Acts 5:34

False color rendering of Doug’s artwork.

Monday, 14 March 2022

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. Acts 5:34

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The events to this point have led the members of the council to become furious at the words of defense spoken by the apostles. In addition, it said that those in the council “plotted to kill them.” With that, a voice of reason now stands up within the council. Luke begins the note concerning him by saying, “Then one in the council stood up.”

This person probably heard the grumblings of some of the people and knew that their words were contrary to both reason and to the Law of Moses. Their violent speech and actions of the leadership had led to the crucifixion of Christ, and now His followers were standing before the council with the same type of anger being cast towards them. Luke next identifies him as “a Pharisee named Gamaliel.”

The name Gamaliel means “Reward of God.” Being a Pharisee is a key point. As a Pharisee, he accepted the premise that there is a resurrection, and also that there are angels and spirits. This is seen later in Acts –

“And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.” Acts 23:7, 8

As this is the case, he would at least be sympathetic to the words of the apostles concerning Christ, and he could actually accept that the unexplained release of the apostles from prison could have been accomplished by an angel. The latter point is not noted in the account now. And yet, it is otherwise hard to imagine that the council did not ask about it, even if Luke does not record the conversation (see the life application in the commentary on Acts 5:24).

Because of his views, he will be a voice of reason toward the situation now being brought before the council. Of this person, Gamaliel, Paul will later note in Acts 22:3 that he was brought up at his feet. The meaning is that he personally studied under this man. Hence, Paul’s doctrine followed after Gamaliel, and it was from this source that Paul’s grounding in Scripture was then used by the Lord to bring the message of life in Christ and the name of Jesus “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

Of this person, the following is noted by Albert Barnes –

“…this man was the teacher of Paul Acts 22:3, the son of the ‘Simon’ who took the Saviour in his arms Luke 2, and the grandson of the famous ‘Hillel,’ and was known among the Jews by the title of ‘Rabban Gamaliel the elder.’ There were other people of this name, who were also eminent among the Jews. This man is said to have died 18 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and he died as he had lived, a Pharisee. There is not the least evidence that he was a friend of the Christian religion; but he was evidently a man of far more liberal views than the other members of the Sanhedrin.”

Luke next notes him as “a teacher of the law.” The meaning is that he instructed others in the law (as noted above concerning Paul), but he also would have interpreted the law, learned the traditional views of the scholars of the law before him, preserved the traditions of the Jewish culture and society, and so on. These things can be seen in how Paul, his student, presented himself before a tribunal later in Acts –

 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Acts 26:4, 5

Paul’s life was modeled after the teachings of Gamaliel, and his conduct and teaching – even as a believer in Christ – are to be understood from that perspective. His training and knowledge are certainly one reason why the Lord chose him for his apostolic ministry. Understanding the type of man Gamaliel was helps us to understand the reasoned passion Paul had concerning the things he knew about Jesus, and how they stand in relation to the Law of Moses. For now, Luke continues with his word about Gamaliel, saying that he was “held in respect by all the people.”

Even if the Sadducees and others disagreed with his beliefs, it is of note that those in the council still held Gamaliel in high regard. They were willing to listen to his thoughts and consider his arguments. This shows that he was understood to be a man of intelligence and reason. In this notable state, Luke next says that he “commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.”

From what will be said in the verses ahead, it is obvious that the discussion would only embolden the apostles to persevere in the spreading of their message if they knew what it was that will be stated. To avoid this, and to allow the movement of the apostles to either grow or die out without prejudice, they were to be removed from the deliberations.

What is interesting is that what is said in the council is, in fact, recorded by Luke. That means that someone who was in the room was aware of what was said and recalled it for Luke during his investigations leading to the writing of the book of Acts. Hence, it could be Gamaliel himself, or even Paul that heard and remembered the words that will next be looked at.

As a side note, the Alexandrian text says “men” instead of “apostles” in this final clause. Thus, many translations, going back as far as the Latin Vulgate, follow this wording. This will explain the change for those who notice the difference.

Life application: Above, the training and knowledge of Paul is noted. It was because of his in-depth knowledge of the Law of Moses and his grounded belief in his training as a Pharisee that he was able to piece together so much of his theology. It is true that God inspired Paul to write out his epistles, but what is inspired is still based upon what Paul knew and how he perceived the world around him in relation to the law and its fulfillment in Christ.

For example, though the author of Hebrews is not identified in the epistle, it is highly likely that Paul is its author. To understand why this is so, refer to the introduction to the commentary by the Superior Word on Hebrews. Whether it was Paul or not, it is someone who had an extensive knowledge of the law, and who obviously believed in the resurrection, angels, and spirits. He further was able to take that knowledge and weave together a sound and reasonable discourse for the Hebrew people to understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of these things.

This is what Paul does throughout all of his letters. His training as a Pharisee made the obvious connections to Jesus jump out of the law that he once lived under. From there, he was able to fully and rightly discern what even the other apostles could not quite grasp (see Acts 11 and Galatians 2 for example). In this, Paul – more than any other – was able to see that everything he had grown up with and been trained in was to find its fulfillment in Christ –

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” Colossians 2:16-19

Today, we will also look at the words of Paul based on how we perceive our relationship to the law. The same words are read by those who accept that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (the correct view), and by those who believe the law is still in effect for all people, in part or in whole (the heretical view).

The difference is in their understanding of Paul’s words, meaning in relation to Christ as the fulfillment of the law or in relation to the law which Paul had once been under. The only way to get beyond the law is to properly understand its purpose in relation to Jesus. And the only way to do that is to read the Bible in its proper context. Once it is understood that that law was only a stepping stone on the way to Christ, and not an end in and of itself, only then does the law find its proper place in our thinking about the magnitude of what Jesus did for us.

Keep reading the Bible, and do not be led astray by those who would reinsert the law into our lives. It is a law that could never save anyone. Only in coming to Christ can we find the true hope that God has set before us. Thank God for our hope. Thank God for Jesus!

Lord God, You have taken real people, from all walks of life and from all kinds of interesting situations, and You have used them and their experiences in order to reveal to us Your intent for humanity, expressing these things in Your word. How great You are to show us such things so that we can know the proper path that leads us to Jesus. Yes, how great You are! Amen.