Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after that, then said good-bye to the brothers and sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea. There he shaved his head according to Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow. They stopped first at the port of Ephesus, where Paul left the others behind. While he was there, he went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews. They asked him to stay longer, but he declined. As he left, however, he said, “I will come back later, God willing.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. The next stop was at the port of Caesarea. From there he went up and visited the church at Jerusalem and then went back to Antioch. After spending some time in Antioch, Paul went back through Galatia and Phrygia, visiting and strengthening all the believers.Acts 18:18-23
Commentators are much divided over a number of issues related to Paul and the vow he took.
Firstly was it Paul who made the vow or was it actually Aquila?
Commentators are divided in opinion, whether this is spoken of Aquila or Paul. The grammatical structure of the Greek sentence makes it possible to refer the words to Aquila as well as Paul. The options which arise from long discussion over centuries among the commentators are:
- Paul is the subject of the verb (the verb is singular)
- Aquila is the subject of the verb (the verb is singular)
- Paul and Aquila are the subjects of the verb (the verb is plural)
Perhaps it was from feeling the difficulty of deciding who was under the vow that the Ethiopic and two Latin versions, instead of κειραμενος, having shaved, in the singular, appear to have read κειραμενοι, they shaved; and thus putting both Paul and Aquila under the vow.
But really after centuries of discussion there can hardly be a shadow of a doubt that Paul alone is meant.
Clarke writes: who was it that shaved his head? Paul or Aquila? Some think the latter, who had bound himself by the Nazarite vow, probably before he became a Christian; and, being under that vow, his conscience would not permit him to disregard it. There is nothing in the text that absolutely obliges us to understand this action as belonging to St. Paul. It seems to have been the act of Aquila alone; and therefore both Paul and Priscilla are mentioned before Aquila; and it is natural to refer the vow to the latter.
Barnes writes: many interpreters have supposed that this refers to Aquila, and not to Paul. But the connection evidently requires us to understand it of Paul, though the Greek construction does not with certainty determine to which it refers. The Vulgate refers it to Aquila, the Syriac to Paul. But if Aquila had taken the vow he too would have had to go to Jerusalem instead of remaining at Ephesus.
Yet there are certainly some weighty reasons why the vow should be referred to St. Paul, and not to Aquila; and interpreters are greatly divided on the subject. Chrysostom, Isidore of Seville, Grotius, Heinsius, Hammond, Witsius, Zegerus, Erasmus, Baronius, Pearce, Wesley, and many others conclude it was Aquila who made the vow.
Whereas Jerome, Augustin, Bede, Calmet, Whitby, Doddridge, Dodd, Rosenmuller, Ellicott, Macknight and many others, prefer Paul. Each party has its strong reasons – the matter is doubtful – the bare letter of the text determines nothing: yet “I (Barnes) cannot help leaning to the latter opinion.”
Most modern critics opt for Paul. Almost all translations read [keiramenos – singular] and not [keiramenoi – plural]. The weight of the textual evidence in Greek manuscripts is singular. Furthermore, once a Nazarite vow had been made the one making the vow was compelled by Jewish law to have gone to the temple in Jerusalem and offered the hair on the altar there. No sacrifice of this nature could be offered anywhere else but in the temple in Jerusalem. This marked the completion of the vow. However, some commentators have unearthed a ruling that if a Nazarite vow was taken outside of Jerusalem, the one making the vow could save the hair and take it back to Jerusalem within 30 days and burn it at the altar in the temple in Jerusalem.
That being the case the text makes it clear that Paul was the only one of the two, to immediately head for Jerusalem. Aquila stayed on in Ephesus while Paul headed off to Jerusalem with some urgency it seems. Thus the one taking the vow must have been Paul, not Aquila. In addition to that, there are no less than nine verbs (participles) in the passage from verse 18 to verse 23. Eight of those participles refer to Paul. It stands to reason that the nineth verbal participle, [keiramenos], ought to refer Paul as well. For that one verb to refer to Aquila while all the others refer to Paul would be strange to say the least.
This may seem overkill for me to spend this amount of time on the discussion as to whether it was Paul or Aquila who made the vow. But it was debate which has raged for centuries among the “experts”. Now that some of the Deeper Bible participants can consult the commentaries after having completed DB 401, some have discovered the notion that it could have been Aquila who made the vow. Thus I needed to address the issue here.
There are more of these “issues” to come. Watch this space. The next issue we will address will be that of whether it was a Nazarite vow or not.
Vows are powerful things; they set things in motion.John Wright
When I make a vow to God, then I would suggest to you that’s even stronger than a handshake in Texas.Rick Perry
Your marriage vows are most important in those moments when they are most difficult to keep.Dave Willis
Broken vows are like broken mirrors. They leave those who held to them bleeding and staring at fractured images of themselves.Richard Evans