The name Gamaliel means “my reward is God.” Gamaliel was the son of Simeon ben Hillel and grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder. He was an important man and greatly respected by the Jews. The book of Acts introduces Gamaliel as a doctor of the Mosaic Law (Acts 5:34–40). He was a well-known teacher and famous Pharisee in his own right. Also, one that exercised leadership in his party from about A.D. 25 to 50. In addition, he was the first to receive the title of Rabban. And people knew this Gamaliel as Haz–Zaqen and distinguished him from his grandson, “the Younger,” who flourished about A.D. 90.
The Talmud describes Gamaliel as having the titles Nasi “prince” and Rabban “our master.” As he had a senior position at the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Jewish tradition tells that he was an idyllic Pharisee, a worthy representative of Hillel’s school. For he was more tolerant and less legalistic than the opposing school of Shammai. Further, two Mishnaic anecdotes suggest Gamaliel’s authority on questions of religious law. There, “the king and queen” ask for his advice about rituals. The identity of the king and queen is not given. But it is generally believed to be either Herod Agrippa and his wife Cypros the Nabataean, or Herod Agrippa II and his sister Berenice.
The book of Acts
The Book of Acts records that the apostle Paul was born in Tarsus and brought up in Jerusalem. And this was done “at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers” (Acts 22:3). It is clear that the teacher’s influence affected the development of his famous pupil.
In Acts 5:17–42, the Sanhedrin accused Peter and the other apostles for continuing to preach the gospel. This was done despite the Jewish authorities having previously forbidden it. So, Gamaliel presented an argument against killing the apostles. He reminded the members of the previous revolts of Theudas and Judas of Galilee, which had failed quickly after their deaths. The only known non-Biblical reference to Theudas comes from Josephus. He tells of an insurrection led by a Theudas. This person claimed to be a prophet and persuaded “a great part of the people” to follow him. Theudas promised to divide the Jordan and give them an easy passage. But the procurator, Cuspius Fadus (A.D. 44 or 45), quickly repressed the rising, executed its leader, and sent his head to Jerusalem (Antiquities xx. 5. 1).
Therefore, Gamaliel advised the members of the Sanhedrin saying, “And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38–39). Gamaliel’s argument was logical enough. And the members realized that resistance to the apostles movement was unnecessary and useless.
It is believed that Gamaliel died in 52 CE (AM 3813). He fathered Simeon ben Gamliel and a daughter, who married a priest named Simon ben Nathanael. In the Mishnah, Gamaliel holds a reputation for being one of the greatest teachers in all the records of Judaism. For it records: “Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time.”
In His service,
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