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
After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem.Acts 21:15
But the Jewish believers here in Jerusalem have been told that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They’ve heard that you teach them not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come. “Here’s what we want you to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow. Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumours are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws.Acts 21:21-24
Did Paul fulfill all of the vow or just a part?
There is only a passing mention made to the vow Paul made. We are told very clearly that he cut his hair but we are not told anything more about Paul fulfilling any other requirements of the Nazarite vow. But in fairness it is less likely that we would be told specifically about Paul’s abstinence from grapes and fermented drink or not touching corpses. What is in focus is just the shaving of the hair on his head. Having drawn attention to that aspect we ought to then hear that Paul had taken the hair to the temple in Jerusalem to complete the vow in the correct way.
Did Paul complete the vow by visiting the temple in Jerusalem?
There are two occasions when Paul could have taken the hair to the temple in Jerusalem. When he visited Jerusalem in Acts 18:22 or when they went to Jerusalem in Acts 21:15. Yet there are problems with fitting in a visit to the temple on each of these occasions. Some claim there was an urgency about Paul in leaving Corinth in Acts 18. That is certainly true. The suggestion has been made that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Jerusalem. The inference being that that he had to fulfil the vow by taking his hair to the temple. Yet no mention is made of taking the hair to the temple and there is no mention of the temple. He only makes a brief visit to the church in Jerusalem and then he is off again. Remember this portion of Acts is very brief and Luke adds no detail at all related to the completion of a Nazarite vow.
Most commentators if they mention the vow and the need to take the hair back to the temple fit it into Paul’s visit in Acts 21:21-24. Some suggest Paul even pays for the cost of sacrifice for the other four men and that Paul attached himself to them. The idea being that this was when Paul took his hair to the temple to fulfil his vow. I don’t agree. If there was an urgency for Paul to leave Corinth and go to Jerusalem, and if it was because of the vow he had made we would expect Luke to add the details related to the fulfilment of the vow. Yet all Luke writes is “From there he went up and visited the church at Jerusalem and then went back to Antioch.” That is hardly when it happened.
The next alternative is in Acts 21:21-24. Here clearly there is connection with four others fulfilling their vows. Hence this is when it must have happened. There is difficulty with this as well. Again, Luke doesn’t not draw our attention to the fact that this is when Paul fulfilled his vow. We would expect him to make mention of the fact. But if it is at this point that Paul fulfills his vow there are major problems. Clearly then, there was no urgency when Paul left Corinth in Acts again if it took him until Acts 21 to take his hair to the temple. During the intervening time Paul has travelled to many places and stopped by Jerusalem twice. Luke has even joined the team again by the second visit with the mention of “we” in “we packed our things” (Acts 21:15). Even more to the point any urgency seen in Acts 18 related to the getting the hair back to the Jerusalem within the thirty-day period has gone by the wayside if it was not delivered until the second visit to Jerusalem following Paul spending time in Ephesus (Acts 19) and time with the Ephesian elders in Miletus (Acts 20).
No I don’t think this was a true Nazarite vow. Which begs the question as to Paul’s motivation for making a vow at all.
What was his motivation for taking such a vow?
Some of you have suggested the follow motives:
- Perhaps Paul might have wanted to take a vow to God in the hope that his journey to Jerusalem would be safe.
- Perhaps this was because he wanted the freedom to eat and drink what he wanted in order not to offend people on his journeys (cf. 1Cor 9-10).
- Maybe Paul made the vow in response to the protection given him by God in Corinth.
Commentators have come up with the following:
Regarding the motives of his journey to Jerusalem. (1) As afterwards, in Acts 20:3-4, he may have wished, in carrying out the terms of the compact with the Church of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10), to be the bearer of alms collected for the disciples there. By some writers, however, this visit is identified with that of which St. Paul there speaks. (2) The vow which he had taken required a visit to the Temple for its completion.
1. The strong feeling of thankfulness for deliverance from danger, following upon fear which, as in nearly all phases of the religious life, has been the chief impulse out of which vows have grown. We have seen the fear, and the promise, and the deliverance, in the record of St. Paul’s work at Corinth, and the vow of self-consecration, for a season, to a life of special devotion was the natural result. St. Paul had not learnt to despise or condemn such expressions of devout feeling. 2. His desire to be “all things to all men,” and, therefore, as a Jew to Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20). A Nazarite vow would testify to all his brethren by blood that he did not despise the law himself nor teach other Jews to despise it. Such a vow, involving, as it did for a time, a greater asceticism than that of common life, furnishes a link in the succession of thoughts in 1 Corinthians 9:22-25, between the apostle’s being made “all things to all men” and his keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection.”
Paul did these things, so that those among the Jews who had come to believe might not be scandalized, he played the part of a Jew himself in order to win over the Jews.
Why Paul made this vow, or on what occasion, the sacred historian has not informed us, and conjecture, perhaps, is useless. We may observe, however:
(1) That if was common for the Jews to make such vows to God, as an expression of gratitude or of devotedness to his service, when they had been raised up from sickness, or delivered from danger or calamity. It is possible that Paul may have made such a vow in consequence to signal deliverance from some of the numerous perils to which he was exposed.
(2) There is reason to think that it was mainly with a design to convince the Jews that he did not despise their law, and was not its enemy.
It seems to have been the act of Aquila alone.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown
This explains the haste with which he leaves Ephesus (Act 18:21), and the subsequent observance, on the recommendation of the brethren, of a similar vow (Act 21:24). This one at Corinth was voluntary, and shows that even in heathen countries he systematically studied the prejudices of his Jewish brethren.
I agree with Barnes that any conjecture is useless. That Luke doesn’t place much emphasis on the vow but only mentions it in passing and then races through Paul’s journeying to many places on one night stands suggests it is not Luke’s major focus in this section.
I feel I have answered your questions sufficiently now and intend to move on. I vow not to mention the vow again.
It’s time to stop thinking small, dreaming small, It’s time to break through self-imposed limitations. Move on.Ian Vail
Forget the cats, the only thing a healthy curiosity can kill is ignorance!Ian Vail
Most people will never accomplish the long term great because they settle for the short term good.Reg Saddler
The Problems You Solve Determine The Future You Create.Robb Thompson