Teacher of Paul

Today the church remembers one who taught the first Apostles: Gamaliel the Elder, Rabbi, Leader of the Sanhedrin, and Instructor of St. Paul.

It might seem unusual for a Hebrew scholar and Pharisee to be honored as a saint of the church. That is, of course, until you remember that most all of the early church were Hebrew in the beginning, and Jesus himself was a Pharisee (of the scholars who studied Mosiac Law and trusted in a resurrection from the dead).

Rabbi Gamaliel hailed from a long line of scholars, including the celebrated Rabbi Hillel who we believe taught Jesus, or at least informed his thinking (some of Christ’s most memorable lines about the Law were riffs on Hillel). Rabbi Gamaliel shows up in the Acts of the Apostles in the 5th Chapter and is mentioned in the 22nd Chapter as St. Paul’s Hebrew teacher. It is Gamaliel who convinces the rest of the Sanhedrin to stop killing the followers of Jesus, and the scholars followed his advice (though they still didn’t tolerate preaching Christ crucified).

Rabbi Gamaliel is believed to have become a Jewish-Christian, though a secretive one, and lore has it that he was baptized with his son by Sts. Peter and John, together. Lore also maintains that it is Gamaliel who carefully buried the body of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the faith, and even buried another secret disciple of Christ’s, Nicodemus.

Much of Gamaliel’s conversion narrative is conjecture and lore. What is certain, though, is that he shielded the Apostles from being killed, was apparently tolerant of other belief systems, and taught a young Paul in the Mosaic Law.

For this reason Gamaliel is yet another reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that the faith of the church has always, and will always be, heavily influenced by those outside of the faith. You’d think this would make us a very hospitable and tolerant people, especially to those of other belief systems.

You’d think.

-historical bits gleaned from Acts and publicly accessed resources.