So I’m wrapping up this 601 Leadership Course for my Strategic Foresight degree. I was discussing with a fellow student Paul’s leadership style, and my colleague suggested that Paul learned many of his leadership traits from his Pharisee tutelage under the rabbi Gamaliel.
Hmm. That’s a great question. Here’s how I replied:
Great post, sir–but may I argue with you? 🙂 Paul in his letter to Philippi recounts his time in training, saying in what we call Chapter Three:
“…If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 3:4b-8a, emphasis mine)
The KJV translates ‘loss’ here as ‘rubbish,’ and I’m told that in Koine Greek the actual word employed is a crude term not often used in contemporary polite company. Keeping this in mind, I don’t know if Paul consciously had much of an appreciation for his faith-training. I’ll grant you, though, that this self-understanding is laden in paradox; even when vehemently denying his Pharisaic training, he seems to be using it. For instance: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 2:1 NRSV) Sure you did, Paul! Yours are some of the loftiest words in Scripture, with unmatched eloquence if not always clarity (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). At the very least, one could say that the experience of conversion or regeneration does not negate who you once were, but transforms it.
I’ll grant you something else, about the relationship-building qualities of Gamaliel himself. Acts 5 recounts a time when Peter and others are proclaiming Christ and healing people, with great public acclaim. Because of their claims about Jesus, the local religious authorities are offended and wish to flog the apostles. But Gamaliel, “respected by all the people,” offers another course: “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men…keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:35, 38b-39)
Gamaliel believed what he believed, but had a respect and even curiosity about people and ideas different than his–he created a hospitable environment amid religious and political hostility to allow relationship-building between disparate people. Would that we had more Gamaliel’s today in our pluralistic world.