Gamaliel


Gamaliel is not mentioned often in the New Testament, but is an extremely important influence behind one of the most prominent writers of the New Testament, the apostle Paul.  

If we were to search the New Testament, we would find the name Gamaliel only twice.  Let’s look at those two appearances and see what we can learn about this influential man.



Gamaliel was a Member of the Sanhedrin

The first time we find the name Gamaliel is in Acts 5, where we are given a glimpse inside a council meeting.  

The authorities saw that Peter and John preaching Jesus.  They brought them into custody, set them in front of the Sanhedrin, and confronted them.  They asked why Peter and John broke the law by preaching Jesus when they were forbidden to do so.  Peter responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men”  (Acts 5.29).  This infuriated the Sanhedrin who set out to put Peter and John to death.  

At this point, a member of the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel stepped forward to be the voice of reason.  He reminded his fellow councilmen of history.  There were men in the past who rose up and had followers.  The leader was killed, and the followers were dispersed.  Notice his conclusion:

Acts 5.38,39:  “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it — lest you even be found to fight against God.”

From this account in Acts 5, we can back up to verse and learn how he is described.

Acts 5.34:  “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.”

This verse tells me quite a bit about Gamaliel.  Notice a few things that are mentioned.

  • Gamaliel was one of the council.  This means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a group of 70 men consisting of Pharisees, Sadducees, and chief priests.  Together they made up the Jewish Supreme Court called the Sanhedrin.  They made decisions on civil and religious matters.  
  • Gamaliel was a Pharisee.  The Pharisees were the separated ones.  It is believed that the word “Pharisee” actually means “separated.” These were individuals who separated themselves from the rest of the Jews as the religious elites, and they did their best to obey the laws and traditions.  In fact, often their man-made traditions became just as important and even more important than the Law of Moses.  For example, when the Law of Moses said that you cannot work on the Sabbath, they would then define what it meant to work.  They would forbid a person from writing on the ground.  If you were a tailor, you could not carry a needle around (Matt. 15.8,9).  They adhered to man-made laws.  Gamaliel was part of this religious sect.  
  • Gamaliel was a teacher of the Law.  He was a rabbi. 
  • Gamaliel was well respected by all the people.  This was an important and iconic figure among the Jews.


Gamaliel was a Mentor to the Apostle Paul

When we turn to Acts 23, we find the apostle Paul standing in front of the Sanhedrin answering the charges brought against him.  As he addressed the Jewish Supreme Court, this is what he said.

Acts 22.3:  “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law.”

Imagine one of the most respected scholars our generation has ever known.  Paul wrote that he was trained by one who was one of the greatest, most well respected scholars of his day. 

If we dig deeper, we find in Galatians 1.14, that Paul did very well in school.  He was not your average student.  He writes…

Galatians 1.14:  “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

Then consider what Paul said standing in front of the Sanhedrin. In Acts 23.6, Paul said, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee."  As a Pharisee, he was absolutely committed to keeping the laws of Moses and the traditions of the fathers.  Paul belonged to this strict religious sect.  In fact, Paul said in Acts 26.5, "that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee."

Put that together with the previous observation to get understand how Paul was influenced.  Paul was a Pharisee raised in the home of a Pharisee.  He was trained by Gamaliel, one of the most respected Pharisees of his time.  

The apostle Paul was extremely successful in his rise among the Jewish elites.  When you study the life of Paul and the influences of his life, Paul attributes his success, in large part, to his training at the feet of Gamaliel.



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