Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Sin of Gamaliel

This last Monday night, my church's midweek Bible study covered the last half of Acts 5. In that passage, Gamaliel's advice to the Sanhedrin is recorded. His advice was to let the apostles alone; if what they were doing was from men, it would soon pass away, but if what they were doing really was from God, then the elders of Israel were wrong to oppose it. It is an interesting bit of wisdom, and God used it at that time to spare the lives of the Apostles, since the Sanhedrin wanted to kill them. Gamaliel's advice can be found in Acts 5:38, "Keep away from these men and leave them alone." His reasoning then follows: "for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God."

Gamaliel was correct. If this work was from God the elders of Israel would not be able to overthrow it. But, keep in mind who Gamaliel was and to whom he was speaking. Gamaliel was "a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people" and he was addressing the high priest and the elders of Israel. He was a teacher of the law addressing other teachers of the law. So, while Gamaliel's advice shows a more measured response to the Apostles' teaching than the rest of the Sanhedrin, it is still very bad advice. Instead of warning the rest of the council to "keep away" he should have been telling them "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Gamaliel, of all men, should have known that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of the Messiah. Instead, this teacher of Israel advises his audience to keep away from those preaching Christ. It is a sin to advise others to stay away from Gospel preaching, and that was Gamaliel's sin. Ultimately, of course, we know that his bad advice was used for good by God. The Apostles left alive, though beaten, and "they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (verse 42).

What can we learn from Gamaliel? First, all the learning in the world is not enough to convince spiritually dead sinners of the truth of the Gospel. Gamaliel was possibly the best qualified of men to be converted through "reason" and yet he continues in sin, rejecting the truth that Jesus is the Messiah. Second, God uses wicked advice for His own purposes. The Apostles go on preaching Christ, both in homes and in the Temple, the very place where they had been arrested.

Gamaliel gave bad advice. He should have repented and believed. He sinned in telling others to stay away from preachers of the Gospel. The Elders and high priest followed Gamaliel's bad advice. They also should have repented and believed. But, the end of it all was that the Gospel was triumphant. The Apostles continued to preach Jesus as the Christ, and we read in Acts 6:7 that eventually, "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith."

Beware the sin of Gamaliel, but be sure that Christ will be triumphant through the preaching of the Gospel!


  1. this has been discussed in our Bible study group. I, however, cannot see just yet how Gamaliel has sinned. If we use the New International version of the bible, acts 5:38 would read: 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail"

    note that the words "keep away" were not used.

    what is evident here however, is a testimony that indeed Jesus Christ is truly of God.

  2. amaliel did not directly sin by this, but he made a bad decision that led the rest of the leaders of the council to sin by forcing away the Apostles and disciples. I guess one could be led in the direction that the sin was turning away from Christ, but it is a stretch at best. Truly Gamaliel should have believed, repented and been baptized as did the 3,000+ others noted in the rest of Acts. Otherwise they could not have been saved.