(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
    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
    Dec 17, 2016 at 9:19

3 Answers 3


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 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. Dec 17, 2016 at 4:39
  • 1
    makes no claim to authorship -- except that pesky "we", of course.
    – Susan
    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. Dec 17, 2016 at 7:01
  • 1
    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
    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
    Jun 9, 2018 at 2:21

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
    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
    Mar 21, 2021 at 21:41

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