May 10, 2011

Paul, the Law, and Acts: Part 1

The presentation of Paul’s relationship to the Mosaic Law in Acts is complicated. On the one hand, the apostle is often identified as one of, if not the main, Law-free proponent in Acts. There is substantial evidence to support this contention (13:39; 15:1–2; 18:13; 21:21, 28). On the other hand, there is also ample evidence that suggests that Paul was pro-Law. For example, Paul often starts his ministry in a new city in the local synagogue (e.g., 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8) and appears to observe the Sabbath (13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). In these synagogue visits, Paul apparently taught from the Law and the Prophets (see 13:15; cf. 17:2; 28:23). Paul circumcises Timothy (16:3). Paul takes at least one vow which many link to a Nazarite vow (18:18; cf. Num 6:1–21) and possibly another (21:23–26). At the very least, Paul participates in certain purification rites as an indication of his commitment to the Mosaic Law (21:26). Paul appears to desire to or at least attempts to keep the Law-ordained feasts on at least one occasion (20:16). Paul affirms his training in the Law (22:3). Paul states that he had fulfilled his duty to God, which likely at least included some Law observance in all good conscience (23:1), and has kept the Law (22:3; 25:8; 26:4–5; 28:17). Paul appeals to the Law (23:3; 28:23; see also 26:22). Paul also offers an apology of sorts on the basis of the Law (23:5; cf. Exod 22:28/22:27 LXX). In his appearance before Felix, Paul confesses to “believe everything according to the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (24:14).

In part 2, I want to examine and evaluate the evidence for a pro-Law Paul in Acts.

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