Acts of the Apostles 21.15-26
15 After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. 16Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20When 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. 21They 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. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24Join 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. 25But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgement that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled* and from fornication.’ 26Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.
After many warnings, Paul and the group with him arrive in Jerusalem. Some from the churches they had visited had come along, to bring the offering from those churches to the Apostles in Jerusalem, and some from Caesarea had also come. When they arrived, the church welcomed them. They went to see the Apostles and leaders of the church, at this time called elders – the James who was by then leading the church was James, the brother of the Lord, the disciple James having been killed by Herod years earlier. They were joyful at the reports Paul and his party brought about the work of the Lord among the Gentiles.
But now the elders warn Paul that there are many believers among the Jews in Jerusalem, and they adhere strictly to the Jewish law. They have heard that Paul is teaching Jewish believers who live among the Gentiles to neglect the law. To some extent, we know this to be true – Paul does teach that they should not obey the laws of separation – that is, laws that say they cannot eat with a Gentile or enter the home of a Gentile. But, we have also seen that Peter himself had gone against that law, although he seemed (in Paul’s letters) to vacillate in that regard. Paul himself had more or less kept the other laws, and had had his hair cut in order to fulfill a vow he had made, one of his reasons for coming to Jerusalem.
Now the elders suggest that Paul show his loyalty to the law and the temple by sponsoring some men who wish to fulfill a vow. And so, Paul goes through a purity ritual with the four men, pays to have their hair cut, and takes them to the temple, announcing the date of the completion of the vow. At that time, a sacrifice was to be made for each of them. Paul has now done exactly what the elders had asked of him – but we will see that does not stop the crowd from rioting against him.
There are always people who appeal to our baser nature as human beings. Demetrius, the silversmith had appealed to the citizens of Ephesus on the basis of their fear of economic loss, greed – the Christians had not yet impacted their income, but surely they would in the future! Fear! In Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians fear the loss of the temple faith that was important to them – they were clinging to the temple rather than to Jesus, letting go would feel like a loss, but the time of that loss was coming, and had nothing to do with Paul. Later, in Rome, Nero would blame the burning of Rome on the Christians, appealing to the need of the people to blame (they had been blaming him, and he needed another scapegoat). Paul and Peter would be executed in the persecution that followed. Consider this – if anyone is appealing to your baser nature – to fear or greed or the need to blame someone else for your own problems, then that is evil. Do not be persuaded!