As we have said, there was a major conflict between several groups of Pharisees. The Sadducee’s dominated the Sanhedrin till about 55 AD. James was Nasi, or president, of the believing community in Jerusalem and scholars believe that he may have been a member of Beit Shammai. We know that Paul was from Beit Hillel. So, two key figures of the believing community were from two opposite schools and the Kahal (Congregation) of believers has a Nasi, or “Rosh Knesset”, in Jerusalem (Acts 21). The Godfearers are called Yiray Shamayim, and in Greek it is “phoubemenoi. They are also called the Greek “Sebemenoi” which can mean “worshipper” or “devout.” The non-Jewish Godfearers kept the Sabbath, ate kosher, kept the festivals and followed the prayer cycles. They were spread throughout the Roman Empire. They were very active in the Synagogues and even built them (Luke 7.5).
The biggest question in the first century was whether non-Jews have salvation without becoming Jews through ritual circumcision. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, with James as Nasi, determined that they could after hearing the testimony of Paul and Peter. This went against what Beit Shammai taught and believed, and many believers were sympathetic to this line of teaching. One of the issues dealt with in Galatians was eating with non-Jews (Gal 2.12). Galatians is a book where Jews and non-Jews can study and understand. Let’s look at Paul’s credentials first (Phil 3.4-6; Acts 21.39, 22.3; 2 Cor 11.22; Acts 23.6). Paul was circumcised on the eighth day, he was from Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” which is an idiom meaning that both parents were Jewish and that was valued in the first century. He was a Pharisee from Beit Hillel. He was blameless in the Torah and he was a delegate of the Sanhedrin l(Acts 7.58; Acts 22.4-5, 20; Acts 26.10) at times. Now, let’s talk about the stoning of Stephen, an incident that Paul was involved with in the name of the Sanhedrin.
The only place a death sentence can be carried out is in the Lishkat Ha Gazit, or Chamber of Hewn Stone, in the southeast corner building of the Azarah called Beit Avtinas. The Sanhedrin had moved out of there in 30 AD in protest against Pilate. That is why they could not sentence Yeshua to the death penalty and carry it out. As a result, they moved into the Royal Stoa, in the southeastern one-third of the portico. By the time Stephen was stoned, they had moved back to the Lishkat Ha Gazit because they carried his death sentence out by stoning. Steph4en had to be taken out of the city, outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Many people think when they read this that everyone got mad and they killed him, but that is not what happened. There is a system to it.
Once Stephen was tried in the Lishkat Ha Gazit, a crier goes ahead of the procession as it moves outside the city asking if anyone had any information that would have a bearing on his case. If someone does have information, the crier waves to those behind and they will go back to the Lishkat Ha Gazit. This can happen several times if a creditable witness comes forward. They want Stephen to confess to the charges. If there were no witnesses, they proceed. When they come to the place of stoning, which may have been Golgotha, north of the city, they strip Stephen but he was covered in front. 10 cubits from the place of execution, they stopped and asked Stephen for a confession. Because the charges were false and the witnesses lied, he wouldn’t do it. This is based on Josh 7 with Achan. If he would have “confessed” they go ahead. If not, they move 4 cubits. Witnesses to the offense pushed Stephen off the precipice. If the fall killed him, it is over. If not, they throw a large stone over his heart. If that didn’t kill him, then all the people pelt him with stones (Deut 17.7). If he was a blasphemer, he is hanged on a tree, and this is what they did to Stephen.
So, Paul may have been a voting member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 22.20, 26.10) and he was also delegated by the Sanhedrin (a “sh’liach”) to carry out their sentences (Stephen, arresting believers, going to Damascus, etc) because he was their “agent.” With all the backround we have been laying down, we are going to look deeper, but briefly, into the book of Galatians. This will not be an exhaustive look into the book, but you can go to “The Book of Galatians” on this site for a verse by verse examination. What we are going to do is bring out certain concepts on various verses that will apply to other books when trying to understand the New Testament.
We know that Paul was an orthodox Jew and was Torah observant. He was not as the “church” describes him, or Judaism, for that matter. We know that a great battle existed between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai in the first century concerning the 18 Edicts, passed in 20 BC. Non-Jews are entering the Malkut Shamayim (Kingdom of Heaven) without becoming Jews first through ritual circumcision because of Acts 10 and Acts 15. Paul tells the Galatians that he has had a revelation about this in Gal 2.1-5. Those who had a “high reputation” (James, John, Peter, etc) didn’t impress Paul because God is not impressed (Gal 2.6), but they did entrust to him the Basar to the non-Jews, just as Peter was entrusted with the Basar to the Jews (Gal 2.7), and Paul took this very seriously.
Now, Cephas (some think this was Peter) came to Antioch and Paul “got in his face” because prior to these certain men who knew James coming to Galatia, Cephas would eat with the non-Jews, which was contrary to the 18 Edicts. But when they arrived, he stopped “fearing the party of the circumcision” or in other words, the Jews from Beit Shammai (Gal 2.11-12). Other Jews joined in with this hypocrisy, even Barnabas (Gal 2.13). When Paul saw they were wrong about the truth (Gal 2.14) he told Cephas in Gal 2.14-15, “If you being a Jew live like a non-Jew (in other words, related them as Jew with non-Jews) and not as the Jews (according to the separatist theology of Beit Shammai), how can you compel the non-Jews to live like Jews (with the separatist attitudes and theology of Beit Shammai and others). We are Jews by nature (not proselytes or converts) and not sinners from among the non-Jews (who never had or knew the Torah). He tells them a man is not justified by works of the law (becoming Jews through ritual circumcision according to the Jewish law according to Beit Shammai (Gal 2.16), but through the faith “of” Messiah, not “in” the Messiah. In Part 7 we will pick up here and explain what Paul means by the faith “of ” Messiah.