Gamaleil Saves the Day!

A 2,000 year-old challenge

The Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby, at a Spiro Institute lecture on the origins of  Christianity, drew attention to an "authentic account" from the first Christian writings. It is a story that features the highly esteemed rabbi, Gamliel the Elder, who was widely respected for his moderate stance on matters of Torah observance and was probably the most influential Pharisee in first century CE Judaism.

The leaders of the Church were on trial for preaching that Jesus was King Messiah and for implicating the Sanhedrin in his death. The high priest, worried about this and the rapid growth of the new movement, conferred with other council members to find an excuse to put Peter and the other Church leaders to death, and would probably have succeeded had not Gamliel spoken up.

The author of the account records the gist of his speech, which is fully in accord with what we know of the great man from other sources:

Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as to what you do regarding these men... let them alone; for if this plan is the work of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it lest you even be found to fight against God.*

From his remarks during the lecture, Hyam Maccoby appeared to approve the rabbi's wait-and-see policy. Rabbi Gamliel's plea for moderation saved the day because the Sanhedrin released the apostles of Jesus and the rest, as they say, is history.

Which all begs the question: how much time did have in mind when he advocated that the Sanhedrin should wait and see how the followers of Jesus fared?

A year?

Ten years?

A century?

How about two thousand years?

We are now in the third millennium since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Surely the great and wise Gamliel would have to concede that by the standards of his own criteria the movement established by Jesus must be "of God".

What do you think?



Acts 5:33-42. “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it - lest you even be found to fight against God.’ And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Messiah.

This article has appeared in various publications published by Shalom Ministries

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