Gamaliel was the son of Rabbi Simeon and the grandson of the famous Hillel who had founded Israel's strongest religious school. Gamaliel was the first of many famous rabbis of that name which means, "reward of God." His title of Rabban was higher than that of Rabbi and given to only a few Jewish leaders. He was a teacher of distinction and his influence and reputation earned him a seat on the Sanhedrin Council. Gamaliel had come into prominence about AD 20.

Gamaliel was the head of the Hillel school at the time of Jesus' ministry and presided over the Sanhedrin during the reigns of Tiberius, Caius and Claudias. The apostle Paul had studied "at the feet of Gamaliel and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers." The liberal school of Hillel taught the law with a pragmatic humane interpretation and was in contrast to the conservatism and excessive legalism of the school of Shammai. Astute Jews called him the "Beauty of the Law." A later saying was that "Since Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law."

Rabban Gamaliel was given permission to teach the students Greek due to the relationship with the Romans. Gamaliel's son, Rabbi Simeon even wrote, "There were a 1000 pupils in my father's house; 500 studied the Torah and 500 studied Greek wisdom." And Simeon's son, Rabbi Juda Hanassi went further saying, "Why speak Syriac in Palestine? Talk either Hebrew or Greek."

It was Gamaliel that offered tolerance toward the Christians early in the book of Acts. "Then stood up one in the Council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space." This was not a request from Gamaliel - it was a command. "And now I say unto you, refrain from these men and let them alone. For if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nothing. But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest haply you be found even to fight against God."

This liberal attitude of Gamaliel did not necessarily mean that he had any leanings toward the Christians but rather showed that he had a coolness and wisdom that transcended the ideological differences. There is a lesson to be learned concerning a righteous liberal attitude that the legalists of the fundamentalist church has never been able to grasp. The spiritual darkness of puritan ignorance has blinded them to any kind of open mindedness or tolerance. It is really hard for them to even understand the concept of liberality or to even understand what it means to be illiberal.

The grace that Gamaliel showed to the Christians lasted among the Jews for some time after that, perhaps several years until the stoning of Stephen. In the meantime the Christians had multiplied rapidly in Jerusalem even winning over many of the priests. This moderation permitted the new Christians to organize into a church; the repression and persecution that followed scattered the church all over the world. A tradition has it that Gamaliel finally became a Christian and baptized by Peter but remained a member of the Sanhedrin. The Jews say he died a Pharisee about 62 AD. The Catholic Encyclopedia records that his body was discovered in the fifth century and is said to be preserved at Pisa, in Italy.
[291, 320, 332, 356, 12, 315, 15, 380, Acts 5, 22]

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