Paul and the Nazarite Vow

The account of Paul's trip to Jerusalem and his Nazarite vow gives a clear picture of the apostles' and elders' views and practices about the existing temple worship system and justification under the old agreements with national Israel and justification under the new agreement established by Jesus Christ.

In order to establish the fact that Paul and others of the early church observed much of the temple worship system, it is important to understand that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow, which was part of the temple worship system. He had taken this vow sometime before going to Jerusalem. Moreover, once he was at the temple in Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices in conjunction with his vow.

"Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken" (Acts 18:18 NIV).

The only vow that required one to cut off all the hair on one's head was the Nazarite vow.


Numbers 6:1-21 Paraphrased

"And the Lord said to Moses, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When either a man or a woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves to the Lord. He or she shall separate from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no wine vinegar, or strong drink of vinegar, nor drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist or dried grapes' (vs.1-3).

"All the days of this separation nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk shall be eaten. All the days of the vow of this separation there shall no razor come on the head: until the days of separation are fulfilled to the Lord, and he or she shall be holy, and let the locks of the hair of the head grow' (vs.4-5).

"All the days of the separation to the Lord he or she shall not touch a dead body, nor become unclean for a father, mother, brother, or sister that dies: because of the consecration of God is on the separated one's head. All the days of separation he or she is holy to the Lord" (vs.6-8).

"And if anyone dies suddenly by one who is separated, and defiles the head of his consecration; then the head of the separated one must be shaved in the day of cleansing, on the seventh day the head shall be shaved. And on the eighth day the separated one shall bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation' (vs.9-10).

"And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for the separated one, because of the sin caused by touching the dead, and he or she shall hallow their head that same day. And shall consecrate to the Lord the day of separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because the separation was defiled' (vs.11-12).

"And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of separation are fulfilled: he or she shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And offer an offering to the Lord, one he-lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings' (vs.13-14).

"And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meal offering, and their drink offerings. And the priest shall bring them before the Lord, and shall offer his or her sin offering, and burnt offering' (vs.15-16).

"And he or she shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also the meal offering, and the drink offering. And the Nazarite shall shave the head of the separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of the separation, and put it into the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings' (vs.17-18).

"And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them on the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of the separation is shaved: And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine' (vs.19-20).

"This is the law of the Nazarite who has vowed, and of his or her offering to the Lord for the separation, beside that, that the separated one's hand shall get: according to the vow which was vowed, so he or she must do after the law of the separation' (v21).

In Acts, chapter 21, is the account of Paul and four others performing the process which would show that they had completed the commitment they had made through a nazarite vow:

"So shortly afterwards, we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. Some disciples from Caesarea accompanied us, and on arrival we were guests at the home of Mnason, originally from Cyprus, one of the early believers; and all the believers at Jerusalem welcomed us cordially. The second day Paul took us with him to meet with James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. After greetings were exchanged, Paul recounted the many things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his work" (Acts 21:15-19 LBP).

Zealous for the law

". . . You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20 NIV).

What is the law that is being referred to? Is it the Ten Commandments or some other law? As we review this event it will become apparent that the law referred to here is the sacrificial law which required the temple at Jerusalem for its practice.

Before coming to Jerusalem, Paul was accused of teaching the Jews to stop practicing the law of Moses:

"They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children. . ." (Acts 21:21 NIV).

Paul did not teach the Jews to turn away from the law that the Creator had given through Moses; he merely pointed out the fact that circumcision and the practice of the law would not justify a person before God:

"Be it known to you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39 Para.).

In order to show the Jews that he still believed and taught the laws of the temple system of worship, which did not pertain to justification, Paul was advised to participate in the rites of the Nazarite vow at the temple:

"What shall we do ? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (Acts 21:22-24 NIV).

It is extremely important to understand that Paul and the men spoken of here were converted Jews who had taken a Nazarite vow, which had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin or justification.

This event clearly shows that, as late as 56-57 A.D., Paul and the other apostles were teaching and practicing some of the laws that were a part of the first agreement.

"As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality" (Acts 21:25 NIV).

It is clear that the apostles knew it was not necessary for Gentile converts to participate in the temple worship system that God gave to Israel through Moses. However, they also knew it was permissible and expedient for themselves as teachers of the way of God to participate in the temple worship system as an example to the Jews.

"The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him" (Acts 21:26-27 NIV).

Verse 26 and 27 are very important because they contain the following irrefutable proof that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow:

    • Paul purified himself with these men.

    • Paul gave notice when the Nazarite vow would end for the men and himself.

    • Paul was seized during the waiting period prior to the ending of the Nazarite vow.

Paul Stands Accused Before Felix

In defending himself against the accusation of heresy before Felix, Paul states some very important beliefs and tells why he was in the temple in the account of Acts 21:27.

Paul's Beliefs:

    • He believed that he worshiped God as Jesus taught.

    • He believed God's written word.

    • He believed in the resurrection.

    • He believed that he was careful not to offend God or man.

Paul Speaks to Felix:

"But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which were written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. And I do hereby exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men" (Acts 24:14-16 KJV).

Notice the primary reason that Paul went to the temple:

"Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Wherein certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult" (Acts 24:17-18 KJV).

Here, we see Paul observing part of the worship system commanded under God's first agreement with national Israel. This is yet another proof that Paul observed and practiced much of the temple worship system many years after his conversion.

Although an Israelitish Christian could partake of the temple worship as Paul did, it was not mandatory for a Christian to follow or obey the temple worship system. However, it still existed for about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Did Paul's Nazarite vow, sacrifice, and giving of gifts at the temple contradict the decision regarding the Law of Moses that the apostles and elders made, which is recorded in Acts 15? Did his taking this vow violate the terms and conditions of the new agreement that Jesus Christ instituted? The answer is an emphatic NO! Paul was not seeking forgiveness of sin or justification before God by these acts; he did them because of a prior commitment and as a witness to those who accused him of teaching against the law of Moses.


The account of Paul's trip to Jerusalem and his Nazarite vow reveals the mind of the Father and Christ regarding those who are of the elect and their relationship to the offering of sacrifices after the formation of the new covenant church.

This account clearly shows that certain aspects of the temple and sacrificial worship system are perfectly compatible with the new agreement that was instituted by Jesus Christ and that these aspects could be practiced by the Father's sons who have his spirit residing within them.

It is also noteworthy to mention that Jesus Christ who had the holy spirit without measure also participated in the sacrificial system as he lived his life and presented himself as the perfect example of righteousness.


Under the first agreement with the people of national Israel, the Israelites were to perform certain physical acts as a reminder of the laws of God. Under the new agreement, the law is implanted within a person by the holy spirit. Therefore, these physical reminders are not necessary.

The following are two of the commands to the nation of Israel regarding the law and its remembrance:

Fringes on the Garment

"Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of the borders a ribbon of blue: And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look on it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God" (Num.15:38-40 KJV).

Law on the Door Post

"Therefore shall you lay these words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates" (Deut. 11:18-20 KJV).

Would it be wrong for a Christian to wear a fringe on their garments or write the commandments on their door post? It would not be wrong if the person is not doing these things to obtain justification before God; these laws were a part of the first agreement between God and national Israel, but they are not a part of the new agreement between the Father and the elect of God.

However, it would be wrong for one called to salvation during the gospel age to perform these acts in hope of being justified. This would be trying to gain justification under the law of justification by works; thereby, it would deny the sacrifice of Christ.

Notice what Paul says about trying to be justified by the law:

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherein Christ has made us free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace" (Gal.5:1-4 Para.).

By B.L. Cocherell and Vernon O. Jones b4w11