Paul was consistent with the Father and Jesus
“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 God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.” (Acts 18:21 KJV)
The words ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘feast’ are present in the Apostolic Bible Polyglot Interlinear, but not in every Greek manuscript. The ESV and NASB omit the part about Jerusaelm and the feast.
In Acts 21, Paul took a vow with four others to dispel false rumors that he didn’t live in observance of the law. The only stated purpose of taking the vow is in verse 24, “Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.”
“On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; (24) take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.” (Acts 21:18-26)
In Acts 24, Paul was accused of profaning the temple. He would have been breaking God’s Law if the accusations were true. However, Paul presented a defense against the false accusation that he broke God’s law. His defense was that he believed everything laid down in the Law and written in the Prophets. As proof, he provided examples of how he had been obeying the Law.
“And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult.” (Acts 24:10-17)
“Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well.” (Acts 25:8-10)
“For all who have sinned without the law [anomós – refers to pagan behavior] will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” (Romans 2:12-13)
“You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.” (Romans 2:23)
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:31)
Lawlessness is equated with sin. Remember that sin is lawlessness according to 1 John 3:4.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:7-8)
“for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.” (Romans 5:13)
Since sin is not counted where there is no law, for sin to exist, the law must also exist to distinguish sin [transgression of the law] from righteousness [obeying the law].
Sin [disobeying the law of God] leads to death. Obedience [to the law of God] leads to righteousness.
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)
Paul contrasts lawlessness and righteousness as opposites a few verses later.
“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” (Romans 6:19)
Righteousness and lawlessness are opposites.
One role of the law is to define sin, holiness, righteousness, good and what is spiritual. Just in case one still thinks the law is bad, Paul clearly states that the law is holy and it’s really breaking the law [sin] that is bad and leads to death.
“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:12-14)
We’ll delve into this more later, but notice in the next verses that Paul speaks of more than one kind of law. He says that he delights in the ‘law of God’ but equates the ‘law of sin’ with captivity and death.
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-25)
He equated a mind set on the Spirit with submitting to God’s law.
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:6-7)
Like Jesus, Paul quoted the Ten Commandments as authoritative and gave a summary of what they point us to. This would not be a logical addition to his argument if the commandments had been abolished.
“For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)
Righteousness and lawlessness are presented as opposites again to the Corinthians. Paul compares righteousness and lawlessness to believers and unbelievers; to light and darkness.
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (1 Corinthians 6:14)
The next statement about circumcision can seem like a contradiction to modern Christians. Take a look at the verse.
“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” (1 Corinthians 7:19)
Our experience leads us to think of circumcision as merely a medical procedure and nothing more. When read with that mindset, it appears Paul is saying circumcision doesn’t matter. What isn’t spelled out in this one verse is the fact that people in the first century used the word circumcision to mean much more than just a surgery. To them, it referred to the rigorous ribbinic process of becoming a Jew. A first century reader would have understood Paul’s meaning as, “It doesn’t matter whether you are Jewish or not. What matters is that you keep the commandments of God.” I’ll go into this with citations later.
In Galatians, Paul summarized the goal of the law once again.
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
In Ephesians, Paul once more quotes the law given in Exodus 20:12 and repeated Deuteronomy 5:16.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul spends considerable time warning his readers of a future ‘man of lawlessness’ who will come ‘by the activity of Satan’. The primary identifying characteristic of the man of lawlessness is being against God’s law.
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)
Paul charged Timothy to “Pursue righteousness” (the opposite of lawlessness) and to “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach”.
“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,“ (1 Timothy 6:11-14)
When Paul wrote to Timothy, the only literary work recognized as canonized Scripture was the Hebrew Scriptures (what we are accustomed to calling the ‘Old Testament’). The New Testament gospels and letters were still being written and would not be formally canonized until approximately 100-200 years later. Timothy would have understood ‘Scripture’ and ‘the word of truth’ to be the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Greek translation known as the Septuagint). From Timothy’s perspective, Paul was saying the books of Moses, the prophets and the writings needed to be rightly handled and were “breathed out by God and profitable…” “…for training in righteousness”.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16)
To Titus, Paul wrote that Jesus Christ gave himself for us to “redeem us from all lawlessness”.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)