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Does Acts 21:20–26 tell us that it is OK for a Christian Jew to continue to observe Jewish rituals?

Paul's letter to the Galatians tells us that Gentile Christians do not need to keep the Law of Moses and the Jewish rituals. Even that no one can be saved by keeping the Law of Moses, an impossible task. But doesn't Acts 21:20–26 tell us that it is OK for a Christian Jew to continue to observe Jewish rituals as a matter of Jewish customs.

You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 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 walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, 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 has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. -- (Acts 21:20–26, ESV)

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Is it OK for a Christian Jew to continue to observe Jewish rituals?

Yes, of course it is (depending upon what is meant by "rituals"). God and Israel made a covenant, and it would be quite appropriate for someone that has been part of that covenant to continue following its obligations.

But that isn't what this scripture is about. It is talking about Gentiles, and whether they should be expected to convert to Judaism as part of the process of converting to Christianity. The answer is that no, they are not part of that covenant, so there is no such obligation on them (so obviously circumcision, the sign of that covenant, is not relevant).

Further, it goes on to say that even though as Christians, they will be expected to obey God's Laws (those that aren't specifically part of the Israelite covenant), initially as proselytes they should not be forced to follow all of God's Laws yet. Meeting the Noahide standard (idols, strangled, etc.) will be sufficient to start with.

As these proselytes study the scriptures and learn God's ways, they will eventually accept and follow all of God's laws, and will eventually become converts to Christianity.

See my answers to Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers? - Christianity Stack Exchange and Did the Jerusalem council allow believers to eat e.g., rabbit meat? and the links it contains.

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  • I'm thinking in terms of Messianic Jews, and how in the past Jews who became Christians were pushed by Christians to abandon their Jewish heritage.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 21:40

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