“When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. The next day Paul went in with us to see James, and all the elders were there. When Paul had greeted them, he began to explain in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all ardent observers of the law. They have been informed about you – that you teach all the Jews now living among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What then should we do? They will no doubt hear that you have come. So do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law. But regarding the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter, having decided that they should avoid meat that has been sacrificed to idols and blood and what has been strangled and sexual immorality’” —Acts 21:17-25
Okay, here’s what is going on. On his second day in Jerusalem, Paul and some of his companions met with James and the Jewish elders of the church. In considerable detail, he reported to them how God had used his preaching of the gospel to save many Gentiles. These Jewish brothers rejoiced when they learned that many Gentiles had come to faith in Jesus. But they also wanted Paul to know about a controversy that had come up. Paul had become a well-known celebrity in Jerusalem. He had received much of his training from Gamaliel, who apparently lived in or near Jerusalem. Jerusalem seems to have been Paul’s base of operations when, as an unbeliever, he opposed the gospel and persecuted the church. So, Paul was well known to both believing and unbelieving Jews alike.
The elders in Jerusalem knew that distorted accounts of Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles had already reached their city:
“When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all ardent observers of the law. They have been informed about you – that you teach all the Jews now living among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs’” —Acts 21:20-21
Had Paul been preaching that? No. But the enemies of the gospel were eager to believe the worst about Paul and his ministry. Unsaved Jews gladly believed the reports that Paul had turned against Judaism, the Old Testament Law of Moses, and the temple, something that was far from the truth, obviously, but facts aren’t important when we are talking about religion and faith. Even believing Jews in Jerusalem were being persuaded that Paul was teaching Jewish believers who lived in Gentile lands that they shouldn’t circumcise their children or continue to observe Jewish customs.
James and his colleagues were pretty concerned about these false reports and how they might harm the church—and even hinder Paul’s ministry among them. It seems evident that they had already agreed among themselves concerning their words of counsel. They asked Paul to publicly participate in temple worship, along with four Jewish men who had taken a vow. He was to take these four men and go through a purification ritual with them, paying their expenses to do so. This symbolic action would demonstrate that he continued to worship as a Jew. It would also prove that he had no reservations about encouraging other Jews to do likewise. Without debate or delay, Paul set out to comply with this request.
Interestingly, What Paul was specifically paying for was the sacrificial animals required for the Zevah Sh’elamim offering—the Vow offering—these men were required to perform (see Leviticus 7:11-34). And the only reason he was asked to do this, was to prove to everyone that Paul remained a Torah observant Jew even with his belief that Yeshua was the Messiah.
If nothing else in this, I hope you see, the earliest that the Disciples of Christ, the Apostles, even Christ Himself, constantly gathered at the Temple. Long after Yeshua’s death, we’ll find Paul participating in Temple worship and sacrifices. The early Believers still went to the Temple, after Jesus’ death, and performed all the traditional Temple ceremonies. Listen to Acts 2:44-46: “And all they who believed, were together; and whatever belonged to them, was of the community. And they who had a possession, sold it, and divided to each one as he had need. And they continued daily in the temple, with one soul: and at home, they broke bread and took food rejoicing, and in the simplicity of their heart.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts