What Was Paul’s Vow?

07 Jan

The city of Corinth is part of an isthmus  about 5 miles wide, which had two harbors. Its western harbor, Lechea, was on the western side of the Grecian peninsula and faced the Adriatic Sea, while its eastern seaport, Cenchrea, faced the Aegean Sea on the eastern side of the peninsula, where the church at Corinth was founded (Romans 16:1). We are told in Acts 18:18 that Paul shaved his head at Cenchrea, because he had a vow, but what was Paul’s vow? The text doesn’t say, but I think we can gain some insight, if we consider what happened to Paul during his visit to the Roman province of Achaia.

First of all, when did Paul make this vow? Again the text doesn’t say, but I believe it implies he may have made it upon the arrival of Silas and Timothy in Corinth (Acts 18:5). It is here that we are told that Paul was “pressed in the spirit” (KJV). The Greek word for “pressed is sunecho (G4912). It is used of the people of the Gadarenes (Luke 8:37) who were “taken” with great fear because of what Jesus had done for the demoniac there. It is used of Jesus in Luke 12:50 when he expressed he was “straightened” for the crucifixion to be over. It is also used in a few places of people “taken” with illnesses. But, I think we can see from these two Scriptures that Paul fervently desired something in his spirit, but what was he desirous of? Well, the text says that Paul was “pressed in the spirit” AND “testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” However, if this is so, why was Paul so concerned for these Jews in Corinth, since the Scriptures don’t indicate he had taken a vow on the behalf of his countrymen anywhere else?

This leads us to the second indicator for the reason for Paul making his vow. If you have followed me throughout Paul’s missionary journeys, you would see that he met with trouble wherever he had gone. Paul had made a practice of going to the Jew first and then to the gentile. He would begin his testimony in a synagogue, if one were in a city, and seek to persuade the Jews and any gentile God-fearers who might be worshiping there. When he came to Athens, however, it seems the Jews there were of the liberal type that were willing to ‘live and let live,’ so to speak, as it pertained to witnessing to those ignorant of the God of Israel. The text says Paul disputed with the Jews and the devout people in the synagogue, and daily with those who would meet with him in the marketplace (Acts 17:17). Long-story-short, some of the city’s philosophers heard him and had him speak to them at the Areopagus on Mar’s Hill. Paul delivered what is arguably his best recorded speech in the NT, but some mocked him, laughing as they left, while others said “we will hear you again.” In other words, “don’t call us we’ll call you.” Which was worse for Paul, encountering people so excited about the message that they tried to lock him in prison and perhaps kill him or encountering people who mocked and laughed at him, believing him to be a “babbler” – i.e. a “seed-picker” or one who trifles with words, picking up scraps of knowledge where he can?

Paul established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, but in a large city like Athens, only a handful were interested in the God of Israel. The city was so taken with idols, that they had absolutely no regard for truth. Paul was absolutely eloquent in Athens, but his fruit was meager. When he came to Corinth he was determined to “know” nothing but Christ, and him crucified (1Corinthians 2:2). Athens was a bad memory he didn’t want to repeat. He spent his time working at his trade in the marketplace (Acts18:2-3) and disputed with the Jews and God-fearers in the synagogue (Acts 18:4). When Silas and Timothy arrived with their good news about the churches he had planted in Macedonia (Acts 18:5), Paul was both excited and in mourning. He mourned over the harvest fields of Athens and Corinth, but took encouragement over those in Macedonia. It was at this time and for the reasons mentioned that I believe Paul “was pressed in his spirit” and made a vow. Almost immediately afterward, the Jews became antagonistic, but Paul had a vision from Jesus that the harvest in Corinth would be plentiful.

I believe Paul’s vow was that of a Nazarite. It would have been an outward indication to his unbelieving Jewish brethren that Paul was devoting himself to the Lord and his work. Even his shaving his head at Cenchera would have been a sign to them of his intention to sacrifice the appropriate offering in the Temple at Jerusalem, which he did. He set sail for Syria (Acts 18:18), stopping off at Ephesus. He spoke to Jews there, but when they wanted him to stay, he told them he had to keep the feast at Jerusalem (Acts 18:19-21). After he landed at Caesarea, Paul went up (to Jerusalem) and saluted the church there (and made the appropriate offering) and went down to Antioch (Acts 18:22). According to Josephus Paul had 30 days to offer up the appropriate sacrifice after his vow was complete [JOSEPHUS: “Wars of the Jews”, book 2; chapter 15; paragraph 1].

When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians he told them to consider their numbers, that not many wise had been called of God (1Corinthians 1:26), thus showing, it is not in wisdom of words, eloquent speeches or great arguments that people are won to the Lord. God looks upon our works and the increase with which he blesses us is inversely proportional to the degree “I” am invested in the Gospel—how much of it is my words, my knowledge and my eloquence (1Corinthians 1:17). God is not impressed with what normally impresses man, so he will not bless this effort abundantly (1Corinthians 1:19). His blessings flow from those who know nothing but Christ and him crucified (1Corinthians 2:2). His is our Wisdom (1Corinthians 1:24, 30). Praise God!


Posted by on January 7, 2010 in Gospel, Religion


Tags: , , , , , , ,

20 responses to “What Was Paul’s Vow?

  1. Scott Borman

    May 10, 2016 at 22:59

    I appreciate your insight. I am preaching on this section of scripture and it is too easy to make a haircut joke and move on. I am

    • Eddie

      May 11, 2016 at 07:09

      Greetings Scott, thank you for reading. I hope what I had to say helped out. Always glad to be of service.
      Lord bless you and your ministry, Eddie

  2. Jean

    November 28, 2014 at 17:12

    Again, thank you. I was looking for an explanation of the vow and Paul’s cutting of his hair.

    • Eddie

      November 28, 2014 at 18:15

      Your welcome, Jean. Thank you for reading.

      • Jean

        November 29, 2014 at 08:50

        I seem to be zipping through The Bible using biblediscoverytv. I get their monthly guide and read the daily readings and then watch their show online or on Roku or on our local station that carries it. I missed most of the Old Testament, but I am sticking with the New Testament.

        I’ve tried other ways of study – Bible in a Year books, EFM classes (tried that 3 years in a row, and they were mostly concerned with the “P writer,” the J writer, ” etc – and this is the best for me so far. I’ve found your blog twice now when searching Google for answers to questions I have. So glad you are there/here. I have the guides for the entire year, and I will need to start with Genesis on my own. I’m sure I will read more and more from you as I go through from the beginning on my own.

        • Eddie

          November 29, 2014 at 09:45

          Lord bless and guide you in your spiritual journey through his word.

  3. Once4all

    June 22, 2010 at 15:07

    Hi Eddie. Sorry for not responding sooner. I’ve had other obligations come up and not had time to look at this fully. Regardless that we’re not seeing this exactly eye-to-eye, your article and subsequent explanations have been helpful to me. I will take what I’ve learned from our discussion and update my blog, providing an alternate viewpoint. Thanks very much! May God richly bless you, brother.

    • Eddie

      June 22, 2010 at 16:42

      Hello again! Not a problem about responding. I’m always glad when someone stops by and takes the time to respond. It has been months since anyone actually discussed a matter with me through the comments. I just want to say I appreciate the encouragement.
      Concerning not seeing eye-to-eye, that’s not a problem either. Folks just need to accept one another in Christ even when we differ on a point of view or two. Besides, what we were discussing had nothing to do with foundational doctrines in Christianity. It was merely why Paul made a vow and what it happened to be, and there wasn’t a great deal of information provided. People are bound to have differing points of view on matters like this. :-)

  4. Eddie

    June 19, 2010 at 05:28

    Actually, I don’t think I was very clear in the blog as to why Paul made the vow. I was depending too much upon people following me in Acts for at least the previous three or four blogs. Paul was in Corinth and depressed over what had occurred in Athens. It was a real setback for him. Athens was a large metropolis and he failed, reaping only a few names for Christ. What happened was that Paul was overly impressed with the intelligent people there who had nothing better to do than discuss new ideas that came along. He was practically laughed out of town.

    In Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea he was run out of town. People hated him and wanted to either imprison him or kill him. He probably thought he was doing something wrong, until Silas came to Corinth with the reports from the new churches in Macedonia. Philippi even sent a donation to help him in the mission field. Because of this news and the practical fruit from Philippi, Paul suddenly realized that God blessed what he had done when all he did was preach Christ. While in Athens, Paul thought, because he was among the really intelligent people—philosophers etc.—that he needed to be eloquent and present a flawless speech about God and Christ. Guess what—God didn’t bless that effort. There was too much Paul and not enough of the Holy Spirit in all he did in Athens. In his efforts to be “all things to all people” Paul thought he had to become a philosopher to speak to philosophers. No—that’s not how it is done. He needed to preach Christ and him crucified.

    While in Corinth, Paul wasn’t sure what to do, until Silas came with the good news. Once he realized that being driven out of town for Christ’s sake was a blessing, he made the vow to know nothing but Christ in Corinth. He chucked ‘Paul the philosopher’ and preached Christ and him crucified. He drew near to God and promised—no matter what occurred—that would be the message he preached in Corinth. Jesus appeared to him immediately afterward and told him he had many people in this city and that no one would hurt him. So, Paul stayed and preached for a year and a half. His let his hair grow long, and he shaved it off—I did mention this by the way in my next to last paragraph in the blog. Paul could have waited and cut his hair in Jerusalem, but he shaved his head there as a witness, so the unbelieving Jews would understand it was a vow and that he planned to go to the Temple and offer the proper sacrifice. As I said above Josephus said that people who shaved their heads away from Jerusalem had 30 days to get to the Temple to present it to the priests and offer the appropriate sacrifice.

    • Ken N

      July 2, 2019 at 09:52

      Eddie, I write a daily devotional blog. I’m not religious, don’t go to a church. This cutting the hair thing in Ephesus has me baffled, just like the other times Paul flip flopped, like in circumcising Timothy, instead of just following Jesus. That makes no sense to me. Hah, That’s the song on todays post on my blog!
      Anyway, I think you hit the nail on the head here. Paul was in his element doing the philosophical dances with those in Athens. I hate Philosophy. In Corinth it was the same, but then he came to the happy place; he lived in Christ, and let it go. Those who didn’t want to hear, were not his concern. If they throw him out, shake the dust off your feet, and move on.
      Isn’t that what Jesus told those who He sent out to do?
      Now I have some ideas about the post for the 4th. What I start with and what I finish with are more often than not quite different things. The Spirit has His own ideas.

      • Eddie

        July 2, 2019 at 12:16

        Hi Ken, and thanks for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts. Lord bless you.

        You write a daily devotional blog—good for you! I tried the daily route, but couldn’t keep up the pace. No religion or church is also a route I took in the 70s and part of the 80s. In the end I longed for public worship, not the teaching but simply worshiping with folks of like faith. It’s a tougher road to travel, but the rewards are better in my opinion. Just a thought.

        We differ on Paul’s “flip-flopping” and not following Jesus, however. There were good reasons for his doing what he did with Timothy, and I have a study on this, if you care to read my thoughts.

        Concerning Paul and philosophy, Paul had a Gospel plan, and he never deviated from that approach wherever he traveled. The problem with many folks and Paul is that we tend to read Paul with 20th and 21st century eyes instead of the 1st century AD context in which the New Covenant Scriptures were written. You seem to take a more cryptic view of the Scriptures than me. I’m not saying that’s wrong, I’m just saying we view or approach the Scriptures differently. There are a lot of good and inspiring thoughts that can be derived from the cryptic point of view. Lord bless you in your studies

        • Ken Nagy

          July 2, 2019 at 14:32

          Wow, you answer fast! I’ve thought about a church. It would have to be a non-denominational one. I call them demon-nations, so that really wouldn’t work!
          Paul is a hard one to figure out for me. I did a whole Kens rewording of Romans a few years back that came out pretty well. Some very good stuff in Romans, but Hebrews is much easier to understand.
          I did the chronological Gospel starting in 2018, that kept going into Acts. The Gospels are very straightforward. I just write what I’m given. Sometime they go quickly, other times, like this one, I struggle.
          Cryptic? Never thought of that. Just digging deeper.
          Have a great day.

        • Eddie

          July 2, 2019 at 20:46

          Greetings Ken. Hope “cryptic” wasn’t an offense. I didn’t intend it to be. I didn’t think you were trying to be literal, so I assumed you were taking a mystical approach to interpretation for your daily devotional blog. I haven’t studied Romans verse by verse, but I am up to chapter 12 of Hebrews. I don’t think it is easy, but it may be easier than Romans (don’t know). I want to get back into the Gospels. I really enjoyed my study of Luke. I’m in chapter 18 of the Apocalypse and want to finish it before going to the Gospels (perhaps Mark next). I probably should finish Hebrews though before I do that. I’m 73 and I’ve noticed that my attention span isn’t what it used to be. I hope I don’t lose it too quickly. I do love to study and find out what the Scriptures say.

          Well, Lord bless you Ken, and I hope you are enjoying your studies as much as you seem to be. :-)

        • Bill

          July 2, 2019 at 18:29

          Hi Eddie. When I was studying along with you when you wrote this blog piece, this vow of Paul’s touched my heart…and changed my opinion of Paul entirely! Those who were chastising him were basically calling him a liar, that he hadn’t had the encounter with Jesus that he claimed, and that his message wasn’t to be considered the truth. I believe he took this vow so they could hear him in their own “language,” for lack of a better word. After cutting the hair, he only had a certain number of days to return to Jerusalem and finish the vow on the altar, which is why he couldn’t tarry. If he failed, they would know he was a liar because he had taken an oath and didn’t follow through. Please read the story in the KJV bible, and not from the minority texts. There is insight in the majority text that is missing in the other. This vow of Paul’s became a vow to me, too…that what Paul had to say was the truth!

          Keep up the great work here! My best regards to you.


        • Eddie

          July 2, 2019 at 21:28

          Hi Bill! I replied once to your post, but it didn’t take. I hope this one works. :-)

          I agree with you that Paul was “speaking their language” through his vow and shaving his head. Many unbelieving Jews simply had the wrong idea about Paul’s Gospel. They assumed he was seeking to destroy the Law of Moses (see Acts 21:21-22). So, when he let his hair grow, indicating he had taken a vow, and then shaved his head before he left Corinth, it would be unmistakable that he was following the Law of Moses like any good Jew. It was simply difficult for Jews who rejected the Gospel to see that it was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. :-)

          My favorite Bible is the KJV. I use other Bibles too, but I more or less use the KJV to measure the others. Lord bless you, my friend.

  5. Once4all

    June 18, 2010 at 19:28

    Thanks for those verses, Eddie. I see what you mean. OK, so we both agree on the timing of Paul’s vow, and it seems we even narrow it down to the same couple of verses (around Acts 18:5-6). If I’m reading your article correctly, you say his vow was him “devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5) and I’m saying it was in Acts 18:6 when “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'” Since he cut his hair after leaving Corinth, we can also both agree that the vow was in force for the time that he remained there, yes? (I do find it exciting that we are so close on this!) I think your supporting verses, such as 1 Corinthians 2:2 are very good.

    On the other hand, you didn’t mention at all the fact that Paul cut his hair, signifying the conclusion of his vow. I think in support of my argument, the proximity of Paul washing his hands clean (to use a phrase used elsewhere for a similar purpose, Matthew 27:24) of their blood has shades of similarity to the description of the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6. WAIT! Reading through Numbers 6, something more is being clarified for me. The resisting, blaspheming Jews, which I thought caused him to make the vow, actually may correspond to a “dead body” that would defile his vow, making the Jews something to avoid BECAUSE of the vow!

    Numbers 6:6-9 NASB
    (6) ‘All the days of his separation to the LORD he shall not go near to a dead person.
    (7) ‘He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head.
    (8) ‘All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.
    (9) ‘But if a man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his dedicated head of hair, then he shall shave his head on the day when he becomes clean; he shall shave it on the seventh day.

    Numbers 6:12b – but the former days will be void because his separation was defiled.

    This would have the effect of interrupting or defiling his vow, making it necessary to be cleansed and basically BEGINNING THE VOW ANEW (the former days were void).

    Perhaps, Eddie, we are both right! I was seeing Acts 18:6 as the start of the vow when it was actually an interruption and renewal of it. What do you think?

  6. Eddie

    June 18, 2010 at 11:01

    Hello again. Thank you for your interest in my blog, but I find your interest in the word of God even more refreshing. There are implications of separation in Paul’s visits to both Thessalonica and Berea, but nothing is definite. However, Scripture does show Paul going to and leaving the Jews both earlier and later than his vow in Corinth (Acts 13:46-47, 19:9-10, 28:28). I think this is what you are looking for, if not, don’t hesitate to ask for clarity. I am always willing to discuss the word of God with anyone who drops by.
    Have a great day and God bless.

  7. Once4all

    June 18, 2010 at 09:28

    Eddie, I appreciate your comments! You are the second person to respond that way. Do you know off-hand (I’m not expecting you to search for me) where else Paul stated that he would not go to the Jews or not go into the synagogue? I was just wondering if this is the only place recorded where he actually made that statement (which is, by its nature, a vow, even though he didn’t say “I vow…”). Thanks also for your comments about the John 9/Acts 9 similarities. I just love God’s Word!

  8. Once4all

    June 17, 2010 at 14:22

    Hi Eddie. I found your blog because I was searching to see if anyone else had come up with the same idea that I’ve recently had regarding Paul’s vow in Acts 18. So far, your study of it has come the closest, though it’s not the same. But we do both believe that he made the vow after the arrival of Silas and Timothy. My short study of it is here:

    Take care and God bless.

    • Eddie

      June 18, 2010 at 09:12

      Hi there. I read your blog concerning Paul’s vow, but I don’t believe Paul’s vow was for the reason you suggest. The reason being that it was always Paul’s intention to begin preaching in the synagogues of the cities he visited, but then leave once the way was spoken against as evil. He always left with those Jews and Gentile sympathizers and God-fearers who believed his Gospel. It would not be to their benefit to continue in adverse surroundings, so he always rented a place of meeting or took advantage of the good graces of one of the believers who left with him and had a large enough facility to accommodate the new church. There would be no reason to make a vow not to go into the synagogue. Furthermore, this was his usual practice, but the Scriptures are silent concerning any previous or later vow not to enter a synagogue. I don’t see the point of your interpretation, but I did like your pov concerning the similarities of John 9 and Acts 9. I didn’t see this before, but I think it is very interesting and worth pursuing further.
      Lord bless


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: