Sha’ul or you may know him as Paul has a certain way of writing. His letters cause all sorts of confusion. 2 Peter 3:15b-16 says just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Peter tells us Paul is hard to understand and the untaught and unstable distort not only Paul’s teachings but all of Scripture. Yet so many believe they can read Paul’s letters and understand what he is saying without any effort. The purpose of today’s message is about Paul and who he was and what did he practice.
Paul tells us in Acts 23:6 that he is a Pharisee. Take notice this is not right after his vision on the road to Damascus. This was 25, 30 years later. He called himself a Pharisee and is a son of Pharisees. What do you think this implies?
In Acts 22:3 Paul tells us he was born in Tarsus, but grew up in Jerusalem. He was educated under Gamaliel, which if it was not the best it was second best Yeshiva at that time. To be accepted in the Yeshiva he would have had to display a knowledge and understanding of the Torah beyond the average person. It is similar to be accepted to Harvard or MIT today. Paul was well educated in Judaism, more than likely from a wealthy family, and at least considered himself a Pharisee.
Now that we understand a bit of his background, let’s look at a few of his actions. In Acts 25 Paul defends himself and says “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.” In other words Paul is saying he has not transgressed against Torah. In Acts 18:18 we are told he had his haircut for he was keeping a vow. What kind of vow would this be? It is logical to believe it was a Nazarite vow based on Acts 21. Let’s take a look.
Starting in Acts 21:17, we are told Paul met with James and all the elders. They discussed Paul’s ministry and say see how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed and they are all zealous for the Law. Here it is clear that Paul is still teaching Torah. Paul is then told of a rumor that he does not teach the Law. So they devise a plan to show that he still kept the law. This plan included purifying himself (mikvah), pay the expenses for 4 others so they can shave their heads. Then in v26 they go to the temple and offered a sacrifice. All part of the Nazarite vow.
I did skip over one verse that I think is important. The verse is 24b which says “and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.” This was Paul’s opportunity to state that he does not teach Torah. Did he? No! Some say this was Paul being all things to all people. I ask you, does that sound like Paul? A man who was arrested, beaten almost to death, and stood up to Peter, an elder. Paul does not sound like a man that is wishy washy or is trying to please people. The verse where Paul says he is being all things to all people is taken out of context. In Acts 24:14, Paul says that he believes everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.
It is clear from Scripture that Paul was Torah observant. To observe the Torah you cannot teach not to observe the Torah. Therefore, we know Paul was not only Torah observant, but taught Torah observance. When looking at Scripture it is best to know about the writer to get a better understanding of the writing. When looking at Paul’s letters one must understand Paul’s mindset and that it is thoroughly Jewish.
Next time we will dive into Galatians 4.