Who Was Gamaliel, The Apostle Paul’s Teacher?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Who was Gamaliel, the Apostle Paul’s early teacher?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

When God called Saul, whose name was later change to Paul, he became the Apostle to the Gentiles, even though He was nearly at the top of the Jewish religious world, being a Hebrew of Hebrews, he says. First of all, he tells the church at Galatia that he was an apostle, but “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1), so “the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel” (Gal 1:11). Paul says “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). Paul is telling the Gentiles that it is directly from Jesus Christ that he received his apostleship and the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Before, Paul was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal 1:14), so God had to literally strike him down on the Damascus Road (Acts 9) because he was extremely zealous of Jewish law. The problem was, the Jews had added their own laws and made them equal to God’s law, and Jesus rebuked them for it (Matt 15:9), but in Paul’s zealousness, and before conversion, he persecuted the church, some even to death.

A Jew of Jews

Paul the Apostle, by Rembrandt. 1657

Many of the Jews questioned the apostleship of Paul, and they constantly hounded him, making others doubt the sincerity and truthfulness of his calling, so Paul addressed that issue in a letter to the Philippians. He wrote, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (Phil 3:4), saying I was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:5-6). Not only was Paul an expert in Jewish law, he sat under one of the greatest teachers in the ancient world, and that was Gamaliel. More on Gamaliel later, but there was no one more Jewish than Paul, and none could match Paul’s Jewish pedigree because he 100% Israelite, coming from the tribe of Benjamin, and even more, he was a Pharisee. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, the afterlife, rewards after death, in angels, demons, heaven and hell, and believed in eternal life, but they had added numerous other laws to God’s laws which were not inspired by God, and yet they upheld them to being equal to God’s law. Paul knew the law, and would have been considered a lawyer in that sense, so Paul was at the top of the Jewish religious system, or very close to it, and yet God knocked him down to the ground, so that he might be used mightily by God to reach the Gentiles. For all of Paul’s great Jewish pedigree, he counted it as trash compared to the glory and beauty and majesty of knowing Jesus Christ (Phil 3:8-9).

 

Gamaliel the Pharisee

The first time Gamliel is mentioned is in reference to his sitting on the Jewish council, and this man indeed was wise. When the church was brought before the council, it says, “a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while” (Acts 5:34). The apostles had just been brought before the council and refused to stop preaching about Jesus Christ (Acts 5:28), but the Apostle Peter had said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), so when the council “heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:33). That’s where a wise old Pharisee named Gamaliel steps in. He warned them to “keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice” (Acts 5:38-39). Incredibly, Gamaliel allowed for the possibility of this work being from God. And this is the same Gamaliel who was Pauls’ teacher, so imagine what kind of wisdom Gamaliel passed onto Paul (who was then Saul).

Gamaliel the Teacher

Gamaliel. Author unknown

There is only one other biblical reference to Gamaliel and that’s found in one of Paul’s letters. When Paul was arrested, he told the people and the authorities, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3). Undoubtedly, most of the Jews knew who Gamaliel was, and thus they allowed Paul to speak. Particularly since it was in the Hebrew tongue that he spoke to them in (Acts 22:2), so they respected Gamaliel enough that the council followed his advice (Acts 5:39) and they released them, and they even allowed Paul to speak. It was under Gamaliel that Paul developed an expert knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures or the Law. Gamaliel is mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus (Vita, 38) and in the Talmud, and both are with all due respect. God used Gamaliel to spare the apostles life, at least on one occasion, and he was a voice of moderation and tolerance, so Gamaliel may not have only been one of the wisest teachers of that age (he was a Rabbi), but he was one of the most revered and respected teachers in Judaism. This shows that God can even use a pagan as a means to help those He has chosen to do His work.

Conclusion

I hope you have a mentor because everyone needs to have a mentor, male and female, but also, everyone needs to be mentoring someone younger or newer in the faith. Every Timothy needs a Paul to be mentored by, but ever Paul needs a Timothy to mentor. Iron sharpens iron, and rust never sleeps. We need community, fellowship, and a close relationship to help us grow, spur one another to good works, and to serve alongside of one another. Who’s the Gamaliel in your life? Why not reach out to someone, and while you’re at it, who can you be a mentor to? You might not be a Gamaliel, but you have the Spirit of God in you, and that’s infinitely more than Gamaliel ever had. That’s because the One in us, is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Here is some related reading for you: Apostle Paul Biography and Profile

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1ST November 4, 2018 at 8:09 am

Brilliant find. I’m reminded of the film Peter and Paul wherein Anothony Hopkins (playing the role of Paul) consults with Gamaliel early at the beginning of the film. Very under-rated picture, by the way.

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Jack Wellman November 4, 2018 at 8:39 am

Thank you. I had not heard of this movie. I must check into it.

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1ST November 4, 2018 at 9:09 am

Definitely do that. It’s absolutely brilliant! It’s called “Peter and Paul”, came out in 1981, and stars Robert Foxworth and Anthony Hopkins. A little obscure, but well worth the hunt.

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