The Religious Schooling of Paul


The Religious Schooling of Paul

March 25th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM

Acts 26

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all 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: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 26

3-25-79    8:15 a.m.



We welcome you, the thousands who are sharing this hour on radio; we welcome you to the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  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 the twenty-sixth chapter.  And the beginning of the text is this:


Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.  Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:

I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all 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 –

he himself was a Jew –

Wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.

Then he begins:

My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;

Who knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived, I was brought up a Pharisee.

[Acts 26:1-5]


That introduces to us Paul’s references to himself regarding his religious background, his schooling, and his training; which brings us to the message of the morning.

It is one of the phenomenal events in history, the distinct and separate and unabsorbed race of the Jew.  All of the other ancient races long ago have disappeared from the earth.  The Canaanite, the Hivite, the Hittite, the Jebusite, the Amorite, the Assyrian, the Chaldean; it has been literally thousands of years since they have disappeared from the earth.  But the Jew is still here.  In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verse 34, the Lord says he will be here until Jesus comes again [Matthew 24:34].  The identity of the Jew, separate and distinct in history, is a phenomenon.  It is like the Gulf Stream flowing through the vast Atlantic, yet distinct and separate.  So the history of the Jew; how is it that for these thousands of years he has been so separate and apart and unabsorbed, unassimilated?  There are two answers.  One is a divine answer; one is found in God.  God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was that his seed should remain before Him forever.  In the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, the Lord says, as long as there is a sun to shine in the heaven, and a moon to shine at night, so long will there be a nation Israel to live before Him [Jeremiah 31:35-36].  That is one reason; a divine reason.  The other reason lies in the training of their children.  You have a poignant illustration of that in the story of Moses.  Adopted into the family of Pharaoh, the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent to the throne, when he came of age 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?  Because he had been taught by his mother, who had been hired by Pharaoh’s daughter; to be the nurse for the little babe she rescued out of the bosom of the Nile River [Exodus 2:3-10].  This is the reason for, humanly speaking, of the distinctiveness of the Jew through all of the centuries and the millennia.

That is according to the injunction of Scripture.  In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, it reads, “When your children shall ask you in time to come, What mean you by this service? you will say, This is the Lord’s sacrifice, this is the Lord’s Passover” [Exodus 12:26-27].  In the fourth chapter of the Book of Joshua, “It shall come to pass in time, when your children shall say, What mean you by these stones?  You will answer, This is the memorial of the celebration of our entrance into the Promised Land, when God brought us out to bring us in” [Joshua 4:6-7].  You find that explicitly stated in the great Shema, the very heart of the faith of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, soul, mind.  And these words, which I command thee, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children” [Deuteronomy 6:4-7].  This is a commandment of the Lord, “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto your children” [Deuteronomy 6:7].  So, the child brought up in the Jewish family knew no other thing than to be taught the way of Jehovah God; little Samuel taught by Hannah [1 Samuel 1:20-24]; the lad David singing about the Lord to his sheep, John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb [Luke 1:15], Jesus brought up in all of the love and nurture of the Jewish law.  All the story is the same.

Consequently, any Jewish child, such as Saul of Tarsus, was brought up in a deeply religious atmosphere, in a deeply religious home.  I copied the word of a rabbi from the Talmud, Rabbi Jannai said, quote, “Knowledge of the law may be looked for in those who have sucked it in at their mother’s breast.”  So the child grew up in a religious atmosphere in the home.  On the eighth day the child was circumcised, if the child was a male [Leviticus 12:3]; and thus became a part of the covenant chosen family of God.  Then the hymns and the prayers and the feasts in all of the arrangements of life brought the child into a knowledge of the Lord.  He could not remember when he first shared in those religious festivals.  In the middle of the winter, there would be the Feast of Dedication, with its one, two, through eight lights, eight candles [John 10:22].  Then in the early spring, there would be the merry Feast of Purim, celebrating the deliverance under Esther [Esther 9:28-32].  Then in the springtime, the first full moon after the vernal equinox, there would be the Passover [Exodus 12:1-28].  Then seven times seven, seven weeks later, the fiftieth day would be Pentecost [Leviticus 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-12].  Then in the early fall, in the early autumn, there would be New Year’s [Leviticus 23:24].  Then a little later, there would be the fast of atonement [Leviticus 16:1-34; Numbers 29:7-11], Yom Kippur they call it today.  And then finally, there would be the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17], when the little child would see the family gather in those strange leafy booths, to celebrate the wandering in the wilderness and the giving of the law.  All through those preschool days the child grew up in the things of God, nurtured in the religion of the Jew.

Then when time came for the child to go to school, from the age of about five or six, until the age of about ten, he was taught the Scripture; he was taught the law.  Then after about ten years of age, until he was somewhere around say, fifteen, he was taught the Gemara, he was taught the Mishna, he was taught the oral law.  Then after fifteen years of age, he was taught the Gemara, the Talmud, all of those learned discussions of the doctors of the law, the rabbis.

Now when the child was about twelve years of age, why, he became a son of the commandment, or a son of the Torah, and he was brought to Jerusalem, to the Passover.  When Jesus was twelve years of age, He was brought by His parents to Jerusalem, to the Passover, where He talked, even as a child, with the doctors of the law [Luke 2:41-47].  So Paul, so Saul in Tarsus, must have been brought to Jerusalem, there to be taught by Gamaliel, the leader of the Pharisees; he must have been brought to Jerusalem when he was, say, twelve or thirteen years of age.  He refers to the fact that he was brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3].

Now, when he was brought to Jerusalem, there were two great parties in the city, in the Judaistic religious system.  One was Sadducean, the party of the Sadducees.  They were the materialists, they were the liberals, they were the modernists; they didn’t believe in immortality, they didn’t believe in the spirit world, they didn’t believe in heaven, they didn’t believe in hell, they didn’t believe in the resurrection.  They were men who profited greatly off of the revenues of the temple.  There was the party of the Sadducees.  Then there was the party of the Pharisees.  This was the part of the Judaistic faith that gave itself to every doctrine that we believe, and of course, in their oral tradition much, much more beside.  The party of the Pharisees believed in the judgment, believed in the resurrection, believed in heaven, believed in hell, believed in obeying the law and in obeying the tradition, and in all of those things that make Judaism, Judaism.  Now in the days of the apostle Paul, the Pharisees, the scribes, the doctors of the law, were already supplanting the priests and the Levites in the temple.  Rabbinism was becoming identified with Judaism.  And, of course, in the destruction of the temple, Sadduceeism was forever extinct; it was forever destroyed.  And the Judaism that we know today is not the ancient religion of the Jew in the old Bible, but it is Pharisaism; it is the religion of the oral law; it is the religion of the Talmud.  And in that Pharisaical school there were two great divisions: there was the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel.  Shammai was the leader of a Pharisaical school that believed that the purposes of God in the deliverance of the law stopped with Moses.  So, they repudiated completely and absolutely the tradition, the oral law, the Talmud; all of it was unacceptable to Shammai and to the school of Shammai.  The other great Pharisaical rabbinical school was headed by Hillel.  And by far, by far, the most important of those two divisions of Pharisaism, of Judaism, was the school of Hillel.  Hillel accepted the tradition, he accepted the oral law, and gave himself for its furtherance.  Now Hillel had a son named Simeon; and Simeon had a son named Gamaliel.  And Gamaliel is the great and illustrious rabbi who was the teacher of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 22:3].

So noble, and so revered, and so great was this Gamaliel that he was referred to as one of the seven rabbins.  As the Greeks would quote the seven wise men of Greek literature and law, so the Jew would quote those seven rabbins as the great authorities of tradition and obedience and the Halakha and Haggadah.  Thus Paul was brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, to observe all of those distinctions of the oral tradition.  And that’s why he says, “These who know me in Jerusalem would testify that, after the most straitest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee” [Acts 26:5].  All of those commandments and all of those distinctions found in the innumerable Haggadah of the Talmud, all of that he faithfully observed – and as the rich young ruler, “All these things have I kept from my youth up” [Mark 10:20].  That is the religious schooling of Paul.  And you can see and understand, as I have briefly summarized this, why it is that the Jew lives distinct and unabsorbed through all of the centuries and the millennia.

That’s why, if I could parenthesize here, that’s why I believe, I believe in the Christian school.  How is it that we are expecting that our young people be Christian if they are sent to schools where they are taught they are animals?  Evolution; God never created us; we evolved from a speck of protoplasm and animalcule, and everything is adventitious, it’s by chance.  There’s no purpose in it, there’s no design in it.  And all of us are just a species of animals.  And animality is the background of our lives.  If you teach them that, why would we be surprised if they act like that?  Teach them to be animals, and they act like animals.  Why should we think any different?  When we lose purpose and meaning in life, we lose all of its glory.  I believe in the Christian school; teaching that child the way of the Lord.  And if the child goes to a school where he is exposed to infidelity and evolution, then the child ought to be doubly and emphatically taught in our Sunday school and in all of the other areas of our church life.  We’ll do that, or we will perish.  It’ll be one or the other.  We don’t have any choice.  The emphasis that we must place on our Sunday school, and these mission organizations, and everything we can do in the church to teach our children is all important.  And of course, if it’s possible for us to send our children to our First Baptist Academy, a Christian school, where all the subjects are taught in the mind of Christ, that’s what we ought to do, if we can.  That’s what made the Jew live.  That’s why he lives today.  And that’s why we’ll live or die.  Whenever the educational process is taken over by the state, as Dr. Estes says, “Totalitarianism is just around the corner.”  Could you imagine having a Christian school in a communist land?  It’d be impossible.  It’d be unthinkable.  You can’t even have a seminary in a communist land to teach a preacher.  They’ve got sense enough to know that the one that holds the reigns of education has the mind, has the future, has the state, has the destiny, has everything in life.  So the Jew: when he brought up that child, he brought up the child in the knowledge of Judaism.  It was a commandment that wherever there was a Jewish community there should also be a school.  And I couldn’t imagine a Jewish synagogue without its school; children brought up, and Saul of Tarsus refers to that upbringing many times as he witnesses to his background and then his marvelous conversion [Acts 9:1-18].

Now in the moment remaining, to bring this as a message for us today, it is important beyond any way that I could emphasize it, that our fathers and mothers, that our parents, that these who build our homes, build that home in the Lord, around the name of God, and that the children be brought up in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].  This is not only a corollary of the message that I have been bringing about Judaism, but it is a distinct Christian commandment.

In the encyclical, in the general letter, that the apostle Paul wrote to all of the churches, he said, in Ephesians – the reason you call it Ephesians is the copy that we happened to have had Ephesians there, but it was a general letter.  I think in another church it had the name Laodicea; you could have called this Laodiceans just as well as Ephesians.  Now in this encyclical, this general letter to the churches, Paul says, “Children, obey your parents; this is right.  Honor your father and mother, that is the first commandment with promise” [Ephesians 6:1-2].  Then he says, “You parents provoke not your children to wrath,” parorgizó – frustrate them, exasperate them – don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t drive your children to the wall.  But, “rather bring them up in the paideia, and the nouthesia of the Lord” [Ephesians 6:4].  Bring them up in the training and instruction, and in the counsel and admonition of the Lord.

That is a commandment; I don’t have any choice, if I have a child, as to whether or not I will rear that [child] in the love of God.  That is my mandate from heaven; it is my commandment from God.  That child is entrusted to me for the purpose that I might bring up the child in the love, and nurture, and counsel, and training of the Lord.

Now as between, say, environment and our hereditary genes, I do not say, I am not up here avowing that environment and training is everything.  Heredity has a great deal to do with a child, and I would be the last to deny it.  The genes by which the child was formed, all of those things that come from God – heredity, the emotional make up of the child, the intellectual capacity of the child, all of those things are inherited – the inherited characteristics, I don’t discount them.  Heredity has a great deal to do with a child.  Some, for example, are born slow; they’re not bright.  Some are very, very gifted.  I’m not denying that there is a great deal to do with a child according to the genetic make up of the youngster.  But at the same time, at the same time, I am avowing, I am avowing that whether the child is a cannibal, or whether the child is a goose-stepping Nazi, or whether the child is a communist, or whether the child is a Christian, or a Buddhist, or whether the child speaks Chinese or English, is according to the training of the child.  Heredity has an enormous amount to do with the makeup, the genetic makeup, the gifts of a child.  But how the child is and what the child becomes is almost altogether a product of his training and of his education.  And when the child is brought up in the paideia and the nouthesia of the Lord, then the child – well, we have the promise of the Book – you train him up that way, and he may depart from it for a moment, he may be prodigal for a day, but he’ll come back to it.  He will come back to it.  That is God, and that is God’s Word [Proverbs 22:6].

So we are to bring these children up in the atmosphere of a Christian home, and in the circle of the Christian faith.  Faithfully taught, faithfully prayed for, faithfully brought up, this is our mandate from heaven.  And when we do it, the result is always blessed, heavenly, God works with us in that assignment.

I one time heard a missionary appointee, and she said, “I am not going to the foreign field.  My mother is going to the foreign field.  My father is going to the foreign field.  My pastor is going to the foreign field.  My Sunday school teacher is going to the mission field,” and then explained it: “All of these things that have brought me to this consecration and commitment of my life, all of these things came from my father, and my mother, and my pastor, and my Sunday school teacher.”  That was about as fine an explanation of the response of a girl to the call of God as any I ever heard.  The child is what we make the child, and when we make the child Christian and beautiful in life, it’s a glory to God.

In my reading, I came across the autobiography of Henry C. Mabie.  He was for many, many years the illustrious head, secretary, of the American Board of Foreign Missions; that’s the ministry of the American Baptist Convention, the Northern Baptist Convention.  And he was in these days past, years past, he was an illustrious man of God.  And in that autobiography, this is what he says: he says that, “When I was four years old,” now you think of that, “When I was four years old, my mother took me to a mission meeting.”  And he said, “I could not understand what the missionary was saying; I didn’t know even the language that he used.  I couldn’t understand what he was talking about.  But,” the great executive said, “there was something that the missionary said that moved my mother.  And I saw her take the gold ring off of her finger, and give it to missions, when I was four years old.”  And he said, “That was my first introduction to God’s purposes for the world.”  These things that we have done with our children are indelible.  And when we do them in the love and nurture and training and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4], God works with us, and the repercussions of it are found in every area of human life.

So, in the dedication of our homes, and our lives, and our days, and our support, and our prayers, and our attendance, and our faithful response, these are the things that shape the children and the young people of today, who tomorrow are our preachers, and our deacons, and our superintendents, and our teachers, and this church of the next generation.

That is our invitation to you today, to be a part of that wonderful, glorious ministry before God.  “I want my home to be a Christian home.  I want to bring my children up in the Christian faith.  I myself want to walk in that way.  I want to belong to the family of God.  I want to be a part of the household of Jesus.  And I’m coming today.”  A family you, bringing your children; “We’re coming to be a part of this communion that names the name of the blessed Jesus.”  A couple you, you’ve just married, or you’re friends; “We also want to belong to the communion and fellowship of God’s people.”  Or just one somebody you, “I want to be known as a Christian, as a child of the Lord; want my name written in God’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:15, 21:27].  And when I stand before Him at the judgment day [2 Corinthians 5:10], I want to be on God’s side.  I want the Lord to be my friend and advocate, my Lord and my Savior.”  “And preacher, I have decided as between the world and what few blandishments it offers, and as between the world and God and the eternities that belong in His gracious hands, I have decided I am going with the Lord.  And here I am; count me in, put my name down.  I give you my hand; I have committed my life to the grace and mercy of our blessed Lord.  And here I’m coming.”  Down that stairway, walking, down this aisle, walking, “Here I am, preacher, I’m on the way.”  May the angels attend you and the Holy Spirit reward and bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.