Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher (Acts 22)

Gamaliel was one of the greatest teachers of Judaism. His grandfather, Hillel, founded the more liberal of the two main schools of the Pharisees, and Gamaliel was the first of seven leaders of the school of Hillel to be honoured with the title Rabban, “Our Rabbi”. Paul, while making his defence on the steps of the fortress of Antonia after his arrest in the temple, stated that he had been brought up in Jerusalem and, under Gamaliel. “thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3). Paul, in other words, had received the best possible Jewish education of his day.

Gamaliel is also mentioned in chapter 5 in connection with the appearance of Peter and the apostles before the Sanhedrin on the charge of teaching about Jesus. The members of the Sanhedrin became incensed when Peter and the apostles declared “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29) and were about to put them to death. But Gamaliel, “a Pharisee… a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people” (Acts 5:34), as a member of the Sanhedrin persuaded them to let the apostles go, wisely observing, “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men!” (Acts 5:38-39).

Gamaliel was a man of great intellect who studied not only Biblical law, but also Greek literature (his love of Greek set him apart from many of his more zealous rabbinical colleagues). Gamaliel tended to be pragmatic in his interpretation of the law and was known for his tolerant attitude. He recommended that Sabbath observance be less rigorous and burdensome, regulated laws of divorce in order to protect women and urged kindness toward Gentiles.

 

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