Help: Acts 21:17-26



This section of scripture makes it sound as though Paul were told by James to remain in compliance of the law, and to show that compliance by purifying himself and giving the offering in the temple. But this is after they had already declared (for gentiles at least) that the law (specifically circumcision) was not necessary, back in Acts 15.

So, does this scripture meant that the Jews were still to remain in compliance with the other aspects of the law, but were not to put their faith of salvation in the offering of the sacrificial lamb since that is what Chris came for?

I hope this makes sense. If someone could clarify this section for me, I’d greatly appreciate it. Thank you very much. God bless!


Elsewhere St Paul seems to explain such actions of his, saying, “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.” (1 Cor 9:20)


From the commentary on the 1941 Confraternity New Testament:

"21, 17-26: Jerusalem. 20. Thousands: in Greek “tens of thousands,” but used as a round number to indicate a great multitude. As at the beginning (2, 46), the converts continued to attend the services in the temple. 21. The charge was false, if it meant directly persuading Jewish converts to abandon their customs; but it was true in the sense that he taught that there was no longer any strict obligation for Jews to observe these customs. 23. Vow: the Nazirite vow. Their heads would be shaved on the seventh day, and the necessary sacrifice offered on the eighth. 24. Sanctify: since he had just arrived from the Diaspora St. Paul would need levitical purification, and besides he had still to offer the sacrifice for his own vow (18, 18). Since the hair was to be burnt in the fire of the sacrifice (Num. 6, 18), St. Paul perhaps again shaved his head. 25. We ourselves have written: at the Council of Jerusalem (c. 15). This is not an assertion of the authority of the church at Jerusalem over the other churches; it simply states the fact that there the assembled Apostles and presbyters, including St. Paul himself, had passed this decree. 26. Days of purification: in accord with Num. 6, 5.



…yeah there’s a lot going on in this passage:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]21:17 On our arrival in Jerusalem the brothers gave us a very warm welcome.

21:18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James, and all the elders were present.

21:19 After greeting them he gave a detailed account of all that God had done among the pagans through his ministry.

21:20 They gave glory to God when they heard this. ‘But you see, brother,’ they said ‘how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law, and

21:21 they have heard that you instruct all Jews living among the pagans to break away from Moses, authorising them not to circumcise their children or to follow the customary practices.

21:22 What is to be done? Inevitably there will be a meeting of the whole body, since they are bound to hear that you have come.

21:23 So do as we suggest. We have four men here who are under a vow;

21:24 take these men along and be purified with them and pay all the expenses. connected with the shaving of their heads.*a] This will let everyone know there is no truth in the reports they have heard about you and that you still regularly observe the Law.

21:25 The pagans who have become believers, as we wrote when we told them our decisions, must abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication.’

21:26 So the next day Paul took the men along and was purified with them and he visited the Temple to give notice of the time when the period of purification would be over and the offering would have to be presented on behalf of each of them

Verses 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25 – demonstrate that there’s a group consensus–St. James is not dictating norms.

Verse 19 – St. Paul speaks of what God has achieved among the Gentiles

Verse 20 – the council testify about the numerous conversion to Christianity from among Faithful Jews who uphold the Law

Verse 21 – there’s great danger that the Jews will fear conversion if they are commanded to shed the Law and their customs

Verses 22, 23, 24, 26 – speak about the observance of the Law and Jewish customs and their effort to contain the ensuing problems

Verse 25 – attempts to clarify that the Gentiles/pagans are being instructed to uphold that which is considered Sacred, yet, not being demanded of them to convert into Judaism before converting to Christianity

Consider this passage in the light of:

17 For the rest, what each one has is what the Lord has given him and he should continue as he was when God’s call reached him. This is the ruling that I give in all the churches. 18 If anyone had already been circumcised at the time of his call, he need not disguise it, and anyone who was uncircumcised at the time of his call need not be circumcised; 19 because to be circumcised or uncircumcised means nothing: what does matter is to keep the commandments of God. 20 Let everyone stay as he was at the time of his call.

(1 Corinthians 7:17-20)
The council, including St. Paul and St. James, are not embracing Judaism (Salvation through the practice and adherence to the Mosaic Law); rather, they are upholding the observance of the Law within Christ’s Teaching: Love God above all and neighbor as yourself.

The Jews must be taught the Christian values and culture; forced conversion is not valid and it’s devoid of value.

Maran atha!




Paul did not wish to give scandal to the Jewish community. It makes a nice counterpoint to those who claim that Paul rebuking Peter for seemingly going too far with this meant that the two were diametrically opposed and theologically in disagreement (they weren’t).



…actually, the council brought it to St. Paul’s attention; it was their estimation that through such scandal those who would convert to the Faith would lose their way and perhaps even derail those Jews that had already embraced Christianity (though the latter part of this statement is my own personal inference).

Maran atha!



So does that mean that Paul and Peter were both guilty of the same thing, that being that they, at some point during the Christian ministry, went back to living under the law as a Jew?


Interesting question and yes, it does seem like Paul caved in to the pressure. But perhaps it wasn’t like that really.

James says: “This will let everyone know there is no truth in the reports they have heard about you and that you still regularly observe the Law.”

But (it seems), the reports about Paul actually were true. He was teaching that there was no longer need for the observances of the Law that James was still holding on to.

So, was this a dishonest subterfuge?

Well, we don’t get the whole story. We know that Paul went along with James’ plan:

So the next day Paul took the men along and was purified with them and he visited the Temple to give notice of the time when the period of purification would be over and the offering would have to be presented on behalf of each of them.

What may have happened is that Paul went through the rituals and after explained that he did these things to show he wasn’t rejecting them, but that they have no benefit towards the saving truth of the Gospel and are not required for salvation.
In other words, it was like a cultural gesture. Like something we would do if we went to a Jewish seder meal, perhaps.

Paul was bold and used every opportunity for evangelisim and even showed admiration for pagan ideas (at the Areopagus).

And perhaps when Paul rebuked Peter it was different because it may be that Peter was giving the idea that the rituals of the Law were necessary.



…I think that we have to take the issue of the event into consideration… St. Paul is not reprimanding St. Peter for his behavior with the Gentiles; he is actually telling him that he (St. Peter) should not behave in one way while amongst the Gentile and then in a different way when the Jews would come to visit.

The Jews Converts considered themselves separate (more pious) from the Gentile Converts because they were circumcised and because they followed Mosaic Law; the Apostles were Teaching Salvation in Christ Jesus which brought about changes from the Mosaic Law and observances (such as circumcision)… since the practice of circumcision was mandated by Yahweh God, those who were circumcised in the flesh (Jews) did not need to somehow undo their circumcision… the converts to Christianity had to follow the New Covenant which no longer required the practices of the Mosaic Law; yet, some of the particulars (not eating sacrificed meat/things to idols, the Ten Commandments, One God…) needed to be upheld–the practices that implied that through these they “saved” man needed to be phased out:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]14 This is the reason, my dear brothers, why you must keep clear of idolatry. 15 I say to you as sensible people: judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16 The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. 17 The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf. 18 Look at the other Israel, the race, where those who eat the sacrifices are in communion with the altar. 19 Does this mean that the food sacrificed to idols has a real value, or that the idol itself is real? 20 Not at all. It simply means that the sacrifices that they offer they sacrifice to demons who are not God. I have no desire to see you in communion with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons.

(1 Corinthians 10:14-21)
So we have several planes:

  • Apostolic Teaching
  • Gentile Converts
  • Jew Converts
  • The rumor mills
  • The objections against the Way/Christianity
  • The realization that faithful Jews are turning to Christianity

The Old Covenant contained both transferable and nontransferable practices which the New Covenant would either uphold/fulfill or phase out… this is what is transpiring… lets consider this situation in the light of Jesus’ own Apostles:

12 I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. 13 But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come. 14 He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine. 15 Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said: All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.

(St. John 16:12-15)
There’s an Unfolding of the Truth that even Jesus’ direct Disciples could not stand (accept); it would take the Work of the Holy Spirit to bring them to the Fullness of the Truth. The same would be for the Jew Converts–they had to be convicted by the Holy Spirit–some would experience the ‘stripping of the bandage in a single stroke’… others might take more time to understand and accept the New Covenant.

…consider the work of the Apostles in the Temple and the synagogues… they did not begin their New Covenant practices in a new Body away from the Old Covenant… yet, as more opposition and rejection arose, the Church (worship outside of the Temple and the synagogues [St. John 4:20-24] would take place) sought her own medium for worship.

Maran atha!




I wrote this article in 2012. It has more in it than just your question. But I think it touches upon what you asked. It’s about the sometimes strained relationship between St. Paul and the other Apostles. See what you think, please:


I’ll definitely take a look at that. Thanks.

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