth with the information we have - Paul contradicts Jesus in particular everything so its a matter of who you want to follow and never quotes his preaching. You may be interested in 'was Jesus forsaken' hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/62632/33268 Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 10:40

I agree we should consider Paul's writings as more authoritative that Acts in terms of his views, because the former are his own words while Acts is a second hand account at best. However, we need not conclude that Paul as asked to "compromise" or that he in fact did so. There are two possibilities regarding this: either 1) he thought it was more important to "win Jews" than to admit what he really taught, or 2) he in fact did not teach what his detractors said he did.

  1. 1 Corinthians 9:20 - To the Jews I became as a Jew

If Paul was using this principle, he was not "compromising." We was simply adopting a Jewish custom do accomplish a greater good.

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law.

This is similar to what he taught regarding eating food sacrificed to idols, which was forbidden in Acts but seen as neither here no there by Paul, because the idols are not really gods. Nevertheless he counsels following the Jewish custom of to do otherwise endangers the faith of others:

We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” ...However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through being hitherto accustomed to idols, eat food as really offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol’s temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? (1 Cor. 8:4-10)

In this scenario, Paul would not be compromising his own standards, but affirming a greater good: Jewish Christians worried that Paul was teachings Jews as well as Gentiles that they should abandon Jewish tradition. Paul himself did not follow Jewish customs but he realized it was more important to "become as a Jew, in order to win Jews." Admittedly this appears to be a compromise but not if winning Jews to Christ was a higher value than not appear to be a Jew.

  1. Paul Truly Did Not Teach Jews to Abandon Circumcision

“You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. (Acts 21:20-21)

After this appeal, Paul agrees to participate in the Temple ritual described above. If we accept that Paul really did so, then a second possibility is that he actually did not tell diasporan Jews (including Jewish Christians) to stop practicing the Law of Moses or to stop circumcising their sons. In this scenario, Paul's letters, since they are addressed to gentile churches, do not apply to Jewish Christians. So because Paul truly did not teach that Jewish Christians should stop circumcising their sons, he was more than happy to do what James and the elders requested.

To these possibilities we may add the answer that was accepted: 'If Paul is contradicted by what is written in Acts it is because the author of Acts misunderstood Paul, not because Paul was "double dealing".' This will be problematic to those who affirm that the Bible is inerrant, but scholarly investigations should not dismiss it.


None of the gospel have a author, they're all anonymous and its a well known fact that the names of the gospels were given later. They havent been authenticated to be the actual authors so dismissing this claim on the bases of it not being authentic is rather odd or else you will have to give up the rest of the new testiment.

James makes it clear, that he doesnt believe in what paul was preaching but rather he says it clearly that we have heard such rumors meaning James doesnt believe this rumors and that is confirmed when he says that you should go observe the law purify your self so people will know you weren't teaching against it and keep the law. Now as we all know Paul did teach against it and he didn't believe in keeping the law so its clear he was going against James and the church at the time.

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 3:52
  • You will need to provide some evidence for these unsupported assertions. Almost no book has the name of the author in the text and so most books, even modern ones are anonymous in the sense you assert. Please provide some references.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 21:41

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