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Bible Commentaries
Acts 11

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-30

XI 1-18 St Peter justifies Himself at Jerusalem —2. ’They of the circumcision’ is not used in the depreciative sense of later controversy, Galatians 2:12; Romans 4:12, and seems to mean rather those especially attached to legal observances, than the whole church of Jerusalem.

3. cf. 10:28. Indirectly St Peter’s whole action is questioned. His defence is that in this turning point he was guided by God at every step.

12. He defends the brethren equally guilty of a breach of the Law.

15. There is no mention of the wind or tongues of fire at this Descent. 16. Our Lord’s words apply also to the Gentiles.

17. Cornelius and his friends, though sharing only the Apostles’ faith in our Lord and not their Jewish observances, had received ’the same Gift’ as they at Pentecost. Thus, not to have baptized them would have been to disobey God.

18. St Peter’s decision is accepted. The Gentiles too, have been given that repentance that leads to the new life in God’s Kingdom, eternal life begun already on earth; cf. 3:15; 5:20.

XI 19-XII 25 The Growth of the Church in Antioch, and the Decline of that in Jerusalem —Hellenists from Cyprus and Cyrene now began to evangelize Gentiles at Antioch, and for the first time, groups of converted pagans were found in the same church with Jewish Christians. Many Gentiles were converted, and so Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to investigate; see on 4:36. After he had approved and had obtained the aid of St Paul, the converts became so numerous as to make their fellow Gentiles realize that theirs was a religion distinct from that of the Jews, whose Law they did not observe, and for whom a name must be invented. This expansion not only had a profound effect on the internal development of the Church (see on 11:26), but provided a centre far more suitable than Jerusalem for the evangelization of the Greco-Roman world. In a Judaea ruled by Procurators, the Church at Jerusalem had been more or less protected, but it suffered severely from Herod’s persecution. The Apostles were killed or scattered, St Peter went elsewhere, and the Church grew more Jewish in outlook, and ceased to be missionary. Antioch thus became, for a time, the capital of the Church and its missionary centre. There is a tradition, sppported by Galatians 2:11, that St Peter ruled there, cf. J. Lebreton, L’Eglise Primitive, 154, St Luke seems to have come from Antioch, and his information to have been preserved in the church there, which was proud of those who had prepared its path and built it up, St Stephen, the evangelists from Cyprus and Cyrene, and above all Barnabas and St Paul.

19-26 The Preaching to the Gentiles at Antioch — ’The Queen of the East’, the capital of Syria, with over half a million inhabitants, Antioch was the third city of the empire, after Rome and Alexandria. It was famous for its Hellenist culture and philosophers, for its monuments, and for its licentiousness. Jews and proselytes were numerous, and had their own ethnarch, and other privileges.

19. Persecution spread the Church. There were. many Jews in Phoenicia, and in Tyre and Sidon its chief towns. The Christians there are mentioned in 21:4, 7; 27:3. There were too a number of Jewish colonies in Cyprus, 13:5.

20. As a result of the news of the Cornelius decision, a new wave of preaching began, this time to ’Hellenes’, Gentiles. This would not have been possible, at least as a general practice, before that decision, nor could the delegate of the Church at Jerusalem possibly have approved of it. St Peter expressly stated later, 15:7, that he was the first to admit Gentiles, and St Luke implies as much by the order of his narrative. Dates bear it out, the conversion of Cornelius, c 40 (cf. 9:31 note), the mission of Barnabas, c 42, allowing 43 for the preaching of v 25, since in 44 Barnabas was back in Jerusalem, 11:30; 12:1. For the names of the evangelists from Cyprus and Cyrene, see 13:1. Codex B and other MSS have for those to whom they preached ’Hellenists’, instead of ’Hellenes’, Greeks, as though the new preaching were still only to Hellenist Jews. This reading is so obviously opposed to the context as to be almost universally rejected. To Jews the preachers would have shown that Jesus was the Messias, here they preach that he is Lord, God. 21. Miracles showed that the new departure was blessed, cf. 4:30. 22. Cf. on 4:36. Himself a Hellenist from Cyprus, and enjoying the confidence of the Apostles, the warm-hearted Barnabas was the ideal emissary from the Church at Jerusalem, ready now to admit the uncircumcised into the Church.

23-24. When he saw the work of the Holy Spirit in the changed lives of these pagans and in their charismata, being himself so full of the Spirit, he exhorted them to cling steadfastly to our Lord, and not to Jewish observances. Guided by God he judged the situation correctly.

25. Workers were needed for the harvest. Saul was known to be free from Jewish prejudices, and to have a mission to the Gentiles, 9:15; 22:21. He had been preaching for several years in Cilicia (see on 9:30) and seemingly to Gentiles 15:23.

26. ’Ghristians’; the great number of converts who were free of the Law, attracted to themselves a definite name, confined probably at first to those who had been pagans. It was derived, perhaps in derision, from him who was the centre of their new lives, cf. 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16, the only other NT refs. Tacitus speaks of it as a common designation. St Luke’s names for Christians are ’saints’, 9:13; ’disciples’, ’brethren’, ’those of the way those who invoke the name 9:14; ’believers’.

The Formation of a Gentile Church hastened Development —The change wrought in pagan converts was striking. Also Christianity was seen to be the whole of religion. There was no magnificent temple liturgy to overshadow the breaking of bread. The new liturgy was clearly the centre the community; cf. 13:2. The Christian life was not lived more intensely than in Jerusalem, but it was lived alone. ’The Christians of Antioch seemed, from certain points of view, more authentic than those of Jerusalem’, L. Cerfaux, La Communauté Apostolique, 85. The Holy Spirit showed his approval by inspiring prophets, and several of them, though not Apostles, had been companions of Jesus, 13:1. The church at Antioch had the authentic mark of charity, and its missionary zeal was soon to make it supersede Jerusalem as the Church’s capital.

27-30 The Church at Antioch sends Alms to Jerusalem —27. Following the good reports sent back by Barnabas, some from Jerusalem who had the charisma of prophecy, came to visit the daughter church. This is the first mention of the NT prophets, cf. 13:1, 15:32 and 1 Cor 12 and 14. 28. Codex D has this as the first ’we-section’, which shows at least that an ancient tradition held St Luke to be at Antioch, and a Christian at this time. On Agabus see 21:10. There were various famines under Claudius, a.d. 41-54, Judaea suffering in a.d. 46-8. 29. Community of goods may have helped to impoverish the church at Jerusalem, for which St Paul later so often collected alms. From the first this was a sign of the unity and charity which linked the Gentile churches to their mother, cf. note on 21:17-20, and E. B. O. P. Allo, "La Portée de la collecte pour Jé + _rusalem", RB 45 ( 1936), 529-37.

30. The relief was given ’to the presbyters’, see § 820d. Barnabas and Saul arrived in Jerusalem, after Herod’s persecution had broken out, 12:1, and returned after the latter’s death, 12:25. Evidently the Apostles were either in prison or scattered. This is borne out by the. 2nd cent. tradition that the Apostles dispersed twelve years after the Ascension. It is not easy therefore to identify this journey of St Paul’s with that in Galatians 2:1-10, see note on 15:1. (See however comm. on Gal, § 893d, in favour of this identification.)

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Acts 11". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/acts-11.html. 1951.
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