Summary: someone intervened. His name was Gamaliel. His calm advice assuaged their anger,
As we just heard from the Book of Acts, Peter and “the other apostles” had a real knack for ticking off the Sanhedrin. They were just so darn persistent about spreading this new gospel that nothing seemed to discourage them. The fact was that they were actually making progress, and that had the Sanhedrin in a sweat. They were so worried that they were willing to play their trump card. They were preparing to kill them. Fortunately for the disciples, someone intervened. His name was Gamaliel. His calm advice assuaged their anger, and many Christians since then have regarded Gamaliel as a voice of divine reason. But was Gamaliel’s motive as pure as it appeared?
Rabbi Gamaliel I (gəmâ'lçəl) was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the mid first century. He was the grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, and died twenty years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
In the Christian tradition, Gamaliel is celebrated as a Pharisee Doctor of Jewish Law, who was the teacher of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 22:3, Paul himself said, “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.”
The Talmud (a collection of Hebrew teachings) tells us that Gamaliel was one of only seven to be given the title Rabban (master), a rabbinic title given to the Head of the Sanhedrin. In the Mishnah, he’s praised as being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism. It was written, “Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law; (with Gamaliel’s passing), purity and piety died out at the same time.”
The Book of Acts introduces Gamaliel as a Pharisee member of the Sanhedrin. In Acts 5, we’re told that he presents an argument against killing the apostles – an argument which seems wise indeed, but was he defending the Apostles or merely soothing ruffled feathers? Consider what he said.
He reminded the Sanhedrin about previous revolts led by ill fated rebels named Theudas and Judas of Galilee. He reminded them that those revolts collapsed quickly after the leaders died. He then concludes by saying, “If [this Gospel] be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, you will not be able to overthrow it; lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.” Their respect for Gamaliel was so great that they accepted this advice, regardless of how unwelcome it probably was.
As we all know, God sometimes provides help from unexpected sources. Such was the case here. No doubt Gamaliel’s intervention did calm the council – for the moment, but in the very next chapter (Acts 6), we see the same council condemning and stoning Stephen. While Gamaliel isn’t mentioned in Acts 6, there’s no reason to assume he was absent. And if by chance, he was absent, why was his previous counsel ignored so soon? Why indeed?
I would argue that Gamaliel was not so much a wise proponent of God’s truth as he was an appeaser. His actual advice was to wait-and-see, sit-on-the-fence and see what happens next. He calmed the assembly for the moment . . . but only for the moment.
Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem during the Passover. Since Gamaliel was so prominent, we can only assume that he must also have been in Jerusalem at the same time and probably even when Jesus was crucified. Perhaps he was even one who voted for his death, but we hear of no objections then.
We know Gamaliel knew the Scriptures and was surely aware of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. Because of that, he should have known better than try to remain neutral when faced with Jesus and later with Stephen. For Gamaliel to claim uncertainty in the matter of Christianity seems more than unlikely. When viewing the motives behind this Pharisee’s advice, it’s clear to me that claiming uncertainty is NOT a viable option.
There’s an old Chinese proverb about procrastination that says: “He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.”
Dante said it much more vigorously: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Clearly the Sanhedrin considered the teachings of Christianity were causing a moral crisis. Was Gamaliel down playing the urgency of it? If so, why?
This teacher of the law was comparing Jesus with two notorious rebels. In fact, he’s saying that it’s quite possible he’s no different. He’s arguing that “the proof will be in the pudding.” In other words, if it really is God’s message, then it will succeed. But – there’s an inherent problem with that logic. Only the success of their message will prove if they’re from God or not, and who will define or deny if it’s successful? Well, it would have to be the Sanhedrin – of course. And what do you suppose their verdict would be?