Old Testament Laws and the Disciples

Did The Disciples Stop Keeping Old Testament Laws?

 

Matthew 5:17

No one who believes in the Savior argues that he kept the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday), the dietary laws and the Feast Days. The notion that is held by many people is that he kept them perfectly so we wouldn’t have to. They perpetuate this idea by explaining that these OT Laws were no longer necessary after his death and resurrection and of course they use Matthew 5:17 to embolden their position.

Although nobody really knows the exact date in which Yahshua uttered the words in Matthew 5:17 we can all agree that he made them before the events in the book of Acts took place. Thus it stands to reason that if the disciples understood Yahshua to say that he was doing away with the Law, then it should be evident in the book of Acts as these events occurred after his death and resurrection.

Although some people may not realize, convincing the disciples that they no longer had to keep the Old Testament Laws would not have been an easy task. It would not have been easy for our Messiah to simply do away with practices that his people had been keeping for thousands of years.

For one thing the Maccabean Revolt would have been fresh in their minds. The disciples would have been very familiar with the words of Mattathias, the leader of the revolt, as he cried out to his followers  “Let everyone who is zealous for the Law and who stands by the covenant follow me!” The disciples would have shared amongst themselves the stories about how the Hasmonean brothers rebelled against Antiochus Epiphanies because he wanted them to worship pagan gods and to stop keeping their laws.  The disciples would have been keenly aware that that the Messiah was asking them to stop doing those things which gave them an identity and those things for which hundreds and thousands of their ancestors had died for.  In essence, our Messiah would have been acting like Antiochus Epiphanies himself!

In the first century the environment of the times was not necessarily Jewish friendly. Although the Roman empire gave the Jews limited freedom, the Jews were constantly criticized and mocked for their faith. The destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. was not a spontaneous event. It was an event which had many years to build up. So this was the context by which we are to believe that our Savior advised the disciples that the Old Testament Laws had been done away with.

Since we obviously cannot directly ask the disciples if they actually believed that our Savior had told them to no longer keep the OT Laws, all we can do is to evaluate their actions as recorded in the book of Acts. Their actions are very telling and show that they either disobeyed our Messiah or our Messiah did not tell them to stop keeping those laws. The latter is evident!

 The Evidence In the Book of Acts

Although much of the evidence at the beginning of Acts is indirect, it is all consistent with the plain, confirming evidence found that the Messiah never told the disciples that the Laws were done away with.

Kingdom of Israel

Just prior to his ascension the disciples were still expecting the Old Testament kingdom of Israel to be restored.  That expectation is a clue that the disciples were probably still observing the laws of the Old Testament.  They knew that the restoration of the kingdom of Israel was dependent on Israel’s obedience to the law.

So when they met together, they asked him, “Master, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6

A Sabbath Day Walk

Luke wrote the story of Acts many years after the events in Acts had taken place and yet he was still measuring distances according to the traditional Jewish Sabbath laws.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. Acts 1:12

Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost was one of the seven annual religious festivals of the Jews (Lev 23:15-21). Pentecost, which means “fiftieth”, occurred exactly fifty days after the Day of the Wave Sheaf (which was after Passover during the Feast of Unleavened Bread).  The Feast of Pentecost commemorated Yahweh’s giving of the law at Mt. Sinai 50 days after the Israelites escaped from Egypt following the first Passover.  Pentecost also marked the beginning of the wheat harvest in the spring.  Special offerings of wheat bread, baked from the first wheat of the harvest, were brought to the priests.  No regular work was done, and a sacred assembly was held at the Temple.

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers it is likely that they were meeting somewhere in the Temple precincts to observe the Feast of Pentecost.  Luke tells us that after our Savior’s ascension (just 10 days before Pentecost), the believers “stayed continually at the temple, praising Yahweh.” (Luke 24:53) and after Pentecost Luke says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (Acts 2:46)  The use of the word “house” in Acts 2:2 could include the meeting rooms that were available around the Temple courtyard — that particular Greek word for “house” is sometimes translated as “temple”.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1-2

It is important to note that Yahshua’s death as the Lamb of Yah had coincided exactly with the Feast of Passover.  The significance of the Old Testament Feasts did not end there.  Yahweh also chose to commemorate the Feast of Pentecost by pouring out the Holy Spirit on that day. So this Feast that marked the beginning of the wheat harvest coincided exactly with the beginning of the harvest of souls under the influence of the Holy Spirit.   Some of the other Feasts incorporate themes and imagery of events that are not yet completed — judgment and redemption.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. Acts 2:5

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.”  Acts 2:14

Peter was speaking to Jews from all over the world that had come to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost.  Now if our Saviour had already done away with these feasts, this would have been a great time for Peter to explain to all these people that they no longer needed to waste their time and resources coming to Jerusalem for the feasts. But in his sermon Peter did not even allude to any such changes to the law.

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41

It is evident that these people were convicted by the Holy Spirit while they were still keeping and obeying the Old Testament Laws and practices. They simply accepted Yahshua as the Messiah that had been foretold in the Jewish Scriptures.

 In the Temple

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising Yahweh and enjoying the favor of all the people. And Yahweh added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. Acts 3:1

It is obvious that these events occurred after the death and resurrection of our Messiah and yet we see that the disciples did not go off by themselves somewhere doing something entirely different than what they had been doing when the Messiah was alive. Rather, they continued to meet at the temple where the regular Jewish worship rituals and animal sacrifices were going on.

If the disciples were no longer living according to the Old Testament Laws, why did they choose to meet in the very place where those Laws were still being taught and practiced? Actually, if the disciples had been breaking the Jewish religious laws they would not have been welcome in the temple courts, and they would not have enjoyed the favor of the other Jews who had come to the temple to worship.

When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or by [our righteousnesss]  we had made this man walk? Acts 3:12

It is obvious in this scripture (Acts 3:12) that Peter had the people’s attention.  If he believed the Jews were wasting their energy observing the laws of the Old Testament, he could have told them so. But he didn’t.

Great fear seized the whole assembly and all who heard about these events. The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Acts 5:11-13

Again, it is evident that the disciples continued to meet at the temple and they were still respected by the Jewish worshipers that came to the temple to offer sacrifices. It is obvious that the apostles were not preaching in opposition to the rituals of the temple.

But during the night an angel of Yahweh opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Acts 5:19-20

In Acts 5:19-20 an angel instructs the apostles to preach at the temple the message that our Messiah had given them to preach. If our Savior had in fact told them to do away with the Laws of the Old Testament than the disciples had disobeyed our Messiah and his Angel for they had ample opportunity. You can be assured that if the disciples had in fact taught against the Law there would have been a riot. Nothing like that was recorded!

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Acts 5:34

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from Yahweh, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against Him.” His speech persuaded them. Acts 5:38-40

By this time the apostles were well known in Jerusalem. If they were not living according to the Laws, the people would have known about it.  It’s highly unlikely that Gamaliel would have been able to convince the rest of the Jewish Sanhedrin that Law-breaking men might possibly be working for Elohim. Yet Acts shows us that the disciples continued to visit the Jewish temple to teach them about the long awaited Messiah.

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Yahshua is the Messiah. Acts 5:42

Deacons

Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. Acts 6:3-5

These were the men chosen by the assembly to be deacons. Notice that Nicolas is described as a convert to Judaism. The disciples had not been called Christians yet, so we can’t expect Luke to describe Nicolas as a convert to Christianity.  However, it is apparent that the Holy Spirit and the apostles didn’t consider the Jewish religion an obstacle to Christian believers.  The rest of the deacons were Jews too.

 Stephen

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against Yahweh.”  So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we have heard him say that this Yahshua of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Acts 6:11-14

The enemies of Stephen would not have needed the false witnesses if Stephen had been disobeying the laws of the Old Testament.  In that case, truthful witnesses would have easily condemned him before the Sanhedrin.  The fact that they needed false witnesses to accuse Stephen implies that he was actually obedient to the laws of the Torah.

Paul persecutes the believers

 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against Yahshua’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2

In order to worship or teach in the synagogues, the believers would have needed to observe the Jewish Sabbaths and Festivals as well as enough of the other Old Testament laws to be accepted by Jews in the synagogues.  If the believers were not following the Old Testament Laws it would not have been necessary for Paul to go to the synagogues because none of the believers would be there as they would be at a different location and they would have been worshiping on Sunday. It is obvious that Paul needed permission to arrest believers in the synagogues because the believers were still keeping the Sabbath.

A devout observer of the law

In Acts 9:10-11 we read about a man called Ananias who was a disciple in the faith of our Savior.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Master called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Master,” he answered.  The Master told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Pay close attention to what Paul tells us about Ananias as he recounts this story:

‘A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.’  Acts 22:12

It is evident that Ananias was not just an oddball among the disciples as he was highly respected by all the Jews in Damascus.  It is interesting that our Savior chose Ananias,  a devout follower of the Law, as the one who would restore Paul’s sight. If our Savior had in fact instructed the disciples that they were no longer to follow the OT Laws, wouldn’t he have chosen an individual who was no longer a devout follower of the Law?

The description of Ananias as a “devout observer of the law” clearly confirms what could only be inferred from the earlier evidence in Acts. That the followers of our Messiah had not yet abandoned the observance of Old Testament laws.

As a zealous Pharisee and a Jew, Paul carefully observed the laws of Moses before he became a believer in Messiah.  Because Paul was baptized by Ananias who was a devout observer of the law, it is reasonable to expect that Paul would continue to observe the Laws after he became a follower of Yahshua.

Paul After Baptism

It would be easy to conclude that if Ananias had instructed Paul to stop keeping the OT Laws after he was immersed, that he (Paul) would have immediately after baptism changed his ways. Not so!

And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Paul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Yahshua is the Son of Elohim.
Acts 9:19-20

The fact is that Paul joined the disciples at the Jewish synagogues to proclaim the Gospel of Messiah. A man who was not observing the OT Laws would not have been allowed to preach in the synagogues.

Peter’s vision

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.  Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  “Surely not  Master!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that Elohim has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. Acts 10:10-16

Even though the voice repeatedly tells him to eat, Peter refuses and replies, ‘ Surely not, Master!  I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’  This clearly shows that Peter had been faithfully obeying the Old Testament guidelines regarding unclean and clean (or kosher) foods.

This also shows that Peter did not believe or practice what some people assume Yahshua was teaching in Mark 7:19 where our Savior supposedly declared all foods ‘clean’.  Using a literal translation to study that passage in context shows that Peter was correct.  That’s not surprising since Peter was actually there while Yahshua was teaching.  The issue in Mark 7 was a ceremonial washing of hands, which was one of the ‘traditions of men’ that the Jews had added to the commands. The food in question in Mark 7 was grain, which was already clean according to the Old Testament laws.

Peter’s vision is sometimes interpreted to mean that our Savior was at this time doing away with the regulations in the OT regarding clean and unclean foods.  Such an interpretation does not agree with Peter’s interpretation of the vision in verses 28 and 34.

The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Acts 10:22

Cornelius was apparently already well acquainted with the OT Laws.

He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But Elohim has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.’ Acts 10:28

Peter’s interpretation of the vision did not relate to food at all, it was about people.  When Peter returns to Jerusalem later, it is evident that he had not started eating ‘unclean’ foods.

Obviously Peter was still carefully observing the OT laws — it took a special vision from Elohim to make him willing to come to Cornelius’s house. The law that prohibited associating with Gentiles was not even a part of the Torah — it was apparently one of the regulations that had been added by the Jews.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that Elohim does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. Acts 10:34-35

Peter again stated what he had learned from the vision. The vision was about people, not food.

The believers in Jerusalem were concerned that Peter was not properly observing the traditional Jewish laws.  Notice that Peter was criticized, not for the food he ate, but for the people he had associated with.

So if Elohim gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in Yahshua Messiah, who was I to think that I could oppose Him?”  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised Elohim, saying, “So then, Elohim has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Acts 11:17-18

The believers in Jerusalem concurred with Peter’s explanation of the events.  No mention was made of any changes to the OT instructions regarding clean foods.

To the Gentiles

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about Yahshua the Messiah. Acts 11:19-20

At this time some believing Jews started reaching out to non-Jews as they continued to reach the other Jews.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Paul met with the assembly and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

Although the believers in Antioch included Gentiles as well as Jews, nothing is said to indicate that the believers in Antioch behaved any differently than the believers in Jerusalem who were observing the law. As a matter of fact it was the Law- keeping disciples that were called Christians in Antioch not the gentiles. This is important to recognize because most Christians today who do not keep the OT Laws believe that the Gentiles were called Christian when it was actually the Law obedient disciples. It stands to reason therefore that there is a vast disconnect between today’s Christians and the original believers (disciples) who were called Christians.

Not Justified in the Law- does not mean don’t keep the Law 

“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Yahshua the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39

Although Paul was observing the law of Moses, he did not teach people to rely on the law for salvation.  He makes it clear that the law was not for the purpose of justification but he also made it clear that there were some sins which the Law of Moses could not provide forgiveness from. The right context of understanding verses like this one is to note that Paul was not saying that there was no value in the Law of Moses meaning the OT, but that the Law of Moses was limited to some sins in which the sinner had to be “cut off from Israel”.  The OT describes many sins for which the Law of Moses provided no remedy.  Since there was no forgiveness found in the Law of Moses the penalty was death. By explaining things this way Paul was expressing the importance of Yahshua’s forgiveness within the existing principles of the OT Laws. Believers who understood and kept the OT Laws would have understood the magnitude of Yahshua’s sacrifice and forgiveness. They would have never thought that the current Laws which they were keeping were done away with, they would have understood that through our Savior there was forgiveness for sins which there was no prior forgiveness.

They did not worship on Sunday

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.  When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of Elohim. Acts 13:42-43

If the first Century Christians had been worshiping on Sundays, as is commonly assumed, Paul could have invited the people to meet with the Christians the following day, rather than have them wait until the next Sabbath.

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the Gospel of Yahshua. Acts 13:44

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. Acts 14:1

 The dispute in Antioch

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of Elohim for the work they had now completed.  On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that Elohim had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they stayed there a long time with the disciples. Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. Acts 14:26-15:2

By teaching that circumcision was a prerequisite for salvation, Paul’s opponents were attempting to close the “door of faith” that Yahshua had opened to the Gentiles and replace it with a form of “salvation by circumcision”. Although it seems that these men from Judea were teaching the Gentiles that they had to earn their salvation by strict observance of the Old Testament law, that probably is not what the real issue was.  Many Jews believed correctly that salvation was provided by Elohim’s grace, but some thought that Yahweh would provide grace and salvation only to the Israelites.  So they taught that the only way for a Gentile to be saved was for him to become a Jew.  The normal conversion process used by the Jewish rabbis included instruction in Jewish law, offering a sacrifice, baptism, and circumcision done according to extra man-made ritual requirements.  That conversion process for Gentiles was what the Jewish believers were familiar with, so it forms an essential part of the context for this controversy.  Rather than teaching that salvation was earned by strict obedience to the law, Paul’s opponents in Antioch were probably teaching that the Gentiles needed to become Jews in the traditional manner in order to become included in Yahweh’s covenants which provided for salvation by His grace.

Paul and Barnabus made a full report to assembly in Jerusalem so the elders were aware of what Paul was teaching the new Gentile believers regarding circumcision and the law of Moses.  Unfortunately, that information is not recorded in Acts so all we know about Paul’s side of the argument is that he disagreed sharply with his opponents in some way regarding circumcision.  We know that Paul was not totally against circumcision because he had been circumcised as an infant (Phil 3:5) and he circumcised Timothy as an adult (Acts 16:3).  It is possible that Paul was opposed only to the specific methods, the motivation, the timing, or some other aspect of the circumcision ritual being imposed on the Gentile believers.

Did Paul Teach Against the Law?

Was Paul strongly opposed to teaching Gentiles to obey the law of Moses?  That’s not likely because Paul was observing the law himself (Acts 21:24) and he taught the Gentiles to follow his own example (Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1Cor. 4:16-17; 11:1) Also, the presence of Gentiles in the synagogues did not seem to bother Paul at all, even though they were being taught to follow the law of Moses.  Many of Paul’s first Gentile converts were those who worshiped in the Jewish synagogues and were familiar with the OT Laws.  If Paul opposed what the Pharisees said about the Gentiles being required to obey the law of Moses, it may have been because they were teaching the wrong motivation for obeying the law.  Or, it may have been because the Pharisees often did not distinguish between the actual laws that Elohim gave to Moses and the man-made regulations that had been added to it.  When Paul’s opponents referred to the law of Moses, it is likely that they included all the traditional requirements which had been added to “guard” the law of Moses.  If so, Paul would have followed our Messiah’s example by opposing any man-made regulations that changed the intent of the law.

Because circumcision and agreeing to obey the Jewish laws were the most prominent parts of the traditional proselytizing process, Paul’s opponents may have been using those terms to refer to the whole traditional process of rituals by which the Pharisees turned Gentile proselytes into Jews. The fact that the apostles seriously discussed this question shows that they still had high regard for the law of Moses and considered such questions to be important.

 Bereans evaluate Paul’s message

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

The Old Testament writings were the only Scriptures available at that time.  So the Bereans used the Old Testament to evaluate Paul’s teachings to see if they were true.  Paul’s teachings must have agreed entirely with the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures, otherwise those Bereans would have rejected Paul’s gospel.  It should be obvious to anyone that if the Bereans did not have access to a New Testament because it didn’t exist and all they had was the Old Testament to study from, and the OT talked about the Sabbath, the Feasts and the dietary Laws, then they most certainly kept and observed them.

Paul takes a 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

Although it is not certain what kind of vow Paul had made, the cutting off of the hair was typical of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6).  Later Paul could have fulfilled the parts of his vow that required making offerings at the temple in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:26)

Keep this feast

But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if Elohim will it. And he sailed from Ephesus. Acts 18:21

The feast in question would have been one of the Feasts that are mentioned in Leviticus 23 which evidently Paul was willing to go out of his way to observe. It is a reasonable assumption that those people whom he was speaking to knew about the feasts and the particular feast that Paul would be keeping in Jerusalem. This would have been a good opportunity for those people whom he was speaking to, to remind him that the feasts where no longer necessary. This obviously did not happen.

Paul in Ephesus

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of Elohim. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of Yahweh. Acts 19:8-10

During the two years that Paul taught in Ephesus the Jews continued to come listen to Paul’s teaching.  Most of the Jews would have stayed away if Paul had been teaching in opposition to the OT, it was obvious that he wasn’t.  In addition we are told that he spent three months in the synagogue teaching them about the Way, which is to say, teaching them about the Messiah. They did not accept this teaching and so he left with the disciples.

Feast of Unleavened Bread

But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. Acts 20:6

The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasts seven days and comes right after the Passover in the spring.  The mention of the feast here indicates that Paul and his companions were observing it.  They were traveling in a country where there would be little reason to use a Jewish feast as a time reference, unless they celebrated it.  If they had not celebrated the feast, Luke could have easily added a clarifying phrase like “which we no longer observed”.  There is no such clarification anywhere in Acts.

The resurrection of our Messiah comes right during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so it is significant to notice that Luke did not write “we sailed from Philippi a few days after Easter.”  If the Christians had actually been ignoring the Old Testament feasts, Luke would have mentioned the celebration of the resurrection rather than the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

 On the first day of the week

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. Acts 20:7

This is the only passage in Acts that mentions Sunday or the first day of the week.  Because each Jewish day started and ended at sundown, this meeting probably occurred on a Saturday night, after the Sabbath had ended.  In the New English Bible this verse reads, “On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to leave next day, addressed them, and went on speaking until midnight.”  The term ‘breaking bread’ is only a reference to eating. Neither the Jews nor the believers of the time ever used that term to refer to worship. This notion about connecting this term to worship came about much later when the Catholic Church instated the wafer during their Sunday services.  The wafer did not originally have a connection to bread but to the sun, which is why the wafer has the shape of a sun; this notion that you can eat a piece of the sun was not necessarily new and had been practiced by several false religions.

Then everybody will know

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

James and the apostles who were acquainted with Paul knew that the reports were false.  If Paul joined in the purification rites it would be obvious to everyone that Paul was living in obedience to the law. Paul did join in the purification rites because he was obedient to the Law.  There was no truth in the rumors that Paul was teaching people to turn away from the OT Law. Unfortunately, some people would rather portray Paul as a clever hypocrite – acting like a Christian when he’s with Christians, acting like a Jew when he’s with Jews, and acting like a Gentile when he’s with Gentiles – as if Paul might gain some missionary advantage by doing so.  We know that Paul did not approve of that kind of hypocrisy because he had publicly rebuked Peter for such behavior. (see Galatians 2:11-14)

If Paul had been in the habit of disregarding the law of Moses, it would have been deceitful for Paul to join in the purification rites knowing that everyone would think he had been living according to the law.  It also would have been deceitful for James and the elders to recommend a course of action that would have intentionally misled the believers in Jerusalem.  So it is apparent that Paul really had been living in obedience to the Law all along.

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. Acts 21:26

The Master’s Approval

The following night Yahshua stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’ Acts 23:11

Although some Christians today are critical of Paul’s choice to go through the purification ritual which led to his arrest at the Jewish temple, our Savior apparently does not share that opinion at all.  In Jerusalem Paul had testified as a Law-observant believer in Yahshua, deliberately making it clear to all that he upheld the law of Moses. It would make perfect sense that our Savior had a good opportunity to clarify with Paul what he ‘allegedly’ told the disciples in Matthew 5:17. He didn’t!

The Fast

 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them…Acts 27:9

A footnote in the NIV Bible says “the Fast” refers to the Day of Atonement.  This feast occurred in the fall and was the only Jewish festival that involved fasting.  When Luke wrote the story of Acts, he knew that believers who would later read the story would know that he was speaking about the Day of Atonement as this would be a fast they would be keeping as well. That is most likely the reason that he did not expound with details. The Day of Atonement is one of the days which we are commanded to keep and which is listed in Leviticus 23.

Did the disciples  stop keeping Old Testament laws?

The book of Acts contains no evidence that the apostles ever stopped observing the Old Testament laws.  Instead it depicts Spirit-filled, grace-based  believers who continued to observe the laws of the Old Testament. Not in a legalistic way to earn salvation but in order to honor our Creator as well as their Messiah.  The book of Acts proves that the disciples continued to walk in the footsteps of the Messiah long after the Messiah had ascended.  The fact is that it was long after the Book of Acts was written that the notion of not keeping the OT Laws became popular. This notion was motivated by the events which led to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the stigma that believers encountered as they were expelled to the Diaspora.