Posted in training

the gamaliel principle

The Sadducees were about to kill the apostles when a Pharisee stood up and compared the Church to armed resistance movements (Acts 5:27-37). Ever since, the scene has been known as “the Gamaliel principle.”

“Keep away from these men and let them alone,” says Gamaliel, “for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice (Acts 5:38-39).

Seems right. But is it? Is Gamaliel’s “do-nothing-wait-and-see-how-things-turn-out” advice a wise guiding principle for life?

Some say, yes, the Gamaliel principle is good advice. Don’t take a stand. Just sit on the fence and let it all play out. If it is of God, you can’t stop it. If it’s not, it will fizzle.

Others say the Gamaliel principle is bad advice. “Gamaliel offers what has become his famous counsel of indecision. Be careful—do not decide—wait, wait and see … This counsel has been called wise, but it offers only the folly of indecision where decision is imperative. And with its indecision there goes hand in hand the implication that God has not supplied us with means to make the true and safe decision” (Richard Lenski). Abraham Kuyper agrees: “How is it that Gamaliel’s advice, so profoundly untrue, is repeated again and again in life? Could it not be just as well the other way around, that to have no success suggests virtue?”

Perhaps the greatest appeal of Gamaliel’s “do nothing” principle is that it’s easier. It’s easier to sit and watch to see who wins than to get on the field. After all, you might fumble or throw the wrong pitch or “you might even be found opposing God!” Best to play it safe, right?

How did the apostles respond? Did they take Gamaliel’s “do-nothing-wait-and-see-how-things-turn-out” advice? The book of Acts answers that one. The Gamaliel principle operates out of fear and is only true when set within the framework of eternity—not as a guiding principle for life.