The Influence of Rabbi Gamaliel

Saul spent his youth and early manhood in Jerusalem, where he was thoroughly trained in the law by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. Unlike Tarsus, Jerusalem was not a free city. Rome appointed governors or procurators to maintain a forced peace with the help of the Roman legions.

The chief priests and leading members of the Sanhedrin were so wealthy that they had insufficient appreciation of the economic stress of their poorer fellow-countrymen. Furthermore, they knew that the continued enjoyment of their wealth depended on the maintenance of the existing order. The Jews of Judea were perhaps the least assimilable of all Rome’s subject-nations because of their unique and exclusive religion. The practice of Jewish religion was guaranteed to them by imperial decrees.

Gamaliel was called by his contemporaries the Beauty of the Law, and he is still remembered among the Jews as the Great Rabbi. He was a man of lofty character and enlightened mind, a Pharisee strongly attached to the traditions of the fathers, yet not intolerant or hostile to Greek culture, as were some of the narrow-minded Pharisees.

Gamaliel was the grandson and successor of the great Rabbi Hillel (c.a. 60 B.C. to A.D. 20). Hillel had taught a more advanced and liberal form of Judaism than his rival, Shammai. For instance, Hillel taught that a man could divorce his wife if she displeased him in any way—even if she burned his dinner! What Paul wrote on this subject shows that he must have changed his mind after he became a Christian.

Saul did gain at least one great benefit from his education in the tradition of Hillel. Shammai had refused to see any place for the Gentiles in the purposes of God. His rival, Hillel, had not only welcomed Gentiles, but set out to evangelize them. No doubt, it was from Gamaliel that Saul first learned what a great job was waiting to be done among the non-Jewish people of the Roman Empire.

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