It has been suggested that although old rabbinic literature always mentions dozens of teachers who speak be-shem omro (i.e., "in the name of him who says"), the Apostle Paul does not refer to contemporary (or nearly contemporary) Jewish scholars in a single one of his letters or in any of his sermons recorded in Acts by Luke. The other apostles also eschewed the expression in their writings.

My question, then, rather than being instigated by a particular problematic verse or passage from the Bible, is instigated by the lack of any verses or passages in the apostles' writings which cite influential Jewish scholars, such as Rabbi Hillel The Elder, who lived and taught within a generation or two (possibly three, depending on how one determines a generation) of the apostles, particularly Paul.

Since Paul was schooled at the feet of Gamliel The Elder, the first to be called "Rabban" and the first president of the Great Council in Jerusalem (see Acts 5:34-40), I find it curious he did not quote his mentor. True, Paul quoted and/or alluded to some "secular" writers, but the vast majority of his citations were almost always to the Tanakh or occasionally to the words of Jesus (e.g., Acts 20:35 and 1 Corinthians 11:23--"For I received from the Lord . . .").

While any answer will involve an argument based on silence, I suggest silence can be, perhaps, an important hermeneutical principle, at least macroscopically. In other words, if a writer in any generation eschews in his or her writing a common, virtually ubiquitous locution used by his or her peers/contemporaries, an inquisitive observer just might want to know why. I know I do.

3 Answers 3


1. Paul and rabbinic citation formula

I take it this is OP's primary question. Three factors, at least, come into play in accounting for the absence of such formulae from Paul's writings:

  1. The traditional rabbinic citation form is a product of the schools which post-date the fall of the Temple. I think this is the most important. Although "rabbi" is used (e.g.) in the gospels (Matt 23:7-8, John 1:38, etc.), it is not used in the same way as the rabbinical schools and authorities known from the Mishnah onwards.

    I quote (briefly! there is more in context) from G. Stemberger (in a work revising that of H. Strack), Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (T & T Clark / Fortress, 1991), p. 4:

    From the modern perspective the year 70 is a [sic] unequivocal turning point in Jewish history. ... The introduction of the title 'Rabbi' (to be distinguished from 'Rabbi' as a form of address meaning 'my lord, my master') suggests such a consciousness of a new era. This is reflected in t.Eduy 3.4 (Z. 460): 'He who has students who in turn have students of their own is called Rabbi'. ...

    This chain of authority (and authoritative citation) is not yet in place in Paul's day.

  2. On two occasions Paul is eager to show that he does have an authoritative train of tradition behind him. The first is in explaining proper order for the keeping of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23:

    For I received from (παρέλαβον ἀπὸ) the Lord what I also delivered (παρέδωκα) to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,...

    Here the formula of "reception and delivery" is what corresponds to the citation formula that OP is interested in.1 The same pairing crops up a little later in this letter, 1 Corinthians 15:3:

    For I delivered (παρέδωκα) to you as of first importance what I also received (παρέλαβον), that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures...

    On reflection, it is interesting that both of these occurrences fall within this letter to the church at Corinth.2

  3. We note also in (2) that Paul's source is Jesus. He wasn't interested in other sources, and to cite an authority would run totally against this self-understanding. As Paul boldly states in Galatians 1:12:

    For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

In sum, for these three reasons (chronology, comparator, and Christ, we might say) we don't find Paul using the later rabbinic citation formula.

2. Paul and Gamaliel

A secondary factor, raised in the way in which OP framed the question, has to do with Paul's relationship with Gamaliel, since it might be thought that a "rabbi-student" relationship would prompt the citation formula. As will be seen from the account outlined above, Paul's relationship with Gamaliel has no bearing the question of his non-use of a citation formula. Still, what can be said about this relationship in any case? Again, there are three factors worth bearing in mind:

  1. The question of the "historical Gamaliel" is very much a live issue. Very little is known about some of the earliest named rabbis, and Gamaliel is no exception. Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner give careful thought to this issue, explicitly in considering "What did Paul learn from Gamaliel".3 In light of the fact that "the particular person of Gamaliel is not accessible" (p. 3), they place the discussion in a wider, more generalist framework. This remains sufficiently distinctive, they argue, to "adumbrate the topical program and perspective to which Paul would have been exposed in his discipleship to the patriarch Gamaliel" (p.3) -- which wording seems to imply that they give that relationship some credence.

  2. However, there is no scholarly agreement on whether the claim in Acts that Paul was a student of Gamaliel's can be regarded as historically sound. Thus, Calvin Roetzel, in Paul: The Man and the Myth, is not persuaded that this is a credible testimony, and he thinks it "unlikely".4 And yet, Stanley Porter, in his When Paul Met Jesus, thinks that it was "almost assuredly the case" that Paul studied under Gamaliel.5 Along the way he considers and rejects the main objections to this scenario, and finds the alternative less plausible. And so it goes.

    The discussion remains lively, and articles continue to appear. Not available to me at present is the latest contribution, by yet another heavy-hitter: Richard Bauckham, "Gamaliel and Paul", in Earliest Christianity within the Boundaries of Judaism, ed. by Alan Avery-Peck, Craig A. Evans, and Jacob Neusner (E.J. Brill, 2016), pp. 85-106.

  3. In spite of that lack of consensus, there is widespread (even if not unanimous) agreement concerning Paul's pre-Christian Pharisaic identity. Here, I'll give Roetzel the last word, couched in his own framework on the matter:

    While it is unlikely that Paul studied under the great Pharisee Gamaliel in Jerusalem, his early preference for and zeal for the Pharisaic traditions are clear. (p. 44)

Still, as noted above, however one resolves the question of Paul's relationship with Gamaliel, it has no bearing on Paul's non-use of a rabbinic citation formula: such was not in use pre-70 when Paul's letters were written.


  1. The lexical form of the words in this pair are παραλαμβάνω (paralambanō,“receive”) and παραδίδωμι (paradidōmi,“deliver”). I don't know whether it's significant that the only other place in the NT that this pair comes together is in John 19:16 -- of Jesus being handed over for crucifixion -- but I doubt it.

  2. Paul spent a long time in Corinth, but it was also a place where, it appears (most apparent in 2 Corinthians) that Paul's own authority was somewhat suspect there:

    • 1 Corinthians chs. 1 and 3 brings the factions in the church aligning behind various leaders to the fore;
    • in 1 Cor 2:1-3, Paul describes his own weak oratory -- not simply a "rhetorical" device, as it finds an echo in 2 Cor 10:1.
    • And, of course, 2 Cor 10-12 has this (Paul's "authority" in Corinth versus his "rivals") as its central focus.

    And it is only in his writing to the Corinthians that Paul uses the formula of "reception and delivery". Possibly not a coincidence, then.

  3. Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, "Paul and Gamaliel", Bulletin for Biblical Research 14.1 (2004) 1-43. The issue of which Gamaliel is intended in relation to Paul is also uncertain, and this remains a matter for discussion: see Chilton & Neusner, pp. 1-2, note 1 for an entry into the complexities.

  4. Calvin J. Roetzel, Paul: The Man and the Myth (University of South Carolina, 1997 = Fortress/T & T Clark, 1999), passim.

  5. Stanley E. Porter, When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History (Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 171.

  • You were spot on in #3. Well done.
    – user862
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 17:33
  • Excellent answer. The issue of rabbinical tradition before 70 has troubled me for some time. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 16:54
  • +1 but... regarding that the "rabbinic citation formula...was not in use pre-70." This statement is unproven. What we know is that there is no evidence that it was in use. Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 6:53

Not only does Paul, in his own epistles, never mention having learnt at the feet of Gamaliel, he never quote any of his teachings even when he faces challenges to his Jewish orthodoxy. Vincent P. Branick (Understanding Paul and His Letters, page 27) notes this and adds that Paul's initial zeal to persecute the Christians is quite at odds with having learnt under the moderate and notably tolerant Gamaliel. Branick says the Lucan picture of Paul studying in Jerusalem may well be based on theology rather than historical knowledge.

Raymond E. Brown also doubts that Paul was educated in Jerusalem by Gamaliel, saying in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 425, that because they do not suggest that Paul had seen Jesus during the public ministry or at the crucifixion, his letters implicitly cast doubt on Paul's continuous presence in Jerusalem in the years 26-30/33.

As Branick, Brown and others would suggest, Paul does not mention Gamaliel or cite any of his teachings, because Paul was not taught by Gamaliel. The author of Acts attributed to Paul the highest rabbinical education possible at that time, for theological reasons rather than because he had knowledge of Paul's early life.

  • Acts 22:2-3 says: 2 ...Then he [Paul] said [to a bunch of Jews in order to defend himself against challenges to his Jewish orthodoxy (Acts 21:28)]: 3 “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today." Are you saying these are not Paul's own words and that the author of Acts essentially made that up?
    – user6503
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 1:59
  • @Bʀɪᴀɴ I am citing respected scholars on this. Since at least the late 20th century, many scholars have expressed doubts about some things in Acts. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 5:33
  • Are you saying Acts 22:2-3 are not Paul's own words and that the author of Acts essentially made that up? Yes / No.
    – user6503
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 13:52
  • @Bʀɪᴀɴ It seems you wish to start a discussion more appropriate for chat. I'll see you there when you are available. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 21:37
  • I'll take that as a 'yes' and as such I have downvoted this answer, since it contradicts a direct statement by Paul.
    – user6503
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 23:47

If Saul had sat for five minutes at the feet of Gamaliel the scripture (Acts 22:3) would be satisfied (see comments above). But reports from three different centuries indicate the Pharisees opposed capital punishment: Josephus Antiquities XIII:X:5-6 (c.100 BCE; cf. XX:IX:1, contemporary commentary by Josephus, late 1st century CE); the above mentioned Acts 5:34ff, 23:9; and Mishnah Makkoth 1:10 (c.130 CE., Danby translation, p.403):

"A Sanhedrin that puts one man to death in a week of years is called 'destructive.' R. Eliezer b. Azariah says: Or one in even seventy years. R. Tarfon and R. Akiba say: Had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death. Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel says: They would even have multiplied the shedders of blood in Israel."

The still older Suzanna sets the stage: witnesses lie, judges may be duped or bribed, a death sentence is irreversible.

Saul was hardly an orthodox Pharisee while holding coats for the stoners--he clearly got his marching orders from the Sadducees. We might add that the portrayal of Pharisees in the gospels is progressively adversarial: in Luke Jesus dines with them and in Acts converted Pharisees motivate Paul to consult with the apostles in Jerusalem; in Mark and Matthew Pharisees are little better than Sadducees; and in John there is no mention of Sadducees--Pharisees are the enemy.

Saul makes for a poor example by which to judge the Pharisees, and the picture presented by the gospels is misleading. --A G Foster

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