Summary: Part 11 focuses on the training that Paul went through as a Pharisee that enabled him to be such an outstanding witness for Christ.
A Slave For Christ Part 11
Last week I shared with you that Paul became a threat to Judaism because he was able to “prove” that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. When Paul talked (and debated) with the Jewish leaders, he knew what they knew as it related to the Old Testament Scriptures because they shared a similar training background (i.e. that of a Pharisee.) This morning I want to dig a little deeper into this training because it was Paul’s training that made him so dangerous while at the same time, so effective in converting and winning souls for Christ. By understanding his training I hope to show you not only how our own study of God’s word will empower us, but how our studying will give the Holy Spirit something to work with as we interact with others. If you gain nothing else this morning remember this; the Jewish leaders that Paul was debating with knew what Paul knew as they had very similar training. However, the difference maker was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit expanded Paul’s understanding of what he thought he knew and it was this knowledge that empowered him to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. He is the same One who empowers us!
I. Paul’s Early Education and Training
When a Jewish male reached the age of five, they began their formal training in the synagogues by a Rabbi. This training continued until they reached the age of eighteen. When they reached the age of eighteen, they could continue their learning by attending another more formal school (what we would sometime refer to as a college) focusing on different areas of study or trades. Paul chose to be trained as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were one of the prominent religious parties in Judaism during the New Testament times. The name “Pharisee” denoted “separatists,” meaning that this religious group would have separated themselves from anything unclean. Those who joined and trained under this group voluntarily took upon themselves a strict regimen of laws pertaining to purity, Sabbath observance, prayer and tithing. They restricted their dealings with the people of the land whom they considered to be lax in their observance of the law. Some of the Pharisees were scribes also, but most were not. A Pharisee was usually a layman without scribal education, whereas a scribe was trained in rabbinic law and had official status. The Pharisees and scribes observed and perpetuated an oral tradition of laws handed down from the former teachers and wise men of Israel. This oral law was highly venerated by the Pharisees and scribes. They taught that it had been handed down from Moses and was to be given the same respect as the written laws of the Pentateuch. They were strict in their beliefs and how they practiced it. This training fueled Paul’s dedication to his beliefs and how he carried them out prior to accepting Christ.
As it relates to their specific training, a large number of Pharisees were probably trained in the school of Hillel, the most influential rabbinical school of Judaism. Hillel was the grandfather of Gamaliel, a celebrated Pharisee who was a doctor of Jewish Law. Gamaliel would later become president of the Sanhedrin. (The Sanhedrin was an assembly of twenty-three judges appointed in every city in Israel. The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court and consisted of seventy-one judges.) We first learn of Gamaliel in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts. In this chapter (verses thirty-three through thirty-nine) he stands before the Great Sanhedrin and counsels them against killing the apostles. Verse thirty-four records the following: “But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.” (Acts 5:34) Once the apostles left the room he counseled them about not killing the apostles reminding them about previous revolts which had been based on beliefs that other individuals were prophesied as the messiah and had collapsed quickly after the deaths of those individuals. He also told them basically that if they were wrong they could possibly find themselves fighting against God. Gamaliel is also the one who personally trained Paul and had a personal relationship with him (Acts 22:3). Of note, the Talmud (a central text of mainstream Judaism and consists of the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, custom and history) describes Gamaliel as teaching a student who displayed “impudence in learning” which some have identified as a reference to Paul. At some point during Paul’s training, it was instilled within him a fervent hatred for Christ and His followers and thus he became the perfect agent in the employment of the Sanhedrin against the Christians. Gamaliel could have been the one to recommend Paul for this position as he had personally trained him. With this as a background, let’s examine how Paul was taught and through this I will demonstrate how the Holy Spirit expanded on his knowledge.