When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them. (Acts 5:33)
But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered. So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”Acts 5:34-39
So what questions did you come up with?
Here are some of mine:
Why does Luke emphasize that Gamaliel is one of the Pharisees and not the Sadducees as has been the case thus far in Acts? In fact this is the first time the word “Pharisees” is used in the book of Acts.
- Who was Gamaliel?
- Why did he order the apostles to be removed?
- If the Apostles were not present to hear what was said, how did Luke know what went on in the closed council meeting?
- Why did he refer to the Council as “Men of Israel” and not the Sanhedrin per se?
- Who was Theudas?
- Who was Judas of Galilee?
- Why did Gamaliel choose these two examples?
- What did Gamaliel really think was happening here?
- Was he on the disciples side (read God’s side) or was he playing political / religious games?
- What was the significance of his statement, “You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”
- What should you do now?
Luke has recorded for us the details of what took place before the Sanhedrin when they were hopping mad and wanted to kill the apostles.
We should familiarise ourselves with the details of what is recorded so we can understand the full importance of the words. I have told you when it comes to place names that you should check an atlas to find the details of where the places are. In the case of the particular names of people find out all you can about such people and what the significance is to the facts as they are used as examples in Gamaliel’s advice. What is the common thread of argument by using these examples?
- How do you find out?
- Where do you get the information from?
Go to any resources you have at your disposal. Now that I am home in New Zealand with my library surrounding me I have multiple ways of find out the information I need. Over the years I have obtained primary resources in order to do good research. I don’t expect you have resources like what is available to me. Primary resources are expensive. But via the internet you have a wealth of free resources at your disposal. If you have access to E-Sword you have numerous free background resources, dated but useful. One of the best is the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). Or you can simply click on the name in the text of E-Sword in a version with a + in order to find the details available related to the person in question. Or you can simply look up a concordance, especially one as comprehensive as Young’s or Strong’s to find the details related to a particular word or name. I can go one better as I have a number of Greek Concordances. But either way the information is available.
Below I have given you the details related to Gamaliel. My challenge to you is to see if you can find the details related to Theudas and Judas of Galilee.
From Barnes’ Commentary
A Pharisee – The high priest and those who had been most active in opposing the apostles were Sadducees. The Pharisees were opposed to them, particularly on the doctrine in regard to which the apostles were so strenuous, the resurrection of the dead. See the notes on Mat_3:7. Compare Act_23:6.
Gamaliel – This name was very common among the Jews. Dr. Lightfoot says that this man was the teacher of Paul Act_22:3, the son of the “Simon” who took the Saviour in his arms Luke 2, and the grandson of the famous “Hillel,” and was known among the Jews by the title of “Rabban Gamaliel the elder.” There were other people of this name, who were also eminent among the Jews. This man is said to have died 18 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and he died as he had lived, a Pharisee. There is not the least evidence that he was a friend of the Christian religion; but he was evidently a man of far more liberal views than the other members of the Sanhedrin.
A doctor of the law – That is, “a teacher” of the Jewish Law; one whose province it was to “interpret” the laws of Moses, and probably to preserve and transmit the “traditional” laws of the Jews. See the notes on Mat_15:3. So celebrated was he, that Saul of Tarsus went to Jerusalem to receive the benefit of his instructions, Act_22:3.
Had in reputation among all the people – “Honored” by all the people. His advice was likely, therefore, to be respected.
To put the apostles forth – This was done, doubtless, because, if the apostles had been suffered to remain, it was apprehended that they would take fresh courage, and be confirmed in their purposes. It was customary, besides, when they deliberated, to command those accused to retire, Act_4:15.
From Clarke’s Commentary
A Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law – “This,” says Dr. Lightfoot, “was Rabban Gamaliel the first; commonly, by way of distinction, called Rabban Gamaliel the elder. He was president of the council after the death of his own father, Rabban Simeon, who was the son of Hillel. He was St. Paul’s master, and the 35th receiver of the traditions, and on this account might not be improperly termed νομοδιδασκαλος, a doctor of the law, because he was one that kept and handed down the Cabala received from Mount Sinai. He died eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem, his son Simeon succeeding him in the chair, who perished in the ruins of the city.” Though probably no favourer of Christianity, yet, for a Pharisee, he seems to have possessed a more liberal mind than most of his brethren; the following advice was at once humane, sensible, candid, and enlightened.
From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary
The address of Gamaliel was so favourable to the Apostles that it has helped to surround his name and memory with much legendary lore. It was the tradition of the ancient Greek Church from the fifth century that he was converted to Christianity and baptised, along with his son Abibus and Nicodemus, by St. Peter and St. John. The story of Gamaliel’s secret adherence to Christianity goes even much farther back. There is a curious Christian novel or romance, which dates back to close upon the year 200, called the “Clementine Recognitions.” We find the same tradition in the sixty-fifth chapter of the first book of these “Recognitions.” But the sacred narrative itself gives us no hint of all this, contenting itself with setting forth the prudent advice which Gamaliel gave to the assembled council. It was wise advice, and well would it have been for the world if influential religious and political teachers in all ages had given similar counsel. Gamaliel was a man of large scholarship, combined with a wide mind, but he had learned that time is a great solvent, and the greatest of tests. Beneath its influence the most pretentious schemes, the most promising of structures, fade away if built upon the sand of human wisdom, while opposition only tends to consolidate and develop those that are built upon the foundation of Divine strength and power. The policy of patience recommended by Gamaliel is a wise one, either for the Church or for the state, in things spiritual and things secular alike. And yet it is one from which the natural man recoils with an instinctive repugnance. It speaks well for the Jewish Sanhedrin that on this occasion they yielded accord to the advice of their president. We are glad to recognise this spirit in these men, where we so often have to find matter for blame. Well would it have been for the Church and for the credit of Christianity had the spirit which moved even the Sadducean majority in the Jewish council been allowed to prevail; and yet how little have the men of tolerant mind been regarded in moments of temporary triumph such as the Sanhedrin just then enjoyed. Gamaliel’s advice, “Refrain from these men and let them alone. If the work be of man it will be overthrown; if of God, ye will not be able to overthrow them,” strikes a blow at the policy of persecution, which is essentially a policy of impatience. The intolerant man is an impatient man, not willing to imitate the Divine gentleness and long-suffering, which waits, endures, and bears with the sins and ignorance of the children of men. And the Church of Christ, when she became intolerant, as she did as soon as ever Constantine placed within her reach the sword of human power, forgot the lesson of the Divine patience, and reaped within herself, in a shallow religion, in a poorer life, in a restrained intellectual and spiritual grasp, the due reward of those who had fallen away from an imitation of the Divine example to a mere human level. It is sad to see, for instance, in the case of a man so thoroughly spiritual as St. Augustine was, how easily he fell into this human infirmity, how quickly he became intolerant when the secular arm was ranged on the side of his own opinions. The Church in his own boyhood, during the days of Julian, had to strive against the intolerance of the pagans; the orthodox, who upheld the Catholic view of the nature of the Godhead and the scriptural doctrine of the Holy Trinity, had to struggle against the intolerance of the Arians. Yet as soon as power was placed in St. Augustine’s own hand he thought it right to exercise compulsion against those who differed from him.
From Gill’s Commentary
Then stood there up one in the council,…. Or “in the sanhedrim”, which the high priest had called together; this phrase is left out in the Syriac version: yet certain it is, that the great council was now assembled, and the disciples were now before them, and this man, who was one of the members of it, stood up in it; for it seems to have been the custom, that though they usually sat, yet when anyone had anything to say, or made a speech, he rose up from his seat.
A Pharisee named Gamaliel; he is described by his sect of religion, a Pharisee; of which; see Gill on Mat_3:7 and by his name Gamaliel: he was the son of Rabban Simeon, the son of Hillell the great; which Simeon is, by some, thought to be the same that took Christ into his arms, Luk_2:25 and this Gamaliel was also the master of the Apostle Paul, Act_22:3. This was a very ancient name in Israel; the prince of the children of Manasseh, that offered at the dedication of the tabernacle, was of this name, Num_7:54 and perhaps this man might be of the same tribe. He is further described by his profession,
a doctor of law; he was one of the Misnic doctors, one of the fathers of tradition, that received the oral law from those before him, and handed it down to others; and was the five and thirtieth of this sort, as the Jews say (t), from the giving of the law at Mount Sinai; or, as others (u), the thirty first:
had in reputation among all the people; and therefore his advice was the more likely to take place, without giving offence, or exposing to danger, seeing he was highly esteemed, not only in the sanhedrim, but among the common people; and that not only because he was a Pharisee, and a very strict one, the glory of that sect, insomuch that it is said (w), that “when he died, the glory of the law ceased, and purity and pharisaism died;”
but because of his years, dignity, and place also; he is called commonly Gamaliel, הזקן, “the elder”, because he lived to a great age (x). He died eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem (y), and was had in veneration to the last. It is said of him (z), that “he ordered, before his death, that they should carry him to his grave in linen; for before this time they used to carry out the dead in silk; and this was more grievous to his relations than his death itself;”
because they thought he was not interred honourably enough. And it is also reported, that Onkelos, the proselyte, at his death, burnt as much for him in goods and spices, as came to seventy Tyrian pounds (a). He was also commonly called by the name of Rabban, which was a more honourable title than that of Rabbi or Rab; and his father Simeon was the first that had it (b); and he was now president of the sanhedrim: and hence he used that authority which is expressed in the next words,
and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; he ordered the apostles to be put out of the sanhedrim for a little while, that they might not hear what he had to say, and take encouragement from it; and that he might more freely speak his mind without giving them any countenance. The Alexandrian copy reads, “the men”, instead of “the apostles”; and so the Vulgate Latin version.
From the IVP Bible Background Commentary
Act_5:34-35. That Gamaliel I, the most prominent pupil of the gentle Hillel, was widely respected may be an understatement; he was probably the most influential Pharisaic leader of the time and held prestige as a Jerusalem aristocrat as well. Later rabbis extolled his piety and learning, and accorded him the title “Rabban,” which later belonged to the rulers of the Pharisaic courts. Josephus mentioned Gamaliel’s aristocratic son Simon, indicating the family’s power in Jerusalem. (The later tradition that Gamaliel was Hillel’s son is probably wrong.)
Pharisees had little political power and did not believe in executing someone for political reasons. Even if the Christians were in serious error, as long as they kept the law of Moses the Pharisees would not believe in punishing them. Unlike many of the Pharisees in the Gospels, Gamaliel I is here portrayed as living according to the rules Pharisees believed (see also Act_22:3).
From The ISBE
ga-mā´li-el (גּמליאל, gamlı̄’ēl, “reward or recompense of God”; Γαμαλιήλ, Gamaliḗl):
(1) The son of Pedahzur, and “prince of the children of Manasseh,” chosen to aid in taking the census in the Wilderness (Num_1:10; Num_2:20; Num_7:54, Num_7:59; Num_10:23).
(2) A Pharisee who at the meeting of the “council” succeeded in persuading its members to adopt a more reasonable course when they were incensed at the doctrine of Peter and the rest of the apostles and sought to slay them (Act_5:33-40). That he was well qualified for this task is attested by the fact that he was himself a member of the Sanhedrin, a teacher of the law, and held in high honor among all the people. In his speech he pointed out to his fellow-councilors the dire consequences that might ensue upon any precipitous action on their part. While quoting instances, familiar to his hearers, of past insurrections or seditions that had failed, he reminded them at the same time that if this last under Peter “is of God, ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.” As a result of his arguments, the apostles, after being beaten and admonished to speak no longer in the name of Jesus, were released. In the speech which he was permitted by Lysias to deliver from the stairs of the palace after the riot in Jerusalem, Paul referred to Gamaliel as the teacher of his youth, who instructed him rigidly in the Mosaic law (Act_22:3).
The toleration and liberality displayed by Gamaliel upon the occasion of his speech before the Sanhedrin were all the more remarkable because of their rarity among the Pharisees of the period. Although the strict observance by the Christians of temple worship, and their belief in immortality, a point in dispute between Pharisees and Sadducees, may have had influence over him (Knowling), no credence is to be attached to the view that he definitely favored the apostles or to the tradition that he afterward became a Christian. The high place accorded him in Jewish tradition, and the fact that the title of Rabban, higher even than Rabbi or Master, was first bestowed upon him, testify that he remained a Pharisee to the end. His speech is rather indicative of one who knew the deeper truth in the Old Testament of the universal fatherhood of God, and who recognized that the presence of His power was the. deciding factor in all human enterprise. His social enactments were permeated by the same broad-minded spirit. Thus his legislation on behalf of the poor was formulated so as to include Gentiles as well as Jews. The authenticity of his speech has been questioned by Wendt and others, chiefly on account of the alleged anachronism in regard to Theudas (see THEUDAS); but the internal evidence is against this view (compare Knowling in The Expositor Greek Test., II, 161). It has also been objected by Baur and the Tübingen school that the liberal, peace-loving Gamaliel could not have been the teacher of the fanatical Saul. To this, reply has been made, firstly, that the charges against Stephen of destroying the temple and subverting the laws of Moses were not brought against Peter and the other apostles, and, secondly, that the doctrines of any teacher, however moderate he himself may be, are liable to be carried to extremes by an over-zealous pupil.
From Jamieson Fausett and Brown’s Commentary
Then stood up … Gamaliel — in all probability one of that name celebrated in the Jewish writings for his wisdom, the son of Simeon (possibly the same who took the infant Savior in his arms, Luk_2:25-35), and grandson of Hillel, another celebrated rabbi. He died eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem [Lightfoot].
From the People’s New Testament
A Pharisee, named Gamaliel. Observe that it is a Pharisee that opposes violence. Gamaliel was the most distinguished Jewish rabbi of this time. His fame is preserved in the Talmud. He was a grandson of Hillel, a still more famous teacher. Paul was his pupil (Act_22:3).
From “A Popular Commentary on the New Testament”
A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people. This Gamaliel (גַּמְלִיאֵל, benefit of God. See Num_1:10, Act_2:10) is generally acknowledged to be identical with the celebrated Gamaliel the elder, who lived at the time, and was the grandson of Hillel, the famous founder of one of the rabbinical schools. His name frequently occurs in the Mishna as an utterer of sayings subsequently quoted as authorities. Although liberal in his views and a student of Greek literature, he was held in high estimation as a most learned and devout Pharisee. ‘As among the Schoolmen Aquinas and Bonaventura were called respectively the “Angelic” and “Seraphic” Doctor, so Gamaliel among the Jews has received the name of the “Beauty of the Law,” and in the Talmud we read how since Rabban Gamaliel died, the glory of the law has ceased. He is one of the seven among the great Rabbis to whom the Jews have given the title of Rabban. Among his pupils, St. Paul and Onkelos (the author of the well-known Targum) are the most famous. The latter, when Gamaliel died, some eighteen years before the fall of Jerusalem, about the time when Paul was shipwrecked at Malta, raised to his master a funeral pile of such rich materials as had never before been known save at the burial of a king’ (Howson, S. Paul).
Partly from the statement of his interference in behalf of the apostles contained in this chapter, partly from a well-known passage in the Clementine Recognitions, where Peter is represented as saying, ‘which, when Gamaliel saw, who was a person of influence among the people, but secretly our brother in the faith’ (i. 65), he has been supposed to have been, like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and other wealthy and distinguished Pharisees, a Christian; but this supposition is totally without authority. Gamaliel lived and died a Pharisee in all the rigid acceptation of the term. A well-known prayer against Christian heretics was composed, or at least approved, by him; in it the following words referring to the followers of Jesus occur: ‘Let there be no hope for them who apostatize from the true religion, and let all heretics, how many soever they may be, perish as in a moment.’
The motives which influenced Gamaliel’s conduct on this occasion have been much discussed: he prevailed upon the Sanhedrim not to adopt any violent measures towards these leaders of the rising sect, persuading them to let the matter alone; for if it were of mere human origin, it would come to nothing without any interference of theirs; if, on the other hand, it were divine, no human effort would prevail against it. He seems to have acquiesced in the temporary expedient of allowing the accused to be scourged, as the public teaching of the apostles had been carried on in direct defiance of the Sanhedrim (see chap. Act_4:17-21), and the honour of the great council seemed to demand some reparation for its outraged authority. Two considerations seem to have influenced him—(1) After all, the main accusation on the part of the high priest and his influential followers was the earnest teaching of those men of a great truth—the resurrection from the dead: in this Gamaliel and the Pharisees sympathized with the apostles against their Sadducee enemies in the council. (2) The rumours of the mighty works which publicly accompanied the teaching, no doubt caused grave misgiving in minds like Gamaliel’s, whether some basis of truth did not underlie the whole story.
From the Pulpit Commentary
But there for there, A.V.; in honor of for in reputation among, A.V.; the men for the apostles, A.V. and T.R.; while for space, A.V. A Pharisee named Gamaliel. St. Luke had mentioned (Act_4:1 and Act_5:17) that there was an influential party of Sadducees in the Sanhedrim. He, therefore, now specially notes that Gamaliel was a Pharisee. There can be no doubt that this alone would rather dispose him to resist the violent counsels of the Sadducean members, and the more so as the doctrine of the Resurrection was in question (see Act_23:1-35. 6-8). Moreover, Gamaliel was noted for his moderation. That Gamaliel here named is the same as that of Act_22:3, at whose feet St. Paul was brought up at Jerusalem, and who is known in the Talmud as Rabban Gamaliel the elder (to distinguish him from his grandson of the same name, the younger), the grandson of Hillel, the head of the school of Hillel, and at some time president of the Sanhedrim, one of the most famous of the Jewish doctors (as the title
Rabban, borne by only six others, shows), seems certain, though it cannot absolutely be proved. The description of him as a doctor of the law, had in honor of all the people; the allusion to him as a great teacher, learned in the perfect manner of the Law of the fathers, and one whose greatness would be as a shield to his pupils, in Act_22:3; the exact chronological agreement; the weight he possessed in the Sanhedrim, in spite of the Sadducean tendencies of the high priest and his followers; and the agreement between his character as written in the Talmud and as shown in his speech and in the counsel given in it, seem to place his identity beyond all reasonable doubt. There does not seem to be any foundation for the legend in the Clementine Recognitions, that he was in secret a Christian. If the prayer used in the synagogues, “Let there be no hope to them that apostatize from the true religion; and let heretics, how many soever they he, all perish as in a moment,” be really his composition, as the Jews say, he certainly had no inclination to Christianity (’Prid. Conn.,’ 1.361).
All of these resources are available to you free on E-Sword with the exception of The IVP Bible Background Commentary, available on E-Sword at a cost. You only have to download them to include them in your copy of E-Sword downloaded free from http://www.e-sword.net I have included all of these so you can see the range and quality that each has to offer and so you also realise it is like gathering evidence as a CSI. Some are useful and some are not. You must also be prepared to sift the evidence to find the useful material.
The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible.Albert Einstein
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.Anais Nin
The greatest gap in life is the one between knowing and doing.Anon
If you can’t lead yourself to a disciplined response, you can’t lead anybody else.T D Jakes
There is nothing more dangerous than the moment you become a hostage to yesterday’s comfort zone.Robb Thompson