DID PAUL KEEP THE LAW?
T. PIERCE BROWN
It seems apparent that we have some brethren today who, in an effort to prove how sound they are, would even disfellowship Paul, or at least those who act and teach in a similar fashion. In Acts 21:21, we find the Apostles saying to Paul, “And they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” Then in verse 24, they say, “These take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges for them, that they may shave their heads: and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, keeping the law.”
Is there any indication in the teaching or action of Paul that he taught the Jews not to circumcise their children, nor to walk after the customs or keep the law? It may appear from Galatians 5:2-3 that he did, for it says, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ shall profit you nothing. Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is debtor to do the whole law.” An understanding of the context and related circumstances should make it clear that he is not talking about merely being circumcised. He had been circumcised. He had circumcised Timothy. It is certain that he did not mean that the act was sinful. The issue was concerning the necessity of being circumcised in order to be saved. Anyone who received circumcision or taught the necessity of it as a part of the gospel had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4) and would be accursed of God (Gal. 1:9).
There was nothing wrong with Paul or any other Jew walking orderly, keeping the law, observing the customs of the Jews as long as those customs were not made a part of the Christian system or corrupted the worship God ordained for a Christian. To illustrate: If Paul (or any Christian, whether he were a Jew or Gentile Christian) were living under Jewish law, and it was the law that no one in that territory work on the Sabbath day, then that person could properly obey that law. The fact that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding on Christians, and that includes the Sabbath commandment, has nothing to do with the fact that a Christian living in a Jewish land could obey that law. This is indicated in Acts 21:21 in the expression, “neither walk after the customs.”
I can think of no practice that the Jews did which would be wrong for Paul or any Jew to do. The practice, if it were done as a required act of worship, service or religious activity, is a different thing, and would pervert the gospel plan. For example, it was wrong for a Jew to eat pork. A Jew or Gentile Christian could “obey the law” and refuse to eat pork and be acceptable to God (Rom.14:2-3). For a person to make a law for a Christian, whether he is a Jewish or Gentile Christian, not to eat pork would be a sin. We can even go a step beyond that. Under the law of Moses, one was commanded to tithe of his income. One may obey that law, even as a Christian.
A slightly different situation is found if one goes into the matter of burning a sheep or a cow on an altar. Note carefully, as we have previously indicated. The mere act of roasting the meat on an altar is not wrong. If one does it as an act of worship, or in any way makes it a part of the Christian system, he has fallen from grace. One may take a vow, shave his head, bring offerings to his nation, or do various other things that Paul did as a Jew without transgressing God’s law or being inconsistent.
The principle that Paul taught about not eating meat offered to idols lest your weak brother is caused to stumble (1 Cor.10:28-32) would apply here. Paul expresses it this way in 1 Cor. 9:19-21, “For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law.” When he was around Jews, he acted as if he were under the law, or obeyed their laws, but we never have an example of his doing it in such a fashion that he compromised the truth of the gospel. If some Jew had sought to introduce the sacrifice of an animal, instrumental music, or any other unauthorized practice into the worship or to make it a part of the Christian system, we have no doubt that Paul would have opposed it with the same severity with which he opposed the circumcision of Titus. The awareness that there were laws that had to do with the nation of Israel (civil laws) as well as laws that related to how God wanted to be worshipped (religious laws), might help us to understand how Paul could obey the law without subverting the gospel. If he or an angel from heaven taught anything as a part of the Christian system that Christ had not authorized, he would be accursed.