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Acts 10

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Verses 1-2

‘And there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.’

In contrast to Peter maintaining his ‘cleanness’ at the tanner’s house (which may have heightened his sensitivity about maintaining cleanness at this time) was a certain Gentile by the name of Cornelius. He was a centurion (leader over ‘a hundred’ in a Roman legion, which would consist of about sixty men) in the Italian band (cohort). Interestingly the connection of the Italian cohort with Palestine is witnessed to in an inscription dating before 69 AD. He was a devout man and a God-fearer, as were his whole household. ‘Devout’ indicates a godly person in Jewish eyes. He regularly gave charitable gifts to the synagogue for the poor, and prayed regularly to the God of Israel. He thus no doubt also observed certain laws of cleanliness. If any non-Jew or proselyte was fit to be visited by a Jew it was Cornelius. But it did not guarantee that his house was totally free from ‘uncleanness’.

Centurions were usually very solid men. Polybius declared of them, "They wish centurions not so much to be venturesome and daredevil as natural leaders, of a steady and sedate spirit. They do not desire them so much to be men who will initiate attacks and open the battle, but men who will hold their ground when worsted and hard pressed and be ready to die at their posts". They were the backbone of the army, like sergeants today. Solid, dependable, reliable, experienced, and keeping things going when they were at their toughest. (And like sergeants probably not necessarily always actually attached to a group of men).

Caesarea was the Roman provincial capital of Judaea where the procurator, when there was one, resided. It was on the sea coast not far below Mount Carmel, and while an unsatisfactory natural harbour, had been turned into an efficient artificial harbour by Herod the Great. It was thus at this time an important site. The procurators would necessarily have a bodyguard, and while we do not know of an external Roman legion being in Palestine as early as this (the procurators had the use of local auxiliaries) the presence of such a man as Cornelius cannot be ruled out. Indeed the mention of him by Luke is good historical ground for knowing that he was present. If he was familiar with Jewish customs he would be a good man for a procurator to have brought with him, and for subsequent procurators to hold on to, someone who was solid, reliable and aware of the oddities of the locals.

‘With all his house.’ This would include family members, and servants and slaves.

Verses 1-48

Peter and Cornelius (9:43-10:48).

It is difficult for us to appreciate the huge step that is now about to be described. To us it may all seem like a great fuss about nothing. But it was bringing about a total change in the way that Christian Jews would see Gentiles. It was doing nothing less than opening the Gentile world to the possibility of their becoming Christians without being circumcised and having to observe all the ritual regulations of the Jews.

For centuries the Jews had seen themselves as separated from the Gentiles by the question of religious ‘cleanness’ and ‘uncleanness’. On the whole Jews were ‘clean’ and Gentiles ‘unclean’ by virtue of the nature of their lives. This was because of the regulations that all orthodox Jews followed, some to a greater extent than others. This covered such things as washings, types of food eaten, contact with dead things, partaking of blood, contact with skin diseases, contact with those who were ‘unclean’, and so on. That is why when Gentiles sought to become Jewish proselytes, and to become ‘members of the congregation of Israel’, and so able to enter the Court of Israel in the Temple and partake in the Passover, they had to initially ritualistically bathe themselves fully in order to remove the ‘uncleanness’ of the Gentile world, and be circumcised. After that they could be treated as full Jews.

‘God-fearers’, on the other hand, were people who worshipped the God of Israel as the one God, and respected the Old Testament and the moral teaching of the Jews, but were not willing to be circumcised. Nevertheless any of these who wished to mix and eat with Jews would certainly be required to observe the basic laws of ‘cleanliness’.

These laws are in part described in Leviticus 11-14, and include the necessity of avoidance for food purposes of ‘unclean’ animals, such as pigs, conies and camels, (any which did not both ‘cleave the foot and chew vigorously’), together with the avoidance of certain types of bird and fish, and of all creeping things, and included the necessity of avoiding the eating of blood, and of killing animals in such a way as to avoid this. And especially important was the avoidance of contact with what was dead or had had contact with death.

These were good laws which to some extent prevented them from eating things that could have done them harm, but, more importantly, they originally inculcated in them a taste for what was wholesome (see our commentary on Leviticus 11:0), and ensured a wholesome environment. It should be noted that the laws themselves were originally given in order to promote positive wholesomeness of life. It was only once Israelites began to live among other peoples that they necessarily resulted in a certain level of separateness and discrimination against them. And as so often with such things certain very religious people began to take them to extremes, and as a result even began to discriminate against fellow-Jews.

But as Jesus demonstrated, it was possible to observe these laws of cleanliness without discriminating against people to such an extent as to have nothing to do with them. No Pharisee ever criticised Jesus for failing to keep high Scriptural standards of ‘cleanliness’, and yet He still moved freely among tax collectors and ‘sinners’ (Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:27-32). He lived a disciplined life.

It was in order that Gentile Christians might be able to eat with Jewish Christians that the meeting of Apostles and elders at Jerusalem would later enjoin on Gentile Christians, even at that stage, the need to avoid ‘what is strangled, and blood’ (Acts 15:20). But those were the minimum limits which it was felt must essentially be applied even after the willing acceptance of Gentiles into the body of Christ, when prejudices had to some extent been broken down. This was partly as a result of what is about to be described. Even at that stage close contact with Gentiles as a whole was seen as not possible for a Christian Jew without careful regulation.

But at this stage in the life of the church things were not even as liberal as that. The general thought during the first chapters of Acts would be that if a Gentile wished to be accepted into the ‘community of Christians’ (something which rarely came up at that stage when the preaching was to Jews), it must be by becoming a proselyte, by an initial bathing to remove attaching ‘uncleanness’, followed by circumcision, for they would be seen as becoming members of the new Israel. They would then, of course, be expected to keep the laws of cleanliness in their lives and within their residences, in other words behave as Jews did as regards the laws of uncleanness. In this way no doubt a Gentile might be allowed to become a Christian.

But the thought of wholesale acceptance of Gentiles without following these conditions would have been anathema. Gentiles were of necessity ‘unclean’, for they made no attempt to avoid ‘uncleanness’, their lifestyles and homes were ‘unclean’, especially because they ate what was ‘unclean’ and allowed what had been involved with death into their homes, they were careless about contact with dead things, they partook of blood, and all in all it was necessary to keep them at a safe distance. (While we may criticise this we do well to remember that hygiene in Jewish homes was unquestionably superior to that in most Gentile homes).

We can thus imagine what Peter’s reaction would have been (and the reaction of all Jews who heard of it) if without any warning he had been invited into the home of a Gentile centurion, even a God-fearer. God-fearers remained on the fringe of synagogue life. They believed in the one God, admired the moral laws of Israel, and observed the Sabbath. Their contributions to the synagogue were gratefully accepted, and they were welcome to participate to some extent in synagogue worship, but they were in no way looked on as Jews. In order for that to happen they had to become proselytes, which would include circumcision. So even for Peter to visit such a God-fearer in their home would have been frowned on in normal circumstances.

Of course, he had been used to meeting such people when they had joined the crowds in order to hear Jesus, and where they had been welcomed by Him, but that was a very different situation from this. While many would go away believing in Jesus and seeking to follow His teaching they did not join any form of identifiable ‘community’. He also knew that Jesus had responded to the Syro-Phoenician woman, and to the former demoniac in Decapolis, and we can compare also Jesus contact with the Greeks brought to him by Philip the Apostle in John 12:20-26. But in none of these cases had there been the suggestion of too close a personal contact or of entering into their homes or of them becoming part of a ‘community’.

To Peter had been given the keys (the method of opening the door) of the Kingly Rule of God. In Acts 2:0 he had therefore opened that door to Jews at Pentecost, and he had constantly opened that door since, as had all the Apostles, together with, among others, Stephen, Philip and Saul. Now he was to take a step further and open it to God-fearers (who would in future prove for some time to be the most fruitful people to evangelise).

It was inevitable that at some stage this challenge as to what to do with God-fearers would come up, and that fairly rapidly, so that we should not be surprised to find reference to it here. In fact we might rather be surprised that the issue had not arisen for Peter earlier. They were already to a certain extent accepted within Judaism, and the Jewish church would therefore inevitably have to consider what they were to do about them once they showed an interest in Jesus as their Messiah. Indeed how the Christians would face up to them would certainly have to be decided as soon as Christian preachers went to mixed territory, as Peter was doing here. Peter could hardly have preached in the synagogues here, in a mixed Jewish-Gentile community without the question arising, ‘can we God-fearers be baptised?’ Perhaps even as this all happened he had been challenged on the matter and was puzzling about it in his own mind. But it is certainly no surprise that he would be faced up with the question. Luke is actually not dealing here with the question as to whether any believing God-fearers had already become one with Christ. That was between them and God. He is concerned with the question of what Peter did when he was faced up with the question (as at some stage he had to be) of whether he should enter their homes, and whether they could be baptised and accepted into the community of Christians without become proselytes, together with its consequences for the future.

Verse 3

‘He saw in a vision openly, as it were about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in to him, and saying to him, “Cornelius.” ’

Cornelius was in his own home when he saw a vision. Cornelius was a common Roman name. And this man was praying at the regular time of prayer (the ninth hour), which we may presume was his custom. He was a God-fearer. At that time he saw in a vision an angel of God, who came to him and spoke with him, addressing him by name. Three in the afternoon (fifteen hundred hours) was not a time for dreaming.

‘An angel of God.’ This indicates a more direct and more physical messenger than the Spirit, which was necessary because Cornelius was not yet a man of the Spirit. The coming of an angel of God speaking a person’s name takes us right back to Luke 1:11; Luke 1:28. It is indicative in Luke of something that is to happen which is vital for the future. See also Acts 5:19; Acts 8:26; Acts 12:7, where however he is an ‘angel of the Lord’, for there it was in respect of believers.

Verses 4-6

‘And he, fastening his eyes on him, and being afraid, said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your charitable giving have gone up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter, he lodges with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side.” ’

In spite of being a centurion he was afraid (or ‘filled with awe’). Such visitations were not in his line, and he must have wondered what it might mean. He was probably not a man given to visions. And looking at the angel he said, “What is it, Lord?’ This may signify that he saw the angel as the ‘Angel of God’ described in the Old Testament who was regularly God revealing Himself in physical form, or he may have been using ‘lord’ as a title of homage and respect, although certainly with a deeper significance than ‘sir’.

The Angel then replied to him and explained that God knew about his life, and about his genuineness in praying and his charitable behaviour, and was keeping them within His mind. They were like a ‘memorial’, a pleasing odour rising to God. Cornelius was in favour with God. Therefore he must send to the house of Simon the tanner for a man called Peter, so that Simon might be fetched to him. We can compare here Acts 9:11. When men pray sincerely God meets with them.

Verses 7-8

‘And when the angel who spoke to him was departed, he called two of his household-servants, and a devout soldier of those who waited on him continually, and having rehearsed all things to them, he sent them to Joppa.’

Accordingly once the angel had departed Cornelius called two of his closest servants to him, and sent them, along with a God-fearing soldier who had been with him a long time and had accompanied him on his various assignments, to Joppa, having explained everything to them. Note again the emphasis on ‘devout’, a word which always connects the person to Judaism. This soldier too was a God-fearer. Cornelius wanted the man for whom he was sending to be treated courteously and reverently, and to be willing to respond to his request.

Verse 9

‘Now on the morrow, as they were on their journey, and drew near to the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.’

It took them a day to get to Joppa. Meanwhile in Joppa Peter went onto the rooftop of the house in order to pray at noon. The flat roofs of houses in Palestine were places of quiet, of relaxation and of prayer. From there he would have a clear view all around and many commentators consider that the vision (not dream) might have arisen because a canopy hung over him keeping out the sun, or because he was looking out at a canopy stretched out over rocks where seamen could shelter, or even because he had spotted the billowing sails of a boat. It is equally possible that he had actually recently seen something like this when a boat was being unloaded. But the description is rather to be looked on as practical. How else were a group of living creatures to be see as being lowered from heaven?

Verses 10-12

‘And he became hungry, and desired to eat. But while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and he sees the heaven opened, and a certain container descending, as it were like a great sheet, let down by four corners on the earth, in which were all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven.’

And feeling hungry he called for something to eat. This hunger may have been the result of the time he spent in prayer, and may therefore point to how long he had been praying. But while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance, and saw what would appear to him as a nightmare. He saw a great sheet being let down from heaven filled with ‘unclean’ things. This included fourfooted beasts, such as pigs, conies and camels (it was a vision), together with different kinds of birds and many creeping things (all of which, apart from locusts, would be unclean). There may have been clean animals among them (opinion is divided), but as a good Jew he must have been horrified, and would probably shudder. His heart would draw back in repulsion.

Verse 13

‘And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” ’

Then a voice spoke to him, saying, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter must have wondered what was happening, and even been appalled. How could the Lord tell him to partake of unclean animals, or even to go among that dreadful collection of creatures? It was neither religiously nor personally desirable. (Any more than going among the Gentiles might be).

Verse 14

‘But Peter said, “Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common and unclean.” ’

Peter responded firmly, and possibly a little indignantly (being Peter). ‘Never, Lord,’ he said, ‘for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ It was not something even to be considered. The laws of uncleanness were so imbedded in him that he did not even consider the fact that if God told him to eat, then he was free to do so. He was just offended that God could think him capable of breaking the laws of uncleanness. His sense of ‘uncleanness’ might well have been heightened because he was having to be extra careful when staying at a tanner’s house. Perhaps, he might have thought, God was telling him that he had not been careful enough, and that this was therefore a warning?

Verse 15

‘And a voice came to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed, do not treat as common.” ’

But immediately there came a word of rebuke. (We might even paraphrase as, ‘What God has cleansed, how dare you call common?’) What was before him had been given to him by God. Surely he would recognise that anything that God gave him would have been cleansed, and was not to be seen as ‘common’ (shorthand for ‘common and unclean’ - Acts 10:14), for it would have been sanctified by God. It was now therefore not common but holy.

This was unquestionably intended to make him think. On the one hand were years of training and regulation. On the other was the undoubted fact that if God had provided something which He had cleansed, it must be acceptable, and fit to eat and could surely not cause uncleanness. It put him in a quandary.

We should note that this is not strictly dealing with the question of the Christian attitude towards ‘unclean foods’. Peter is not said to have eaten of them, and God is not saying that He has cleansed ‘everything’ and that therefore everything can be eaten. What Peter had been called on to eat was a direct gift from God, prepared for him by God, and it was thus holy. God’s purpose was to make him realise that anything, and any man, whom He Himself is demonstrated to have cleansed, could not be looked on as unclean.

There is no suggestion here that He has cleansed all foods. Only those in the sheet were cleansed. But it is clear that the very idea behind it does weaken the argument concerning the uncleanness of certain foods. It confirms that they are not inherently unclean, for they can be made holy. Compare Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7:14-23.

This sheet full of such a variety of creatures, all of which had been ‘sanctified’ by God out of creation in spite of what they were, was an apt picture of the whole variety of people whom God would call out of the world and sanctify to Himself in the Christian church. Peter would never forget the lesson that once sanctified all are precious to God.

It would take time for Peter to appreciate the full significance of this vision. His previous understanding had been that God had redeemed Israel. Now he was being faced with the fact that God had cleansed large numbers of Gentiles through the cross whose names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20) and was ready to receive them also in the one nation which would replace Israel (Matthew 21:43) as he later enunciates in his first letter (1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:18-21; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 Peter 4:3-5)

Verse 16

‘And this was done three times, and immediately the container was received up into heaven.’

The sheet was lowered three times. It would seem probable that three times Peter refused to eat. Whatever God said he could not bring himself to break the habits of a lifetime, especially in such an odious way (Peter would know of Ezekiel 4:9-15 where Ezekiel had, on pleading with God, obtained some relief. Possibly Peter was hoping for a similar concession.). But the threefold repetition, which emphasised the importance of the message that the vision was seeking to get over, made him feel more and more uneasy. It may well also have taken his mind back to when the Lord had three time called on him to tend His sheep (John 21:15-17). But what connection had sheep with these unclean animals? (He was soon to learn). Then to his relief the sheet was taken back up into heaven, temporarily at least resolving his dilemma.

Verses 17-18

‘Now while Peter was much perplexed within himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made enquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate, and called and asked whether Simon, who was surnamed Peter, was lodging there.’

While Peter in great perplexity was wondering what the vision could mean, the men from Cornelius arrived at the entrance of the house and called out, asking for Peter, having enquired the way there. The way this is described is interesting, bringing out that this was a small trader’s residence with no porter protecting the gate. Anyone who anted to could look in to the small courtyard and call out.

They ‘stood before the gate’. It is clear that these men were taking the greatest care not to cause offence. They knew that a Gentile was not welcome in the home of a strict Jew. Thus they did not enter the building until invited.

Verses 19-20

‘And while Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. But arise, and get you down, and go with them, nothing doubting, for I have sent them.”

Peter’s mind was still on the vision and the Spirit then told him about the two servants and the soldier who were looking for him, and told him that he must go down to them, and go with them without having any doubts, because it was God Himself Who had sent them. As he probably had a conscience about having resisted God already, this more reasonable request would make it an easier command to obey. But God was not just wanting Peter to be willing to approach Gentiles. He wanted him to see that Gentiles on whom He laid His hands were thereby totally clean and wholesome and to be thoroughly welcomed. He was breaking down great prejudice. And because this was Peter, a representative of the Apostles, not only for Peter but also for the Apostles as a whole.

‘The Spirit told him.’ The Spirit could speak directly to Peter for he was a man of the Spirit.

‘Three men.’ B has ‘two men’. Aleph, A, E have ‘three men’. Some MS (e.g. D) do not mention a number. B may well be right. But in view of the description of those sent either number is possible. The soldier was an escort and not strictly one of the seeking men. Thus two men (deputed servants) were seeking Peter, along with an escort. On the other hand the three would go well as a parallel with the threefold vision. Three ‘clean’ men.

‘Nothing doubting.’ Peter is to go with them confidently and without making unnecessary difficulties, or allowing his sense of what was ‘unclean’ to affect his decision, for what is to happen has been cleansed by God. In the middle or passive voice this verb can mean either "to take issue with" or "to be at odds with oneself, to doubt, to waver, to have misgivings". As an intensified form of its active meaning it could mean "to make a distinction, to differentiate". Possibly both ideas are in mind. Religiously speaking he need not analyse the situation because God is in it. He can forget his worries and he need not consider distinctions, for when God has determined something it can no longer be treated in the ordinary way.

Verse 21

‘And Peter went down to the men, and said, “Look, I am he whom you seek. What is the reason why you are come?” ’

No doubt curious, Peter went down to them, introduced himself and asked them why they had come.

Verse 22

‘And they said, “Cornelius a centurion, a righteous man and one who fears God, and well reported of by all the nation of the Jews, was warned of God by a holy angel to send for you to his house, and to hear words from you.” ’

They informed him that Cornelius, a Roman centurion, but one who was a God-fearer and a righteous man highly respected among the Jews, had been warned by God through a holy angel to request that Peter come to his house. For God had told Cornelius that Peter would have something special to say to him.

‘One who fears God.’ Not the technical term for a God-fearer but conveying the idea and emphasising the genuineness of his state of heart. (Compare for the expression Acts 10:2; Acts 10:35; Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26; Acts 13:43; Acts 13:50; Acts 16:14; Acts 17:4; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:7).

It must be stressed that this description of Cornelius was not given in order to suggest that he deserved that God would be good to him. It was rather in order to stress to Peter that he was not dealing with someone who was against the God of Israel. They knew perfectly well the feelings of the Jews about Gentiles, and they would have no doubt that this Jewish ‘prophet’ would have similar views. They were trying to get Peter’s goodwill, not God’s (God had already shown His).

Verse 23

‘So he called them in and lodged them. And on the morrow he arose and went forth with them, and certain of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.’

So Peter, still puzzling over his vision, and thinking that the two strange events may be connected, said that he would accompany them, meanwhile offering them hospitality for the night. There was no difficulty in this except to the most strict of Jews, especially in a tanner’s house. The niceties would still be observed, along with Jewish scruples. And accordingly next day he did accompany them, taking with him a number of Jewish Christians from Joppa (six in all - Acts 11:12 - making with himself the perfect number seven and hopefully sufficient if the three men intended mischief to combat it).

The taking of six fellow-Christians may have been because he felt that their support in prayer might be helpful, or because he was a little apprehensive about going to see a Roman centurion alone in case he was arrested and disappeared without trace. (If a Roman centurion from the provincial capital called for you to go and see him it was usually a good idea to do so, but it could also carry unpleasant consequences). Or he may have felt that they might be known to the centurion, or at least be looked on as ‘locals’, and might thus make the visit easier. After all Cornelius was supposed to be known to the Jews of the area. Or he may already have in mind that he might need witnesses to combat any false rumours. The witness of seven men would be indisputable. He had no doubt learned from past experience that witnesses could be valuable when something controversial was happening. Indeed he may have had a mixture of such reasons.

Verse 24

‘And on the morrow they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his kinsmen and his near friends.’

Arriving in Caesarea after a days journey they found Cornelius waiting for them having gathered together a crowd made up of his kinsmen and near friends. Cornelius was a man of faith, and was confident that if God was in it the man would come.

Verse 25

‘And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.’

When Peter entered the courtyard of the house Cornelius came forward and paid homage to him, falling at his feet, thinking of his visitor as a prophet, and possibly more. We note again that it was left to Peter to decide whether he would enter the building. The greeting went beyond courteous greeting and yet was not quite worship. But such a greeting from a centurion certainly indicated that he saw Peter as beyond the ordinary.

Verse 26

‘But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up. I myself also am a man.” ’

But Peter would have none of it. He did not want the man to look to him. ‘Stand up,’ he basically said. ‘I am only a man like you are. You must not give me honour to which I am not due.’ It is always a tendency of man to hero-worship, and even go beyond that (and an equal tendency of man to accept it). But Scripture constantly warns against such attitudes (see Exodus 20:3-5; Deuteronomy 5:7-9; Luke 4:8; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8-9).

Verse 27

‘And as he talked with him, he went in, and finds many come together,’

Then he talked further with Cornelius and went up to the upper chamber with him, where he found a number of guests gathered. Normally a Jew would wait outside in such a situation, and the Gentile would come out to him, thus preventing the Jew from being defiled by something in the Gentile’s house of which the Gentile would be totally unaware. Or in the circumstances of an ‘official request’ that he visit, a request that would be difficult sometimes to refuse, he might reluctantly enter knowing that he had no choice but to do so, aware, however, that he would later have to go through whatever cleansing ritual proved necessary. But he would not enter voluntarily. However, the vision that he had had, probably made Peter more willing than usual to enter. Those who were with him lived constantly among Gentiles and were probably a little less particular anyway, and they may well have considered that as he had been summoned by a Centurion he had little choice. There are some people that you do not argue with.

‘Many come together.’ Luke continues to emphasise how the word is going out to ‘many’. The intricacy of the story must not hide from us the fact that this is a further example of the spreading and multiplying of the word.

Verses 28-29

‘And he said to them, “You yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man who is a Jew to join himself or come in to one of another nation, and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. That is the reason also that I came without saying anything against it, when I was sent for. I ask, therefore, with what intention you sent for me.”

Peter then explains why he has behaved in such an unusual manner. They will know that he is a Jew, and they will know that as a Jew he could not be expected to mix socially with non-Jews, nor enter a Gentile house. He is very much aware that they must be wondering why he has done so. He does not want them to think that he is careless about his own religious sensitivities or the religious sensitivities of the Jews. The requirements here, of course, went beyond the actual Law, and refer rather to what had become the custom, partly due to Pharisaic interpretation. But they were requirements that resulted from an urgent desire not to be religiously contaminated.

Indeed, he points out, the reason that he has done so is because God had shown him that he must not call any man common or unclean whom God has cleansed. That is why he has come without making any excuses, and without demurring at the thought of entering a Gentile house. God had told him to come, and he has therefore assumed that God has ensured that the house is ‘clean’ (just as He had cleansed the unclean animals).

Peter is not saying that he will never again make such distinctions. This is a particular case. Later he will have to be rebuked by Paul for allowing such distinctions to interfere with his fellowship with Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:11-13). The question continued to be like a nettle to Jewish Christians.

Having made his position clear, both to Cornelius and to the Jewish Christians he had brought with him, who must also have been a little perturbed, he then asks why he has been sent for.

‘Another nation.’ Often a contemptuous expression on the lips of a Jew, but here possibly more neutral. Peter is in fact demonstrating that God does not think like that.

Verses 30-32

‘And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, until this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and says, “Cornelius, your prayer is heard, and your charitable giving is had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call to you Simon, who is surnamed Peter. He lodges in the house of Simon a tanner, by the sea side.”

Cornelius them explained his side of the story, how a man in bright clothing had appeared to him, and had told him that God had heard his prayers as he had sought for Him, and that God had seen the godliness and devoutness of his life, and that he was therefore to send to the house of Simon the Tanner for a man called Simon Peter.

This is the first indication that we have had that the angel was clothed in ‘bright clothing’. That explains why Cornelius had known that he was the Angel of God. Nevertheless here in front of his friends he tones the description down of the angel down to ‘a man in bright clothing’. He is a little self-conscious about what his friends might think.

Now, however, we recognise why he had seen in Peter a great prophet to whom homage should be paid. He recognised that he must clearly be greater than the Angel who was but a messenger.

Note the repetition of what had happened. It is being emphasised what a devout man Cornelius is, and that he was pleasing to God, and was the equivalent of a pleasing odour to Him (memorial). Peter and his companions are also being made aware that all this is of God, and is because of God’s command, just as He had commanded concerning the unclean creatures.

Verse 33

“At once therefore I sent to you, and you have done well that you are come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded you of the Lord.”

He then explained that he had immediately done what the man had said, and that Peter had done well to come. He understood the predicament that Peter had been in but can assure him that he has nothing to fear in that regard. His house is clean. Now therefore he and his friends and kinsmen were gathered in order to hear what Peter has to tell them from God, so that they might hear from him all that the Lord has commanded him.

We must now consider these words in their context. Peter had spent three years and more evangelising under the auspices of Jesus while He was on earth. He had since then proclaimed the Good News for some years before Jews, and had received great response. But he had probably never before walked into a room like this packed with so ‘many’ people who were just waiting, every one, to be converted. There was no opposition. There were no doubters. And yet these were Gentiles. But they were hungry to know God and their hearts were filled with desire for Him. Here was a picture of the waiting people ‘to the uttermost part of the earth’ who were awaiting the Good News. How humbled Peter must have felt, and how moved, as with his new view of things he looked at these longing faces. He must have said to himself, “Why is it that I never realised.” He would never forget this moment.

Verse 34

‘And Peter opened his mouth and said,’

The words that follow express his great dawning wonder at the new realisation that has come to him.

Verses 34-35

“Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he who fears him, and works righteousness, is acceptable to him.”

His words are spoken in awe. He is almost speaking to himself as he looks at the people before him. How is it that he never knew? How could he not have realised that God is no respecter of persons, that Jew and Gentile are both alike to Him? That all people, of every nation, who fear God and work righteousness are acceptable to Him? Note the order. First they fear God (awe inspired faith), and then they work righteousness (they obey His laws). We are reminded here of Paul’s words, ‘for not the hearers of the law are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be accounted righteous. For when Gentiles who have no law, do by nature the things of the law, these having no law, are providing a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness with it, and their reasonings one with another accusing or else excusing them, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my Good News, by Jesus Christ’ (Romans 2:13-16). These would all be men and women who had first become aware of God, and had then feared Him, with the result that they had known the force of His law within their minds and wills, and had thus from heart and conscience responded to Him to do His will. He had worked in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (compare Philippians 2:13). They were genuine people who had experienced the working of God’s power resulting in their being righteous. And they were found among the despised Gentiles.

‘Respecter of persons.’ Compare Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19; Romans 2:11; Romans 10:12).

Verses 34-48

Peter’s Speech To Cornelius And His Household and Friends (10:34-48).

Verse 36

“The word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ - He is Lord of all! ”

Peter’s words follow the usual general pattern, although adapted to the circumstances. The Greek reflects the Aramaic background of the speaker, and its clumsiness may also reflect a speaker who was more at home in Aramaic, which Peter would be.

To summarise his message. God had sent ‘the word’ to Israel proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, Who is Lord of all. And it concerned the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, His defeat of Satan, His death and resurrection and the fact that He was ordained to be the Judge of the living and the dead. Indeed it is according to Scripture, for all the prophets have declared that through him all who believe will receive forgiveness of their sins.

We must analyse the verse in more depth:

· It concerns ‘the word’ (ton logon). It is through the word proclaimed that His truth goes out and saves. Acts is full of the power of the word of the Lord and its effectiveness. It is through ‘the word’ that salvation is going out to mankind (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 4:29; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:2; Acts 6:4; Acts 6:7; Acts 8:4; Acts 8:14; Acts 8:25; Acts 10:44, Acts 11:1; Acts 11:19; Acts 12:24; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:7; Acts 13:26; Acts 13:44; Acts 13:46; Acts 13:48-49; Acts 14:3; Acts 14:25; Acts 15:7; Acts 15:35-36; Acts 16:6; Acts 16:32; Acts 17:11; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:11; Acts 19:10; Acts 19:20; Acts 20:32 compare 1 Corinthians 1:18).

· This is a word which he sent to the children of Israel (Psalms 107:20) for ‘salvation is of the Jews’, because it was to them that God has first revealed Himself (John 4:22). This connection was important because it stressed that the new message was not some new novelty. It was based fully on the truth of the Old Testament, and on the word that had come to the people of Israel. It was the fulfilment of all that they of old had looked forward to. Even though it was in the end not only for them but also for the world (John 4:23).

· It concerns the proclaiming of the Good News of peace by Jesus Christ (Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15) because he is Lord of all (Matthew 28:18). The proclamation of peace reflects both peace in men’s hearts (Luke 2:29; John 14:27; John 16:33; Romans 8:6; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15); peace between men, and especially between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-15; Rom 12:18 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Hebrews 12:14; Matthew 5:9, where it relates to the Kingly Rule of God); and peace between man and God (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:16-17; Colossians 1:20; Luke 2:14; Luke 7:50; Luke 8:48). It is all embracing peace in heaven and earth which brings all together in Christ.

The title ‘Lord of all’ (pantown kurios) may possibly have been borrowed over from paganism, where it is found with a philosophical connection, indicating Lordship over the cosmos, but in Galatians 4:1 it (kurios pantown) appears simply to be a standard expression indicating someone in overall authority and control, and the idea in context may be to emphasise that Peter now sees Him as Lord of both Jew and Gentile. It seems that ‘Lord of all’ was a natural expression for someone in overall sovereignty, and therefore for the sovereignty of God, and of Christ, but that here it indicates especially Lord over all people. We may indeed imagine that as Peter looked at these Gentiles before him, whom not long before he would have had little time for, he saw also the sheet coming down from heaven. And he say all the different animals and all the creeping things, all that God had declared that he had cleansed, and he looked again at the Gentiles, and then he said ‘He is Lord of all’. Compare also ‘the Lord of all the earth’ (Joshua 3:7; Joshua 3:13; Zechariah 6:5); panto-krator, the ‘Almighty’, He Who has power over all things (2 Corinthians 6:18), ‘Lord of heaven and earth’ which is equivalent to ‘Lord of all things’ (Acts 17:24; Luke 10:21; Matthew 11:25), ‘the Lord of glory’ (1 Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1), ‘Lord of lords’ (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16).

Verses 37-38

“That saying you yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed of the devil. For God was with him.”

He now outlines in detail the life and ministry of Jesus. Even here in Caesarea they must have heard of Jesus Christ and His ministry, the report of which was spread throughout all Judaea, but as they may not know the detail he spells it out. It began in Galilee, after the baptism which John had preached; in Galilee of the nations, because Jesus had come for all.

It was about Jesus of Nazareth (in Galilee), one who was true man Who existed in the flesh as a human being in a Galilean town, but One Whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, so that in Him God walked on earth. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, because God was with Him. Thus Peter emphasises that God was present with Him, God’s Holy Spirit and power had anointed Him, and He had revealed His power and authority over the Devil. And on top of this He went about doing good and healing the sick. He was all goodness and power.

The ‘anointing with the Holy Spirit’ linked Jesus with the great prophetic figure in Isaiah 61:1-2. This Jesus Himself had already done in Luke 4:14-30. He was ‘the prophet’ come from God (compare Acts 7:37). It demonstrated a man, and even more than a man, on whom God had set His hand and His seal.

‘Who went about doing good.’ Jesus revealed His kingship by ‘doing good’ (euergeton). In this regard we should remember that Hellenistic kings held a related royal title, euergetes, doer of good. Jesus was here as King over the Kingly Rule of God, as ‘the Doer of good’.

‘Healing all who were oppressed of the Devil.’ That is, He combated the power of evil and rendered him helpless. None were more aware of the power of evil spirits and ‘demons’ than the Gentiles. But here was One Who was stronger than they, and stronger than Satan himself (Luke 11:22).

Verse 39

“Whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree.”

As regularly, following the description of Jesus’ life he describes His death. Here he places emphasis on the fact that He ‘hung on a tree’. To be hung on a tree was the sign of a criminal, of one who was under a curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). They would have heard of the crucifixion of Jesus. Well let them recognise that it was because He was made a curse for us that He hung there (Galatians 3:13).

Verses 40-41

“Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made openly known, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

‘Him God raised up the third day.’ Compare 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. The fact that God raised Him within three days revealed that God did not see Him as deserving of death. Rather it demonstrated that He was God’s favoured One, God’s Messiah, and that His death must therefore have been for us. Having been raised within three days death had never mastered Him.

So as in his previous speeches he again stresses the resurrection, and again points to those who are witnesses, thus making a twofold emphasis on witnesses (compare Acts 10:39). He points out that God made the Risen Jesus ‘openly known’ to witnesses chosen beforehand in such a way that His resurrection could not be doubted, because He ate and drank with them after rising from the dead. He had not left any doubt on the matter. And Peter had been one of them.

Verse 42

“ And he charged us to preach to the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead.”

Having risen He had then given a charge to His Apostles to preach to the people, testifying that God had ordained Jesus as Judge of the living and the dead, and was thus establishing His Heavenly Kingship and His Kingly Rule.

So, although containing here a little more detail about His life because of the type of audience, the usual pattern of Peter’s speeches is repeated; life of Jesus, death of Jesus, resurrection of Jesus, exaltation of Jesus; prophetic backing.

‘Preach to the people.’ Some would see this as referring to the people of Israel, but Acts 10:43 expands this to mean ‘all who believe’. There is no real reason why this cannot signify the Apostolic responsibility to proclaim the Good News to all people in the whole creation (Luke 22:47; Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19), especially in view of Peter’s recent vision.

“The Judge of the living and the dead.” We can compare here Acts 17:31; Genesis 18:25; Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 42:4; John 5:22; John 5:27. Here His rule and authority has clearly been established over earth and heaven (compare Matthew 28:18), for those who judged were those who ruled.

Verse 43

“To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one who believes on him shall receive remission of sins.”

The whole is then confirmed by a reference to the prophets, who are God’s witnesses, and who themselves promised that through His Name whoever would believe on Him should receive remission of sins. This completes the threefold witness (see Acts 10:39; Acts 10:41).

Forgiveness of sins is continually central to God’s whole plan of redemption (Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 13:38; Acts 26:18; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 15:28; Isaiah 33:24; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:11-12 (compare Luke 22:37); Jeremiah 31:34; Daniel 9:9; Daniel 9:24; compare Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:44-47).

Verse 44

‘While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word.’

We do not know whether Peter would then have appealed for them to respond for, before he could do so, the Holy Spirit fell ‘on those who heard the word’. As he proclaimed that, “through his name every one who believes on him shall receive remission of sins”, the hearts of the Gentiles responded as one, and the Holy Spirit fell on them. The experience was powerful and immediate. ‘On those who heard his words’ probably means the whole receptive company, not just the particular ones whose hearts responded, because in this company all were responsive. And this was made apparent in that they ‘spoke with tongues’ and ‘magnified God’. This parallels ‘spoke with tongues and prophesied’ in Acts 19:6. That being so the magnifying of God would seem to have been in prophecy. This is confirmed by the fact that words spoken in an unknown tongue would not have had any specific meaning to those who heard them.

But these miraculous gifts stressed that these Gentiles were being received by God in the same way as the first believers had been. It is true that no mention is made here of whether the tongues were understood. But they may well have been, for this would probably be a multinational gathering, and other tongues which were understood by the hearers, as at Pentecost, would have sealed to watchers and recipients alike that God was welcoming people of all races on equal terms. When a phenomenon has been previously mentioned, and then it is again mentioned much more briefly in a similar context, we have a right to assume that it is similar in most respects to the first unless we are told otherwise. Ecstatic tongues coming from Gentiles might rather have put these Jews who heard them off and made them apprehensive. They would know of such ecstatic utterances in demon worship. But if these tongues were similar to those at Pentecost, and understood by some present, they would therefore be comforting. Whatever 1 Corinthians 12-14 speaks of comes much later and, as there they are clearly unknown tongues they do not necessarily relate to these occurrences in Acts, although they may.

Verses 45-46

‘And they of the circumcision who were believers were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.’

We do well to pause as we consider this verse. Those who had come with Peter may have been expecting a number of things, and a number of them may have been reluctant to come, but what none of them had expected was that God would give His Holy Unique Spirit to Gentiles. Why, it made them as holy as the Jewish Christians. They had become indwelt by the Lord in the same way, and that even while they were uncircumcised. Note the stress on ‘those of the circumcision.’ That was clearly considered important here, and stresses that the others were uncircumcised. The ‘circumcised’ consisted of those who had accompanied Peter, and included Peter himself). They were also ‘believers’, but they were amazed that God should bless these Gentiles in the same way as He had blessed them, even though the Gentiles were uncircumcised. They really had no choice but to accept that God was treating them on an equal basis with the Jewish Christians.

Verses 46-47

Peter recognised this immediately, and seizing the moment asked ‘the circumcised’ whether they could think of any reason why these uncircumcised Gentiles should not be baptised when they had received the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way as they had. The answer could only be that they could think of no reason. But the significance of the reply and what followed was stupendous. It indicated that men could be baptised who were not circumcised in the flesh. No longer was circumcision required in order to become one of the people of God and enter Christ’s new ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16:18). All that was necessary was the circumcision of the heart (see Acts 7:51; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 9:26), and to be circumcised in Christ by forgiveness (Colossians 2:13).

Verse 48

‘Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.’

The Gentiles then begged him to stay with them for many days that he may teach them more concerning their new faith. And as always when Scripture leaves us standing in the air we may assume that he did.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 10". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/acts-10.html. 2013.
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