What was Paul up to in Jerusalem?

What was Paul up to in Jerusalem?

Enquiring Paul’s bizarre presence at the Jewish Purification Ceremony


Majority of Christians, based on Pauline “verses” in the New Testament have rejected the Law of the Old Testament quite unceremoniously, especially when we know that the Laws were revealed much ceremoniously. Not merely have they rejected the Laws but following Paul they also have a new man-made doctrine for remission of their sins!

However, while they reject God’s rulings because of Paul, hardly do they consider New Testament testimonies wherein Paul took every opportunity to recline to Laws as situation demanded.

As we will soon find, based on the circumstances and not withstanding inconsistencies, Paul enjoyed a high level of flexibility between the diametrically opposite doctrines of the Old and New Testaments.

Paul at the Purification Ceremony

Luke relates that after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus (peace be upon him)Paul visited Jerusalem to meet other apostles and senior believers and brief them about his ‘achievements’ in Gentile lands.

During his visit, a strange incident took place. Four Jewish men had earlier taken vows and they had to be “purified” as per the Laws of the Old Testament. Paul was given the task to lead the group for the ceremony and perform all the rituals, as we read in the so called Book of Acts:

“When we arrived in Jerusalem, the believers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to see James; and all the church elders were present. Paul greeted them and gave a complete report of everything that God had done among the Gentiles through his work.After hearing him, they all praised God.

Then they said, Brother Paul, you can see how many thousands of Jews have become believers, and how devoted they all are to the Law.They have been told that you have been teaching all the Jews who live in Gentile countries to abandon the Law of Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or follow the Jewish customs.

They are sure to hear that you have arrived. What should be done, then?This is what we want you to do. There are four men here who have taken a vow. Go along with them and join them in the ceremony of purification and pay their expenses; then they will be able to shave their heads. In this way everyone will know that there is no truth in any of the things that they have been told about you, but that you yourself life in accordance with the Law of Moses.

But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent them a letter telling them we decided that they must not eat any food that has been offered to idols, or any blood, or any animal that has been strangled, and that they must keep themselves from sexual immorality. So Paul took the men and the next day performed the ceremony of purification with them. 

Then he went into the Temple and gave notice of how many days it would be until the end of the period of purification, when a sacrifice would be offered for each one of them. (Acts 21: 17-26. Today’s English Version)

The incident sounds very plain and simple. However, it has got some serious aberrations to the Christianity we know of!

Firstly, notice that sacrifice had to be offered for each one of the men and reportedly Paul not only approved for it but also bore the expenses for them. In this sacrificial ceremony, Jews had to sacrifice sheep and rams.

According to Christian Scholars these sacrifices were meant to purify and help in remitting sins since they included sin-offerings:

“And be at charges with them – Share with them the expense of the offerings required when the vow is completed. Those offerings were a ram of a year old for a burnt-offering, a sheep of the same age for sin-offering, a ram for a thank-offering, a basket of unleavened cakes, and a libation of wine.” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Acts 21:24)

James and other elders of the Church directed Paul to the ceremony based on the Old Testament Jewish system wherein the sacrifices of these animals symbolized forgiveness and remission of sins:

“When a Nazirite completes his vow, he shall perform the ritual. He shall go to the entrance of the Tent and present to the LORD three animals without any defects: a one-year-old male lamb for a burnt-offering, a one-year-old ewe lamb for a sin-offering, and a ram for a fellowship-offering.” (Numbers 6: 13-14, Today’s English Version)

So far so good, however, Paul asserted that there can be remission of sins only with the alleged bloodshed of Jesus (peace be upon him). In other words, there can be no remission without the alleged sacrifice of Jesus (peace be upon him):

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is NO remission. (Heb 9:22)

Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Gal 1:3-4)

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Tit 2:13-14)

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. (Col 1:20)

For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and mankind together, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself to redeem all mankind(1Timothy: 5-6, Today’s English Version)

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Tit 2:14)

Now the problem with above assertions when read in conjunction with the sacrificial ceremony of Acts is that when Jesus (peace be upon him) had already “given himself to redeem sinners” then why was the need arose to offer “SIN-OFFERINGS”. Furthermore, Paul even asserted that sacrifices of animals can never remit sins:

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”  (Heb 10:4)

To aggravate the problem, this need for a “SIN-OFFERING”was multiply attested by earliest Christian greats like James who is also called as the “brother of Jesus (peace be upon him)”, elders of the Jerusalem Church and Paul himself! This opens up doors for the following enquiries:

  1. Did not all of them knew that Jesus (peace be upon him) had already and allegedly died for the sins to be remitted?
  2. Why did these earliest Christians again reclined back to the “shadows of the things to come” when the “thing” (i.e., the sacrifice of Jesus (pbuh)) had already allegedly passed by? Please refer Hebrews 10:1 and Colossians 2:17.
  3. Was the entire group of so called earliest Christians doubtful whether Jesus (peace be upon him) bore all of their sins or not – that they wanted to use animals for remaining sins? Or whether Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged death mechanism was the only mechanism or not – that they wanted to use animals as second mode?

Furthermore, and on the same corollary, why was the “purification” ceremony at all required when allegedly Christ (peace be upon him) had “purged” and “purified” sinners:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (Heb 9:22)

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Tit 2:13-14)

In fact if we believe Paul, then the sacrifice of animals once used to purify the unclean, however, after the “perfect” alleged sacrifice of Christ (peace be upon him), the rituals of purification ceremony were rendered “useless”:

“When Christ went through the tent and entered once and for all into the Most Holy Place, he did not take the blood of goats and bulls to offer as a sacrifice; rather, he took his own blood and obtained eternal salvation for us. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a burnt calf are sprinkled on the people who are ritually unclean and this purifies them by taking away their ritual impurity. 

Since this is true, how much more is accomplished by the blood of Christ! Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will purify our consciences from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9: 12-14)

Therefore, our fourth and final query in this section is:

  1. If Christ (peace be upon him) through his alleged blood, had already purchased “eternal salvation” and cleansed human impurities through his alleged sacrifice then why did James, earliest Church congregation and even Paul continued to observe the “useless rituals”?

Moving to the second set of problems: Paul had nailed the Laws to the alleged Cross. For him, Jesus (peace be upon him) brought the Laws to an end:

For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes is put right with God.” (Romans 10:4)

“What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added in order to show what wrongdoing is, and it was meant to last until the coming of Abraham’s descendant, to whom the promise was made.” (Galatians 3:19)

“But before the time for faith came, the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners until this coming faith should be revealed. And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith. Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.” (Galatians 3: 23-25)

Now, however, we are free from the Law, because we died to that which once held us prisoners. No longer do we serve in the old way of a written law, but in the new way of the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6)

Today’s English Version

Paul even believed that God could never give a Law good enough to put a man righteous with Himself (!):

“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (Gal 3:21-22)

On the contrary, Paul claimed that Law was provided to increase sins (!):

Law was introduced in order to increase wrongdoing; but where sin increased, God’s grace increased much more.” (Romans 5:20)

If the Law not said, “Do not desire what belongs to someone else,” I would not have known such a desire. But by means of that commandment sin found its chance to stir up all kinds of selfish desires in me. Apart from law, sin is a dead thing.” (Romans 7:7-8) 

“Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15: 56-57)

I myself was once alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life, and I diedAnd the commandment which was meant to bring life, in my case brought death. (Romans 7:9-10)

“For when we lived according to our human nature, the sinful desires stirred up by the law were at work in our bodies, and all we did ended in death.” (Romans 7:5)

If the Law not said, “Do not desire what belongs to someone else,” I would not have known such a desire. But by means of that commandment sin found its chance to stir up all kinds of selfish desires in me. Apart from law, sin is a dead thing.” (Romans 7:7-8) 

Today’s English Version

The issue to be enquired is, when Paul had such maledictions for Laws so much so that it empowers sins, without Laws sin is a dead thing; then why did:

  1. He observes the Laws of the Old Testament mentioned in the Book of Numbers?
  2. James and other “elders” of the Church advocated observing the Laws of the Old Testament when Jesus (peace be upon him) had allegedly brought the Laws to an end?

Furthermore, the subject verses of Acts clearly emphasize that by observing the Laws of Old Testament, Paul was to be acquitted of the claim that he taught Jews to do away with the Laws.

Subsequently, by observing the rituals Paul ascertained the “elders” of the Church including James that he was still faithful to the Law. Nevertheless, this is inconsistent with Paul, as we just saw, that according to him, Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged death brought Laws to an end and thus people were no more required to follow the Laws!

In fact, speaking specifically of the purification ceremony, Paul considered them to be merely outward hypocritical show – lacking in spirit; viable only until the coming/ (alleged) death of Jesus (peace be upon him):

“This is an illustration which points to the present time. It means that the offerings and animal sacrifices presented to God cannot make the worshippers’s heart perfect, since they have to do only with food, drink, and various purification ceremoniesThese are all outward rules, which apply only until the time when God will establish the new order.” (Hebrews 9: 9-10. Today’s English Version)

Therefore, on the forgoing we would like to ask our third query:

  1. As admitted by Paul, if the Laws were brought to an end by the alleged death of Christ (peace be upon him), if they were “useless outward rituals” meant only until for a certain time period (which elapsed) then why did Paul showed his fealty by observing them?

The answer to such queries is simple. Admittedly by Paul, he was just being a crafty opportunist. Not with standing inconsistencies in his own words, Paul wanted to portray himself like an advocate of the Gentiles when in Gentile lands (Antioch), however, when in Jerusalem he wanted to be as close to the Pharisees as he could. Consider the following “verses” to make our point clear:

      “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.” (1 Co 9:20-21, King James Version)

Quite evidently just to “gain” Jews and Gentiles, Paul had no scruples in playing fast and loose and packing them as “inspired verses” in his  epistles!


Based on the complains from the Gentile lands (that Paul was preaching against the Laws of Old Testament) when James and other senior Jews of Jerusalem asked Paul to participate in the rituals of the Old Testament ceremonies, they indirectly upheld that:

  1. Jesus (peace be upon him) alleged sacrificial death was either not enough to bear the sins of others or it was not the only mechanism by which sins can be remitted. This is because Jewish Old Testament sacrificial sin-offering was a symbol of man’s acceptance of his sins, his repentance to God and subsequent forgiveness from God.
  2. James (and other elders of Jerusalem) did not hold that Laws of Old Testament had come to an end with the alleged death of Christ (peace be upon him) or that Laws aide sins etc. If that were true then he would have never clung to observe the rituals of Laws so meticulously! In fact, we have explicit accounts in the New Testament wherein James had expressly thwarted Paul in his attempts to belittle the Laws and corrupt Old Testament doctrines. This takes us to our next section.

High Octane Clash between brother and apostle of Christ (pbuh)

As a comparative study, firstly consider Pauline doctrines (later we will quote James) regarding Faith and Laws:

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal 2:16)

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Rom 3:28)

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. (Gal 3:11)

Quite evidently, Paul’s theology was that solely believe Christ (peace be upon him) allegedly died for one’s sin and be saved. Once believed, there is no need to observe the regulations of the Laws. Here is the doctrine in nut shell:

If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10. Today’s English Version)

Contrary to Paul’s faith-only doctrine, James gave equal importance to faith as well as deeds:

My brothers, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith is his actions do not prove it?” (James 2:14. Today’s English Version)

While Paul claimed that sin without Law is dead, James claimed that faith without actions is dead:

“My brother, what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him? Suppose there are brothers and sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.” (James 2: 14-17)

“But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” Do :You believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe – and tremble with fear. You fool! Do you want to be shown that faith without actions is useless?” (James 2: 18-20)

Today’s English Version

Thus, it is more than evident that James had a faceoff with Paul on key doctrines of Christianity. However, on referral to prophets of God like John and Jesus (peace be upon them) we find that James’ theory was correct. For the sake of brevity we would consider this topic separately in our future paper, inshallah!


Before we close this topic, we would like to recapitulate the following important points:

       I.            On one hand Paul claimed that Laws were no more viable and they are the causes of all kinds of sins, however, he goes to Jerusalem to take part in the rituals of the Laws. Not merely does he take part in it, but he leads it and even pays for the expenses of others!

    II.            We saw that Jesus’ (peace be upon him) brother James (and other elders of the Church) believed in the sacrificial sin-offering of the Old Testament even after the alleged sacrifice of Jesus (peace be upon him). This establishes that the so called earliest Christians of Jerusalem never believed in the vicarious atonement through Jesus (peace be upon him) or they did not viewed Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged sacrifice to be the only and complete mode for remission of sins.

 III.            On the foregoing, the earliest Christians, including Jesus’ (peace be upon him) cousin, never believed that because of Christ’s (peace be upon him) alleged crucifixion, Laws of the Old Testament had come to an end – as asserted by Paul in his epistles.

 IV.            From the preceding points, it was the difference in some of the most fundamental doctrines (faith-only versus faith + deeds) between “apostles” (and earliest Christians) that led to James, in his epistles, openly impede Paul’s distortions. James head on disputed Paul. (And, inshallah, in our future paper we would see that based on scriptural background, James held upper hand.)

The situation gets even worse for Paul when we know (from the Acts verses) that the second reason why Paul was asked to lead and execute the Old Testament ceremonies was to confirm to the Christian multitudes of Jerusalem that Paul was still loyal and obedient to the Old Testament Laws. And Paul by obeying them confirmed his fealty and endorsed the viability of the Laws. However, the query is, if Paul considered Laws to be “dead” then why did he participate in its ceremonies. This leads us to our fifth recapitulation:

    V.            When Paul saw that his personal doctrines would be undone by majority opinion of believers at Jerusalem, he sought to the tactics of camouflaging. Admittedly Paul, when with Jews, he behaved like Jews; observed all the Laws, not in contempt, but whole heartedly.

On the other hand, when with Gentiles, he had no hesitation unabashedly “preaching” Laws beget sin (!), Laws were brought to an end by Jesus (peace be upon him) so on and so forth. Refer 1 Corinthians 9:20-21. 

Little did Paul realize that it would not be hard catching his inconsistencies?

Christians Scholars face hard time reconciling Pauline inconsistencies and as a result of it they come out with utterly desperate reconciliations. Consider one such desperate reconciliation by Classical commentators Matthew-Henry:

“The request of James and the elders of the church at Jerusalem to Paul, or their advice rather, that he would gratify the believing Jews by showing some compliance with the ceremonial law, and appearing publicly in the temple to offer sacrifice, which was not a thing in itself sinful;

for the ceremonial law, though it was by no means to be imposed upon the Gentile converts (as the false teachers would have it, and thereby endeavoured to subvert the gospel), yet it was not become unlawful as yet to those that had been bred up in the observance of it, but were far from expecting justification by it. 

It was dead, but not buried; dead, but not yet deadly. And, being not sinful, they thought it was a piece of prudence in Paul to conform thus far. Observe the counsel they give to Paul herein, not as having authority over him, but an affection for him.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Acts 21:15-26)

All of these incidents only help Prophet Mohammad’s (peace be upon him) words come true when he said that because the Christians (and the Jews) trump God’s words to the words of their priests and other anchorites, they ultimately worship them:

They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; Yet they were commanded to worship but one Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to him: (far is He) from having the parents they associate (with him). (Qur’an 9:31, Yusuf Ali Translation, Al-Alim CD-ROM Version)

Therefore, we request sincere Christians to go back to their scriptures. Analyze what James (and other elders of the earliest Church) had to say since it is not justified to reject multiple Old Testament prophets and their Laws and New Testament apostles who believed in the Old Laws. It is not fair to reject them all for the sake of one man’s theology – Paul.

In our future paper, inshallah, we would provide more proofs wherein even New Testament prophets like John and Jesus (peace be upon him) supported James! Until then pray for us.

End Notes:

  • Unless otherwise mentioned all biblical texts taken from King James Version, e-Sword version.

Du’a: Through this paper I beseech Allah (SWT) to purge my sins; I am a filthy sinner but You are Pure. In deed I have wronged my soul; forgive me my shortcomings, give me a new beginning. Ease out and alleviate my father in his grave.