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.