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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Acts 11

Verse 1

In Judea (κατα την Ιουδαιαν). Throughout Judea (probably all Palestine), distributive use of κατα. The news from Casearea spread like wildfire among the Jewish Christians. The case of the Samaritans was different, for they were half Jews, though disliked. But here were real Romans even if with Jewish affinities.

Had received (εδεξαντο). First aorist middle indicative. The English idiom requires "had" received, the Greek has simply "received."

Verse 2

They that were of the circumcision (ο εκ περιτομης). Literally, those of circumcision (on the side of circumcision, of the circumcision party). The phrase in Acts 10:46 is confined to the six brethren with Peter in Caesarea (Acts 11:12). That can hardly be the meaning here for it would mean that they were the ones who brought the charge against Peter though Hort takes this view. All the disciples in Jerusalem were Jews so that it can hardly mean the whole body. In Galatians 2:12 the phrase has the narrower sense of the Judaizing or Pharisaic wing of the disciples (Acts 15:5) who made circumcision necessary for all Gentile converts. Probably here by anticipation Luke so describes the beginning of that great controversy. The objectors probably did not know of Peter's vision at Joppa, but only of the revolutionary conduct of Peter in Caesarea. These extremists who spoke probably had abundant sympathy in their protest. The apostles are mentioned in verse Acts 11:1, but are not referred to in verse Acts 11:2. Apparently they are in contrast with the circumcision party in the church.

Contended (διεκρινοντο). Imperfect middle of the common verb διακρινω, to

separate . Here to separate oneself apart (δια), to take sides against, to make a cleavage (δια, two, in two) as in Jude 1:9. So Peter is at once put on the defensive as the contention went on. It is plain that Peter was not regarded as any kind of pope or overlord.

Verse 3

Thou wentest in (εισηλθες). Direct form, but Westcott and Hort have it εισηλθεν (he went in), indirect form. So with συνεφαγες (didst eat) and συνεφαγεν (did eat). The direct is more vivid.

Men uncircumcised (ανδρας ακροβυστιαν εχοντας). "Men having uncircumcision." It is a contemptuous expression. They did not object to Peter's preaching to the Gentiles, but to his going into the house of Cornelius and eating with them, violating his supposed obligations as a Jew (Hackett). It was the same complaint in principle that the Pharisees had made against Jesus when he ate with publicans and sinners (Luke 15:12). The Jews had not merely the Mosaic regulations about clean and unclean food, but also the fact that at a Gentile table some of the meat may have been an idol sacrifice. And Peter himself had similar scruples when the vision came to him at Joppa and when he entered the house of Cornelius in Caesarea Acts 10:28). Peter had been led beyond the circumcision party.

Verse 4

Began (αρξαμενος). Not pleonastic here, but graphically showing how Peter began at the beginning and gave the full story of God's dealings with him in Joppa and Caesarea.

Expounded (εξετιθετο). Imperfect middle of εκτιθημ, to set forth, old verb, but in the N.T. only in Acts (Acts 7:21; Acts 11:4; Acts 18:26; Acts 28:23), a deliberate and detailed narrative "in order" (καθεξης). Old word for in succession. In the N.T. only in Luke 1:2; Luke 8:1; Acts 3:24; Acts 11:14; Acts 18:23. Luke evidently considered this defence of Peter important and he preserves the marks of authenticity. It came originally from Peter himself (verses Acts 11:5; Acts 11:6; Acts 11:15; Acts 11:16). "The case of Cornelius was a test case of primary importance" (Page), "the first great difficulty of the early Church." Part of the story Luke gives three times (Acts 10:3-44.10.6; Acts 10:30-44.10.32; Acts 11:13). See the discussion chapter 10 for details given here.

Verse 5

Let down (καθιεμενην). Here agreeing with the "sheet" (οθονην, feminine), not with "vessel" (σκευος, neuter) as in Acts 10:11.

Even unto me (αχρ εμου). Vivid detail added here by Peter.

Verse 6

When I had fastened my eyes (ατενισας). This personal touch Peter adds from his own experience. See on Luke 4:20; Acts 3:4; Acts 3:12 for this striking verb ατενιζω, to stretch the eyes towards, first aorist active participle here.

I considered (κατανοεω). Imperfect active of κατανεοω to put the mind down on, to ponder, I was pondering.

And saw (κα ειδον). Second aorist active indicative, saw in a flash.

Verse 7

A voice saying (φωνης λεγουσης). Genitive case after ηκουσα (cf. Acts 9:7 and accusative Acts 9:4 which see for discussion). Participle λεγουσης (present active of λεγω) agreeing with φωνης, a kind of indirect discourse use of the participle.

Verse 8

Came into my mouth (εισηλθεν εις το στομα μου). Instead of εφαγον (I ate) in Acts 10:14. Different phrase for the same idea.

Verse 10

Was drawn up (ανεσπασθη). Instead of ανελημπθη (was taken up) in Acts 10:16. First aorist passive indicative of ανασπαω, old verb, but in N.T. only in Luke 14:5 and here.

Verse 12

Making no distinction (μηδεν διακριναντα). So Westcott and Hort (first aorist active participle) instead of μηδεν διακρινομενον "nothing doubting" (present middle participle) like Acts 10:20. The difference in voice shows the distinction in meaning.

We entered into the man's house (εισηλθομεν εις τον οικον του ανδρος). Peter confesses it, but shows that the other six went in also. He avoids mention of Cornelius's name and office.

Verse 13

Standing and saying (σταθεντα κα ειποντα). More precisely, "stand and say" (punctiliar act, first aorist passive and second aorist active participles).

Fetch Simon (μεταπεμψα Σιμωνα). First aorist middle imperative. Third time mentioned (Acts 10:5; Acts 10:22; Acts 11:13). Perhaps Peter is anxious to make it plain that he did not go of his own initiative into the house of Cornelius. He went under God's direct orders.

Verse 14

Whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house (εν οις σωθηση συ κα πας ο οικος σου). Future passive indicative of σωζω, to save. Clearly Cornelius was unsaved in spite of his interest in Jewish worship. Clearly also the household of Cornelius would likewise be won to Christ by the words of Simon Peter. This is household conversion before the household baptism (Acts 10:48; Acts 11:17).

Verse 15

As I began to speak (εν τω αρξασθα με λαλειν). Εν with the locative of the articular aorist infinitive αρξασθα (punctiliar action simply) and the accusative of general reference. The second infinitive λαλειν (to speak) is dependent on αρξασθα, "In the beginning to speak as to me."

Even as on us at the beginning (ωσπερ κα εφ' ημας εν αρχη). Peter recalls vividly the events at Pentecost, the speaking with tongues and all. It is noteworthy that Peter does not here repeat his sermon. "He rests his defence, not on what he said, but on what God did" (Furneaux).

Verse 16

I remembered (εμνησθην). First aorist passive indicative of the common verb μιμνησκω, to remind. Peter recalls the very words of Jesus as reported in Acts 1:5. Peter now understands this saying of Jesus as he had not done before. That is a common experience with us all as new experiences of grace open richer veins in God's truth (John 12:16). Peter clearly sees that the water baptism is merely the symbol or picture of the spiritual baptism in the heart.

Verse 17

The like gift (την ισην δωρεαν). The equal gift, equal in quality, rank, or measure. Common word.

When we believed (πιστευσασιν). First aorist active participle of πιστευω in the dative case. It agrees both with ημιν (unto us) and with αυτοις (unto them), "having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ." Both classes (Gentiles and Jews) trusted in Christ, and both received the Holy Spirit.

Who was I (εγω τις ημην). Note order, "I, who was I." "That I could withstand God " (δυνατος κωλυσα τον θεον). Literally, "able to withstand or hinder God." It is a rhetorical question, really two questions. Who was I ? Was I able to hinder God? Peter's statement of the facts made an unanswerable defence. And yet Peter (Galatians 2:11) will later in Antioch play the coward before emissaries from Jerusalem on this very point of eating with Gentile Christians.

Verse 18

Held their peace (ησυχασαν). Ingressive aorist active indicative of ησυχαζω, old verb to be quiet, to keep quiet. The wrangling (verse Acts 11:2) ceased. The critics even "glorified God" (εδοξασαν, ingressive aorist again).

Then to the Gentiles also (Αρα κα τοις εθνεσιν). Εργο as in Luke 11:20; Luke 11:48 and like αρα ουν in Romans 5:18. In ancient Greek inferential αρα cannot come at the beginning of a clause as here. It was reluctant acquiescence in the undoubted fact that God had "granted repentance unto life" to these Gentiles in Caesarea, but the circumcision party undoubtedly looked on it as an exceptional case and not to be regarded as a precedent to follow with other Gentiles. Peter will see in this incident (Acts 15:8) the same principle for which Paul contends at the Jerusalem Conference. Furneaux suggests that this conduct of Peter in Caesarea, though grudgingly acquiesced in after his skilful defence, decreased his influence in Jerusalem where he had been leader and helped open the way for the leadership of James the Lord's brother.

Verse 19

They therefore that were scattered abroad (ο μεν ουν διασπαρεντες). Precisely the same words used in Acts 8:4 about those scattered by Saul (which see) and a direct reference to it is made by the next words, "upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen" (απο της θλιψεως της γενομενης επ Στεφανω). As a result of (απο), in the case of (επ) Stephen. From that event Luke followed Saul through his conversion and back to Jerusalem and to Tarsus. Then he showed the activity of Peter outside of Jerusalem as a result of the cessation of the persecution from the conversion of Saul with the Gentile Pentecost in Caesarea and the outcome in Jerusalem. Now Luke starts over again from the same persecution by Saul and runs a new line of events up to Antioch parallel to the other, probably partly following.

Except to Jews only (ε μη μονον Ιουδαιοις). Clearly these disciples did not know anything about the events in Caesarea and at first their flight preceded that time. But it was a wonderful episode, the eager and loyal preaching of the fleeing disciples. The culmination in Antioch was probably after the report of Peter about Caesarea. This Antioch by the Orontes was founded 300 B.C. by Seleucus Nicator and was one of five cities so named by the Seleucides. It became the metropolis of Syria though the Arabs held Damascus first. Antioch ranked next to Rome and Alexandria in size, wealth, power, and vice. There were many Jews in the cosmopolitan population of half a million. It was destined to supplant Jerusalem as the centre of Christian activity.

Verse 20

Spake (ελαλουν). Inchoative imperfect active, began to speak. For them it was an experiment.

Unto the Greeks also (κα προς τους Hελληνας). This is undoubtedly the correct reading in spite of Hellenists (Hελληνιστας) or Grecian Jews in B E H L P. Hελληνας is read by A and D and a corrector of Aleph. The presence of "also" or "even" (κα) in Aleph A B makes no sense unless "Greeks" is correct. Hellenists or Grecian Jews as Christians were common enough as is seen in Acts 11:2; Acts 11:6. Saul also had preached to the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29). Hellenists were merely one kind of Jews in contrast with those who spoke Aramaic (Acts 11:6). It is true that the case of Cornelius was first in importance, but it is not clear that it was before the work in Antioch. Probably the report of the work among the Greeks in Antioch reached Jerusalem after Peter's defence in Acts 11:1-44.11.18. That explains the calm tone about it and also why Barnabas and not Peter was sent to investigate. Peter and John (Acts 11:8) had condoned Philip's work in Samaria and Peter was the agent in the work among the Romans in Caesarea. His position was now well-known and his services discounted for this new crisis. These Greeks in Antioch were apparently in part pure heathen and not "God-fearers" like Cornelius. A man of wisdom was called for. These preachers were themselves Hellenists (verse Acts 11:19) and open to the lessons from their environment without a vision such as Peter had at Joppa. "It was a departure of startling boldness" (Furneaux) by laymen outside of the circle of official leaders.

Verse 21

The hand of the Lord was with them (ην χειρ κυριου μετ' αυτων). This O.T. phrase (Exodus 9:3; Isaiah 59:1) is used by Luke (Luke 1:66; Acts 4:28; Acts 4:30; Acts 13:11). It was proof of God's approval of their course in preaching the Lord Jesus to Greeks.

Turned unto the Lord (επεστρεψεν επ τον κυριον). First aorist active indicative of επιστρεφω, common verb to turn. The usual expression for Gentiles turning to the true God (Acts 14:15; Acts 15:3; Acts 15:19; Acts 26:18; Acts 26:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Here "Lord" refers to "the Lord Jesus" as in verse Acts 11:20, though "the hand of the Lord" is the hand of Jehovah, clearly showing that the early disciples put Jesus on a par with Jehovah. His deity was not a late development read back into the early history.

Verse 22

Came to the ears (ηκουσθη εις τα ωτα). First aorist passive indicative of ακουω, was heard in the ears.

Of the church which was in Jerusalem (της εκκλησιας της εν Ιερουσαλημ). Not yet was the term "church" applied to the group of disciples in Antioch as it is in Acts 11:26; Acts 13:1.

They sent forth (εξαπεστειλαν). First aorist active indicative of the double compound verb εξ απο στελλω, to send out and away. The choice of Barnabas was eminently wise. He already had a position of leadership in Jerusalem because of his generosity (Acts 4:36) and his championship of Saul after his conversion (Acts 9:27). He was originally from Cyprus and probably had personal friends among some of the leaders in this new movement. He was to investigate the work of the travelling preachers (verse Acts 11:19) all the way to Antioch (εως Αντιοχειας).

Verse 23

The grace of God, was glad (την χαριν την του θεου εχαρη). Note repetition of the article, "the grace that of God." The verb (second aorist passive indicative of χαιρω) has the same root as χαρις. See the same suavis paronomasia in Luke 1:28. "Grace brings gladness" (Page). "A smaller man would have raised difficulties as to circumcision or baptism" (Furneaux).

He exhorted (παρεκαλε). Imperfect active, picturing the continuous encouragement from Barnabas.

With purpose of heart (τη προθεσε της καρδιας). Placing before (from προ τιθημ), old word for set plan as in Acts 27:13; Romans 8:28. The glow of the first enthusiasm might pass as often happens after a revival. Barnabas had a special gift (Acts 4:36) for work like this.

Cleave unto the Lord (προσμενειν [εν] τω κυριω). Dative case (locative if εν is genuine) of κυριος (here Jesus again) after προσεμενειν to keep on remaining loyal to (present active infinitive). Persistence was needed in such a pagan city.

Verse 24

For (οτ). Because. This is the explanation of the conduct of Barnabas. The facts were opposed to the natural prejudices of a Jew like Barnabas, but he rose above such racial narrowness. He was a really good man (αγαθος). See Romans 5:7 for distinction between αγαθος and δικαιος, righteous, where αγαθος ranks higher than δικαιος. Besides, Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit (like Peter) and of faith and so willing to follow the leading of God's Spirit and take some risks. This is a noble tribute paid by Luke. One wonders if Barnabas was still living when he wrote this. Certainly he was not prejudiced against Barnabas though he will follow the fortunes of Paul after the separation (Acts 15:36; Acts 15:41).

Was added unto the Lord (προσετεθη τω κυριω). First aorist passive indicative of προστιθημ, common verb to add to. These people were added to the Lord Jesus before they were added to the church. If that were always true, what a difference it would make in our churches.

Verse 25

To seek for Saul (αναζητησα Σαυλον). First aorist (effective) active infinitive of purpose. Αναζητεω is a common verb since Plato, but in the N.T. only here and Luke 2:44; Luke 2:45, to seek up and down (ανα), back and forth, to hunt up, to make a thorough search till success comes. It is plain from Galatians 1:21 that Saul had not been idle in Cilicia. Tarsus was not very far from Antioch. Barnabas probably knew that Saul was a vessel of choice (Acts 9:15) by Christ for the work among the Gentiles. He knew, of course, of Saul's work with the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29) and echoes of his work in Cilicia and Syria had probably come to him. So to Tarsus he goes when he saw the need for help. "He had none of the littleness which cannot bear the presence of a possible rival" (Furneaux). Barnabas knew his own limitations and knew where the man of destiny for this crisis was, the man who already had the seal of God upon him. The hour and the man met when Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch. The door was open and the man was ready, far more ready than when Jesus called him on the road to Damascus. The years in Cilicia and Syria were not wasted for they had not been idle. If we only knew the facts, it is probable that Saul also had been preaching to Hellenes as well as to Hellenists. Jesus had definitely called him to work among the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). In his own way he had come to the same place that Peter reached in Caesarea and that Barnabas now holds in Antioch. God always has a man prepared for a great emergency in the kingdom. The call of Barnabas was simply the repetition of the call of Christ. So Saul came.

Verse 26

Even for a whole year (κα ενιαυτον ολον). Accusative of extent of time, probably the year A.D. 44, the year preceding the visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30), the year of the famine. The preceding years with Tarsus as headquarters covered A.D. 37 (39) to 44.

They were gathered together with the church (συναχθηνα εν τη εκκλησια). First aorist passive infinitive of συναγω, old verb, probably here to meet together as in Matthew 28:12. In Acts 14:27 the verb is used of gathering together the church, but here εν τη εκκλησια excludes that idea. Barnabas met together "in the church" (note first use of the word for the disciples at Antioch). This peculiar phrase accents the leadership and co-operation of Barnabas and Saul in teaching (διδαξα, first aorist active infinitive) much people. Both infinitives are in the nominative case, the subject of εγενετο (it came to pass).

And that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (χρηματισα τε πρωτως εν Αντιοχεια τους μαθητας Χριστιανους). This first active infinitive χρηματισα is also a subject of εγενετο and is added as a separate item by the use of τε rather than κα. For the word itself in the sense of divine command see on Matthew 2:12; Matthew 2:22; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22. Here and in Romans 7:3 it means to be called or named (assuming a name from one's business, χρημα, from χραομα, to use or to do business). Polybius uses it in this sense as here. Τους μαθητας (the disciples) is in the accusative of general reference with the infinitive. Χριστιανους (Christians) is simply predicate accusative. This word is made after the pattern of Hεροδιανυς (Matthew 22:16, Hερωιδιανο, followers of Herod), Χαεσαριανυς, a follower of Caesar (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 377, gives papyri examples of the genitive Καισαρος meaning also "belonging to Caesar" like the common adjective Χαεσαριανυς). It is made thus like a Latin adjective, though it is a Greek word, and it refers to the Hebrew belief in a Messiah (Page). The name was evidently given to the followers of Christ by the Gentiles to distinguish them from the Jews since they were Greeks, not Grecian Jews. The Jews would not call them Christians because of their own use of Χριστος the Messiah. The Jews termed them Galileans or Nazarenes. The followers of Christ called themselves disciples (learners), believers, brethren, saints, those of the Way. The three uses of Christian in the N.T. are from the heathen standpoint (here), Acts 26:28 (a term of contempt in the mouth of Agrippa), and 1 Peter 4:16 (persecution from the Roman government). It is a clear distinction from both Jews and Gentiles and it is not strange that it came into use first here in Antioch when the large Greek church gave occasion for it. Later Ignatius was bishop in Antioch and was given to the lions in Rome, and John Chrysostom preached here his wonderful sermons.

Verse 27

Prophets (προφητα). Christian prophets these were (cf. Acts 13:1) who came from Jerusalem (the headquarters, Acts 8:15). Judas and Silas are called prophets (Acts 14:4; Acts 15:32). They were not just fore-tellers, but forth-tellers. The prophet had inspiration and was superior to the speaker with tongues (1 Corinthians 14:3). John was a prophet (Luke 7:26). We need prophets in the ministry today.

Verse 28

Signified (εσημαινεν). Imperfect active in Westcott and Hort, but aorist active εσημανεν in the margin. The verb is an old one from σημα (σημειον) a sign (cf. the symbolic sign in Acts 21:11). Here Agabus (also in Acts 21:10) does predict a famine through the Holy Spirit.

Should be (μελλειν εσεσθα). Μελλω occurs either with the present infinitive (Acts 16:27), the aorist infinitive (Acts 12:6), or the future as here and Acts 24:15; Acts 27:10.

Over all the world (εφ' ολην την οικουμενην). Over all the inhabited earth (γην, understood). Probably a common hyperbole for the Roman empire as in Luke 2:1. Josephus (Ant. VIII. 13, 4) appears to restrict it to Palestine.

In the days of Claudius (επ Κλαυδιου). He was Roman Emperor A.D. 41-44. The Roman writers (Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Tacitus) all tell of dearths (assiduae sterilitates) during the brief reign of Claudius who was preceded by Caligula and followed by Nero.

Verse 29

Every man according to his ability (καθως ευπορειτο τις). Imperfect middle of ευπορεω, to be well off (from ευπορος), old verb, but here alone in the N.T., "as any one was well off." The sentence is a bit tangled in the Greek from Luke's rush of ideas. Literally, "Of the disciples, as any one was able (or well off), they determined (ωρισαν, marked off the horizon) each of them to send relief (εις διακονιαν, for ministry) to the brethren who dwelt in Judaea." The worst of the famine came A.D. 45. The warning by Agabus stirred the brethren in Antioch to send the collection on ahead.

Verse 30

Sending (αποστειλαντες). First aorist active participle of αποστελλω, coincident action with εποιησαν (did).

To the elders (προς τους πρεσβυτερους). The first use of that term for the Christian preachers. In Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28 "elders" and "bishops" are used interchangeably as in Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7. The term probably arose gradually and holds a position in the church similar to the same term in the synagogue. The apostles were apparently absent from Jerusalem at this time and they were no longer concerned with serving tables. In Acts 21:18 Paul presented the later collection also to the elders. Since Peter and James (till his death) were in Jerusalem during the persecution in chapter 12 it is probable that the visit of Barnabas and Saul to Jerusalem came really after that persecution for Peter left Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). The elders here mentioned may include the preachers in Judea also outside of Jerusalem (Acts 26:20).

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Acts 11". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/acts-11.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.