Many stood there calmly and in still silence. Only a few moments earlier, they had attempted to kill the apostle Paul, who was also known by his Hebrew name Saul of Tarsus. He had been saved by Roman troops and now faced the crowd of people from a stairway near the temple in Jerusalem.
Paul motioned the people with his hand to be silent, he began to address them in Hebrew, saying,
Acts 22:1-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
22 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make to you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said,
3 “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.”
Here stood Paul, his life hanging in the balance, and he begins his defense by saying that he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel.” Why? Who was this Gamaliel, and how could his being taught by him help Paul? Moreover, what all was involved in being taught by Gamaliel? What kind of impact did this training have on Saul, and did it influence him even after he became a Christian and an apostle?
Just Who Was Gamaliel?
Rabbi Gamaliel I, son of Simon and grandson (according to the Talmud) of Rabbi Hillel (founder of the more liberal [i.e., more tolerant] of the two main schools of the Pharisees, Shammai being the other). Although an alternate tradition makes Gamaliel the son of Hillel, the Talmud is surely to be preferred on this point. A member of the Sanhedrin and a teacher of the law (Acts 5:34), he was known in rabbinical writings as Gamaliel the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Gamaliel II. He was the first of seven successive leaders of the school of Hillel to be honored with the title Rabban (“Our Rabbi/Master”).
Illustration from the Pollak-Pratto Haggadah (Spain, ca A.D. 1300) showing Gamaliel instructing two pupils (Jewish Theological Seminary Library)
While believing the law of God to be divinely inspired, Gamaliel tended to emphasize its human elements. He recommended that sabbath observance be less rigorous and burdensome, regulated current custom with respect to divorce in order to protect women, and urged kindness toward Gentiles. Scholarly, urbane, a man of great intellect, he studied Greek literature avidly. What we know of his tolerance and cautious spirit is entirely in keeping with the account of his appeal in the Sanhedrin to spare the lives of Peter and his companions (Acts 5:33–39).
TB Shabbath 30b mentions a student of Gamaliel who displayed “impudence in matters of learning,” a young man identified by some as the apostle Paul. Paul himself says, “Under Gamaliel, I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today” (Acts 22:3, NIV). Several indications from elsewhere in the NT tend to corroborate Paul’s claim as recorded by Luke.
(1) Although Paul usually quotes from the LXX when referring to OT passages, he sometimes clearly makes use of the Hebrew text (Job 41:3 in Rom. 11:35; Job 5:12f in 1 Cor. 3:19; Ex. 16:18 in 2 Cor. 8:15; Nu. 16:5 in 2 Tim. 2:19).
(2) In Gal. 1:14 Paul mentions a period of advanced and specialized study of the very kind that one might expect under a teacher of Gamaliel’s stature, and he does so in language strongly reminiscent of Acts 22:3: “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (NIV).
(3) In Phil. 3:6 forward, Paul asserts that before his conversion to faith in Christ, he was faultless as far as legalistic righteousness is concerned. In accordance with the Judaism of his day, Paul had earlier believed in the possibility of salvation through works, but after exercising faith in Christ he came to realize that only through Him could the righteous requirements of the law be fully met in redeemed sinners like himself (Rom. 8:3f.).
(4) Paul made use of five of the seven hermeneutical principles usually associated with Gamaliel’s grandfather Hillel. This is understandable in the light of the fact that Gamaliel consistently and faithfully perpetuated the teachings and methodology of his grandfather. For example, Paul uses the hermeneutical principle of arguing from the lesser to the greater in 1 Cor. 9:9–12, which begins as follows: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” After thus quoting Dt. 25:4, the apostle makes application—in typical Halakic fashion—by stating that if God is concerned about oxen He is all the more concerned that His faithful human servants receive the support they deserve and need.
(5) In 1 Cor. 14:21 Paul quotes Isa. 28:11f as a citation from “the law”—a statement entirely fitting for a student of Gamaliel.
Luke’s characteristic restraint in his references to Gamaliel in Acts may be contrasted with two later passages that also mention him. According to Clement Recognitions i.65, the apostle Peter states that Gamaliel was “our brother in the faith,” and Photius (Bibliothecae codices 171 [PG, p. 199]) asserts that he was baptized by Peter and Paul. But both of these traditions are now universally rejected as spurious.
Gamaliel’s reputation as one of the greatest teachers in the annals of Judaism, however, remains untarnished and is perhaps best exemplified in Mish Sotah ix.15: “Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and abstinence [perîšûṯ, cf. “Pharisee”] died out at the same time.”
Jerusalem’s temple was destroyed by the Roman army under General Titus in 70 C.E., killing one million one hundred thousand Jews and taking over one hundred thousand captives back to Rome. After the destruction, Bet Hillel (the House of Hillel) was preferred to Bet Shammai (the House of Shammai). The House of Hillel became the official form of Judaism, as all other parties died out with the destruction of the temple. The judgments, rulings, and decisions of Bet Hillel are often the basis for Jewish law in the Mishnah, which became the framework of the Talmud, and Gamaliel’s influence apparently was a significant factor in its dominant influence.
Gamaliel was so respected that he was the first to be called Rabban, a title higher than that of Rabbi. In fact, “[Gamaliel] was so highly thought of that at his death it was said, “When Rabban Gamaliel the elder died the glory of the Torah ceased and purity and saintliness (lit. ‘separation’) perished” (Sot. 9:15, taken from Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 7, p. 296).”
How Was Paul Taught by Gamaliel?
The apostle Paul told the crowd of people in Jerusalem that he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel.” What did Paul mean? Why was this important to his defense? What all was entailed in being a disciple of a teacher like Gamaliel?
The literal rendering says it all, “educated at the feet of Gamaliel,” which is rendered by other translations as “educated under Gamaliel.” The disciples (students) of such a rabbi as Gamaliel would literally sit at the feet of the teacher, taking in the scholar’s words as one thirsting takes in water. The oral law would only remain accurate and reliable if there was this bond between the disciple and the teacher. The teacher would take great care in his teaching and the student would be extremely intent in learning it.
In his book A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Emil Schürer sheds light on the methods of first-century rabbinic teachers. He writes: “The second chief task of the scribes was to teach the law. The ideal of legal Judaism was properly, that every Israelite should have a professional acquaintance with the law. If this were unattainable, then the greatest possible number was to be raised to this ideal elevation. ‘Bring up many scholars’ is said to have been already a motto of the men of the Great Synagogue. Hence, the more famous Rabbis often assembled about them in great numbers, youths desirous of instruction, for the purpose of making them thoroughly acquainted with the much ramified and copious ‘oral law.’ … The instruction consisted of an indefatigable continuous exercise of the memory, For the object being that the pupils should remember with accuracy the entire matter with its thousands upon thousands of minutiae, and the oral law being never committed to writing, the instruction could not be confined to a single statement. The teacher was obliged to repeat his matter again and again (with his pupils. Hence, in Rabbinic diction, ‘to repeat’ (שָׁנָה = δευτεροῦν) means exactly the same as “to teach” (whence also מִשְׁנָה = teaching). This repetition was not, however, performed by the teacher only delivering his matter. The whole proceeding was, on the contrary, disputational. The teacher brought before his pupils several legal questions for their decision and let them answer them or answered them himself. The pupils were also allowed to propose questions to the teacher.55 This form of catechetical lecture has left its mark upon the style of the Mishna, the question being frequently started how this or that subject is to be understood for the purpose of giving a decision. All knowledge of the law being strictly traditional, a pupil had only two duties. One was to keep everything faithfully in memory. R. Dosthai said in the name of R. Meir: He who forgets a tenet of his instruction in the law, to him, the Scripture imputes the willful forfeiture of his life. The second duty was never to teach anything otherwise than it had been delivered to him. Even in expression he was to confine himself to the words of his teacher: ‘Everyone is bound to teach with the expressions of his teacher,’ חַיָּב אָדָם לוֹמַר בִּלְשׁוֹן רַבּוֹ. It was the highest praise of a pupil to be ‘like a well lined with lime, which loses not one drop.’
Considering how the Rabbis taught, clearly the risks for the pupils were far higher than just receiving a passing grade. The students who studied under such teachers were warned: “Whoever forgets a single thing from what he has learned—Scripture reckons it to him as if he has become liable for his life.” (Avot 3:8) The highest praise was bestowed upon a student who was like “a plastered well, which does not lose a drop of water.” (Avot 2:8) This was the type of training that Paul received when he was known by his Hebrew name Saul, as a young man, from Gamaliel.
The Teachings of Gamaliel
Gamaliel was a Pharisee of the highest order, so he promoted belief in the oral law. In this, he placed greater emphasis on the traditions of the rabbis than on inspired Scripture. (Mark; 7:13; Matthew 15:3-9) The Mishnah quotes Gamaliel as saying: “Provide yourself with a teacher [a rabbi] and free yourself of doubt, for you must not give an excess tithe through guesswork.” (Avot 1:16) For the Jewish people, this meant that when the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures did not clearly say what to do, they were not to interpret the Scriptures for themselves or follow their conscience to make a decision. Rather, they were to follow the interpretation of a qualified rabbi. It was Gamaliel’s position that only in this way could an individual avoid sinning. – Compare Romans 14:1-12.
However, as was stated above, Gamaliel was generally well-known for his liberal [more tolerant] attitude in his religious legal rulings. For example, he showed consideration for women when he ruled that he would “permit a wife to remarry on the testimony of a single witness [to her husband’s death].” (Yevamot 16:7, the Mishnah) Furthermore, to defend a divorcée, Gamaliel presented a number of restrictions into the issue of a letter of divorce.
This liberal [more tolerant] attitude is also seen in Gamaliel’s dealings with the early disciples of Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts, we find other Jewish leaders, who sought to kill Jesus’ apostles after they had been arrested for preaching,
Acts 5:33-42 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and were planning to kill them. 34 But 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. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who obeyed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, for if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” 40 At this they were persuaded by him, and they summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they went out from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day in the temple and from house to house they kept right on teaching and proclaiming the good news that the Christ was Jesus.
What Did It Mean for Paul?
The apostle Paul had been trained and educated at the feet of one of the greatest rabbinic teachers of the first century C.E. Therefore, his mention of Gamaliel likely gave serious pause to the crowd in Jerusalem, moving them to pay special attention to his speech. Nevertheless, Paul told them of a far greater and more superior teacher than Gamaliel, Jesus Christ, the Messiah they had all be waiting on, who had already come. Paul now addressed these ones not as a disciple of Gamaliel but rather as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Acts 22:4-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus in order to bring even those who were there in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished..
6 “And it happened that as I was traveling and approaching Damascus around noon, suddenly a very bright light from heaven flashed around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now the men who were with me saw the light, indeed, but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 So I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there it will be told to you about all the things that have been appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 or you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I myself also was standing near and was approving, and was guarding the outer garments of those who were killing him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
Was the apostle Paul influenced by Gamaliel when it came to his teaching as a Christian? Likely, the rigorous instruction in Scripture and Jewish law proved valuable to Paul as a Christian teacher. Yet, Paul’s divinely inspired letters found in the Bible unquestionably show that he renounced the essence of the Pharisaic beliefs of Gamaliel. Paul led his fellow Jews and all others, not to the man-made traditions of the rabbis of Judaism, but to Jesus Christ. – Romans 10:1-4.
If the apostle Paul had rejected Jesus Christ and remained a disciple of Gamaliel, he would have led a life of great privilege. Other students of Gamaliel helped to shape the future of Judaism.
For instance, Gamaliel’s son Simeon ben Gamliel (I), possibly a fellow student of Paul, played a major role in the civil war, in the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 C.E. After the destruction of the temple, Rabban Gamaliel II “was the first person to lead the Sanhedrin as Nasi after the fall of the second temple. Gamliel II was appointed Nasi approximately 10 years later.” Gamaliel II’s grandson Judah Ha-Nasi was the compiler of the Mishnah, which has become the basis stone of Jewish thought until our day.
As a student of Gamaliel, Saul of Tarsus might have become very powerful and prominent in Judaism. Yet, concerning such a career, Paul wrote: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:7-8.
Paul was actually heeding the words of his teacher Gamaliel, who had said to guard against being “found fighters actually against God” by rejecting his pharisaical life and becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The moment Paul stopped persecuting the disciples of Jesus Christ, he stopped fighting against God. Rather, when he became a follower of Christ, he became one of “God’s fellow workers.” – 1 Corinthians 3:9.
Today, true zealous Christians are to proclaim the same message. Just as was true of Paul, many today have had to make dramatic changes in their life. Some have even given up a life of privilege. They have followed the example of Paul, as opposed to his former teacher, Gamaliel.
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 Bold and underline are mine
 Youngblood R. F., “Gamaliel,” ed. Geoffrey W Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 393–394.
 Robert James Utley, Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts, vol. Volume 3B, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2003), 87.
 Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Second Division., vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890), 323–325.
 Jacob Neusner, Judaism and Story: The Evidence of the Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2003), 185.
 Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green, eds., The Encyclopedia of Judaism (Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill, 2000), 1453.
 Samson R. Hirsch, Chapters of the Fathers (Philipp Feldheim; 2nd edition, 1979), 17.
 Jacob Neusner, A History of the Mishnaic Law of Women, Part 1: Yebamot: Translation and Explanation (Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity) (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2007), 185.
 Or followed
 Or took his advice
 Do we have a discrepancy with Acts 9:7? No. The Greek word for “voice” (phone) at Acts 9:7 in in the genitive case (phones), which has the sense of hearing the sound of the voice, but not being able to understand it. At Acts 22:9 phone is in the accusative case (phonen), which means that the men did not hear the voice with comprehension or understanding. In other words, they heard the voice, but did not understand the words. Therefore, this is not a discrepancy. Some newer literal translations preferred to sidestep their literal philosophy for a more interpretive translation. At Acts 22:9 NASB reads, “And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.”