Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home

When Paul Studied with Gamaliel
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Paul was in Jerusalem from the age of 3 (under Gamaliel), so to assume he already knew how to WRITE Greek would be fallacious.  Sure he knew how to speak it, but to write it, simply because he was born in Tarsus?

This statement and related question carries a slew of assumptions that don't seem necessarily valid.  The answer requires a broader view of the active dynamics of the society across the Roman Empire in the early 1st century.

A Class of 3-Year-Olds?
The age of 3 is much earlier than common sources indicate.  I am not aware of such an early age as the age when Paul began studying with Gamaliel.  Nothing I have seen in the New Testament texts refers to a time frame.

Maybe you are referencing some general pattern time to start studying with a rabbi and are inferring an age for Paul to begin?  Age 3 does not make much sense.  Three years old is very young for anything very formal.

Can you imagine a bunch of 3-year-olds sitting cross-legged on a floor mat in a semi-circle around a teacher?  Not likely!  (Since I am not a specialist in this particular topic, I may have missed something here, and would sincerely like to be directed to a credible source to clarify this deficiency.)

Possible Age
Some sources mention age 10, others age 14.  Age 14 seems to be the general belief from authorities on the question, but I cannot be definitive.  Some suggest 13, perhaps related to the modern Jewish custom of Bar Mitzvah at age 13.

Some authorities suggest he would have studied at home with his father from about age 10-14, after his early training from his mother, a model we see referred to in the letter to Timothy.  Pharisaism was a lay movement.  Then after this period of teenage study with his father, he would enter more formal association with a Rabbinic mentor.  I suggest the reader probe this in Internet searches for credible specialized scholarship on this topic.

One source suggests that the training pattern would have been that Paul would have learned his professional training (as a tent-maker) before going into his religious training with a Rabbinic mentor, such as Gamaliel.  This would put it later even on the age scale.  Teen age would be an appropriate accommodation for this pattern.  So perhaps we are still in the ballpark with age 14, as most commentators seem to suggest.

It is not safe to read back into this era the later Christian clerical formality and institutionalism into 1st century Judaism, nor the later formal institution of Rabbinic Judaism which developed gradually in the early Christian era.

Seleucid Greeks
I would suggest some independent research on backgrounds of the Syrian region under the successors of Seleucos, Alexander's general who took over this area Alexander's death.  Look for information on likely patterns and possibilities of Paul's influences from his multiple background.

Paul was not Judean or Galilean.  He was in a unique situation, with a family living in a city once part of the Seleucid Greek Empire.  The area had been Greek for almost 3 centuries when Rome took it as part of Syria wrested from the eastern Greeks.  The rest of Syria and Mesopotamia remained Seleucid in Jesus' and Paul's day.

The very fact that he was born in Tarsus is a major reason he would be a native Greek speaker!  Tarsus was a Roman colony, not a Jewish colony.

When Rome took over the Greek areas, they just absorbed the Greek infrastructures they found.  Greek was the language of administration of the Roman Empire.

It is suggested by that last article linked above that Paul's family may have been among the Palestinian Jewish families settled there by Antiochus IV in 171 BC.  The city of Tarsus was later given Colony status by the Romans, meaning all residents, of whatever ethnic background, received full Roman citizenship.

A Rabbinic Caution
I am aware that some writers like to reference Rabbinic Judaism as a model for understanding the 1st century setting.  While what we know from later history as Rabbinic Judaism arose out of the Pharisaic pattern in Palestine, it developed in the last half of the 2nd century and was finally settled and codified by the end of the 3rd century of the Christian Era.

The Mishnah was compiled by perhaps AD 150 at the earliest, and this was done outside Palestine.  I suggest you consult authorities on this for timeline perspectives on what patterns to expect or infer in the questions you need to consider.

It appears the Rabbinic pattern was quite fluid and informal in the time of Jesus, not a strict and established institution as we tend to think of, from its ongoing development well into the Christian Era.

But keep in mind the distinction and sharp differences between the major parties in Judea.  These divisions were not so critical in Galilee, since the priesthood centered in Jerusalem, associated with the temple.

But the Pharisees were a largely lay group, as I understand.  They focused on teaching and local leadership, centered in the local synagogues, with a strong emphasis on right living and faithful observance of the Torah in daily living.  

It is very helpful to note the differences in topics and how Jesus dealt with them, between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  The Gospels are indirectly instructive if you focus on the topics and response with each.  I suggest a careful reading with this in mind, for important, usually-overlooked insights into Jesus teachings and perspectives.

Josephus, for instance, was from a priestly family, placing him in the aristocratic class, though by some reports associated with the Pharisee party.  He was descended from both the Hasmonean royalty and the priestly family under the Hasmonean Judean kingdom before the Romans conquered the region.

Josephus was a Romaphile, attaching himself to the Emperor and his party after joining the Roman side in the Judean rebellion he had reluctantly joined initially.  He wrote to interpret his people's history and culture to the Romans, but did some adaptation and interpolation to do make them seem more acceptable to the Romans.  This was a commendable defensive tactic, I believe.  A quick Internet search will put you in touch with numerous discussions on these dynamics.

This conservative priestly sector generally related to the Sadducees, who opposed the modern innovations of the Pharisees and the similar ideas promoted by Jesus and other activists and prophets.  I suggest you read through the Gospels looking for this type of reference and see what picture you come up with.

Keeping Order
Those priestly, aristocratic perspectives are reflected in Josephus' writings.  We see the Sadducees clash with the more liberal Pharisaic views Jesus supported, in the famous questions on marriage in the resurrection, trying to trip Jesus up to ridicule him.

Ironically, even the close collaboration with the Roman authorities arises out of this strong conservatism of the Sadducees.  They wanted to retain their control over the holy land they were not concerned about the mixed northern territories, and feared the perpetual resistance, disturbances and uprisings that Galilee was known for.

It was their high priority to keep things running smoothly, so they would not have their control yanked by the Romans.  There is extensive documentation and discussion of this in authorities on the 1st century.  For more detail on these dynamics, I suggest you research this further in considering the social and religious dynamics of the era.

Jesus and Pharisees
We see references to Jesus' association with Pharisees in Galilee, who even warn him of a plot against him by Herod Antipas, the king of Galilee and Perea [Luke 13:31-33].  Jesus' ideas of the Resurrection and the New Kingdom, very like those of the Pharisees, clashed with the more parochial views of the priestly class.

Galilean Pharisees warn Jesus of a Judean Pharisaic plot against him, suggesting he not go to Jerusalem.  As well as his teaching out in the streets, Jesus is often in the synagogues, led by the Pharisees.  Several instances report him in homes of leading Pharisees, where he interprets his challenging view of God's Rule.

The common popular stereotype of the Pharisees as out-of-touch dullards who totally opposed Jesus does not represent the actual picture drawn by the Gospels.  I suggest a sympathetic reading of one or more Gospels all the way through to get a richer portrait of the characters and parties with whom Jesus interacted during his ministry.

Paul a Pharisee
Thus it is not so unusual that the convert who became the leading figure in the formulation of the new messianic faith community among the Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews in the Empire was likewise a Pharisee.

Paul, apparently an apt and prodigious student of Gamaliel, accepted his calling to reinterpret the Torah in light of the Messianic perspectives of the Pharisees, to interpret the Good News that the expected Messiah had indeed come, in Jesus of Nazareth.

But you will see in his letters that Paul focuses on the risen Messiah, as a universal lord calling all Nations to a new universal Rule of God that goes beyond the limited Pharisaic concept of Torah observance.  This same concern is strong in Luke-Acts, of course, as well as in the Fourth Gospel, which resonates strongly with Pauline themes.

John declares that Jesus is the Lord of even the Sabbath.  Some commentators note that the Fourth Gospel writer seems to be aware of at least some of Paul's letters.  And it is known that some of Paul's letters were the earliest writings that became part of the New Testament.

When Paul began the training that ultimately led him down the road of encounter with the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, we actually have no details.  But the testimonies of the era indicate he would have become a ward and trainee of Gamaliel in the age range of 10-14.

Note also that there were more than one Rabbi named Gamaliel.  It may be the same figure that trained Paul who is referred to in the book of Acts as advising the Sanhedrin to be cautious in condemning the exuberant followers of Jesus whom they proclaimed as the Messiah (Acts 5:32-39).

Gamaliel observes that they cannot be sure this is not God at work.  This may indicate that Paul's early radical reaction against the active messianic movement was not in sync with the sympathies of his master.

Also related
[TXT] Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
[TXT] Jesus' Knowledge of Greek: The Role of Language and Motif in the Fourth Gospel Narratives
[review] Oral Greek Styles in Paul's Writings
[TXT] Sabbath, Sunday and Covenant Relationships – The Sabbath for the Christian: Thoughts on Commandment Four
[TXT] That Abominable Greek?

Related on the Internet:
Paul to Jerusalem abt age 10
Paul to Jerusalem at age 14
Paul to Jerusalem at age 13
Age 14 the normal age when Jewish boys would be placed with a teacher for their advanced training
Learning a Trade Before Going into Religious Training
Jewish citizens of Tarsus Given Roman Citizenship


Initial notes written in an email response to a query
Topic developed June-September 2011
Article finalized and posted 22 October 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email: researchguy@iname.com
Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home

filename:  paulrabbiage.html