Do you remember the story of Saul’s trip to Damascus to find and imprison followers of “The Way” – where he encountered the bright light that blinded him and God changed his name from Saul to Paul after commissioning him to go to the Gentiles? Well, as I pointed out in a a previous post, the problem with that story is – it never happened! The biblical account is found in Acts chapter 9 and nowhere in this chapter, nor anywhere else in Scripture for that matter, will we find any mention of God changing Saul’s name to Paul. Surprised? Perhaps like me, you’ve heard of Paul’s “name change” mentioned from the pulpit – perhaps more than once. It turns out that there is much about the apostle Paul that we never got right. More on his names later . .
It’s time to revisit “the vow.” Being a good Christian man, the apostle Paul, late in his Christian life, took a nazirite vow. At the end of his third missionary journey, Saul went to the temple in Jerusalem to complete this vow. Because the Christian leaders in Jerusalem were aware of some false rumors, namely that Saul had not remained fully Torah observant, they suggested that he not only cover the temple expenses for himself, but for 4 other good Christians who had also taken nazirite vows. This, Saul (aka Paul), agreed to do.
The Christian leaders in Jerusalem expressed it this way: “. . 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 [Torah].” Acts 21:24
No Small Expense
So, what was involved to cover the expenses of 5 nazirite vow keepers? We find the details listed in Leviticus 6:13-21:
- 5 unblemished yearling lambs for the burnt offerings
- 5 unblemished yearling ewe lambs for the sin offerings
- 5 unblemished rams for the fellowship offerings
- 33 liters of fine flour mixed with oil for the supplementary grain offerings
- 8 liters of wine for the wine libations
- 5 additional baskets of unleavened bread with oil for the grain offerings
Having raised sheep, I have some idea what they sell for. The last ram I sold went for $325 USD. Conservatively, in 2022 U.S. dollars, each of the 15 sheep would have fetched at least $300 each – without considering any temple markup for their “unblemished” status.
This means, the apostle Paul likely had to shell out about $5,000 in 2022 U.S. dollars. In my book, that was no small expense. The BIG observation however, is that 4/5ths of that expense was simply to declare how Torah observant he really was!
In chapters 22 – 28 of Acts, we read that Paul then faced trials in 6 different venues and spoke in his own defense at each one. The six trials were as follows:
1 The temple – where he declared he was a Torah observant Jew who studied under Gamaliel and prayed in the temple
2 The sanhedrin – where he declared he had a good conscience before God and stated “I am a Pharisee.”
3 Court of Felix – where he stated he honored the temple and believed everything in Torah
4 Court of Festus – where he declared he had committed no offense against the Torah, the temple or Rome
5 Court of Agrippa – where he declared that he taught nothing but the prophets and the Torah
6 Jewish Community in Rome – where he declared that he had done nothing against Jewish people or custom
As you may have noticed, at each trial Saul essentially declared that he lived a Torah observant life. He used different terms at each trial but to his audience, his intent was crystal clear. His defense at each of the 6 trials is totally consistent with the action he took at the temple when he completed his nazirite vow.
Back to the Names
If God did not change Saul’s name to Paul, why does Scripture use two names? The answer is no mystery. Then, as now, many Jewish people have a Hebrew name they use in their own land and a different name when they are abroad. When in Israel, he went by Sh’aul (Saul). In the disapora, he went by Paulos (Greco-Roman for Paul). When reading the book of Acts, note how the name changes as Paul/Saul travels. Also note which name Jesus used when he spoke to Sh’aul on the road to Damascus.
More to Come
If you did not learn anything from this post, then congratulations! You are a better Bible student than most. I trust that in this post, as well as in my preceding posts, I have established beyond any credible doubt that the apostle Paul was Torah observant. Once we arrive at this biblical conclusion, we are forced to question EVERY interpretation that, on the surface, seems to cast Paul as anti-Torah. Knowing it cannot be true, we soon discover that there are more appropriate and biblically accurate interpretations.
In a coming post, I intend to paint a fuller picture of the incredible debt we owe our “Gentile champion” – the apostle Paul.