Q: #562. Who was Gamaliel in the Bible?
A: Two men were named Gamaliel (“God is my recompense”) in the Bible. The first is mentioned by name 5 times in the book of Numbers in the Old Testament (Num 1:10)(Num 2:20)(Num 7:54,59)(Num 10:23), and the second is mentioned by name 2 times in the book of Acts in the New Testament (Acts 5:34)(Acts 22:3).
The Gamaliel of the Old Testament was “from the tribe of Manasseh, the son of Pedahzur” (Num 1:10). He was chosen by God to represent the tribe of Manasseh in helping Moses to number the men of Israel (with a census) who were “twenty years old and above – who (were) able to go to war in Israel” (Num 10:3). As their “captain” (leader), he numbered his army at thirty-two thousand two hundred men (Num 2:20-21). Later, representing his tribe, he “presented an offering” for the dedication of the altar (Num 7:54-59).
The Gamaliel of the New Testament is by far the better known Gamaliel. However, much of what we know about him comes from sources outside of the Bible.
From the Bible, all that we know about him is found in (Acts 5:34-39) and (Acts 22:3). We know that he was: a member of the Sanhedrin (the “council”), “a Pharisee” (therefore a Jew) “a doctor of the law,” and “respected by all the people” (Acts 5:34). In (Acts 5:35-39), his reasoning to other members of the Sanhedrin for why they should not put the apostles to death actually ended up saving their lives (God likely used Gamaliel to accomplish this).
In (Acts 22:3), Paul tells us that he had been “educated by Gamaliel” (Gamaliel had been his teacher).
From sources outside of the Bible, we are told more about Gamaliel, although most of these things can not be “completely” confirmed.
He was the son of Simeon ben Hillel (one source says possibly the Simeon mentioned in Lk 2:25-35), and his grandfather, Hillel Gamaliel, was the foremost Jewish scholar of his time. Like his grandfather, Gamaliel was also considered by most accounts the foremost Jewish scholar of his time (first century A.D.). (This is certainly why his student Paul had expert knowledge of the Old Testament.)
“He fathered Simeon ben Gamaliel, who was named for his father, and a daughter, who married a priest named Simon ben Nathanael.” (Wikipedia)
My “Unger’s Bible Dictionary” says the following, “His learning was so eminent and his character so revered that he is one of the seven who, among Jewish doctors only, have been honored with the title of Rabban.” (“Rabban” appears to be a title which was given to those who commanded greater respect than a “rabbi.”)
Some writings mention that Gamaliel became a Christian. I question the truthfulness of this belief, but I add it here. Unger’s continues by saying, “Ecclesiastical tradition makes him converted and baptized by Peter and Paul, together with his son Gamaliel and with Nicodemus.”
A writing called “The Clementine Recognitions,” whose authenticity is highly questionable, says that Gamaliel was “secretly our brother in the faith” (Ch. 65), and “of our faith” (Ch. 66).” In relation to this, Wikipedia says, “The Eastern Orthodox Church venerates Gamaliel as a saint, and he is commemorated on August 2.”
Several writings place his death in 52 A.D. (18 years before the Temple was destroyed).