Who was Gamaliel?
Gamaliel was an influential Pharisee and an expert of the law in the Jewish religion during the days of the Apostolic Church. He was also a key member of the highest Jewish council called the Sanhedrin.
Gamaliel was Saul’s mentor and teacher before he was converted and changed his name to Paul. So, Gamaliel was often referred to as Rabbi, which means “teacher” in Hebrew. Additionally, the name Gamaliel means, “God is my reward or recompense.”
Here are some lessons we can learn from various accounts recorded in the Bible about Rabbi Gamaliel:
1. Gamaliel and the early Christians
Gamaliel is mostly remembered for intervening and defending Peter and the other apostles before the Jewish council who intended to kill them (Acts 5:34).
This is what happened:
The Sanhedrin had commanded the apostles not to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). But they went ahead and preached, taught and even performed miracles in Jesus’ name. In fact, we read in Acts 5:12-16 that the early Christian church grew in numbers and experienced great success.
This did not sit well with the high priest and a group of Jews called the Sadducees. So they cast the apostles into prison. But that very night, God’s angel went to the prison and freed them and then commanded the apostles to go and preach in the temple (Acts 5:19).
In the morning, the high priest called a council to deal with the issue, but then discovered that they were not in prison and were preaching in Jesus’ name again.
So they proposed to kill the apostles. And that’s when Gamaliel stepped in:
Gamaliel used his influence and convinced the Jewish leaders against trying to harm the apostles and Christianity as a whole. Eventually, the Jewish leaders gave in to Gamaliel’s advice. And so, the council let the apostles go after beating and warning them.
2. How did Gamaliel convince the Sanhedrin not to kill the apostles?
To take a stand against such a murderous Sanhedrin was disastrous. It required tact, reason, knowledge and wisdom. So how did Gamaliel do it? Let’s look at Acts chapter five for the answer:
- He was a Pharisee and Doctor of the law (v34) - And this made him respectable. He was learned and could express himself with conviction.
- He had a good reputation (v34) - He must have been considered as one who had the interests of the council and Israel at heart, so they listened to his points.
- He was a man of authority (v34) - He “commanded to put the apostles outside.” He did not make a request here, yet his command was obeyed. This means that his authority was highly regarded in the council.
- He was discrete (v34) - By asking the apostles to leave, he showed that he respected the council. He did not want to expose the discussions of the council to non-members, like the apostles. And this must have increased his credibility with the Sanhedrin.
- He was wise (v35) - He gave good advice, asking the sanhedrin to “take heed” but did not force his views on them. This was a sincere request that invited the council to reevaluate their decision and drew their attention to the rest of his argument.
- He used history (v36-37) - After winning the attention of the sanhedrin, he used his deeper knowledge of history to present his points. He told the story of Theudas and Judas of Galilee who perished and whose followers eventually left them.
- He was tactful (v38) - After presenting his case, he tactfully brought it to a conclusion, urging his colleagues in the right track by saying,“And now I say unto you…”
- He was fearless (v38) - It required courage to speak against the sanhedrin. His words “refrain from these men and let them alone” proved his boldness.
- He warned the people of their danger (v39) - He had previously stated that if the course is not of God then it would also fail. Then he warned them that if it be of God then you would not win since they can't fight God.
- He was persuasive (v40) - Eventually, the council agreed to follow his wise counsel. Though they beat the apostles, they did not kill them.
3. How did Gamaliel impact Paul?
Paul says that he was taught by Gamaliel. The teachings he received included “the perfect manner of the law of the fathers” (Acts 22:3).
In Paul’s letters we see that he had a deep understanding of the law. Peter testifies of this in 2 Peter 3:16. Even Festus said that Paul was very learned, Acts 26:24.
Paul demonstrates a deep understanding of the old testament prophecies, especially those relating to Jesus. He explained the subject of the law and grace like no other writer. And as mentioned earlier, Gamaliel played a huge factor in Paul’s mastery of these things.
4. What can we learn from Gamaliel?
From Gamaliel, we see the importance of being guided by the Holy Spirit. Gamaliel was open to the influence of the Holy Spirit, even though he was a Pharisee and an expert of the law.
We also learn from him the importance of being firm. His firm efforts to defend the truth preserved the early church. We should not shy away from standing for what we believe is right, even when we’re faced with opposition.
We also need to equip ourselves with knowledge. In our defence of the truth, we must be wise, knowledgeable and convincing. And beyond being knowledgeable, we need to present the truth in a reasonable manner so that even those who are against it will see the sense of it and have no way to oppose it.
We should mentor other people just like Gamaliel trained Paul. He equipped Paul with the knowledge of the law that enabled him to teach the truths of the old testament in the light of Jesus Christ.