Acts 18: 18 Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after that, then said good-bye to the brothers and sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea. There he shaved his head according to Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow.
Paul was able to stay in Corinth longer than any other city in either the first or second mission trip. This was largely due to the court case which declared that Christianity was a sect of Judaism thus declaring that Christianity was a legal religion in the Roman Empire (Acts 18:12-16). Corinth was located on a narrow isthmus with a seaport on both the west and the east. Cenchrea was the eastern port and the obvious choice as Paul was starting his trip back to Jerusalem.
But why would Luke have included the detail of Paul shaving his head to mark the end of a vow? What does this mean? This most likely was the end of a Nazirite vow, found in Numbers 6:1-5. This was a recognized Jewish ritual of thanksgiving. Remember, Paul was able to stay in Corinth 18 months, there had been a legal victory in court, and Paul’s vision (Acts 18:9-10) of God’s protection had come true. Paul’s long stay enabled a large church to be established and now, instead of being chased out of town, Paul was leaving at his own choice.
But why would Paul, evangelist to the Gentiles, continue with a Jewish ritual? In our 21st century mindset, Christianity and Judaism are two separate religions. Paul, however, was preaching how Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy and covenant. The old covenant was not to be thrown out as the new covenant was built upon it. With our focus on the New Testament, we often lose the whole story of the Bible. Luke 24: 27 Then he (Jesus) carefully unveiled to them the revelation of himself throughout the Scripture. He started from the beginning and explained the writings of Moses and all the prophets, showing how they wrote of him and revealed the truth about himself.
Paul was a Jewish theologian and probably found comfort in the Jewish rituals. The vow is his way of connecting with God and a way he acted out his faith. He was doing a ritual for the right reason, a reason of the heart. Most likely he had started the thanksgiving vow after the court victory, but we can’t be sure. During the vow, Paul would let his hair grow and abstain from wine. At the end of the vow, he shaved his head and would have 30 days to take the hair as part of a sacrifice to the temple in Jerusalem.
What about you? What are ways that you connect with God? Perhaps it could be in musical liturgy or fasting or some other ritual. Rituals can be done just to “check the box,” or, if done from the heart, can be a way to live out your faith.
To hear more about Paul and his time in Corinth, listen here: https://podpoint.com/light-of-christ-church-podcast/series/mission-trip-two-radio-show/faithful-to-persevere