A Contextual Look At Peter And Cornelius

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ACTS 9:36-10:48


9:36-38. While Peter was at Lydda, a well-beloved Christian woman (a disciple) in Joppa by the name of Dorcas . . . died. Her name means “gazelle” in Greek as does its counterpart Tabitha in Aramaic. She was known for her help to the poor. Because the cities of Lydda and Joppa are only about 12 miles apart two men were sent from Joppa to call Peter. (For a brief statement on Joppa’s history see Beers, The Victor Handbook of Bible Knowledge, p. 559.) No one had been raised from the dead in the early church so far as the records of Acts declare, but the faith of the believers was so great they expected the Lord to use Peter to resurrect Dorcas.

9:39-41. When Peter arrived, he sent the weeping widows and other believers out of the upstairs . . . room, prayed on his knees for Dorcas, and commanded her to arise (cf. Mark 5:41). To avoid ceremonial defilement (cf. Lev. 21:1; Num. 5:2; 9:6-10; 19:11), Peter did not touch her until after God restored her to life.

9:42-43. This miracle, like previous ones, led many to believe in the Lord (2:43, 47; 4:4; 5:12, 14; 8:6; 9:33-35). After this miracle Peter remained in Joppa for some time (lit., “sufficient days”) with a tanner named Simon. His house was “by the sea” (10:6).

This passage (9:32-43) shows the excellent preparation given Peter for his ensuing experience with Cornelius. (1) Two outstanding miracles confirmed his ministry; God was with him in a special way. (2) He was ministering in an area that was partially Gentile. (3) His living in the home of Simon the tanner was significant. Tanners were considered to be ceremonially unclean because they were constantly in contact with the skins of dead animals (Lev. 11:40).

c.     Peter and Cornelius (chap. 10).

The importance of this event is seen in the fact that Luke recounts it three times—here in Acts 10, again in chapter 11, and finally in 15:6-9. The geographic extension of the gospel in Acts is an initial fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 8:11: “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places . . . in the kingdom of heaven.”

(1) The vision of Cornelius (10:1-8). 10:1. By separate visions both Peter and Cornelius were prepared for this momentous happening. Cornelius and his vision are described first. Cornelius was a centurion, a Roman officer in charge of 100 soldiers, in the Italian Regiment, consisting of 600 soldiers. In the New Testament centurions are consistently viewed in a favorable light (cf. Matt. 8:5-10; 27:54; Mark 15:44-45; Acts 22:25-26; 23:17-18; 27:6, 43). Centurion Cornelius became one of the first Gentiles after Pentecost to hear the good news of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness.

10:2. From the description of Cornelius as devout (eusebēs, used only here and in v. 7; 2 Peter 2:9) and God-fearing (“righteous and God-fearing,” Acts 10:22), it can be inferred he was not a full-fledged proselyte to Judaism (he had not been circumcised, 11:3), but he did worship Yahweh. Evidently he attended the synagogue and to the best of his knowledge and ability followed the Old Testament Scriptures. Nevertheless, he had not entered into New Testament salvation (cf. 11:14).

10:3-6. The time reference, 3 in the afternoon, may refer to a Jewish time of prayer (cf. 3:1). If so, the Lord approached Cornelius by means of an angel while he was at prayer (cf. 10:9). Later Cornelius called this angel “a man in shining clothes” (v. 30). Cornelius responded to the angel by asking, What is it, Lord? Perhaps “Lord” (kyrie) here means “Sir” (cf. comments on 9:5). This soldier’s piety was evidenced by his prayers and his generous giving to the poor (cf. 10:2). The angel instructed him to send for Simon . . . Peter at the home of Simon the tanner (cf. 9:43).

10:7. When the angel who spoke to him had gone, the centurion called three of his men—two servants and a military aide, also a devout man (eusebē; cf. v. 2). Undoubtedly these three had been influenced by Cornelius’ devotion.

10:8. He told them everything that had happened. Related to the Greek participle used here (exēgēsamenos) is the English noun “exegesis.” The verb means he “explained” everything.

The three went off to Joppa, some 33 miles south of Caesarea (v. 24), to bring Peter back to Cornelius.

(2) The vision of Peter (10:9-16). 10:9. That Peter prayed morning and evening may be assumed, for those were normal times of prayer. In addition he prayed at noon. Prayer three times a day was not commanded in the Scriptures, but Peter followed the example of pious men before him (cf. Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10). Peter went up to the (flat) roof to pray; this would have given him privacy.

10:10-12. While hungry, Peter fell into a trance in which God gave him a vision of a sheet coming down to earth with all kinds of . . . animals . . . reptiles . . . and birds.

10:13-14. When God commanded Peter to eat of these animals, his response was, Surely not, Lord! Significantly his refusal (“surely not”) was mēdamōs, a more polite and subjective term than oudamōs (“by no means,” used only in Matt. 2:6). This was the third time in Peter’s career that he directly refused God’s will (cf. Matt. 16:23; John 13:8).

Peter knew from the Law that he should not eat unclean animals (Lev. 11). But could he not have killed and eaten the clean animals and left the unclean? Probably Peter understood the command to include them all. Or possibly the large sheet contained only unclean animals.

10:15. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. This rebuttal gives Mark 7:14-23 more meaning (cf. 1 Tim. 4:4). It is generally recognized that Mark wrote down Peter’s words. In retrospect Peter must have recognized that Jesus as the Messiah cleansed all goods from ceremonial defilement.

10:16. Why did Peter refuse three times to eat the unclean foods? For one thing, this indicated emphasis. But more than that it revealed certainty and truth. Here was one place where Peter was being scrupulous beyond the will of God. His intentions were good, but he was being disobedient. Also, was there some link here with Peter’s threefold denial (John 18:17, 25-27) and with his three affirmations of his love for the Lord? (John 21:15-17)

(3) The visit of the messengers (10:17-23a). 10:17-22. In marvelous timing and by the coordination of the sovereign God the three messengers and Peter met. The Holy Spirit, who told Peter about the arrival of the three men, may have been the One whose unidentified voice Peter heard earlier (vv. 13, 15).

The men . . . from Cornelius spoke highly of him (cf. vv. 2, 4) and conveyed to Peter their purpose in coming.

10:23a. Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. Since Peter had been waiting for his noon meal (cf. v. 10), he undoubtedly now shared it with his visitors. Perhaps he was already beginning to discern the lesson of his vision!

(4) The visitation of Gentiles (10:23b-43). 10:23b. By the time Peter and his guests finished lunch it must have been too late to start back to Caesarea that day. The next day they began the almost-two-day trip. (Cornelius’ emissaries had left Caesarea after 3 p.m. one day [vv. 3, 8] and arrived at noon two days later [vv. 9, 19]. Cf. “four days ago” in v. 30.)

Peter took with him some of the brothers from Joppa. The two-by-two motif is common in the Gospels and Acts; Christian workers often went out by twos. In this debatable situation at least six people accompanied Peter (11:12). So there would be seven witnesses to attest to what would transpire.

10:24. Cornelius was so confident that Peter would come and he was so expectant of Peter’s message that he called together his relatives and close friends.

10:25-26. When Peter arrived, Cornelius prostrated himself before the apostle in worship. The verb prosekynēsen means “he worshiped” and is here translated in reverence. Peter, refusing this kind of obeisance, urged Cornelius to stand up, for, he said, I am only a man myself.

10:27-29. Peter was well aware of the consequences of his fellowshiping with Gentiles in their homes (cf. 11:2-3), but he had learned the lesson of the vision well. The command to eat unclean animals meant he was not to call any man impure or unclean. So he came without protest.

10:30-33. After Cornelius recounted the circumstances that brought Peter to his house he said, Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us. What a divinely prepared audience!

10:34-35. These words of Peter were revolutionary. They swept away the prejudice and indoctrination of generations of Judaism. However, Gentile salvation certainly was a doctrine known in the Old Testament (cf. Jonah; Gen. 12:3). In the Old Testament the Jews were God’s Chosen People, the special recipients of His promises and revelation. Here Peter stated that God’s program was reaching out to the world through the church.

There is considerable debate about Peter’s words that God accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. This does not teach salvation by works because a person’s first responsibility before God is to fear Him, which is tantamount to trusting Him and reverencing Him. It is the New Testament parallel to Micah 6:8. Furthermore, God’s acceptance of such people refers to His welcoming them to a right relationship by faith in Christ (cf. Acts 11:14).

10:36-37. Peter then outlined the career of Christ (vv. 36-43), the sovereign Lord of all, through whom God sent . . . the good news of peace. Bible students have often observed how this parallels the Gospel of Mark almost perfectly. Mark began with John’s baptism and traced the ministry of the Lord Jesus from Galilee to Judea to Jerusalem and finally to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Great Commission.

10:38. The word Messiah means “Anointed One”; so when Peter said, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth he was saying, “God declared Him the Messiah” (cf. Isa. 61:1-3; Luke 4:16-21; Acts 4:27). This declaration occurred at the Lord’s baptism (cf. Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34). Isaiah spoke of the Anointed One performing great deeds (Isa. 61:1-3), and as Peter declared, He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.

10:39-41. Peter affirmed that he and his associates were personal eyewitnesses of all Jesus did. They, that is, the Jews . . . killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, an ignominious form of execution. Earlier Peter had told Jews in Jerusalem, “You killed the Author of life” (3:15); to the rulers he said, “You crucified” Him (4:10); and to the Sanhedrin he replied, “You killed” Him “by hanging Him on a tree” (5:30). And Stephen too told the Sanhedrin, “You . . . have murdered Him” (7:52). On five occasions in Acts, the apostles said they were witnesses of the resurrected Christ (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:30-31). After Christ’s resurrection the disciples ate and drank with Him (cf. John 21:13). This was proof that the resurrected Lord Jesus was no bodiless phantom and it explains how Christ was seen (Acts 10:40).

10:42-43. Peter made it clear that Christ’s ministry results either in judgment (v. 42) or salvation (v. 43). The key phrase is, Everyone who believes in Him. This Greek construction consists of a present participle with an article, which is almost the equivalent of a noun (in this case “every believer in Him”). The key element in salvation is faith, belief in Christ. This message of forgiveness of sins (cf. 2:38; 5:31; 13:38; 26:18) through faith in the Messiah was spoken of by the prophets (e.g., Isa. 53:11; Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25-26).

(5) The vindication by the Spirit (10:44-48). 10:44-45. Peter’s message was rapidly concluded by the sovereign interruption of the Holy Spirit who came on all those who heard Peter’s message about Jesus and believed. The six (cf. v. 23; 11:12) circumcised believers . . . were astonished (exestēsan; “they were beside themselves”; cf. 9:21) at this evidence of equality of Gentiles with Jewish believers.

10:46. The sign which God used to validate the reality of Gentile salvation was speaking in tongues. (For the significance of tongues-speaking in Acts, see the comments on 19:1-7.)

10:47-48. Peter quickly discerned at least three theological implications of what had happened: (1) He could not argue with God (11:17). (2) Cornelius and his household, though uncircumcised (11:3), were baptized because they had believed in Christ, as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit. The order of these events was believing in Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and being baptized in water. (3) The reality of Cornelius’ conversion was confirmed by Peter’s staying with him several days, probably to instruct him more fully in his newfound faith.[1]

1. The Ministry of Peter at Caesarea (10:1–48)

The Vision Seen by Cornelius (10:1–8)

1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Luke now focuses attention on one of the most significant events in all of Acts—the conversion of the first Gentile.1 Though someidentify the Ethiopian as the first Gentile convert in Acts,2 the language used of Cornelius sets him apart for this honor.3 Caesarea was predominantly a Gentile city and the position of Cornelius in the Roman army betrays his Gentile background. The term “God-fearing” (φοβούμενος, phoboumenos) also denotes a Gentile because of its technical application to non-Jews who had not become full proselytes.

The issues raised by this event were far-reaching for the church. Would Christianity continue to be a largely Jewish phenomenon, confined for the most part to Palestine? Would believers continue to be dominated by the Jewish notion that salvation must include circumcision and the laws of separation in matters of table fellowship? Luke points to the preaching by Peter to the household of Cornelius as the resounding answer to these questions. As a matter of fact, reference will be made to this event at the conference in Jerusalem (15:6–11) where these very issues will be discussed in detail.

Cornelius lived in Caesarea, a city considered by the Roman administration to be the capital of Judea. Located about thirty miles north of Joppa, this city on the coast had previously been called Strato’s Tower, but was rebuilt by Herod the Great in honor of Augustus Caesar.4

As a centurion, Cornelius was considered commander over about a sixth of a regiment. Each Roman legion had about 6,000 men and was divided into ten regiments, sometimes called “cohorts.” Cohorts were subdivided into groups of 100. Thus a centurion commanded about 100 men. As Bruce observes, the centurions were considered “the backbone of the Roman army.”5 It was not unusual for a regiment to maintain its individual identity and in the case of “the Italian Regiment,”6 some inscriptional evidence suggests that this force was an auxiliary division.7

His spiritual qualities are described in terms of Jewish piety. He was “devout” (εὐσεβὴς, eusebēs) and “God-fearing,” including such acts of mercy as giving to the needy and also regular prayer.8 His regular prayers meant that he was in prayer at “three in the afternoon,” a customary time for prayer (see 3:1). During this time of prayer Cornelius saw “an angel of God,” who spoke his name. The response of Cornelius imitated that of Paul on the road to Damascus (9:5), and the angel continued by explaining that the prayers and acts of benevolence from Cornelius had ascended as a “memorial offering” (μνημόσυνον, mnēmosynon) to God (Lev 2:2). By the standards of some, Cornelius was not a man who needed to be saved.

The command of the angel was that Cornelius send messengers to Joppa and bring Simon Peter to Caesarea. The messengers Cornelius called were trusted attendants. Their means of travel is not specified.

The Vision Seen by Peter (10:9–16)

9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Peter’s role in this event began on the roof of Simon’s house in Joppa.9 He had no idea that the messengers of Cornelius were at that moment drawing near his location. About noon (an hour not usually designated for prayer by the Jews) he was praying. Flat rooftops in Palestine often had awnings for shade, allowing for a peaceful place for meditation, and Peter may have desired such a time and place in view of his on-going ministry in Joppa. Whether the cloth in this awning had anything to do with Peter’s vision is unclear.

While Peter was there he became hungry10 and a vision from heaven engaged his attention. He “fell into a trance” (ἔκστασις, ekstasis) and watched as heaven opened and something like a “a large sheet” was being dropped from heaven, held by its four corners. On the sheet Peter saw all kinds of creatures, described in the typical Jewish categories of “four-footed animals,” “reptiles of the earth,” and “birds of the air” (see Gen 6:20).

Then a voice from heaven commanded Peter to “kill and eat.” At once he objected that he could never do such a thing, since he had always observed the laws of purity. Even the mixture of these unclean animals with the clean presented an abomination to him.11 But the voice persisted with the primary lesson of the vision. He was not to consider anything unclean which had been cleansed.

This vision brings to mind the teaching of Jesus as recorded in Mark 7:14–19. In his debate with the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus had taught that it was not foods taken into the body that caused defilement, but thoughts and words which proceed from the heart and mouth. Mark then adds the comment, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’” Peter’s vision reinforced this teaching of Jesus. But even in Mark 7 the words of Jesus are brought into close connection with attitudes toward people. Just after Jesus made these comments, he healed the daughter of a Gentile woman. Purity regulations about eating were associated with purity regulations in associations with people.12

The Arrival at Joppa of Servants Sent by Cornelius (10:17–23a)

17While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. 19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

As if frozen by the vision, Peter remained on the roof “wondering about the meaning” of what he had seen. As the messengers from Cornelius were arriving, Peter was being instructed by the Holy Spirit to go down and meet them.

Whether the Spirit spoke to him audibly or with an inner voice we are not told. What matters is that the Holy Spirit was directing Peter to welcome Gentiles into the home in which he was staying. Peter’s obedience to the Spirit permitted him to take the first steps in fulfilling the lesson of the vision.

Descending by the outside stairs, Peter welcomed the messengers. After he asked why they had come, they explained the vision of Cornelius the day before. As Polhill notes in this section, Luke may easily have abbreviated his report by simply summarizing the details here of Cornelius’ vision. But each time the details of the vision and other aspects of the event are repeated their significance is underscored once again.13

The Visit of Peter to the House of Cornelius (10:23b-33)

23The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” 27Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” 30Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

The day after the messengers arrived (two days after the vision of Cornelius), Peter started for Caesarea with both the messengers from Cornelius and several believers from Joppa.14 The journey took the whole day, requiring a stop overnight. They arrived in Caesarea on the third day after the original vision (or the fourth day if the day of the vision is counted).

Peter’s entrance into the house was met with a reverent greeting from Cornelius,15 which indicates that he understood Peter’s arrival to be part of the divine direction related to the vision. Peter was horrified at the gesture, seeing in it too much reverence for a mere man. It may well have been going through his mind that Cornelius’ actions represented the spirit of idolatry which Gentiles were all too accustomed to participating in.

When Peter saw the large group of “relatives and close friends” of Cornelius gathered at his house, he immediately raised the issue which stood at the heart of the lesson from his vision in Joppa. Jews considered it unlawful “to associate with a Gentile or visit him.” But Peter answered his own observation by recalling the vision of the animals on the sheet. He demonstrated that he had understood the point of the vision when he said that God showed him he should not call “any man impure or unclean.” For Peter the summons from Cornelius was the divine invitation to apply directly the truth of the vision.

Cornelius responded by giving Peter the details of his own vision, which Luke again repeats in detail. Then Cornelius offered his own conclusion of the purposes of God. They were gathered because God had a message to deliver through Peter.

The Sermon By Peter (10:34–43)

34Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Peter now made clear his understanding of the vision. God does not show favoritism (προσωπολήμπτης, prosōpolēmptēs). The word literally speaks of an “acceptor of faces”16 and was used by Peter to refer to a God who did not show preference among nationalities. The particular context of this statement was the Jewish prejudice against Gentiles. God does not show favoritism among nations, though he does favor those “who fear him and do what is right.”

Peter thus began his sermon by tracing the ministry of Jesus from the baptism by John, to his acts of mercy, healings, and exorcisms, his crucifixion and resurrection. In mentioning the anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, Peter made reference to the Holy Spirit’s descending at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21–22) and to the words of Jesus himself when he read to the worshipers in the synagogue at Nazareth.17 Jesus read from Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:18f) and then applied the passage to himself. The passage begins with the words, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me.”

The crucifixion is described as “hanging him on a tree.” This expression is traced back to Deuteronomy 21:23 and carries with it the idea of suffering under the curse of God.

Again as in previous sermons, Peter presented the two sides of Jesus’ crucifixion. Concerning the human side, “they (the Jews in Jerusalem) killed him,” but God “raised him from the dead.”18 Beyond the facts about Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, Peter also emphasized that the apostles were witnesses of all of these events. As witnesses, Peter focused on the experience of eating and drinking with the risen Lord (see Luke 24:30f; John 21:13–14). These experiences not only stayed in the memories of the apostles, but demonstrated that Jesus was resurrected in bodily form.

Peter also made it clear that the ministry of the apostles was a work of divine origin. They were “commanded” to preach. This explained Peter’s visit to the house of Cornelius. God commanded the apostles to preach “to the people,”19 that is the Jews. But the wider reach of the gospel message included all the living and the dead over whom Jesus has been “appointed as judge.”

What an exalted position obtained by Christ! He had gone from the cursed cross in Jerusalem to the right hand of God as judge over all the earth. Such authority was his that sinners could find “forgiveness of sins” only through his name.

The Reception of the Holy Spirit by Gentiles (10:44–48)

44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Peter did not get to finish this sermon. He had just spoken of the forgiveness of sins which comes through Christ when suddenly he was interrupted. He watched as the Gentiles before him, Cornelius, his family, friends, and servants, began “speaking in tongues” (λαλούντων γλώσσαις, lalountōn glōssais).20 Peter recognized immediately that this event was a repetition of the Day of Pentecost, and that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit “just as (ὡς καί, hōs kai) we have.”21 Later Peter will state the case even stronger in his statement before the apostles in Jerusalem: “the Holy Spirit came on them as (ὥσπερ, hōsper) he had come on us at the beginning” (11:15). He saw no difference in the Spirit’s gift when he compared it with the Day of Pentecost. Apparently, the Spirit’s outpouring on Cornelius also included speaking in other (known) languages as was true at Pentecost.22

Those Jewish Christians who had traveled with Peter from Joppa were also amazed. The gift of the Spirit had been “poured out” (ἐκκέχυται, ekkechytai) on Gentiles. The verb appears in the perfect tense, and places the emphasis on the effects of the “pouring out.” All doubt was removed because they could see them speaking in tongues and praising God.

After seeing what was surely the work of the Spirit on this Gentile audience, Peter concluded that these people were truly believers, accepted by God. If the Lord had determined to give them the Spirit, how could anyone argue that they should not be baptized into Christ, just as Peter had commanded on the Day of Pentecost?23

Whether this mention of the outpouring of the Spirit included the indwelling of the Spirit as well cannot be determined from the language of the text. Bruce points out that the sequence at Pentecost for the believers was conviction of sin, repentance and faith, baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Spirit.24 In the case of Cornelius this order was interrupted. The reception of the Spirit came first. God poured out the Spirit in a way unlike anything since the Day of Pentecost.

Peter’s question about baptizing these believers points again to the connection between the reception of the Spirit and baptism. Had no connection been expected, there would have been no reason to ask how anyone could object to the baptism of these Gentiles. Had baptism not been understood as the moment for believers to receive the Spirit, Peter would never have asked the question. But after asking the question, Peter commanded them to submit themselves to baptism, and they did so. They showed their gratitude by asking Peter to stay on, perhaps for further instruction in the gospel.[2]


p. page

cf. confer, compare

lit. literal, literally

chap. chapter

v. verse

vv. verses

e.g. exempli gratia, for example

[1]John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:379.

1 Wilson proposes that the mention of Gentile converts in 11:19 should be understood as occurring after the conversion of Cornelius. See his Gentile Mission, pp. 151–152. In this way Luke may be seen carrying out his theme as presented in 1:8, but also showing accurately the historical progress of the Gospel. Munck emphatically objects to the attempt by Martin Dibelius to distinguish between “the original harmless ‘legend’ about Cornelius’ baptism by the Apostle Peter, and its editing by Luke, who lifts the story into the realm of principles” (Paul, p. 228). See also Conzelmann, p. 80. Martin, showing sympathy to the position of Munck, notes nevertheless that this passage highlights “the novelty of grace” which is extended to Gentiles, a point which consists of “the deeper fulfilment (sic) of what Peter had barely hinted at in 2:39.” This passage demonstrates that “there is no ‘most favored nation’ clause in God’s covenant with his people.” See his Foundations, 2:101–103. Dunn finds it difficult to believe that Luke could have fabricated such an account (Jesus, pp. 152–156). Dupont describes how important this event is in the story of Acts, especially in the development of the theme that salvation is intended for the Gentiles. See his Salvation, pp. 24–27.

2 Polhill, p. 249; Bruce, p. 175.

3 Haenchen argues that the term “God-fearer” (φοβούμενος) indicates that Cornelius was a Gentile (pp. 313–314,346). Max Wilcox, however, disputes that the Greek term must carry this meaning. See his “The ‘God-Fearers’ in Acts—A Reconsideration,” JSNT 13 (1981), 102–122.

4 For a thorough discussion of the features of the city of Caesarea see Robert Bull, “Caesarea Maritima: The Search for Herod’s City,” BAR 8 (1982), 24–41; Robert Hohlfelder, “Caesarea beneath the Sea,” ibid., 42–47.

5 Bruce, p. 202. Whether such a division would have been located in Caesarea during the reign of Herod Agrippa (a.d. 41–44) in Palestine is still a matter for debate. Haenchen argues that Luke has read back into the story a situation which existed later in the first century (p. 346, n 2). But this argument ignores the possibility that this event could be dated before a.d. 41 or that Cornelius may have been a retired centurion living in Caesarea.

6 Other regiments were known as “the Imperial” or “the Augustan” (27:1). See NIV Study Bible note on Acts 10:1.

7 Bruce, p. 202.

8 The only act of Jewish piety not included here is fasting (Polhill, p. 252).

9 Hubbard sees in Peter’s vision many of the same elements found in other “commissioning accounts” in Luke-Acts. See his “Commissioning Accounts,” in Perspectives, ed Talbert, pp. 188–191.

10 The Jews normally ate a light meal in the middle of the morning and a full meal in the later afternoon. Perhaps Peter had missed the first meal.

11 The distinction between clean and unclean is given in Lev 11 and concerned itself with those animals which could be used for sacrifice or eating. Domesticated animals were considered clean if they had a divided hoof and chewed their cud.

12 Bruce thinks the connection came because Gentiles were considered by the Jews to be unclean largely because of what they ate (p. 206). J.J. Scott thinks that the conclusion was reached with a “lesser-to-greater” rationale, which was famous in Rabbinic circles. If God pronounced certain foods unclean, he must also take the same approach to people. See his “The Cornelius Incident in the Light of Its Jewish Setting,” JETS 34 (1991), 475–484.

13 Polhill, p. 257.

14 Acts 11:12 says the number was six.

15 See other references to this form of greeting in Matt 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 18:26; 20:20; Luke 8:41; Acts 9:4; 22:7.

16 Rienecker, p. 285. This theme surfaces throughout the Old Testament and Judaism, as well as in such New Testament passages as Rom 2:11; Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9; Jas 2:1. For a thorough study of this importanttheme see Jouette Bassler, Divine Impartiality: Paul and a Theological Axiom (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982).

17 Dupont thinks that Peter’s reference to “forgiveness” (ἄφεσις, aphesis) may be derived from this quotation from Isaiah which speaks of the “release (ἄφεσις) of captives.” See his Salvation, p. 143.

18 See 2:23–24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30–32. Trites notes that many of the elements found in other addresses by the apostles are found here, including Jesus’ appointment by God; his signs, wonders and mighty works; his death and resurrection; the harmony of all these things with Scripture; Christ’s exaltation in heaven; and the authority of the apostles as witnesses (Witness, p. 143).

19 Jervell cites this point in Peter’s address—a point which seems out of place to a Gentile audience—as an indication of the perception that the mission to Gentiles must begin with the Jews. See his People of God, p. 57.

20 The phrase is not exactly the same is in 2:4 (lalein heterais glōssais), but certainly similar enough to describe this outpouring of the Spirit to include the same type of gift as at Pentecost. See Polhill for the view that this gift of the Spirit was not the same as Pentecost, but more like the spiritual gifts of 1 Cor 12–14.

21 Dunn argues that this text will not support the modern Pentecostal contention that Cornelius was born again and received the Spirit as distinct and separate acts of God. See his Baptism, pp. 79–82.

22 It does not seem that Luke sees any difference either.

23 That this “household baptism” is not the object of appeal for many who defend infant baptism is perhaps because the text speaks of them as believers and as people who received the evidences of the Spirit’s outpouring. See Jewett, Infant Baptism, p. 48.

24 Bruce, pp. 217–218.

[2]Dennis Gaertner, Acts, The College Press NIV commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press, 1993), Ac 10:1.

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