Downing did a good job of putting the oft-quoted Gamaliel advice in its proper context last week. Before getting to the Judas Corollary, may I add two more points to his observations.
- The advice was apathetic. Right before Gamaliel stepped in to call a ceasefire on the apostles’ enemies, Peter had clearly presented the Gospel to the assembled crowd, which included Gamaliel. There was enough information for Gamaliel to come to a proper conclusion about Peter’s claims about Jesus, but he limp-wristedly complained that there was really no way to know right now who was telling the truth. That’s why history books record Gamaliel as the first postmodern religious leader.
- The advice was ineffective. Although the apostles weren’t killed, they almost were. After being persuaded by his words, the crowd hardly opened their hearts and minds to them. Note Acts 5:40:
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.
As Downing pointed out, Gamaliel is hardly someone we’d want to be taking advice from, given what we know about the subsequent behaviors of the people he influenced.
Now, part of what Gamaliel said was true (about the impossibility of thwarting God’s will), but that truth is not a sufficient guide for moral behavior. Think about how well Gamaliel describes Judas’ behavior.
- Judas was effective. Think about all the times Jesus’ enemies had tried to trap and destroy him. In a single evening, Judas seemingly halted Jesus ministry and changed the course of history. If you’re looking for an example of a world changer or religious reformer, Judas is your man.
- Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus is not enough. Relying on Jesus to change our hearts is what we need.
- Judas ignored his critics. If someone had tried to stop Judas, the critic’s efforts would have been ineffective, yet right.
- Judas was squarely within God’s will. This illustrates the profound danger of the fatalism or God-willed-it argument. Just because God is in control doesn’t mean that I can’t be out of control. Just because all things work together for good doesn’t mean that my actions aren’t bad.
God uses everybody to carry out his will. Once, he used a donkey. Another time, he used a traitor. To say that we are acting in accordance with God’s will is always true, but it doesn’t necessarily make us good.