Gamaliel and the Judas Corollary 12

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus is not enough. Relying on Jesus to change our hearts is what we need.
  3. Judas ignored his critics. If someone had tried to stop Judas, the critic’s efforts would have been ineffective, yet right.
  4. 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.


It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

12 thoughts on “Gamaliel and the Judas Corollary

  1. keitho Jul 20, 2009 3:27 pm


    I would like to ask if it would be more appropriate to say that “God is sovereign” over saying “God is in Control”? God will always be God and his Kingdom is his range of effective will (borrowing from Dallas Willard if I may). But because we are in control at times, God may not be in control of the kingdom we make ourselves. He just lets it exist along side his for a while. However, his sovereignty is never diminished no matter what we do, or control.

    Great post, it just brought up the question that is perhaps not directly related.

  2. Sophie Jul 21, 2009 10:16 am


    I think that you may want to rethink this statement,
    “But because we are in control at times, God may not be in control of the kingdom we make ourselves. He just lets it exist along side his for a while. However, his sovereignty is never diminished no matter what we do, or control.”

    You contradict yourself, saying that god “may not be in control” is a very weighty statement and to say that he is not in control, but still sovereign does not add up.

    god allowing something to happen may give us the false impression that we are in control, but the very fact that he allows it shows how very much in control he is.

  3. keitho Jul 21, 2009 1:11 pm


    Thanks for your thoughts. I see a clear distinction in the words “control” and “sovereign” and I acknowledge the apparent contradiction. That being said, God controls the ultimate outcome, but he will allow us the choice to dismiss or kick ourselves out from his presence. Because he is sovereign he can choose to not control our choice. Now when the end comes, there will be other kicking going on, because at that time, his will is done on earth, just as it is in heaven. This is what we should pray for.

    So in that sense, if the ultimate outcome is in his hands, you say he is in control. And I really don’t disagree. I am just suggesting that on the way there, God allows our choices, and this to me suggests that we can go where God will not play a part and not control the outcome. But ultimately, his will is done on all the earth, just as it is done in heaven. I call that the sovereignty of a King over his Kingdom.

    Hope this helps at least as much as your thoughts helped me. Again, thanks.

    • James Duncan Jul 21, 2009 1:36 pm


      This is certainly a challenging question, and it’s a good example of why we need the help of people who are willing to “go deep.” This is the province of philosophers and seminarians (Tommy?), though we can kick the tires a bit ourselves here.

      Judas is a interesting and fearful example because he became an instrument of the devil at the same time as he was an instrument of God. John 13:18-21 has Jesus predicting that one of his own disciples is about to betray him (and another deny him).

      A bit earlier in the chapter, John shows the relationship between Judas’ sin and God’s control.

      During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands,…

      I don’t see any difference between being in control and being sovereign. If God is one, he has to be the other.

      The practical implication for the topics we deal with on this blog is that, although we can assure ourselves that we are a part of God’s plan, that doesn’t necessarily tell us what role we are playing in that plan.

      That should give one pause, not become an excuse to be a moral ignoramus.

  4. Tommy F Jul 21, 2009 4:05 pm

    I agree with the principal point of the original post by JDuncan, even though I would probably have worded it differently, and applied it less broadly (and I love the poster). In this particular instance, I agree with the wording and clarification of KeithO, perhaps because I’ve read Dallas Willard (whom he commended earlier).

    I think control and sovereignty can be synonyms, but both can too easily become akin to describing a puppet master. Do either sovereignty or control = God decides what will take place in every instance? I don’t think so, at least on earth. If so, God authors/decides sin. I am fully convinced that sin can never be God’s will.

    Is God in control? Yes. Is he sovereign? Of course. Is God’s will done in every instance here on earth? No (Matthew 6:10). That changes how sovereignty and control are defined and understood, in my mind. (btw: I think this is KeithO’s point – about clarifying terms – although he can certainly speak for himself.)

    I can already here the footsteps of the 5-pointers. Oh! I just heard my doorbell ring. That was quick.

  5. James Downing Jul 21, 2009 4:16 pm

    You guys are just fat Christians, debating some obscure doctrine while not doing anything for Jesus.

  6. Tommy F. Jul 21, 2009 5:05 pm

    Didn’t you mean phat?

  7. James Duncan Jul 21, 2009 6:00 pm

    Tommy, why didn’t you answer your door when I rang? It’s hot out here.

  8. Tommy F. Jul 21, 2009 9:05 pm

    It must have been the wrong house, I suppose. At my door was a UPS delivery. I happily received the Michael Jackson box-set. I am looking for a theme for the fall, and figured he might be inspiring. I need to stay current, and what’s more current than MJ?

  9. Sophie Jul 21, 2009 10:43 pm

    I have a feeling this is where my reformed background would come out and I’d like to begin a debate concerning free will (the opposite of divine sovereignty and whether or not we truly have any) but that is such a touchy subject, even among reformers. Thank you KeithO for the clarification, regardless on whether we see eye to eye on this subject, I understand what you meant. That understanding is far more precious than blindly arguing and never seeing both sides of the situation.

  10. keitho Jul 22, 2009 12:57 pm


    I have to mull over your generous offer for debate. But I am in the middle of working and I’ll have to take a raincheck. When it comes to this subject, I am “kicking the tires” with a laymans attempt at philosophy. Perhaps Tommy can do the honors, after he finishes listening to his MJ box set.

    Again, thanks for your comments.

  11. keitho Jul 22, 2009 1:14 pm

    On a more practical level, I wonder that the phrase
    “God is in control” is used so much, like other “churchy” (no offense intended) phrases that it has lost some of its meaning. How many of us actually think of the implications of this statement, (whether we are reformed or free will or something other) as we have used it repeatedly over our lifetimes, in a variety of circumstances and outcomes? And does the idea still hold that certain power and effect over your life? I know for me, the phrase lost some of its effect and meaning as it became well worn.

    I use the idea of a sovereign God to help fight this complacency in my thoughts. Would I make that a hard and fast rule for others? No. But the idea has worked for me.

    Again, thanks to all who are contributing on this particular post.

Comments are closed.