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Bible Commentaries
Acts 11

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Verses 1-3

Peter Accused

In the first part of this chapter, Peter recounts in detail once more what happened in the house of Cornelius and what preceded it. First, in Acts 10, we have Luke’s account of everything that Cornelius and Peter have experienced. Later in that chapter, during the meeting between Petrus and Cornelius, some things from that report are recounted in what Peter tells Cornelius.

We have a detailed report twice, with some details even told three times. That is not for nothing. It is clear that the Holy Spirit places special emphasis on this history, just like the history of the conversion of Saul, which we also find three times in this book. These are events that play a key role in this book. They have to do with God’s great work among the nations. As mentioned before, Peter here uses for the third time the keys that the Lord has given him for the kingdom of heaven.

We see in Cornelius that the Gentiles are accepted into the church of God as a group. By placing this acceptance in the hands of the leader of the believers from the circumcision, God makes sure that the unity between the believers from the circumcision and the believers from the Gentiles is preserved and underlined. Peter gives this report before the apostles and the church in Jerusalem. They have heard that the nations have also accepted the Word of God.

At first this caused a great shock to these believers, just as Peter did not want to know about it at first. There is still no place in their minds for a separate place for Christians, apart from Judaism. For them Christendom is a new Jewish movement. For them, everything in Christendom is still connected to Judaism. What happened in Caesarea, however, happened outside Judaism. But for the time being it is impossible for them to accept that as a matter of God.

To explain this new development, Peter goes to Jerusalem. There he comes into conflict with them “those who were circumcised”, who are Christians from Judaism, but who are still imprisoned in their Jewish way of thinking. For example, they believe that a Gentile must be circumcised in order to receive full blessing. We will get more details about this in Acts 15.

Instead of rejoicing, they criticize what Peter did. They have heard what he has done and attached their conclusions to it. Peter will be judged and condemned for his entering the Gentiles and they assume that he also ate with them.

It is a warning for us to beware that we do not just judge someone by appearances. Let us first ask for an explanation. The Lord can send someone and let him act as He sees fit. Still, their reaction is understandable, because we remember how difficult it was for Peter to cross that threshold. He has been just like them.

But their remark about eating with Cornelius goes beyond the observation that he went inside. That’s how it goes with rumors. They have heard of him going in and add that he also ate there. They start from what they judge to be certain. For them it can’t be otherwise than that he also ate with these Gentiles. And that in turn means that he has eaten things that are forbidden for a Jew, or that he has eaten things that have been prepared in a wrong way.

It could be, for example, that he ate meat cooked in milk, which is a custom among the Gentiles. The law forbids the cooking of meat in milk in certain cases, such as boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk (Deuteronomy 14:21). To prevent this from happening, there is a complete separation between the preparation of milk and the preparation of meat. Here we have another example of the erection of a fence around the law. It is again that exaggeration to not violate the law, but by which the commandment becomes heavier than God intended. As said, it is also just an assumption here.

Verses 4-18

Peter Responds

Peter responds calmly to the accusations. After all, a gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). The remarks of the brethren from the circumcision gives Peter the opportunity to tell what special things God has done in the house of these Gentiles. His orderly explanation shows that he is calm and does not come to an incoherent story under the pressure of reproaches.

Because Luke presents Peter’s account again after the account he already did under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10, what happened in the house of Cornelius gets a special characteristic. It is in fact an event that ushers in a new era and for which the spiritual eyes of the heart of the Jews must now be opened, or rather, the blindness of which must be removed.

Peter wants to make it clear through his account that it is a work of God and that he should not have opposed it, nor should they. The result of this account is that the apostles and the believers glorify God (Acts 11:18). Peter can do his report without being interrupted. He tells in detail what it took to get him to this point. They shouldn’t think that he just went in with those Gentiles. It has cost the Lord a lot of trouble to get him to do so.

He starts to tell where he was and what he saw when he was in a trance or in an ecstasy. Where he was and what he saw is known to us from the previous chapter. Here he adds that the object “came right down to me”, which means that he experienced the vision as a vision specially meant for him. He also says “I had fixed my gaze on it”. He took in everything well, so that he can now tell it as something engraved in his memory. It has not been a fleeting sight.

The words which have been spoken to him from heaven, he can also repeat literally. In the repetition of his answer he goes a bit further than with the event. Then he said that he had never eaten anything unholy or impure; here he says that nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered his mouth. By mentioning that it happened up to three times, he underlines once more the certainty of the event. Any doubt as to its authenticity is unfounded.

Peter then recounts how immediately following the vision the three men sent by Cornelius appeared at him. Without saying anything further about the conversation with the men, he says that the Spirit told him to go with them, without misgivings. Three events in a row convinced Peter that God wanted to use him to go to a Gentile: the vision, the three men who came to get him and the Spirit who told him to go with them. These testimonies must also appeal to his hearers.

Then he includes in his account the six brothers who went with him to Cornelius and entered there. He speaks of them as “these six brethren”, whereby he can point to them. So they also went with him to Jerusalem to confirm his testimony of the events with Cornelius. The apostles and the brethren in Jerusalem see a total of seven witnesses standing in front of them.

Peter goes on to recount how Cornelius reported on what he had seen, the assignment he had been given to send to Joppa and to invite Peter. From him he would hear words through which he would be saved. We did not find these words in Acts 10. However, they are of great significance. It means that Cornelius was not yet saved, although he had already been converted.

Salvation comes through faith in the Savior’s accomplished work. We also see this with the prodigal son who was converted at the time he stood up and went to his father. But it was only when he felt the father’s arms around his neck that he knew he was saved and had the forgiveness of his sins and was accepted (Luke 15:17-Proverbs :). All that awaited him, but he did not yet possess it when he stood up. God completes His work that He started in a soul.

When Cornelius and his own heard and believed the gospel of their salvation, the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter mentions it emphatically: “Just as [He did] upon us at the beginning.” He makes it clear to his listeners that the gift of the Holy Spirit was not limited to the circumcised believers, but that God gave that gift in the same way to the believers of the nations.

In his account, Peter makes no mention of speaking in languages. He mentions the giving of the Spirit as an event over which he had no influence at all, but as something that suddenly happened as an act of God. To underline, he tells that he remembered the word of the Lord (Acts 1:5). In his assessment of what happened, Peter has the word of the Lord as his guide and touchstone.

At this point in his account he asks them a question to which they could only give one answer: If God works, could he repel it? Peter speaks of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as something that only began on the day of Pentecost. They had believed in Him for a long time, but since Pentecost there had been an aspect added to that, that of His glorification. On this basis they received from God the gift of the Spirit. Who could exclude others who are involved by God in that gift?

Peter’s account has convinced them. They no longer talk back, on the contrary, they glorify God. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the affirmation by God Himself of what has happened (Acts 11:17). By this they are convinced and glorify God. Their conclusion is clear and beautiful. They also acknowledge and agree that God is no longer limited to them, but that the nations have also been given a part in the life that is given to them through repentance. With this, the imminent danger of a separation of spirits in the young church has been averted.

Verses 19-21

Preaching of the Scattered

With Acts 11:19 we return briefly to the situation described by Luke in Acts 8 (Acts 8:1-Numbers :). There he spoke of a great persecution. Luke here picks up the thread again to tell us how it went with those scattered. The scattered ones in Acts 8 were in Judea and Samaria. In the meantime they have moved on. They have continued the country to Phoenicia in the north, in present-day Lebanon. Then they went to the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea and from there to Antioch in Syria.

Antioch now emerges as the great center of the church among the Gentiles. This can happen now that the door has been opened for the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius. From Antioch Paul will start his missionary journeys. There he will also return at the end of the first two journeys.

Those who are scattered, do not “preach” the Word, but “speak” the Word, indicating that proclamation of the Word goes through ordinary contacts. They do, however, limit themselves in this to the Jews who have been scattered much earlier by the deportation of the ten tribes. They address only their compatriots, the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6), possibly out of fear of contact with the unclean nations. They, too, have yet to be freed from this fear. There are no miracles here. That did happen in the land of Israel among the Jews and Samaritans.

Not all Jews have this fear of being defiled through contact with the nations. Among those who are scattered are some men of Cyprus and Cyrene. These are Jews who, however, did not grow up in the land of Israel, but in the Greek-speaking world. They are of Jewish descent, but speak Greek and in that language they speak to the Greek-speakers. These are not the Greek-speaking Jews of Acts 6, but the Greek-speaking Gentiles with whom they come into contact through the scattering.

These originally foreign Jews do not have this inner aversion to contact with Gentiles. That brings them to a spontaneous proclamation to the Gentiles. At the same time it brings the danger that they easily adapt to gentile customs. They speak to them about the Lord Jesus, they proclaim Him, present Him as the good news.

It is remarkable how little officialdom there is connected with this work. There is no appointment to preach. There is no consultation whatsoever with the apostles in Jerusalem. Not a single name is mentioned of these people who participate in the work of the Lord. The Lord Jesus is proclaimed. It is striking how His being “Lord” is emphasized in these verses, which emphasizes that He has received all the power. The Lord blesses their preaching with a great number who become believers. Every time there is talk of “the Lord”. He goes along with the preachers and people convert to Him.

Verses 22-24

Barnabas and the Church in Antioch

Jerusalem is still the center of the new movement which is also governed from there. Because of the persecution many fled from Jerusalem, but the church in Jerusalem did not cease to exist, as is also shown in Acts 11:1. The church turns out to have ‘ears’, because it “reached the ears of the church” that there is a work of the Lord going on elsewhere. That work is not done by one of them, but by others. This time there is also no Peter connected to it, as in the case of Cornelius, but this work is done by unnamed believers.

Still, no apostle with his authority is going to take a look at it. In their wisdom they send Barnabas, a man with special abilities of comfort. It is not about exercising authority, but about caring for the young church. That is why Barnabas is the person of choice. He is a selfless man who has renounced possessions. The trend in the world and also among Christians is selfishness, self-love, but Barnabas is focused on others (Acts 4:36; Acts 9:27). He can be used when there are problems.

Barnabas is also not one of the exclusive-thinking native Jews, but he is a foreign Jew – he comes from Cyprus – who knows that God can also work in other ways than an exclusive one. He does not adhere to the idea that he is the best. He who has no contact with others, easily has the idea that he is the best.

Barnabas is the right man, also to judge whether or not what is happening is from the Lord. What he sees when he arrives is exactly what he experiences in his dealings with God: grace. He does not see problems first, but the grace of God. He sees that what God is doing among the nations is a work of His grace.

That causes joy in him. There is nothing of jealousy in him, no criticism of God’s work, but on the contrary, he rejoices in it. There is no reproach that they should have contacted Jerusalem as a ‘mother church’ or the apostles as God’s special servants.

He recognizes the work of God and joins in with it. He takes his place in this work with the contribution the Lord has given him. This contribution is to encourage them to stay with the Lord with a determination of their heart. Barnabas does not keep rules for them to comply with, but binds their hearts to the Lord. He encourages them all with resolute heart to remain [true] to the Lord so that they can grow in faith.

He does this in view of the dangers that exist, of forces that are focused on loosening the believers from the Lord. This can mainly be done by bringing discord between the believers by emphasizing the differences and imposing their own vision on others.

The whole performance of Barnabas and his service to these believers is completely separate from Jerusalem. Also, the believers do not have to answer to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is no longer the center, as it is in the Old Testament and also in the beginning of Acts (cf. John 4:20-Jeremiah :).

The characteristics of Barnabas are particularly appropriate for a service among young believers. He is a good man, goodness emanates from him. It is not sugary goodness, but goodness that comes from the Holy Spirit. He is also full of faith, full of trust in the Lord. His presence will certainly have contributed to adding a considerable crowd to the Lord.

Verses 25-26

Barnabas and Saul in Antioch

When Barnabas is in Antioch, he remembers Saul. Possibly because he cannot handle the work alone, Barnabas goes looking for him. It is a church of Gentiles and he knows of the Lord’s will concerning Saul (Acts 9:15). He will also have had insight into his special qualities.

He makes an effort to visit Saul in Tarsus, in Turkey, where he grew up. A few years ago, Saul was sent there again by the brothers (Acts 9:30) to testify and to be further taught by the Lord. Earlier, Saul was sent by his parents to Jerusalem for a religious education that made him extraordinarily religious. Saul is therefore both a Hebrew and a Hellenistic person who has been deeply versed in the Scriptures and is therefore the right person for Antioch. What Barnabas does with Saul is an example of how young believers are introduced to the church by older believers and are taught to perform their task.

Barnabas does not care about taking the second place. Without selfishness, but for the good of the church, he looks for Saul, whom he brought to the church in Jerusalem about eight years earlier. A church as young as Antioch does not yet have a teacher in its midst. For the teaching of the church in Antioch, Barnabas does not call upon the apostles in Jerusalem. He does not consider himself capable to do so.

Barnabas knows his limits. He understands that consolation or admonition is not enough and that there must also be teaching. He realizes that the appropriate tool for this is Saul. So there is evangelism (Acts 11:20), admonishment or comfort (Acts 11:23) and now teaching (Acts 11:26). We see evangelists, shepherds and teachers all working without being appointed by the apostles. The Lord gives the gifts (Ephesians 4:11). In Acts 11:27 there is also prophecy. In this way the different gifts work together and complement each other.

Saul’s task is the service of teaching in the Word of God, the affirmation of the doctrine of God’s Word. This is what this young church needs, while at the same time functioning as a church. She doesn’t need education to be able to function as a church at a certain moment after sufficient education. For Saul this teaching is a preparation for his ministry through which many churches will be founded.

For the first time the whole of the believers in one place is called “the church”, whereby it is distinguished from the church in Jerusalem. It is a church that consists mainly of believers from the nations, but to which also believing Jews belong. The name “Christians” is also used here for the first time to refer to the believers. The name “Christian” for the believers appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). This name comes from ‘Christ’ which means ‘anointed one’. A Christian is a follower of the glorified Christ.

The name “Christians” is given to believers by the world around them who name them after the Man they proclaim. This happens when Christians in their lives show their connection with the Lord Jesus as Lord. This name is still used, but unfortunately it no longer only includes true believers. The world no longer knows who is a real and not a real Christian. Unfortunately the world gets a false impression of the Lord Jesus by the wrong behavior of the nominal Christians and even more unfortunately also of true Christians. This is not yet the case here.

Verses 27-30

Agabus Predicts a Famine

After Barnabas, some more prophets come to Antioch from Jerusalem. Prophets are gifts to the whole church. So they can be active in Jerusalem, but they can also come to Antioch to perform their ministry there. Jerusalem is not a center, but there is connection. This is where the prophets are mentioned for the first time in the New Testament. We read in 1 Corinthians 14 a whole chapter about their service. They pass on God’s Word from God’s presence and speak for the edification and exhortation and consolation of the church. They do not make predictions about future events, but apply the Word of God to hearts and consciences.

There is one prophet among them who, as an exception, does make a prediction, namely Agabus. We read of him that he stands up and, by the Spirit, indicates that there will be a great famine all over the world. This is not someone who claims to be a prophet. That his prophecy is real is shown by its fulfilment under Claudius, who reigned from the year 41 onwards. The famine will come over the entire empire, including them.

Although the prophecy will only be fulfilled later under another emperor, the prophecy has the consequence that the believers in Antioch can express their connectedness with the believers in Jerusalem through a support. The believers cannot stop the famine, but they can do what is necessary to alleviate it. The prophecy has an effect on the hearers and that is the purpose of every prophetic service. By taking the prophecy to heart, the believers can at the same time express their gratitude for the spiritual blessing they have received from the circumcision. After the nations have received spiritual goods through Jerusalem, they now want to serve them with their material goods (Galatians 6:6; Romans 15:23-Hosea :).

What it says here is the model for Christian giving rather than what we found in Acts 2 and 4 when it came to relationships among the Jews (Acts 2:44-Romans :; Acts 4:32-Haggai :). Giving is done according to capacity (2 Corinthians 8:12-Ezra :; 2 Corinthians 9:7). It is given from the consciousness of being one body. Prophecy encourages immediate action, even before there is evidence that it is good. It is a work of God’s Spirit in the hearts. The prophets in the days of Ezra incited to rebuild the temple before the king gave them the opportunity to do so by prohibiting resistance (Ezra 5:1-Exodus :). It is blessed to act on the basis of heavenly motives in earthly matters.

The actions of the believers in Antioch must have been a great encouragement to the believers in Jerusalem in the experience of unity. The money goes to the elders, who are mentioned here for the first time in connection with the church; how they are appointed is not mentioned. They are the responsible brothers of the church. It is their task to further distribute the money. In this way the connection is expressed in a practical way, as before in a spiritual way (Acts 11:22).

Barnabas and Saul take the gift with them. They do not feel too good about this, or think that spiritual work is more important. It is their desire to provide for every need. Here again we see that Barnabas is involved, because an assignment with money asks for trustworthy brothers. Barnabas has already shown not to value earthly possessions (Acts 4:36-Haggai :).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-11.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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