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Who Was Gamaliel?
Gamaliel was one of the most famous and influential Jewish men during his time, a grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel. He served as a rabbi and leader for Sanhedrin. Gamaliel was also a powerful Pharisee and expert in the law of Judaism during Christianity’s early days.
Gamaliel was known for being more permissive with the Old Testament law than his contemporaries, Rabbis Shammai and Hillel, who held stricter views on Jewish traditions.
Gamaliel is a man whose name appears in Scripture several times, and he had a profound impact on the early Church.
Gamaliel was the mentor and teacher of Paul before he was converted and changed his name to Paul. Gamaliel was often referred to as Rabbi, which means “teacher” in Hebrew. Additionally, the name Gamaliel means God is my reward or recompense.
The first time we see Rabbi Gamaliel in Scripture is when he appears at a meeting of the Sanhedrin. John and Peter are standing before him on trial.
After having warned the apostles to cease preaching in the name of Jesus, the Jewish council became so incensed when Peter defiantly replied:
He had no intention of ceasing to proclaim the gospel, regardless.
The council’s rage was palatable as they sought the death of Peter and the disciples. However, it wasn’t until Gamaliel stepped in that things calmed down; he ordered the apostles out of the room.
Gamaliel then encouraged the council to be cautious in dealing with Jesus’ followers.
Hearing Gamaliel’s words, the Sanhedrin was convinced. This speaks volumes about his influence and power in that council room.
While Gamaliel was celebrated for his wisdom and handling of the situation, he may be better known for his most famous pupil—a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, who later became the Apostle Paul.
Paul became an expert in the Hebrew scriptures under the tutelage of Rabbi Gamaliel in the Bible.
He was a persuasive and educated man who could speak to any audience. In addition, his knowledge of Old Testament history helped him present Jesus Christ as the one who fulfilled the law, making his message so much more compelling.
Gamaliel was a man of many mysteries, and there is still much that we do not know about him. Unfortunately, there are few sources for this figure from ancient history, including the Talmud; however, these writings give us just enough information to make an educated guess at what he may have been like in real life.
The sources that we do possess indicate that Gamaliel and his family were revered as men of wisdom, courage, and prudence. This Jewish rabbi played a vital role in the early days of Christianity and helped equip some great missionaries.
Lessons We Can Learn About Gamaliel in the Bible
The lessons we can learn from various accounts recorded in the Bible about Rabbi Gamaliel are as follows:
1. Gamaliel and the early church
Gamaliel used his powerful position to convince the Jewish leaders not to pursue hostile actions against the early church and Christians. Eventually, it was clear that Gamaliel’s advice had been sound. So the council let the apostles go after beating and warning them.
Step in for others when possible. You may influence the Kingdom in ways you can’t begin to fathom.
2. How Gamaliel convinced the Sanhedrin not to kill the apostles
To take a stand against a murderous Sanhedrin was disastrous. So how did Gamaliel do it? Let’s take a look at Acts chapter five for the answer:
- He was a Pharisee and Doctor of the law with a solid reputation, a man of authority (verse 34) – And this made him respectable. Moreover, he was learned and could express himself with conviction.
- He was discrete (verse 34)
- He was wise and used history to reinforce his argument (verses 35-37)
- He was tactful yet fearless (verse 38)
- He warned the Sanhedrin of their danger (verse 39)
- He was persuasive (verse 40)
He had previously stated that it would fail if the course were not of God. Then he warned them and said, “you can’t fight God.”
If your plans and dreams are from God, they cannot fail, but if they are not, they will undoubtedly fail. So pray, ask God for wisdom before making every decision, and ask Him for the words to speak in delicate situations.
3. How did Gamaliel impact the life of Paul?
Paul himself states that Gamaliel taught him.
We see that Paul understood the law well. Peter testifies to this in 2 Peter 3:16. Even Festus agreed with Paul’s knowledge.
The author, Paul, demonstrates his deep understanding of the old testament prophecies, especially those relating to Jesus.
Gamaliel was an important factor in Paul’s mastery of these things. He explained the subject to him like no other writer, and as mentioned earlier – his mentor played an important role in the early church.
4. What can we learn from Gamaliel?
Through his example, we learn that firmness is essential. His defense of the truth kept Christianity alive in its early days, and it’s time for us not to shy away from standing up against any opposition with confidence in the Lord Most High.
To effectively defend the truth, we must first be knowledgeable and persuasive. We must present the truth reasonably so that even those against it will see sense and have no way of opposing us.
It is essential to mentor other people just like Gamaliel trained Paul. He equipped him with the knowledge of the law that enabled him to teach truths from the old testament in light of Jesus Christ.
A short video, geared toward kids, but teaches Gamaliel’s story beautifully.
Answering a few more questions about Gamaliel in the Bible
How do Gamaliel’s Words Apply Today?
Gamaliel’s words apply as much today as they did in biblical times.
What is unusual about Acts 5:40?
Interestingly, the Bible says they agreed with Gamaliel yet still beat and commanded them not to speak in Jesus’ name.
What was the disciple’s perspective on being beaten and their command not to preach in Jesus’ name?
Rejoicing! Did you read that? They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Jesus!
Was being beaten something the apostles should be “rejoicing” over?
Absolutely! Jesus, Himself, said:
What can we learn from the apostles after reading Acts 5?
When faced with adversity for our faith, it is important to rejoice in the knowledge that we have been deemed worthy enough by God Himself.
You may also enjoy one of these recommended resources for further study.
At the Feet of Rabbi Gamaliel: Rabbinic Influence in Paul’s Teachings by David Friedman
Gamaliel is a critical yet lesser-known figure in the Bible, and his story can teach us many lessons. What other lessons do you see in the story Gamaliel in the Bible? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”