Was Paul a Member of the Sanhedrin?

31 Jan

The evidence for such an understanding is sketchy, but it is a possibility that Saul / Paul was indeed a member of the Sanhedrin during the 1st century CE when Stephen was stoned. He tells us in his letter to the Galatians that he had been excelling above his peers in the Jewish faith. In Acts 8:1 we are told that Saul “gave his approval” to the killing of Stephen. Does this mean he generally agreed that Stephen’s death was justified, or that he actually gave his “vote” in the Sanhedrin? Notice how Paul, himself, describes similar accounts concerning those believers he brought to Jerusalem for judgment when he spoke before King Agrippa:

Acts 26:9-10 ASV  I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  (10)  And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them.

The phrase: I gave my vote comes from two Greek words kataphero (G2702) and psephos (G5586). According to “The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon,” kataphero means “to bear down, bring down, cast down” and when used with psephos, “a small, worn, smooth stone, a pebble”, it means: “to cast a pebble or calculus into the urn, i.e. give one’s vote, to approve.” Thayer goes on to say that “…in the ancient courts of justice the accused were condemned by black pebbles and acquitted by white.” Thus, we have Paul implying that he was a voting member of the Sanhedrin who condemned the early believers in Jesus. If this conclusion is true, then Paul was probably one of the members of the Sanhedrin who condemned Stephen.

According to Acts 7:58, Stephen was taken outside the city, as commanded by Deuteronomy 17:2-7. The Scripture further says the witnesses against Stephen were to cast the first stones. Leviticus 24:14 makes the same point saying that he who cursed was to be stoned outside the city, and remember the accusation against Stephen was “blasphemy” i.e. he cursed God in that he was saying the Temple upon which the Name of God was would be destroyed. The Talmud has an interesting account of the act of stoning that bears mention concerning Paul. Notice:

“When the trial was over, they take him [the condemned person] out to be stoned. The place of stoning was at a distance from the court, as it is said, ‘Take out the one who has cursed’ (Leviticus 24:14). A man stands at the entrance of the court; in his hand is a signaling flag [Hebrew sudarin = sudar, ‘scarf, sweater’]. A horseman was stationed far away but within sight of him. If one [of the judges] says, ‘I have something [more] to say in his favor,’ he [the signaler] waves the sudarin, and the horseman runs and stops them [from stoning him]. Even if [the condemned person] himself says, ‘I have something to say in my favor,’ they bring him back, even four of five times, only provided that there is some substance to what he is saying.” [Sanhedrin 42b]

Notice that it is said in Acts 7:58 “the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of the young man named Saul.” The Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern has an interesting comment about the above excerpt from the Talmud. Notice:

“…Joseph Shulam thinks sudar in later Hebrew can also mean ‘coat.’ Thus, he conjectures, the Greek translator of Acts from a presumed original Hebrew text didn’t understand the Jewish context and therefore wrote of laying coats at Sha’ul’s feet, whereas actually Shu’ul was a member of the Sanhedrin, specifically, the one who held the sudar.”

So, was Paul a member of the Sanhedrin? Maybe, and maybe not, but the idea is an interesting one. One point against the idea would be, that an actual trial of life and death was not supposed to be held on a Holy Day according to the Talmud—and according to my study Stephen was stoned on the Day of Atonement in 34 CE. The account of Stephen’s trial seems a bit sketchy itself. Nothing is actually said about a vote taken against the accused, so was Stephen’s death an actual verdict of the court or was the matter decided by mob-rule? Luke just isn’t as clear as we would like him to be, so interpreting matters concerning the trial, the verdict and the sentence are questionable.

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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Christianity, New Testament History, Religion


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18 responses to “Was Paul a Member of the Sanhedrin?

  1. Edward Fletcher

    February 23, 2015 at 01:27

    Due to the laws regarding inheritance in Israel, and the very important need to perpetuate the family line, marriage was a must. when we look at the requirements of a bishop or a Deacons 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9 They had to be the husband of one wife, the customs of the 1st century church we could be sure would follow tradition, therefore we are on safe ground saying that Paul was probably a widower.

    • Return of Benjamin

      March 5, 2015 at 09:16

      Shalom, Eddie. Still working my way back through your posts, so pardon the late comment.

      I agree that we simply lack the Biblical data to say whether Paul had been married or not. I will point out that while Jewish tradition encouraged people to marry young, there is plenty of evidence that not all Jewish men, or even all rabbis, did so. For example, Rabbi Simeon Ben Azzai (early 2nd Century) was criticized for not having married yet, and responded by saying that he was in love with the Torah (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 3b).

      Having said that, my personal opinion was that Paul had been married, but that his wife had left him over the matter of Yeshua. Paul would have had to be the one to issue the Get, the document of divorcement, under Torah law however. That adds some poignancy and personal experience to his teachings on divorce in 1 Corinthians.

      To address the article’s main point, I do believe that Paul was on _a_ sanhedrin (how else would he cast a vote against the Nazarenes?), but most likely he wasn’t on _the_ Great Sanhedrin. There were many sanhedrins of 23 judges, and smaller ones for just about any sizeable town. As a student of Rabban Gamaliel, and one who apparently was known to have excelled in his studies, it makes sense that Paul would have been a judge in one or more courts.


    • Eddie

      March 5, 2015 at 18:24

      Rabbi Mike, it is always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks for your comment. I don’t know why I never considered Paul being a member of a local Sanhedrin. That makes more sense, especially, as you point out, since he was a disciple of Gamaliel. Lord bless you in all your service to him. Shalom.

    • Eddie

      February 23, 2015 at 05:40

      Greetings Edward, and thanks for your comment. Personally, I think Paul had a wife, but she may not have been a believer, and there is also the possibility she divorced him due to his Damascus experience. I discus the matter HERE. Lord bless you and thanks again for reading and for taking the time to leave a few thoughts of your own.

    • Edward Fletcher

      February 24, 2015 at 00:44

      I prefere Edward.
      To me there seems to be no scriptural support for the Idea of Paul being divorced even by inference. but due to the lack of medical expertise in those days, many men would be widowed through child birth, when the child itself would also die. even in the 30’s my mother lost friends due to this very problem.

    • Eddie

      February 24, 2015 at 05:54

      Hello again, Edward. I don’t believe there is “scriptural’ support for any of this stuff concerning a wife for Paul. It may be fun looking at circumstantial evidence that fits the scripture we do have, but at the end of the day we must conclude we simply are not certain about Paul’s wife. I agree that Jewish law in the first century practically demanded a religious person like Paul to marry, probably well before 30. What happened to Paul’s wife since she is never mentioned in scripture? We can infer that he was married, but Jesus wasn’t married although he was past 30 by the time of his crucifixion. Still, Paul was probably 60 or older by the time of his death, so it seems unreasonable that he wouldn’t be married, considering Jewish law and the scriptures you mention (1Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9). Nevertheless, we can also consider 1Corinthians 7:25-40 and apply it to Paul’s life. Paul speaks similarly in the same chapter in verses 1-15 and refers to himself as not having a wife, but since he speaks of both death and divorce of a mate, we simply do not know what occurred in this respect for Paul. His wife may have died, but why wouldn’t he mention he is a widower? He never speaks of her, which if he had a wife would fit the context of him hiding her sin. The maturity of Paul’s compassion for both the married and the unmarried seems to point to his experience in both states. Nevertheless, it is just my opinion. Lord bless you in you studies of his word.

  2. dennis

    September 27, 2012 at 15:39

    God bless you Eddie for your posts. God bless you also buttermilk80. I find your post very informative, although I know many preachers and others want all left to them, their interpretation, or/and their own pulpit/Church. It seems as if some wish fame over thought. I discourage anyone who wishes to keep people from thinking and this is just exactly what this post did for me, made me think. Keep up God’s work and help people, not as knowledgeable as some, think. I know God wants his people to think and be led by the Holy Spirit and not withheld. Please post and use the gift God gave you. I had one once discourage me from using facebook as a witness for Christ. I plan to use any means that God puts at my finger tips. God bless.

    • Ed Bromfield

      September 27, 2012 at 23:07

      Hello Dennis, and thank you for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. Thank you for your kind words, and may God bless you as well in all your efforts to please him and share him with others.

  3. David

    December 4, 2011 at 13:58

    I like the straight-forward approach that concludes we do not know… but provides food for thought so that each may make up their own mind. I ran across this thread researching whether Paul was ever married, in regards to a question on divorce that came up in our Sunday School class. These questions come up, and I find them interesting to pursue, even if I don’t come up with a specific doctrine to add to my views. There is value in being able to say I’ve looked into that, and the Bible is silent on the subject, and all we have is conjecture on men’s parts, but conjecture that is based upon some logical reasoning. Thanks for contributing.

    • Ed Bromfield

      December 4, 2011 at 17:31

      Dave, it is my pleasure, and thanks for reading and for your kind remarks.

      Lord bless you,


  4. ppleer

    August 13, 2011 at 07:48

    I think all kinds of information that are posted on the internet might be of use to someone, when the person is doing research. I became interested on the question of “belonging to the Sanhedrin” because I wanted to know if Paul had ever married or not. I’m glad I read this article because it took me to the reading of the original text in Greek, referring to the verse where “coats were laid at Paul’s feet”. Had I not read the original translation, I would still be thinking that there was a possibility, based on Sanhedrin requirements, that Paul had to be married if he was a member. However, the original text in Greek implies that he was just “guarding” the coats, not as in “demanding” them because he was an authority or elder in the Sanhedrin. He did have authority delegated to him from the Sanhedrin, but at what stage, what was his “position” there? That is now my question…. :) thanks for the info!

    • Ed Bromfield

      August 13, 2011 at 08:57

      Greetings, and thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I hope my studies have been of good use to you in resolving issues about Paul, Acts or whatever. It is always a pleasure to understand God has used them in some way to help another brother or sister in Christ, or to help someone who is simply curious about God’s word. Lord bless you always.


  5. John Stewart

    March 25, 2011 at 20:01

    Enjoyed the blog on whether Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. I couldn’t remember the Scripture in Acts (26) about him casting his vote, so I googled a quetion, and your blog appeared. I still work some, but my joy is studying and teaching the Scriptures. Blessings.

    • Ed Bromfield

      March 26, 2011 at 11:20

      Mr. Stewart, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to say so. I clicked on your website and read a little of your blog. I especially enjoyed “Does Science Lead Us to God.” Lord bless you in your service to him.

  6. buttermilk80

    January 31, 2011 at 10:39

    As was said, each has a specific gift for a specific cause. May God grant a worthy and vibrant crop from your garden of words.

    by His Grace.

    • Eddie

      January 31, 2011 at 10:51

      Thank you, and may all you do be to the praise and honor of our wonderful God. May everyone who knows you see Jesus. :-)

  7. buttermilk80

    January 31, 2011 at 08:18

    There are millions of questions any one man might have conserning the Bible’s accounts of humanity. And there is absolutely no blame for anyone considering what is not presented there. How can we ever deny that we wish more had been handed down to us? As the Apostle John mentioned that to account for everything Jesus did would take billions of volumes. Yet we are left with a handful of pages. A great sigh is appropriate here.

    I am curious, however, that you should use such a precious place to ponder such ambiguity. Each of us who serve the Living God has a specific calling. One’s calling will not be exactly like another. Yet there is a central truth which has been given into the hands of men by He who is a consuming Fire. Since my gift is to proclaim His Glory and to diminish the pride of man, I fail to see the logic of taking up time, space, and energy to promote what cannot be known.

    I applaud your curiosity. Yet I fail to see the value in this post. I don’t mean to cast stones (no pun intended) at your gift from God. I just didn’t find much to eat on this plate of nothing. But each to his own. You may well have specific guest to entertain at your table. And perhaps I simply entered into an open door when there was a table prepared for others.

    By His Grace.

    • Eddie

      January 31, 2011 at 10:18

      Greetings “buttermilk”

      Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for your comments. I am always pleased when folks take the time to say hello and offer something of themselves during their visit. :-)

      I fail to see the logic of taking up time, space, and energy to promote what cannot be known.

      We speculate about many things, don’t we? I think the history of the NT is important, and, trying to understand why this or that was done has value, even if all we can conclude is: “perhaps it occurred under these circumstances or for these reasons…”

      Yet I fail to see the value in this post. I don’t mean to cast stones (no pun intended) at your gift from God. I just didn’t find much to eat on this plate of nothing.

      Well, there will be other “plates” and everything one finds here will probably not be enjoyed by everyone, except me! :-)

      To use your analogy, I have prepared a meal that I enjoy and have invited many of various tastes. Some things are meant only for appetizers or intended as “finger-foods” one enjoys in conversation. All who visit will not partake of everything, but some will find they enjoy a little of many things. I try to titillate the tastes of many with the intention and hope that my guests will enjoy the main meal—Jesus. And, please don’t think you are throwing stones. I have been “stoned” and I know what that feels like. Nothing you have said has hurt me. I have found your comment both enjoyable and valuable for reflective consideration. I shouldn’t, after all, spend a great deal of time on “finger-foods”!

      You may well have specific guest to entertain at your table. And perhaps I simply entered into an open door when there was a table prepared for others.

      On the contrary, as you put it, my “door” is open with the hope that all may enter and be enticed to partake of Christ. I hope the meal is enjoyable, but all the hors d’oeuvres probably won’t fit everyone’s pallet! But you are welcome to sample other things if you wish. :-)

      Lord bless,



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