Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia (located in present day southeastern Turkey), which was a prominent city of Greek culture and education. He was born a Roman citizen, but his Jewish parents had the financial means to send him to Jerusalem for his education. He was raised as a Pharisee and was trained under Rabbi Gamaliel, who was perhaps the most well-known and respected Jewish Rabbi of the First Century. Scholar Craig Keener wrote that Gamaliel “was probably the most influential Pharisaic leader of the time and held prestige as a Jerusalem aristocrat as well.” Only the most gifted and promising students would be given such an opportunity.
Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin, and he was the head of the Hillel School. There were two main schools of the Pharisees: Hillel and Shammai. The Hillel School was started by Gamaliel’s grandfather, Rabbi Hillel, and it had the reputation as being the more liberal school. At Acts 5:33-39, we see that Gamaliel urged the Sanhedrin to spare Peter and certain other disciples from execution. At Acts 22:3, Paul explained to a Jewish audience that he was “educated under Gamaliel strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.” At Galatians 1:14, Paul explained that before his conversion to Christianity, he “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” He was a rising theological superstar.
At Philippians 3:5-6, Paul wrote that his background provided him the credentials to “boast in the flesh.” He wrote that he was
circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
It is easy for us to place an undue emphasis on things like natural intelligence, beauty, personality, education, parentage, athleticism, etc. However, success in the spiritual life is dependent on humility and God’s grace, not our human gifts or abilities. Instead, we must learn to walk by the Spirit, wherein the Word is a light to our feet, trusting in Christ Jesus, while having no confidence in our inherit capacity to live our new supernatural way of being. The Holy Spirit is our primary teacher (John 16:13). If we learn this new way of being, our natural God-given abilities can be harnessed for the glory of God.
All too often, our natural abilities and inclinations can be a distraction to the execution of our spiritual life. We must see and understand our total dependence on God. The Old Testament ritual of circumcision taught the believer to “put off” the dominance of fleshly desires. Further, as Paul taught, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you shall not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the desire of the flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another….” (Gal. 5:16-17)
The Old Testament ritual of circumcision also teaches us that our human pedigree is not the real issue. We function as the true Circumcision (Israelite) when we worship God (make Him our number one priority) in the Spirit and “take pride in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). Paul used the Greek verb kauchaomai, which means “to boast, glory, or to take pride in.” As believers, we boast or glory in the Lord, not our human pedigree.
 Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Second Ed. InterVarsity Press, 2014, p. 333.
 “Gamaliel.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Volume Two: E-J, Gen. Editor Geoffrey W. Bromiley, et al., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988, pp. 393-394.
 “G2744 – kauchaomai – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 4 Oct, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2744/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.