The renowned Doctor of Jewish law (Acts 5:34), and instructor of the apostle Paul (Acts 22:3). It may be that Paul’s instruction in the Law began when he was about the age of twelve (Luke 2:42). Like his Master, Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, sat in the midst of the doctors, hearing and asking questions. These learned men sat in a high chair, and the scholars on the floor and were thus literally at their masters'feet (see Deut. 33:3).
The Man Who Was Tolerant
Ellicott speaks of Gamaliel as one of the heroes of rabbinical history. His dramatic speech before the Council on Peter’s behalf, and the part he played in the instruction of Paul mark him out a man worthy of note. Gamaliel was the son of Simeon, perhaps of Luke 2:25, and the grandson of the great Hillel, the representative of the best school of Pharisaism, the tolerant and largehearted rival of the narrow and fanatic Shammai. Through the weight of years and authority Gamaliel rose to eminence and counseled with moderation.
Being of the house and lineage of David, this cultured teacher had full sympathy with the claims of Christ, who was welcomed as the Son of David. Perhaps he was influenced to a decision for Christ through contact with a brother-teacher like Nicodemus (John 3:1, 2; 7:50, 51) and can therefore be included among the many chief rulers who secretly believed in Christ (John 12:42, 43).
Digging beneath Gamaliel’s able and successful performance before the Council at Jerusalem, Alexander Whyte feels that he was only a “fluent and applauded opportunist” and warns young men against his presentation. “He was a politician, but he was not a true churchman or statesman. He was held in repute by the people; but the people were blind, and they loved to be led by blind leaders, and Gamaliel was one of them.” With all his insight and lawyerlike ability, Gamaliel turned all things completely upsidedown when he sat in judgment, and gave his carefully balanced caution concerning the Son of God, comments Dr. Whyte.
Perhaps the renowned author of Bible Characters is right when he suggests that Gamaliel made the tremendous and irreparable mistake of approaching Jesus Christ and His cause on the side of policy, handling Him as a matter open to argument and debate. But Christ is an Ambassador of Reconciliation, and we are not permitted to sit in judgment on God, and on His message of mercy to us. Without apology Dr. Whyte pronounces Gamaliel as “a liberal long before his time. He was all for toleration, and for a free church in a free state, in an intolerant and persecuting day.”