THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLING OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-25-79 10:50 a.m.
Now once again welcome to the uncounted thousands of you who on television are listening in several states on cable and in the state of Texas through most of these cities in the northern tier of our empire state. And welcome all of you who are listening on to the two radio stations.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Religious Schooling of Paul. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to Acts 26. And it is a recounting of the defense of Paul before Herod Agrippa II: “And he says, Agrippa says to Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand” [Acts 26:1]. I would presume that one of his hands; say his left hand was chained to a Roman soldier because he is a prisoner. And with the right hand he extends his arm and answered for himself. “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all of the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews”—Herod Agrippa was a Jew himself—“wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently” [Acts 26:2-3].
Now as he begins the apologia, the apology, the defense of his life, “Why,” he says, “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among my own nation at Jerusalem, know all of the Jews; they knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” [Acts 26:4-5]. This is just once of the several times that Paul refers to his religious background and his upbringing and all that pertain to his instruction in Judaism, in Pharisaism. And that brings to us the subject of the religious training of the apostle Paul.
There is a phenomenon in history that is unlike any other phenomenon you can read in all of the story of mankind. And that is the distinct, separate, unassimilated, unamalgumated Jewish race in the great story of human history. Just as there is a Gulf Stream that is distinct, and separate, flowing through the vast confines of the Atlantic ocean, the great basin of the Atlantic ocean, just so is there a stream of racial identity flowing through human history, that of the Jew. Without a homeland for thousands of years, he is still separate and distinct and unassimilated. Whoever saw a Hittite or a Jebusite or a Canaanite or an Amorite? Long, long ago, centuries and centuries ago, those races have disappeared from the face of the earth. But the Jew is still with us.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in verse 34, the Lord says that he will be here when Jesus comes again [Matthew 24:34]. The distinct unassimilated race of the Jew is one of the phenomena in all human history. Now, how is that, that it came to pass that without a homeland and buried among the nations and cultures of the earth, he still remained separate and distinct? The answer is twofold. One of the answers lies in a divine purpose, a choice elective of God. The Lord promised to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob that their seed should live forever [Genesis 13:14-17; Psalm 105:8-11].
God promised to the Jewish nation in Jeremiah 31, chapter 31, “As long as there is a sun that shines in the sky, and as long as there is a moon that shines over the earth by night, just so long will there be a nation of Israel to live before Me” [Jeremiah 31:35-36]. So one of the reasons for the continuation and the distinct life of the Jewish nation and people is the divine promise and purpose of God.
But there is another reason for the continuation, and the distinction, and the life of the Jewish people. And that lies in the religious training of their children. You find that exemplified powerfully, poignantly, beautifully in the life of the baby Moses. When he came of age, when he was grown to be a man, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to the throne. “He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God” [Hebrews 11:24-25].
Why did he do that? Because his mother, Jachebed, had taught that little fella. She was hired as a paid nurse to take care of the little boy, drawn from the bosom of the Nile River [Exodus 2:1-10]. He had been taught the faith of God, the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by his mother. And when time came to make that tremendous decision, he made it God-ward for his people [Hebrews 11:24-25]. And that is in keeping with the entire injunctions of the Holy Scriptures.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of [Exodus], the Lord writes about the Passover, “It shall come to pass in days to come, when your children ask you, What mean you by this service? That you shall say, It is the Lord’s Passover. It is the sacrifice of the Passover” [Exodus 12:26-27].
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Joshua, there were twelve stones taken out of the Jordan River [Joshua 4:1-9], when the people entered into the Promised Land, on dry land, when God stopped the waters of the Jordan [Joshua 4:10-19]. And in the fourth chapter, it says, “In days to come when your children ask you, What mean you by these stones? You will say to them, The Lord brought us out in order to bring us in. God took us out of Egypt in order to give us the Promised Land. That is to your children” [Joshua 4:20-24]. This was the earnest, earnest provision of the Lord God for His people.
The very heart of the religious faith of Judaism is the Shema. And I read it. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children” [Deuteronomy 6:4-7].
And diligently were they taught; the children in a Jewish home and a Jewish family: little Samuel, little “Asked of God,” was taught by his mother Hannah [1 Samuel 1:20-24]; the boy David, singing as a child to the sheep, singing about the Lord, my Shepherd [Psalm 23:1-6]; John the Baptist, taught so faithfully by Zacharias and Elizabeth; and our Lord Jesus taught so faithfully and diligently by Joseph and by Mary. There is a reason why the distinctness and the separateness and the unamalgamatedness and the unassimilatedness of the Jewish people, and you will find it in God and in the father and mother in the home.
So, Saul of Tarsus living in Cilicia, the Roman province of Cilicia, in Tarsus, the capital city of Cilicia, was brought up in that religious training [Acts 22:3]. The child in the Jewish home, as Saul in Tarsus, from the day of their existence, was brought up in an atmosphere presided over by the presence of Jehovah God. And all of the household was arranged and dedicated and filled with tokens and remembrances of the great God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have copied from the Talmud what Rabbi Jannai said. Listen to it. Quote, “Knowledge of the law may be looked for in those who have sucked it in at their mother’s breast,” so the little child brought up from the day of its existence in the framework of the revelation and truth of God. On the eighth day, if it was a male child, the little child was circumcised and made a part of the chosen family of Jehovah [Genesis 17:12]. And then as a little fella growing up, as a little child growing up, the little boy or a girl growing up; all of the hymns, and all of the prayers, and all of the daily habits of life, and the observances of the feasts bore indelibly to the heart of that youngster the things of Jehovah God.
In the middle of the winter, there would be the Feast of Dedication [John 10:22], when the lion-hearted Judas Maccabaeus delivered the people from the apostatizing hand of Antiochus Epiphanes. And they would light one candle one day, the next candle the next day, until they had lighted eight candles. And then in the early spring, there would be the merry, happy feast of Purim celebrating their deliverance under Queen Esther [Esther 9:28-32]. And then at the full moon, after the vernal equinox, there would be the Passover [Exodus 12:1-28, 43-49; Deuteronomy 16:1-8], when the pilgrims could see by night to make their journey to the Holy City.
And then seven times seven, the Feast of Weeks, after forty-nine days, after seven weeks, there would be the fiftieth day. In Greek it is called Pentecost, the fiftieth day [Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12]. And then in the early fall, in the early autumn, there would be New Year’s celebration and a reminder that we are accountable unto God. And then a little later would be the Fast of the Atonement. They call it today Yom Kipper [Leviticus 16:1-34, 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7-11]. And then a little later would be the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17], when the little fella in the home would see the family gather in those strange leafy booths, in memory of the journey through the wilderness and the giving of the law. So all through the life of the little boy, the little girl, the little child there was the daily beautiful and constantly occurring remembrance that they were the people of God.
Now when the child was something like five or six years old, the little fella was sent to school, a Jewish school. And by commandment and by law, there had to be a school in every Jewish community. And the first, say, five years of the life of the child, the child was taught the Torah and the Holy Scriptures in Hebrew. Then between the age of about ten and fifteen, the child was taught the Mishnah, that is the oral tradition. And then after about fifteen years of age, the child was taught the Gemara, the Talmud, all of those learned discussions of the doctors of the law, concerning the things of God.
So the lad comes to about twelve years of age, and then he becomes a child of the commandment, or the child of the Torah. And at twelve years of age, the child is brought to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem [Exodus 12:1-28, 43-49; Deuteronomy 16:1-8]. Thus, the Lord Jesus was brought by Joseph and Mary from Nazareth up to Jerusalem when the Lad was twelve years of age. And there the little fella stood in the midst of the doctors of the law, and they were amazed and overwhelmed at His learning, divine learning from heaven [Luke 2:41-47], being a Child of the Holy Spirit, but divine learning also, having been taught in the home and in the school.
Now, I would suppose that about that time when he was about twelve years of age, Saul of Tarsus was taken to Jerusalem, there to be taught in the deep and the wonderful things of Jehovah God. When he was brought to Jerusalem, there were two parties in the city. One was the party of the Sadducees and the other the party of the Pharisees. The Sadducees were materialists. They were liberals. They were modernists. They were secularists. They didn’t believe in the resurrection. They didn’t believe in immortality. They didn’t believe in any afterlife. They never believed in heaven or hell. They never believed in judgment. They were secularists. And having charge of the temple, they lived lavishly off of the gifts of the people.
But there was another party in Judaism in the days of the upbringing of Paul, and it was the party of the Pharisees. These were men who believed as we do, only they added to it the tradition of the elders, the oral law, the Talmud. Paul, Paul’s father was a Pharisee. And he was brought up as he says in the text, in the straitest sect of the Pharisees [Acts 26:4-5]. One of the developments in Judaism was this, and even in the days of the apostle Paul, the scribes and the doctors of the law and the Pharisees were supplanting the priests and the Levites. And of course, when the temple was destroyed, the ancient religion of Judaism was extinct. The ancient Jewish worship ceased, there was no more sacrifice, there was no more temple, there was no more priest. It passed away.
But what remained was Judaism, Pharisaism, the Judaism that you know today. And that Judaism was divided into two parts. There were two great parties in Paul’s day in Judaism, in Pharisaism. One was the school of Shammai, and other was the school of Hillel. Now Shammai led a party of Pharisees who believed in the Torah alone. And after Moses, they lopped it all off, teaching, following just the law of Moses. Hillel was by far the more important and famous and influential rabbinic teacher. And Hillel taught that the tradition, the oral law was as valid as the law of Moses and superseded it. Now Hillel had a tremendous following. His son was named Simeon. And Simeon’s son was named Gamaliel. Gamaliel was the grandson of the famous Hillel.
And when Saul of Tarsus was brought to Jerusalem, he was set at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], and brought up, the strictest kind of teaching and living under Gamaliel. This Gamaliel was one of the greatest rabbinic teachers of all time. There are seven great rabbinical teachers given the title of rabban. One of them is Gamaliel.
As the ancient Greek would quote the seven wise men of Greece, so the Jews would quote the seven great rabbans. And one of them was Gamaliel, a brilliant and able man, a holy and righteous man; one greatly revered by the Jewish nation. He was Paul’s teacher, and at his feet, Paul grew up [Acts 22:2], learning the strictest and straitest sect of all of the doctrines of Judaism [Acts 26:4-5]. And, of course, as I pointed out, it is the Hillel, it is the Gamaliel, it’s the Talmudic, it’s the rabbinical section of Judaism that you see today. All the rest of it has been destroyed, and long, long since, ceased to be practiced.
Now, we come to our own children and our own people and our own time. What was done in the upbringing of that Jewish boy and Jewish girl is the beautiful paragon and example of what is to be done in our households by our fathers and mothers and with our children. It is not—it is not optional with us. It wouldn’t be optional with us had there been no word from God. If we want to exist, if there is to be a gospel delivered, if there is to be a church tomorrow, we have no other alternative except to teach and guide our children. But not only philosophically, speculatively, pragmatically, empirically, practically is there a reason for the teaching and guiding and training and nurture of children, but we are also under a commandment of God to do it.
The Book of Ephesians, Paul’s letter to Ephesus is an encyclical. It is a general epistle. The reason you call it Ephesians is because the manuscript that entered the Textus Receptus, out of which the King James Version was translated, happened to have Ephesians there. Had it had Laodicea there, Paul to the church at Laodicea, why, you would have called it Laodiceans. Had it been Philadelphia, you would have called it Philadelphians. It happened to be that the manuscript had Ephesians, Paul to the church at Ephesus. But it is a letter to all of the churches. And the name of the church was filled in as the manuscript was carried by messenger and read to the congregation.
Now Paul is writing here to all of the churches a general letter. And Paul is saying something in there to us that is all vital, significant, and important. Listen to it, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord . . . Honor thy father and mother. It is the first commandment with promise” [Ephesians 6:1-2]. And you parents, you fathers and mothers, parorgizō. What does that mean, these children that are entrusted to your care? Parorgizō, translated in the King James Version, “Provoke not your children to wrath” [Ephesians 6:4]. The word means to exasperate the child, to greatly provoke the child. Don’t do it. The child is a gift from God. It is a little bundle of life and destiny and immortality that the Lord has placed in your hands from heaven, and to exasperate the child, to drive the child to the wall, to make things impossible for the child is in disobedience to the command of God Himself. We’re not to do it.
We are to take the child as a gift from heaven, and now this is what the commandment says, paideia. What does that mean? It’s translated here: bring them up in the nurture, nurture, paideia, that is the training and instruction, the discipline. And bring them up in the paideia and the nouthesia. What does nouthesia mean? Nouthesia means the counsel and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. The child is to be looked upon as a gift from heaven, a life of destiny and immortality; a forever gift. And as such, the child is to be brought up in the paideia and the nouthesia of the Lord; in the training, and counseling, and instruction, and discipline of the Lord. This is a commandment from heaven. It’s not that a father or a mother is to sit down and say, “Now, shall we bring up this child as a Christian or not? Shall we teach our child the way of the Lord or not?” The option is not given us. We are commanded. We are mandated. It is our assignment from heaven to take the child and to mold the mind and life of the little child in the love and nurture and grace of the Lord. Doing that, we have an open door and a marvelous heavenly opportunity to glorify God and to bring happiness, and peace, and joy, and gladness, and fullness, and riches to the life of the little child growing up in your home.
It is a wonder what happens when all of the atmosphere and tokens and habits of life around the child are religious. I don’t dare take the time to speak of the possibilities of hurt when we don’t do that.
I remember as a youth, I remember a man taking his little boy and setting him up on the table. He was just a little fella, just learning to talk. And he set the little boy up on a table in his house, where I was, in his home. And then he gave the little boy the signal. And the little boy cursed in every damnable syllable, and pronunciation, and word, and vocabulary, and nomenclature that the father knew. And as the little fella, he had no idea the meaning of the words. And as the little fella stood there on the table in the father’s home and used those blasphemous and dirty and filthy words of curse, he just laughed. He thought that was the funniest thing that he’d ever contrived. Could you imagine anything more damnable, or dastardly, or blasphemous, or condemnable than for a father to do that with his own son? It’s unthinkable! It is unimaginable! But things like that, only worse, go on all of the time.
There are mothers world without end who use their daughters for purposes of prostitution, money, world without end. And as I mentioned last Sunday, the biggest crime in America is the crime of child abuse; the thousands of children that are killed every year, and maimed, and hurt by the awful, coercive, abusiveness of fathers and mothers. You can’t speak of it without thinking; “God what has happened to the human race, the human family?” No ape would do that. No monkey would do that. It is just a human species that would take its own kind and mutilate it and abuse it like that. Well anyway, that’s the other side. Our side is beautiful and glorious in the extreme, the little child in our hands to be molded and made in the image of God. Now, I don’t want to over emphasize something, but it is the truth of the Lord.
As between heredity and environment, I don’t deny—no one of us could deny that heredity has a great deal to do with a child, its genetic makeup, its inheritance. Some children are born not bright, and they are slow learners, and they are handicapped. I’m not denying that genetics; the genetic makeup, the chromosomes that put together a human life, that they greatly differ, and they are greatly important. Some kids are just bright and gifted. Inheritance, genetics has a great deal to do with a child’s life. I don’t deny that. But I am avowing to you that whether that child is a cannibal or a goose-stepping Nazi, whether the child is a Shintoist or a Buddhist, whether that child speaks Chinese or English is according to its upbringing, to its instruction, to its training. And how infinitely sweet, and precious, and holy, and heavenly is the opportunity to take the child and to bring the youngster up in the paideia and the nouthesia of the Lord, in the training and instruction and counseling and admonition of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 6:4].
And the repercussion in the life in a child brought up in a Christian home is precious and heavenly. I listened to a young woman, appointed as a missionary, and she said, “I am not going, I am not going to the foreign field. My mother is going! My father is going! My pastor is going! And my Sunday school teacher is going.” And in her testimony, I thought that was one of the most precious ways of saying it that I ever listened to. In her upbringing, father and mother taught her in the love of the Lord and in a missionary love for all the peoples of the world. And the pastor preached it, and the Sunday school teacher taught it, and as she volunteered and now was appointed to go out as God’s emissary, she was the product of the father, and the mother, and the pastor, and the Sunday school teacher who had framed her heart and guided her life, and now she was going as God’s plenipotentiary from the courts of heaven. Isn’t that great?
I was reading in the life of Henry C. Mabee, his autobiography. He was the great, distinguished executive secretary of the American Board of Foreign Missions, belonging to the Northern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Convention. In these years past, Dr. Mabee was a tremendous missionary statesman. And this is what he said. He said that when he was four years old, now you think of that, when he was four years of age, his mother took him to a missionary meeting. And he said as he sat there by the side of his mother, a little boy of four years of age, he said, he could not understand what the return missionary was talking about. He couldn’t even understand the language used by the missionary. But he said as he sat there by the side of his mother, the missionary said something that greatly moved his mother. And he said he saw his mother take off the gold ring from her finger and give it to missions. And he said, “That stayed with me all through the years of my life.” That was his introduction to world citizenship, and to world missions, and to world evangelism, four years of age, watching his mother take off her golden ring and give it for the evangelization of the world. That’s children! That’s childhood!
These are our richest endowments! These are our treasures from heaven! These are our people tomorrow; our preachers, and our deacons, and our Sunday school teachers, and our redeemed church that praises God. They are the church tomorrow. And if we do good today, we will have great preachers, and deacons, and Sunday school teachers, and churches tomorrow. This is God’s assignment and God’s mandate for us.
And that is our appeal to your heart this morning. A family you, with your children, to come into the fellowship of God’s church, and welcome. A couple you, you and your friend, answering the call of the Lord, helping us magnify the name of our Savior, come, and welcome. Just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am preacher, I have made that decision for God, in my heart, and I’m on the way. Just as soon as you quit talking! Just as soon as you cease speaking! I’m ready to come!” Do it! Do it! Make that decision now in your heart, and when we stand in a moment to sing the song, take that first step God-ward, church-ward, Christ-ward, heavenward. Angels attend you and the Holy Spirit bless you and strengthen you as you answer with your life. A family, a couple or just you, “Coming by confession of faith, I receive the Lord as my Savior, and here I am pastor.” Or coming to put your life in this dear church, or coming to be baptized, answering God’s call with your life, make it now. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, answer now. God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.