The "Toronto Blessing"
A Theological Examination of the Roots, Teaching and Manifestations, and Connection Between the Faith Movement and the Vineyard Church
By Stephen Sizer
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CHAPTER 8 : GAMALIEL - A MODEL OF GODLY WISDOM?
On several occasions, the story of Gamaliel found in the Acts of
the Apostles, has been advocated by some Christian leaders as a
precedent for how we should respond to theological controversy.
"Wait and see the fruit" we are told.
"Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God
rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the
dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted
him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might
give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are
witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God
has given to those who obey him."
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them
to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law,
who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin
and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then
he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you
intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared,
claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to
him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all
came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the
days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was
killed, and all his followers were scattered. 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. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these
men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." His
speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them
flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of
Jesus, and let them go. (Acts 5:29-40)
Superficially, Gamaliel's advice appears both wise and
respectful. In fact there are two fundamental reasons quite
evident from the text why we should draw the opposite
conclusion. Gamaliel is not a model of godly wisdom, but to the
contrary, he and the Sanhedrin were deceived. This is evident
from what he instructed the Sanhedrin to do with the Apostles
and what to believe about the Gospel.
8.1 What should they do with the Apostles
What did Gamaliel tell his fellow Pharisees to do? "I advise
you: Leave these men alone!" (Acts 5:38). In its immediate
context Gamaliel was counselling caution against making a hasty
decision. He appears tolerant for he recognises the possibility
that the Apostles might be divinely inspired. However, ask
yourself, would the Holy Spirit tell someone to "leave the
Apostles alone"? No, the Spirit of God convicts of sin,
righteous and judgement. He points people to Jesus. He
challenges people to follow Jesus. He commands people to repent
and believe the Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles.
Gamaliel had sufficient knowledge of the Old Testament
Scriptures to know what they taught about the Messiah.
He very likely had personal experience of Jesus life, teaching
and miracles; he would have participated in the decision to
crucify Christ; he had just heard the Gospel proclaimed by the
Apostles, men he knew were simple fishermen, yet powerfully
anointed by God's Spirit. Gamaliel had sufficient information to
make a decision to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ his Messiah, but
he refused. The stand he took and the position he advocated was
therefore not neutral. This becomes patently obvious from
the way they treated the Apostles.
"His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and
had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of
Jesus, and let them go." (Acts 5:40)
Yes, the Sanhedrin did let the Apostles go, but they had them
flogged (because they were regarded as guilty of a crime?) and
commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus (because they
recognised the Apostles believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the
Son of God).
Would the Holy Spirit forbid the Apostles from speaking in the
name of Jesus? The actions of the Sanhedrin, and Gamaliel in
particular, were inspired not by the Holy Spirit but Satan.
Their actions are not a model of godly wisdom. And neither was
8.2 What they should believe about the Gospel
"I advise you: Leave these men alone!" (Acts 5:38). Gamaliel
came to this conclusion on the basis of previous encounters with
Messianic cult leaders. His deductions from the demise of Thudas
and Judas appear to demonstrate great wisdom.
"For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will
fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these
men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." (Acts
He concludes that a genuine work of God will succeed, but a
religion of human origin will fail. Gamaliel's logic is
seriously flawed because he allows for only two possible sources
or explanations for these religious movements. Human or Divine.
But there is a third source of which he is ignorant precisely
because it had most likely inspired him to make this very
deduction. The Scriptures warn of a demonic or Satanic origin to
much counterfeit religious belief and even miraculous phenomena.
Using Gamaliel's logic we would have to conclude that religions
such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and modern cults such as the
Mormons, Bahai and the Jehovah Witnesses are all inspired by God
because they have not "failed". Communist persecution of Jehovah
Witnesses and Islamic intolerance of the Bahai faith did not
crush them. Indeed many cults are growing at frightening rates.
According to Newsweek there are now over 600 cults in Britain,
350 of which actively proselytise. The criteria for spiritual
authenticity and Divine inspiration is not therefore whether
something fails or survives over time, nor even the character of
their advocates, but how these claims match up to the revealed
Word of God.
Does it pass the truth test? It is truth not experience which
must be the criteria for discerning a work of God.
Gamaliel therefore is not a model of godly wisdom which
Christians should emulate. His counsel, both in terms of what he
advised the Sanhedrin to do and to believe was seriously flawed
and most likely inspired by Satan. As in the case of Job, God in
his mercy and sovereign purposes would not allow the Apostles to
suffer martyrdom on this occasion because their mission was not
"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had
been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day
after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they
never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus
is the Christ." (Acts 5:41-42)
May God give us the grace to witness with a similar boldness in
the face of opposition.
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