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The name Gamaliel means “my reward is God.” In the New Testament, he emerges as a prominent figure, known for his wisdom and influence within the Jewish community. His teachings and interactions are documented in the Book of Acts, shedding light on his role during a crucial period in early Christianity.
He is introduced in Acts 5:34-40, where he is depicted as a respected Pharisee and a teacher of the law. His standing among the Jewish leadership is evident as he plays a crucial role in advising the Sanhedrin regarding the apostles’ activities.
In Acts 5:38-39, he offers wise counsel to his fellow council members concerning the disciples of Jesus. He suggests that if the apostles’ actions are of human origin, they will fail, but if they are from God, opposing them could mean opposing God.
Context and Influence
Understanding Gamaliel requires a grasp of the socio-religious landscape of the time. He, the grandson of the renowned Hillel, belonged to a prestigious line of Jewish scholars. His teachings reflected the Pharisaic tradition, emphasizing a meticulous adherence to the law (Acts 22:3).
As a Pharisee, he adhered to a sect known for its strict observance of religious practices. This adherence is evident in Acts 26:5, where Paul, formerly known as Saul, describes him as his teacher in the strictest manner of the law (Acts 26:5).
Encounter with the Apostles
His encounter with the apostles is a pivotal moment. In Acts 5:17-42, the apostles are arrested for preaching about Jesus. His intervention prevents their immediate condemnation, illustrating his moderation and open-mindedness.
The wisdom of Gamaliel’s advice becomes evident as the Christian movement grows despite opposition. Acts 5:41-42 records the apostles rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus, and daily, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
His Impact on the Apostle Paul
Gamaliel’s influence extends beyond the early encounters in Acts. In Acts 22:3, Paul describes him as his teacher, emphasizing the role he played in shaping Paul’s understanding of Judaism before his conversion to Christianity.
Paul’s Defense before the Council
In Acts 23:6, when Paul is brought before the council, he cleverly divides the Pharisees and Sadducees by mentioning his adherence to the hope and resurrection, echoing a key Pharisaic belief. This strategic move aligns with the teachings of Gamaliel.
Gamaliel’s wisdom and impartiality continue to inspire believers and scholars alike. His caution to wait and see the outcome of the apostles’ actions reflects a nuanced understanding of divine providence, leaving a lasting legacy of tolerance and discernment (Acts 5:38-39).
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.”
Gamaliel, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, emerges as a figure of wisdom and moderation in the New Testament. His interactions with the apostles and influence on the early Christian movement showcase his nuanced understanding of religious matters. Gamaliel’s teachings and legacy endure, offering valuable lessons in discernment and the acknowledgment of divine providence. As we explore the New Testament, Gamaliel stands as a testament to the diverse perspectives that shaped the unfolding narrative of Christianity in its formative years.
In His service,