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He Was A Religious Advisor, Defense Attorney, and Christian Hero

Updated on June 17, 2020

Acts 5:34-35, 38-39 New International Version (NIV)

34 Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside. 35 Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.

38 Therefore, in this case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Foundation of Rabban Gamaliel

Foundation of Rabban Gamaliel
Foundation of Rabban Gamaliel | Source

Rabbi Gamaliel

  • In Act 5: 33-40 a man named Rabbi Gamaliel is mentioned. Who was this man Gamaliel the Elder, and what was his only role in Christianity?

Well, if you are like me and was not taught about Rabbi Gamaliel in Sunday School, do not be alarmed. That is not as uncommon as you might think, and so I am here to help you find out who he really was, and what he did for Christianity.

Truthfully, the average person does not really know the full extent of Rabbi Gamaliel's role in Christianity. As for myself, I have only recently learned the extent of his personal contributions to the beautiful religion of Jesus. I had no clue of this dignified man, who help save Peter from the same fate as Jesus, just a few months after Christ's own death. This man did more for Christianity, than did the average Jewish-Christian (Ebionite) follower. It is my understanding that Rabbi Gamaliel patronage to the Christians was generally kept silent, but nonetheless, his actions have had a lasting impact on the faith.

The Trial of Peter

  • We are first told of the Rabbi's presence at a council meeting known as a Tribune.Tribunes were gatherings, when the Sanhedrin gathered together when someone was put on trial for breaking Mosaic law. This tribune in particular involved the trying of Peter the Disciple, and a couple other apostles of Jesus Christ. Early Christian history tells us that Rabbi Gamaliel was an educated man, from a great Jewish family of judges or lawyers. He was a Pharisee by birth, who held a high position on the Sanhedrin.(Probably because his grandfather had, and his father did. It was often past down from one generation to the next.)
  • When Christ died on the cross and arose three days later, miraculous healing powers were given to many of the original twelve disciples who had once traveled with Jesus. It is like they received an extension of Christ's grace, as if a it were a gift from God, for being such ardent believers. Because of this, people would flock to these disciples after Christ ascended into heaven, if just to stand in their presence or, "shadow of Peter" as Acts 5 describes to us, too receive this miraculous healing of their ailments. This power naturally made many of these powerful Jewish men jealous with envy. That was not everything they worried about when it came to Peter. Peter had also been forced in a way to act as a Sanhedrin himself to help settle legal disputes between opposing parties. Acts 5 informs us that Peter is instrumental in settling an overly expensive land dispute.
  • Over reaching and side stepping the Sanhedrin back in that day, was like ignoring the United States Supreme court today. The council issued a summons to have Peter imprisoned the first chance they received. Unfortunately for Peter, he was healing the sick one day out in the open and the guards working for the Sanhedrin seized him and took him to a common jail. But Peter escapes in the night, when an angel from heaven opens his locked door and orders Peter to go out and continue preaching about Jesus in the Temple. The very same Temple Mount, which the Dome of the Rock is located today.
  • When the council summons the guards to bring Peter before the council, it is only then that they realize Peter had been let out of his jail cell, and that he happened to be preaching at that very moment, out in the open central market, of the Temple Mount. Needless to say, they sent their guards after Peter anyway, to finally bring Peter before the council, which now had a large crowd of Jesus followers standing outside of it, as witnesses.
  • Rabbi Gamaliel recognizes the potentially volatile situation that could arise from the precarious situation, and comes to Peter's aid. As an overseer of Jewish Mosaic law, Rabbi Gamaliel was considered a great "doctor of law." In his efforts to save Peter's life, he convinces the council that killing Peter would not be in the best interest of the Sanhedrin. His tactical move pins the Sanhedrin's own envy and greed against themselves, and fortunately for us- uses it to Peter's advantage.
  • The Sanhedrin considered Peter to be the perfect candidate for conviction in this case, based off their definition of heresy alone. Rabbi Gamaliel could see that people deeply adored Peter for his miracles, and that maybe there was more to Jesus Christ that what the Sanhedrin was seeing. Thus, being a righteous man of God, put his own misgivings aside (if he had any) and argued in Peter's defense. Which if you can imagine, must have been a very brave thing to do. I cannot imagine being a lawmaker at that time, much less giving an oath to up hold the Torah and Mosaic laws. Jesus Christ, though a man of God, and Jewish himself- preached a message of compassion and joy, it didn't matter in the eyes of the Sanhedrin. Christ was a heretic, and Rabbi Gamaliel must have been putting his own life in danger and his family's reputation on the line by speaking up for Peter that day in the Temple. Fortunately for both men and the many generations to follow them, the council follow this man's simple advice, and released Peter and the other Apostles from captivity.

What A Tribune Would Have Looked Like

Sanhedrin Tribune Council
Sanhedrin Tribune Council

The Sanhedrin

For those who do not know, the Sanhedrin was/is a Jewish council, and not Roman at all. Pharisees and Nasi were the titles given to men that served on the council. These men were purposely selected, to be the chosen few, to act as the legal guardians of their religious laws. Those religious laws, are still known today, as the Mosaic laws. Which are the commandments and laws, laid out before Moses by God in the desert, on top of Mt. Sinai.

Now something you need to understand about the political demographics of that time period was that the people of Judea (modern-day Israel), were under two types of law:

  1. Roman law, and
  2. God's (Mosaic) law.

The Sanhedrin purpose (as a council) was to be the interpreters of Mosaic law, and thus consider the most knowledgeable of all the Jewish men; when it came to understanding, enforcing and implementing Jewish law, traditions, and customs. Basically they were the governing Judicial body over all things Jewish.

The Apostles

The Maesta by Duccio, ( 1308-1311)
The Maesta by Duccio, ( 1308-1311) | Source

One of The Seventy Disciples of Jesus

By all Christian accounts, Gamaliel is considered as one of the seventy (other) disciples of Jesus Christ, mentioned in the bible together with the original twelve. I cannot help but to wonder if he considered himself an Ebionite, and whether or not he was close to Jesus' brothers James, Jacob, or Jude. According to Catholic records, Rabbi Gamaliel was later baptized into the faith by both St. Peter and St. John together, and surprisingly remained on the Sanhedrin until his death in 50 CE. Historians are confident of this date, because it was recorded in later records that he die exactly twenty years before the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE.

Ironically, Rabbi Gamaliel's son is one of the original authors of the Mishnah, the first "Oral Torah" tradition to be compiled together in one text. What makes the irony even greater is that the Mishnah, deals with passing of judgment and how judgments were to be made towards fellow Jews. It put an end to the brutality of the "Tribunal" trials, much like the very trial Peter had been involved in. This is one of those "gray areas" of biblical history, which makes me wonder what are the far reaching effects of Rabbi Gamaliel's influence on Christianity. He was truly a great, great, man of our beloved faith.

Before his death in 50 CE, Rabbi Gamaliel held the distinct high priest position on the Sanhedrin known as the Nasi. An interesting point to mix in here is that there were several Sanhedrin council members following Jesus at that time period. Of the seventy disciples, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, along with the man who restored St. Paul's sight Ananias of Damascus, Joseph of Arimathea was also a member of the Sanhedrin.

Could it have been Gamaliel who brought them into the fold? It is also written down that Nicodemus was a witness to the baptism of Rabbi Gamaliel. I find it hard to believe that his faith, didn't flow over into his work, since his work was his faith. In Acts 22:3, Saul the Tarus (St.Paul) tells us readers that he had been brought up in the Jewish faith, "at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel". If this Jewish Rabbi was indeed the childhood teacher and Hebrew advisor to Saul the Tarus, maybe this is why so many of the stricter Jewish traditions involving the rites and roles of women, were given so much discussion in Paul Epistles.

One of Rabbi Gamaliel's contributions to Mosaic law, was that women had the right to divorce a man or to re-marry after the death of her husband, and that when a woman's husband died of natural causes, they only needed one other male person to verify death happened. (Much like today, when the county coroner's office verifies the death of someone.) It has often been my opinion of Paul letters, (Epistles) read like text taken from a legal point of view. Paul demands of women are often frank, second class in nature, strict and exacting. Much of his ideals of women were not necessarily Roman, but, much more one sided like that of the Jewish faith at that time period. They have a remarkable resemblance to many of the Jewish customs pertaining to and governing, female rights and status.

As an echo of the past, there are quite of few biblical scholars, even today that don't believe St. Paul was ever taught or advised by Rabbi Gamaliel. Their argument is that Rabbi Gamaliel showed Christians a compassion, that Paul never afforded them. Which is very true. Before St. Paul was struck down by Jesus Christ on the road to Damacus, he was a very cruel man towards the Ebionites, the first fundamental believers in Jesus Christ. The noted Jewish-Christian sect led by Jesus Christ's brother, James the Just. However, I believe that he was advised by Gamaliel even up unto his later years, because of, the formality style of writing that appears in all of Paul's letters. Another point to make is that in Christ's intimate following, women played a major leadership role, and held equal status same as the men. Which was very representing of Christ's own upbringing and association with the Essences. However, Paul's views toward women were clearly taken from an older, more traditional, mindset. I think when Paul was first writing his letters, Rabbi Gamaliel could have very easily been in the background giving him legal advice along the way. It is widely believed that Rabbi Gamaliel only continue to serve as Nasi on the Sanhedrin, because it allowed him to secretly help his Jewish Christian companions.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Where the Jewish Advisor is buried.
Where the Jewish Advisor is buried. | Source

A Footnote

As a footnote to this remarkable story, Rabbi Gamaliel's body was discovered in the 5th century. He is currently (believed to be) buried under the Tower of Pisa, in Italy. Jewish court records have him dying a Pharisee, and according to these records, his greatest attribute was;

"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."

Eleh Ezkera Poem and its Connection to Christ

As for Rabbi Gamaliel's son Simeon- he too was a follower of Jesus Christ, and one the Ten Jewish Martyrs named in the dramatic and epic poem, Eleh Ezkera. Gamaliel's grandfather was Hillel the Elder. The very same Rabbi Hillel, who is often referred to by the great, Hebrew, historian, Josephus, because of dealings and connections to King Herod. It was commonplace for Rabbi Hillel to advise King Herod on all things Jewish, because for his time he was the leading Nasi, or High Priest who resided over the tribunal. So you see, this Gamaliel character was a very important figure to cross over to the Jesus' side.


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