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Cæsarea and Cornelius, 1, 2.
Acts 10:1. There was a certain man. In the Authorised Version there is no equivalent to the little particle δὶ but this little particle is not without its importance. It serves to connect what we read here with what we read in the latter part of the preceding chapter. The work and miracles of Peter at Lydda and elsewhere were the preparation for what is now about to be recounted. His residence at Joppa was locally the starting-point for the momentous mission presently to be undertaken. All this sacred history, both in its outward circumstances and in the apostle’s personal experience, is arranged on a providential plan.
It is not easy, nor is it necessary, to fix the precise relations as to time between the preaching and acceptance of Christianity among the Gentiles at Antioch, the account of which meets us in the tatter part of the eleventh chapter, and that great story of the conversion of Cornelius, which is the subject of the tenth and the earlier part of the eleventh. The exact chronological order of these events is not of essential moment. When a great providential change is about to occur, premonitory indications may be expected; and if the change is one that affects all mankind, such symptoms may be looked for simultaneously in various places. Reuss gives precedence, in point of time, to the events which occurred at Antioch: and certainly the first Gentile Church was there; the name ‘Christian’ came into existence there; and Antioch became the Jerusalem of Gentile Christianity. But this priority in time cannot be proved. More will be said on this subject when we come to that part of the history. Meantime it is an undoubted fact that CÆSAREA is set before us as the scene of the bright beginning of that revelation of the ‘mystery of the reception of the Gentiles on equal terms with the Jews, in which St. Paul afterwards so much gloried (Ephesians 3:3-6; Colossians 1:26-27), and our attention is pointedly fixed upon Cornelius as the first typical example of Gentile Christendom. We are brought at this part of the history to an event so remarkable, that we must lay emphatic stress both upon the man and the place. They harmonize with and are correlative to one another. Cæsarea is the appointed and proper frame for the portrait of Cornelius.
In Cæsarea. Some notice of this place has been already given on the occasion of the first mention of it (Acts 8:40; see also Acts 9:30), where Philip the Evangelist is described as arriving there from Azotus, after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. But the importance of Cæsarea in connection with Cornelius is so great that the following circumstances may be added. This city is very conspicuous in the Acts of the Apostles. For instance, not to refer again to what has preceded, St. Paul closed at this place his second and his third missionary journeys (Acts 18:22, Acts 21:8). To this place he was sent, after the uproar at Jerusalem, that he might be safe, and that he might appear before the governor (Acts 23:23); and from this port he sailed on his voyage to Italy (Acts 27:1). This prominence of Cæsarea in the Acts of the Apostles could not be otherwise, if the history is a true one. It was a city of the utmost importance at this time, partly in connection with the Roman road along the coast, but still more because of its harbour, by which it communicated with all the West. This harbour is said by Josephus to have rivalled that of the Piraeus. Its great breakwater may be compared with that of Cherbourg in our own day. Tacitus says that Cæsarea was ‘the head of Judæa.’ Moreover it was specially a Gentile city. The Jews were relatively less numerous there than in any other part of Palestine. It was a Pagan metropolis in the Holy Land. Above all things it is to be noted that, when Palestine was a Roman province, the governor resided here. Felix and Festus after this date, and, no doubt, Pontius Pilate previously, had their official palace at Cæsarea. Here, too, were the chief quarters of the soldiers, who kept this land in subjection, whether under Herodian kings or under Roman governors. Tholuck (Die Glaub-würdigkeit der Evangelischen Geschichte, p. 174) remarks on the presence of the ‘Italian cohort’ at this place as an indication of the natural truthfulness of the history. And the same remark might be made concerning the presence of the ‘Augustat cohort’ in this place (Acts 27:1; see note on that passage). In its very name, as in the character of its buildings, Cæsarea was a reflection of imperial Rome. Thus this city was an expression of the relation of Palestine to the empire, and of the condition of things under which the Gospel was propagated. We should not fail to notice this particular form of the connection between the Holy Land and the Heathen world at large. It was a Gentile capital of Judæa with which we have to do in the Acts of the Apostles. There was something providential, if we may say so, in the fact that Jerusalem never became the Roman capital, but always retained its Hebrew character.
Galled Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band. In these two verses we have information as to what he was (1) nationally and officially, and (2) in personal character; and we naturally wish to know all we can about the man who occupies so remarkable a place in the sacred history of the world.
His was a true Roman name, and a very distinguished one. No gens was better known in the Roman annals than the Cornelian. The name of Cornelius probably points to the fact that he was a true-born Italian.
As to his position in life, he was a centurion a military officer holding a responsible position. It is worth while to remark here, in passing, on the honourable character of all the centurions who come specially before us in the New Testament two in the Gospels, and two in the Acts. The close connection of the history of the founding of Christianity with military subjects is remarkable and instructive. We have here, in the case of Cornelius, an anticipation of the intimate association of St. Paul with the Roman army. It does not follow from this that war is a good thing. Rather we ought to say that it is a bad thing overruled for good, and made subservient to missionary purposes. In illustration of St. Paul’s frequent use of military metaphors, derived from this connection, see especially Ephesians 6:11-18 .
The cohort to which Cornelius belonged was the Italic cohort. The phrase τῆς καλουμενης may denote a popular appellation of this body of troops (see Acts 27:14). However this may be, the title seems to indicate a cohort of true-born Italians. Wherever other cohorts quartered in Cæsarea or in other parts of Palestine may have been recruited, this was recruited in Italy. The Latin character of the corps is strongly marked; and this is in harmony with all the circumstances of the case. Gloag and Alexander compare the position of this cohort in Judæa with that of a British regiment in India, as distinguished from Sepoy or native troops. Gloag suggests that it may have been ‘the body-guard of the Roman governor,’ and valuable to him as ‘formed of troops on whom he could depend in disputes with the natives.’ But here this useful commentator is in error. Judæa was not at this time a province under a Roman governor, such as Pilate, or Felix, or Festus, but a Kingdom under Herod Agrippa I. (see Acts 12:1, and especially Acts 12:19). This fact has some bearing on the question whether the Italic cohort was a detached body of troops, or a part of a legion. The former is more likely. The relation of the Roman army to petty dependent sovereigns under the empire is full of interest, and derives some illustration from what we read concerning the soldiers of Herod Antipas in Luke 23:11. It is highly probable that the corps under consideration was identical with a cohort of Italian volunteers in Syria, which is mentioned in an ancient inscription adduced by Akerman Numismatic Illustrations of the New Testament, p. 33, an unpretending treatise which ought not to be overlooked in any commentary on this book of the Bible).
Acts 10:2. A devont man, etc. We enter here upon the description of the personal character of Cornelius; and the particulars contained even in this verse are copious and impressive. It is useful to enumerate them separately: (1) He was a ‘devout’ or religious man. The word ( ευ ̓ σεβη ̀ ς ) used here has reference simply to personal character, and is different from the other word ( φοβου ́ μενος ) similarly translated elsewhere (as in Acts 17:4), and denoting a proselyte to Judaism. (2) The character of the religion of Cornelius is yet more precisely described by the statement that he was one ‘that feared God.’ This phrase, ‘God-fearing,’ as used in Scripture, is full of meaning. It denotes that all the concerns of life and duty are referred to God. As employed here of Cornelius, it implies that he had given up the polytheism in which he had been brought up. (3) ‘With all his house.’ This exhibits his religion in a wider scope, and gives us a still higher view of his character. His piety was not merely personal, but domestic. His house was regulated on religious principles. And this, as we shall see, is in harmony with what we read below. (4) He ‘gave alms.’ His religious faith exhibited proof of its reality by practical sympathy, charity, and self-denial. (5) He gave ‘much alms.’ The help he bestowed on the poor was not scanty, but liberal and large. This additional touch in the portrait should by no means be overlooked. (6) These alms were given to the people, i.e. to the Jewish people. This is a very expressive feature in the portrait. He treated the Jews around him, not with scorn, but with kindness. This charity to them meant more than if it had been shown to compatriots and persons having the same early religious associations with himself in an Italian city. Mr. Humphry says very well here: ‘His almsgiving was the more remarkable, as being contrary to the practice of Roman officers, who generally plundered the provincials to the utmost.’ This particular co-ordinates Cornelius with that centurion in the Gospel history whose servant was healed by Christ (see Luke 7:5). (7) This centurion at Cæsarea was a man of prayer. Here we see in him the very heart of the reality of religion. (8) Not only so, but he was persevering in prayer: he prayed ‘continually’ ( δια παντος ) . Prayer with him was not a mare impulse, but a habit; and this has always been the characteristic of the saints. As to the meaning of the adverb employed here, Dr. Adam Clarke says of Cornelius: ‘He was ever in the spirit of prayer, and often in the act.’
Further illustrations of the character of Cornelius will come to view as we proceed. But meanwhile it demands our observation that a man so eminently good should be placed at the head of all Gentile Christianity. This was, as the same commentator says, ‘a proper person to be the connecting link between the two peoples.’ The choice of such a man for such a place in history leads us to recognise the wisdom and goodness of God. And this remark may be added, that the facts before us are in harmony with other facts in the early Gospel history. Just as the apostles were men of high character, so it is here. St. John and (probably) St. Peter were earnest disciples of John the Baptist. St. Paul had always been marked by a strong zeal for religion, and for a strictly moral life. So the great representative Gentile convert was a man of the highest character. Salvation is indeed available for the worst sinners, and the worst sinners may become great saints; but in the choice of the conspicuous members of the earliest Church, no special honour is put upon reclaimed profligates.
Vision of Cornelius at Caesarea Messengers sent to St. Peter at Joppa, 3-8.
Acts 10:3. He saw in a vision evidently. The language seems carefully chosen so as to assert the certainty and absolute distinctness of the vision. This was not a dream or a trance. What Cornelius saw was addressed to his waking senses. His own language afterwards (Acts 10:30) is that ‘a man stood before him and spoke;’ and Peter, at a later period still (Acts 11:13), remembering the account given to him by Cornelius, told the apostles and elders that he ‘saw an angel standing and speaking to him.’ It should be noted, too, that in each of these passages, where the event is subsequently related, the words ‘in the house’ occur.
About the ninth hour of the day. This is the first place where the question necessarily arises, whether Cornelius was at this time a proselyte to Judaism or not. The ninth hour ( i.e. three in the afternoon) was one of the stated Jewish hours of prayer. It was at this time of the day, specially named as an hour of prayer, that we have seen Peter and John going to the Temple (Acts 3:1). Other hours of prayer were the third (Acts 2:15) and the sixth (Acts 10:9). Moreover, though nothing is said about prayer in the verse before us, Cornelius distinctly says afterwards (Acts 10:30) that he was at that time (and he names the hour) engaged in prayer. Thus it is evident that Cornelius, besides having formed the habit of prayer, had adopted some of the customary Jewish regulations affecting prayer. The whole tone of the narrative, however, and its place in the history convey the impression that Cornelius was by no means a proselyte in the sense of having been circumcised. There were various degrees of approximation to strict Judaism among those Gentiles who, at the period of the Roman Empire, were in contact with the Jews; and Cornelius seems simply to have been drawn into sympathy with the religion of the Hebrews on its moral and spiritual side. Thus it is correct to say (and it is an important way of stating the matter) that he was ‘the first Pagan baptized by an apostle.’
An angel. This fact would weigh forcibly with’ the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, when these occurrences were brought before them. Thus Peter in his apologetic account (Acts 11:13) lays stress upon it. The messengers (Acts 10:22) use the phrase ‘holy angel.’ The description given by Cornelius himself (Acts 10:30) is, that what he saw was ‘a man in bright clothing,’ which is strictly in analogy with the account of angels in the Gospels (John 20:12; see Acts 1:10).
Coming in. This is part of the description which helps to give definiteness and certainty to the vision (see below, ‘when the angel departed,’ Acts 10:7). Cornelius distinctly saw his heavenly visitant come and go.
Saying unto him, Cornelius. This addressing of the person by name is, again, according to the analogy of the visions recorded in the Bible, as in the cases of Samuel in the Old Testament, and St. Paul at his conversion. A distinct appeal was made at Cæsarea to the hearing, as well as the seeing, of Cornelius. Stier says: ‘This was the answer to his entreaties; it was as if the holy messenger had said to him in the name of the Lord, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.’
Acts 10:4. Looking on him and becoming afraid. The first of the phrases used here is exactly that which Peter uses (Acts 11:6) to describe his own earnest attention to what appeared to him at Joppa. There is no part of the description of Peter’s trance corresponding with what we read here of the ‘fear’ of Cornelius.
For a memorial before God. In what sense are we to understand that the prayers and alms of Cornelius became a μνημο ́ συνον in the presence of God? Some answer to this question is given by Acts 10:31, where the equivalent expression is ‘are remembered ( ε ̓ μνη ́ σθησαν ) in the presence of God.’ He was now manifestly to be ‘remembered.’ It was no longer to appear as if he was forgotten. Perhaps he had prayed long. He had shown his faith by his prayers; and further proof had been given by his charity. And now all this was to be openly recollected and rewarded: a record had been entered in heaven, so that an answer should come in due season. The language is similar to that which is used by the LXX. in reference to the burnt-offering in Leviticus 2:2. The ‘prayers and alms’ of Cornelius expressed what a Hebrew sacrifice expressed; and they were registered in heaven accordingly (see Hebrews 13:16). They were proofs that grace was really working in the heart of Cornelius; and they were in due time acknowledged.
Acts 10:5. Send men to Joppa. The exact mention of the place is very emphatic: and it recurs again both in the account given by Cornelius to Peter (Acts 10:32), and in the apologetic statement made by Peter before the apostles and elders (Acts 11:13). We should notice, too, with what definite force Joppa is incidentally named in Acts 10:8; Acts 10:23, and Acts 11:5. This is all part of the explicit assertion of the facts of the story as literally true. For the connection with the preceding part of the history, see note on Acts 10:1.
Simon, who is surnamed Peter. It is very observable that this exact phrase in its completeness is found four times in this narrative (see Acts 10:18; Acts 10:32, and Acts 11:13). The messengers use it when they came from Cæsarea to Joppa and speak to Peter himself: Cornelius adduces it in his account of the reasons which led him to send to Joppa; and Peter brings it forward again, when he justifies his own conduct before the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. We are, of course, reminded of the Lord’s own emphatic naming of Simon by a new name (John 1:42; Matthew 16:18). This reiteration in the Acts of the Apostles is an expressive link between that book and the history contained in the Gospels; and it points our thoughts to the fulfilment or part of the fulfilment of our Lord’s prophecy regarding Peter. But we can see another reason for this reiteration and precision. The exact designation of the man who was to bring the Gospel to Cornelius is an essential part of the transaction. The Divine direction is perceptible in every act and every word recorded. Reuss states this matter very well, when he says: ‘Cen’est pas seulement un avis qui l’adresse à l’apôtre, mais surtout une instruction donnée à l’apôtre lui-même, pour que celui-ci comprenne et accepte la mission spéciale qu’il reçoit.’ As to the supernatural character of the communication he adds: ‘Il n’en fallait pas moins pour engager Pierre dans cette voie nouvelle . . . . .Une révélation subsidiaire était indispensable pour le convaincre qu’un païen pouvait recevoir le baptême, chose qu’il ignorait encore et que ses collègues ont de la peine à croire’ (Acts 11:1, etc.) ( Histoire Apostolique, p. 122).
The exact designation of Peter should be carefully noted, also, from another point of view. Cornelius was to be brought to the knowledge of Christ by the instrumentality of a man, not directly by the angel who appeared to him. This is in harmony with God’s usual method of working in spiritual things. Moreover, he is to be brought to this knowledge by an apostle. This was not a commonplace instance of conversion. Philip the Evangelist was very probably then at Cæsarea (Acts 8:40, see Acts 21:8); but this would not suffice. Reuss remarks that the baptism of Cornelius by an apostle would be likely to make a stir and noise throughout Palestine. The apostle, too, was to be Peter, one of the most Judaic Dean Alford has a good note here on the imminent risk of party, which was thus averted. See also Dean Vaughan’s Church of the First Days. All parts of the Divine scheme are seen to hang closely together at this crisis. De Pressensé points out how important it was that the most active and influential apostle should be gained. The occurrences in Samaria (Acts 8:14-17) had by no means yet removed all his prejudices.
Acts 10:6. With one Simon a tanner. This, again, is part of the minute exactitude conspicuous throughout the narrative. Even this is repeated by Cornelius (Acts 10:32) when he relates his experience to St. Peter (see Acts 9:43 and Acts 10:17).
Whose house is by the sea-side. Here is the first intimation of the position of Simon’s house. This circumstance is not stated in Acts 9:43. Its reiteration by Cornelius (Acts 10:32), when he makes his own statement, is another proof of the definite nature of his vision. Thus the phrase is seen to have a true importance in the narrative. As to the position of Simon’s house, this might have some reference to the convenience of the trade exercised by Simon. Moreover, he may have been forced to live there, because of some ceremonial uncleanness connected in the Jewish mind with the exercise of that trade. It is a direction of the Mischna that dead bodies, sepulchres, and tanyards are ‘to be at least fifty cubits from the city.’ Thus the very position of Peter’s lodging may have had something to do with the preparation of his mind for the startling duty that lay before him. At all events, his temporary home at Joppa was not a place of any distinction and honour; and this, too, is significant.
He shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. These words ought to be absent. The authority of the MSS. is decisive on this point. Probably they crept into the text from a reminiscence of Acts 9:6, under the feeling that there are strong resemblances, in some respects, between the records of the conversions of Cornelius and St. Paul. It is clear, however, from Acts 11:14, that some words to this effect were spoken by the angel to Cornelius (see the notes on these verses).
Acts 10:7. When the angel was departed (see note above on Acts 10:3). The phrase used by Cornelius himself (Acts 10:33), when he tells his story to St. Peter, is, ‘Immediately therefore I sent unto thee.’ There is something of military promptitude in this (comp. Matthew 8:9; Acts 23:23; Acts 27:32). The arrangements for the journey were speedily made, and the travellers started that very afternoon.
Two of his household servants. The domestic character of the piety of Cornelius seems to show itself here from a new point of view.
A devout soldier of them that waited on him continually. This man is described as like his master or commander in religious character, and therefore peculiarly well fitted for the service now assigned to him. Although not affirmed, it seems to be implied that the other two messengers were like-minded; so that we have here the interesting case of a whole Gentile household brought, by intercourse with Jews and by the grace of God, to the very threshold of the true religion’ (Alexander).
Acts 10:8. When he had declared all things unto them. This would include ‘the vision, the Divine command, and the expected revelation.’ It might be asked why Cornelius did not send a letter to Peter, as Claudius Lysias did to Felix (Acts 23:25). It has been suggested that Cornelius probably could not write, but it is more to the purpose to remember that he had not been in any official or personal relations with Peter, that, in fact, he knew only his name and his temporary residence. His best course was to tell the whole story to messengers thoroughly trustworthy and like-minded with himself, and to leave them to discharge their errand according to their judgment. How they actually did perform this duty we see below (Acts 10:22). The manner of communication of Cornelius with the messengers exemplifies the confidence which subsisted between him and those who surrounded him in daily life, and thus affords a further illustration of his character.
St. Peter’s Trance at Joppa, 9-16.
Acts 10:9. On the morrow. The distance from Cæsarea to Joppa is thirty-five miles along the coast-road due south. The messengers started late in the afternoon. Hence they would naturally arrive about the middle of the next day. If they travelled by night, this was quite according to the custom of the country (see Luke 11:5-6).
As they drew nigh unto the city. It was ‘about the sixth hour.’ It is evidently intended that we should notice carefully the coincidence of time (see below, Acts 10:17, and Acts 11:11). No narrative could be written with clearer indications of providential guidance and of a Divine plan.
To the house-top to pray. It is equally important that we should notice the coincidence of prayer. It was in the exercise of prayer that Cornelius saw the heavenly visitant who told him to send for Peter; it was in the exercise of prayer that Peter was visited by the trance. It was through the meeting of these two silent streams of secret prayer that the conversion of Cornelius and its consequent blessing to all the world took place.
There is no better commentary on this aspect of the question than the familiar lines in the Chris-Han Year (Monday in Easter Week):
‘The course of prayer who knows?
It springs in silence where it will;
But streams shall meet it by and by
From thousand sympathetic hearts.
Unheard by all but angel ears.
The good Cornelius knelt alone.
The saint beside the ocean prayed,
The soldier in his chosen bower.
To each unknown his brother’s prayer.
Yet brethren true in dearest love
The word ( δῶμα ) used here for the flat roof at the top of the house, is often so employed by later Greek writers. As to the choice of this place by St. Peter, every one acquainted with the flat roof of eastern houses knows how well adapted it is for prayer and meditation. For Biblical illustrations, see Deuteronomy 22:8; 2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5; Luke 5:19.
Acts 10:10. And he became very hungry. The vision presented to him in the trance was adapted to the physical condition in which he was at the moment.
Would have eaten. The Greek word is γευ ́ σασθαι , and it is worth while to observe that the words in modern Greek for breakfast and for the midday meal are πρόγευμα and γεῡμα .
In St. Peter’s apologetic statement at Jerusalem (Acts 11:5) he says nothing of the hour of the day, of the house-top, or of the preparation for his meal. These were circumstantial details, which were of no special moment then. His business then was to state the manner of these Divine revelations to him, which he did minutely. These circumstantial details, however, are of high importance in the direct narrative. They add to its life and reality, and they constitute part of the process through which Peter was brought to his new state of mind. It is to be observed, on the other hand, that St. Peter did very expressly state at Jerusalem that he was engaged in prayer when he fell into the trance. To the ‘apostles and elders’ this would be an argument of the utmost force. For, with all their prejudices, they knew that prayer was the appointed path towards Divine enlightenment, and the appointed help for the discharge of duty.
He fell into a trance. Literally, ‘an ecstasy ( ἔκστασις ) came upon him.’ The true reading is ἐγένετο , not ἐπίπεσεν . His own words at Jerusalem are, ‘In an ecstasy I saw a vision.’ This preternatural state of mind in which Peter saw the allegorical vision is to be contrasted with the full retention of his natural faculties with which Cornelius saw the angel (see note above on Acts 10:3). Chrysostom says of Peter’s trance or rapture that ‘the soul, so to speak, was withdrawn from the body’ (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-3).
Acts 10:11. Saw heaven opened. The verb in the original denotes that he gazed upon the opened heaven, and carefully surveyed it. Peter’s own phrase afterwards (Acts 11:6) is that he ‘fastened his eyes’ on what he saw, and ‘considered.’ In his trance he was conscious of an exercise of close attention, and he remembered it.
Descending unto him. In the Greek there is, according to the best MSS., nothing corresponding with the phrase ‘unto him.’ But this point is very emphatically expressed in St. Peter’s own vivid account afterwards (Acts 11:5), ‘It came even to me.’ The impression conveyed is that the great sheet not only floated from heaven, but gradually approached St. Peter, so as to invite his close examination.
Knit at the four corners. The more literal translation would be, ‘fastened to the ends of four cords,’ the upper part of the cords being lost in the heavens. This must have been the view of the meaning of the word ἀρχαῑς entertained by one of the old Greek commentators, who fancifully interprets it as denoting the four gospels. If the word meant ‘corners,’ we should expect the article ταῑς .
Acts 10:12. All manner of beasts. It is useless to speculate on the way in which the impression of the appearance of ‘all’ animals was conveyed. Calvin, quoted by Gloag, says very justly: ‘We must not measure this seeing according to the manner of men, because the trance gave Peter other eyes.’
Wild beasts. This part of the sentence ought to be absent in the verse before us; and it is an obvious remark that such creatures were to be included among the quadrupeds and reptiles. The phrase, however, does occur in the more vivid and detailed account given by St. Peter himself in Acts 11:6 (see the note there).
We must conceive of those animals which were ceremonially unclean as being more peculiarly conspicuous in the vision. Stier suggests that ‘probably the unclean beasts presented themselves first at the edge of the sheet.’
Acts 10:13. Rise, Peter. He may have been reposing, or he may have been on his knees in prayer. The voice addresses him by name, as in the cases of Moses (Exodus 3:4), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10), Cornelius (Acts 10:3), and St. Paul (Acts 9:4).
Kill and eat. In Acts 11:7, in the Authorised Version, we have ‘slay and eat,’ but in the Greek original the words are the same.
Acts 10:14. Not so, Lord. This expostulation, so to speak, addressed by St. Peter to the Deity, is quite according to the analogy of Divine visions recorded in Scripture (comp. especially St. Paul’s expostulation in the Temple (Acts 22:19), when he is required to quit Jerusalem).
I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. St. Peter’s own phrase, in the account of the transaction, given afterwards at Jerusalem, is, ‘Nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.’ St. Peter had always lived as a conscientious and scrupulous Jew. The command was a contradiction to the whole previous tenor of his lite. No greater shock to this Hebrew apostle can be imagined than to be told to assuage his hunger by eating swine’s flesh or foul reptiles. It is recorded in the Second Book of Maccabees ( 2Ma 6:18 , 2Ma 7:1 ) that Hebrews submitted to death that they might escape such an indignity. And this distinction between clean and unclean beasts was correlative with, and representative of, the Jewish distinction between the Hebrew nation and all other nations. The two prejudices (if this term may be applied to what rested, in a great degree, on Divine appointment) might be expected to collapse together. At present, indeed, Peter was in a state of utter wonder and perplexity. A word, however, had been spoken to him, which, in the progress of subsequent instruction, was to become a revelation.
Acts 10:15. A second time. The mention of this fact is a pointed part of his statement at Jerusalem (Acts 11:9), and he adds there that this second voice came ‘from heaven.’
What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. The peremptory command now becomes the emphatic statement of a principle. This is a Dew step in the instruction which St. Peter was receiving, a further preparation for that which was to follow. It is incumbent on us to observe that there is a distinct reference here to a Divine ordinance. It is God (hat made all things pure. Hence we are not to regard them as impure. We are at once reminded here of certain words recorded in the Gospel history, when Christ Himself said that ‘that which entereth into a man’s mouth cannot defile him.’ But it is very important to observe that in that passage, as given by St. Mark (Mark 7:19), the sense is, ‘ this Christ said, pronouncing all meats clean’ the correct reading being καθαρίζων , not καθαρι ́ ζον . This is noted by Dean Burgon ( Last Twelve Verses of St. Mark, p. 179), who says of this part of the sentence, ‘It does really seem to be no part of the Divine discourse, but the Evangelist’s inspired comment on the Saviour’s words.’ The Lord Jesus did actually, by this discourse of His, make all things pure. And it is further noted that the apostle to whom these words were spoken at Joppa (and the use of καθαρίζω is identical in the two cases) was the apostle who directed St. Mark in the composition of his Gospel. Can we doubt that those words which he had heard from his Saviour’s lips flashed into St. Peter’s memory, when at Joppa he heard that command from heaven, or at least that the recollection of them came when he reflected on what he had heard? This thought is forcibly put before us by Canon Farrar ( Life and Work of St. Paul, vol. i. p. 276), who has dealt with the matter more fully in the Expositor for 1876. As to the fact of the reading in St. Mark, see a note by Dr. Field in his edition of Chrysostom’s Homilies on St. Matthew, iii. 112. It is further to be observed that in St. Matthew’s account of the Saviour’s discourse, we are told that it was Peter who afterwards ‘in the house ‘asked the meaning of what the Lord had said.
Acts 10:16. This was done thrice. Evidently to fix all this occurrence in Peter’s memory, and to convince him that that which he had seen was no mere dream or fancy of his own, but a really Divine communication. Moreover, there was a sacred emphasis in the number three, as we see from various parts of Scripture. By ‘this’ we must understand all the particulars of the vision, including what Peter heard and said, as well as what he saw. See Acts 11:10, where he lays stress on this threefold repetition, adding at the close that ‘all’ ( ἅπαντα ) were taken up into heaven.
Arrival and Reception of the Messengers at Joppa, 17-23.
Acts 10:17. While Peter doubted in himself. Again we should give close attention to the coincidence of time. It is manifestly intended that we are to see here the marks of a providential pre-arrangement. The messengers who had been ‘drawing nigh to the city’ when the apostle’s trance began (Acts 10:9) were now actually at the gate, having inquired their way to the house, where Peter, at the close of the vision, was in anxious perplexity concerning its meaning.
Before the gate. This was the outside door or gate which led, according to the fashion of eastern dwellings in all ages, into the inner court of the house (see Acts 12:13-14).
Acts 10:18. Called and asked. More literally, ‘having called out’ so as to attract the attention of some one in the house, ‘they were asking.’
Simon, which was surnamed Peter. See note above on Acts 10:5.
Acts 10:19. While Peter thought on the vision. This gives renewed emphasis to what is said in Acts 10:17. This phrase is stronger. He was silently pondering on the vision and revolving it in his mind. In the former case the historian had simply named the fact of the arrival of the messengers coincidently with the waking of Peter from the vision and the beginning of his perplexity. Of their arrival, or indeed of their existence, he himself knew nothing at present. But he is now to be informed by a special revelation of their coming. How great an impression the coincidence actually made on his mind, when he did know of their coming at this moment, we see from what he said at Jerusalem afterwards (Acts 11:11). It is enough simply to quote the words: ‘And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Cæsarea unto me.
As to Peter’s state of mind at this moment, he could not doubt that what he had seen was intended for some Divine instruction. That the distinction of animals was now on the highest authority abolished, may have been made clear to him. The remembrance of his Lord’s words in connection with men may dimly have suggested something further. It should be observed that, whereas the first voice from heaven directed him to eat, the second spoke generally of a great principle. The vision had been linked on at the beginning to his own sense of hunger. Now at its close it is to be linked on to new outward circumstances. This connection is to be established in the most emphatic and commanding way. But he is to be assured and led on step by step. Only gradually is he brought from doubt to certainty. He does not know all till he reaches the house of Cornelius.
The Spirit said unto him. Thus it is that he is first informed of the arrival of the three men. This is a cardinal point in the narrative. We should note here, with the utmost care, that direct agency of the Holy Spirit which is made so prominent in the Acts of the Apostles. So truly is this a characteristic of the book, that it has been termed ‘the Gospel of the Holy Ghost.’ And what is conspicuous throughout, is pre-eminently a feature of this part of the sacred history, with which we are now occupied. See Acts 10:45 and Acts 11:15. It is incumbent on us to mark what stress St. Peter himself lays on the direct interposition of the Holy Spirit at this point, and how emphatically he records it at Jerusalem (Acts 11:12), though in other respects he condenses the story. For instance, the κατάβηθι of Acts 10:20 does not appear in his own narrative. His having been on the housetop was an accident as to the religious meaning of the event. But the admonition of the Holy Spirit was vital.
Behold, three men seek thee. Here is his first intimation of the outward circumstances which are to be connected with his vision. This is the next step in his instruction; and it is given in the simplest and most rudimentary form. Who the men were, and whence they came, and on what errand, he is to learn afterwards.
Acts 10:20. Get thee down. He descended, doubtless, by an external stair, which would bring him at once to the outer gate, at which the messengers were standing. Sec on Acts 10:17.
Go with them. He knows not whither. But an intimation is given of some journey to be undertaken. This is similar to the general method of other Divine communications recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. See Acts 20:22-23, Acts 27:26.
I have sent them. A further point is here reached, of the highest doctrinal importance. In the outward literal sense, Cornelius had sent the messengers. If we go a step farther back in the narrative, we might say that the angel had sent them. But here we are brought to the primary active will which set all these occurrences in motion. In other words, we have before us here the truth of the personality of the Holy Spirit. Compare analogous instances in this book, when St. Paul is to be sent out on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:2), and when his course is first directed to missionary work in Europe (Acts 16:6-7).
Acts 10:21. Then Peter went down to the men, See note on the last verse. This coming down the outside stair, and suddenly standing face to face with the strangers, with whom he was presently to make such intimate acquaintance, is one of the most vivid passages of the narrative.
Which were sent to him from Cornelius. These words are absent from the best manuscripts. They are either a gloss suggested by Acts 11:11, ‘Sent from Cæsarea unto me,’ or they are introduced to make more complete a section set apart for public reading. The introduction of the words here, however, disturbs the true sequence of the narrative. At this time St. Peter knew nothing of Cornelius or of what had happened at Cæsarea.
Behold, I am he whom ye seek. This directness is like what we read elsewhere of St. Peter. Coram quem quaeritis adsum. But it is worth while at this point to turn in thought from him to the messengers. They must have been much startled by this sudden address. They saw in a moment the man whom they were seeking: they perceived that some supernatural communication had been made to him; and renewed strength must have been given instantaneously to their conviction that they were engaged in no common transaction.
What is the cause wherefore ye are come? He was entirely ignorant as yet of the details of their errand: and these he was to learn, not supernaturally, but by the usual methods of information. The two things which he had learnt supernaturally were, first, the general preparatory and as yet obscure lesson of the trance; and, secondly, the fact that those men whom he saw before him were divinely sent, and that he was to accompany them.
Acts 10:22. Cornelius the centurion. The correct translation is ‘a centurion.’ St. Peter as yet knew nothing of Cornelius; and there were in Palestine many officers of the same military rank.
A just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews. Here, through the testimony of the messengers, certain new elements’ of the character of Cornelius come to view, and in the most interesting way. It is very instructive to observe how judiciously the messengers discharge their errand. Besides being one who ‘feared God,’ Cornelius was a ‘just’ man, a man of rectitude; and he was beloved, trusted, and respected, not merely by the Gentiles, but by ‘the Jews,’ and not only by some partial members of the Jewish community whom he had served, but by ‘all the Jews.’ It was conciliatory on the part of the messengers to mention these things, and good policy to lay stress on them: and this, too, is the most natural place in the narrative for such testimony to appear. It is worth while to observe here that the word used by these men for ‘nation’ is ἔθνος . The natural word for Jews to have employed would have been λαός .
Warned from God. The words ‘from God’ do not strictly and literally appear in the original: but their sense is implied in the verb, which is the same that Heathens would employ for the communication of a Divine oracle.
An holy angel. This is put in a form which would be acceptable to Peter and the other Jews.
To send for thee. There seems here to be an apologetic explanation of the fact that Cornelius had not come himself.
To hear words of thee. We have seen that the equivalent words in Acts 10:6 of the Authorised Version are spurious. The same remark may be made of the phrase before us here, and the equivalent phrase in Acts 10:32. But words to the same effect and more full are found in St. Peter’s own account before the apostles and elders (Acts 11:14). And there is no doubt that a communication to this effect was made by the angel to Cornelius. The ‘word of hearing’ (Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:5) was the instrumentality used for the saving of his soul, and for the instruction of the world through his conversion.
Acts 10:23. Then called he them in, and lodged them. Already Peter seems to have learned something of the significance of what had been communicated to him in the trance. To join together in social intercourse with Gentiles was precisely the point of Hebrew scruple. For a Jew to receive a Gentile as an intimate guest into his house was an act unheard of. We see from what follows (Acts 10:28, Acts 11:3), that to eat with Gentiles was abhorrent to the Jews. It must not, however, be taken as certain that these messengers from Cornelius, though hospitably received, did eat at the same table with Peter and the rest of the inmates in the house of Simon the Tanner.
Journey from Joppa and Reception by Cornelius, 23-29.
On the morrow, i.e. after the arrival of the messengers. No time was lost. On the other hand, there was no undignified haste. This was not a case for excitement, but for deliberate action. Moreover, some preparation for the journey was requisite, as well as some arrangements with those who were to accompany Peter.
Certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. From Acts 10:45 we learn that these companions of the apostle were ‘of the circumcision:’ and from Acts 11:12 we learn that they were ‘six’ in number. How far Peter intentionally took them, in order that they might be witnesses of all the circumstances of this transaction, we cannot tell. At all events it was part of God’s plan that their testimony should be in readiness, and that it should be used. We find that they afterwards went to Jerusalem, and there confirmed the statement made by St. Peter. As Stier remarks: ‘How rightly, and in what harmony with God’s guidance, he acted, the sequel soon shows’ (Reden der Apostel, i. 13).
The imagination dwells on the incidents of this journey from Joppa to Cæsarea, and speculates on the conversation which took place among the ten travellers. With the apostle were three Gentiles, one of them a Roman soldier, and six Jewish converts to Christianity. The mere thought of this company and this journey communicates to the line of coast between these two towns an extraordinary interest.
Acts 10:24. The morrow after. The Greek word is the same as in Acts 10:9; Acts 10:23. The same remark may be made on the distance and time as on Acts 10:9. All is naturally consistent. The journey was by land. When two voyages by sea between Troas and Neapolis are named (Acts 16:11-12; Acts 20:6), the time occupied in one case was two days, and in the other five. This too is quite natural.
Cornelius waited for them. More literally, ‘was waiting for them.’ He knew the time which would probably be occupied by the two journeys, and when he might expect to see his messengers, if their errand had been successful, along with that ‘Simon whose surname was Peter,’ who had been so mysteriously yet so definitely pointed out in the vision. The phrase seems to imply, if not impatience, yet serious anxiety, mingled with confidence.
His kinsmen and near friends. From the 27th verse we learn that there were ‘many’ that were thus ‘come together;’ and their large number seems to have surprised Peter. Taking this into account, we see here very distinctly a new indication of the character of Cornelius. His good influence was widely diffused around him, and he was desirous that all whom he knew should share the blessing granted to himself. Alexander says here, ‘As this would hardly have been done without some preparation or predisposition upon the part of these friends, it would seem to imply a previous work of grace among these Gentiles, leading them to Christ, even before they came in contact with His Gospel or His messenger.’ Stier says: ‘This kindly, simple-hearted, and loving believer, is shown to us more and more as the centre and head of a considerable circle of pious Gentiles in Caesarea, which city was now to be favoured by being the seat of the first Gentile church.’ The ‘kinsmen’ were probably few; but the mention of them appears to prove that Cornelius had an established domestic life in Cæsarea.
Acts 10:25. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him. If we have read this narrative with a due sense of the life that is in it, we shall be able in some degree to enter into the feelings of the two men at this moment. This first meeting of Cornelius and Peter is one of the great incidents of history.
Fell down at his feet and worshipped. Much has been said on this act of Cornelius; but we need not attempt to analyze his feelings too precisely. It was an impulse of reverence and thankfulness, under a strong sense of the supernatural. ‘His mind, too, had been for some hours on the stretch. It is possible also that some of the thoughts, connected with what he had been taught as a Heathen concerning deified heroes, were lingering in his mind. It is more important to mark what follows concerning St. Peter’s peremptory rejection of such homage.
Acts 10:26. Stand up: I myself also am a man. We are at once reminded of the horror expressed by Paul and Barnabas, when the attempt was made at Lystra to give them Divine homage (Acts 14:14), and of the repudiation of this kind of homage by the angel in St. John’s vision (Revelation 22:8-9); and we necessarily contrast with all this our Lord’s calm acceptance of such worship, as is recorded more than once in the Gospel History.
Acts 10:27. As he talked with him, he went in. Free and friendly intercourse with a Gentile is now become comparatively easy to Peter. He has reached a further step in the learning of his great lesson. The conversation at this point probably related to casual matters, such as health or the incidents of the journey.
Many. This adds much force to what was said before (see note above on Acts 10:24). Peter seems to have been surprised and much impressed by what he saw on entering.
Acts 10:28. Ye know. We find the same form of appeal to the knowledge of the hearers below, Acts 10:37. Those to whom St. Peter spoke were familiar by hearsay with the main facts connected with the early promulgation of the gospel; and they were familiar by experience with the impediments to social intercourse which existed between Jews and Gentiles, especially in Judæa.
An unlawful thing. A difficulty has been needlessly imported into this phrase. The word ( ἀθέμιτον ) denotes rather what is opposed to venerable custom than what is contrary 10 positive law. There is no precise and explicit text in the Old Testament which forbids such intercourse, but the strict avoiding of such intercourse is in harmony with the whole spirit of the Old Testament. As to the fact of this scrupulous separation, we have the evidence of contemporary poets and historians in harmony with that experience of Cornelius, to which appeal is made. Juvenal ( Sat. xiv. 103) says it was the custom of the Jews ‘non monstrare vias, eadem nisi sacra colenti,’ and Tacitus ( Hist. v. 5) says of them, ‘Adversus omnes hostile odium, separati epulis, discreti cubilibus.’
To keep company, or to come unto one of another nation. The primary reference is to the custom of eating together at the same table. This is the point specified in chap. Acts 11:3 (see Galatians 2:12). It is possible that at this moment provisions were set forth to view, made ready for the refreshment of the travellers after their journey. It is precisely in this particular that there would be the greatest risk of a violation of the law of Moses. From this point of view, too, we see the peculiar significance of St. Peter’s vision. It must be added that the phrase ‘of another nation’ is very gentle.
God hath showed me. The word ‘me’ is emphatic, and it is contrasted with ‘ye’ above. Dean Alford puts this point well: ‘ Ye, though ye see me here, know how strong the prejudice is which would have kept me away; and I, though entertaining fully this prejudice myself, yet have been taught,’ etc. We should not fail to observe the stress which he lays on the fact that God had taught him what he had learnt (see above on the direct communication of the Holy Spirit, Acts 10:19). So far, St. Peter had now fully entered into the meaning of the vision. Only one other part of this Divine teaching was required (see note on Acts 10:34). It is observable that Peter says nothing to Cornelius of the strange sight which he had seen in his trance. This reticence is thoroughly natural.
Acts 10:29. Without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for. He says that he had at once obeyed instructions which he felt to be Divine (see Acts 10:21; Acts 10:23, and Acts 11:12).
I ask for what intent ye have sent for me. Peter knew what the messengers had told him; but it was still needful that Cornelius should make his own statement. This is a case in which every step is to be made firm. The apostle asks for a full and authentic confirmation of what he had heard from the messengers.
Statement by Cornelius in his own house, 30-33.
Acts 10:30. Four days ago. Questions have been raised as to the meaning of this phrase. But the simplest meaning is the best. It was exactly four days since Cornelius had seen the vision.
I was fasting. It is from this place only that we learn that Cornelius was fasting as well as praying on this occasion. It is a circumstance of the history, attention to which ought by no means to be neglected. We find in chap. Acts 13:2-3, and Acts 14:23, a similar combination of fasting with prayer on occasions of great solemnity and responsibility. It may be added that Cornelius, in this state of abstinence, was the less likely to be deceived. The fasting had reference only to the day of the vision, not to the three previous days also.
Until this hour. Probably this was the sixth hour, when the mid-day meal would naturally be taken (see Acts 5:9).
At the ninth hour. See Acts 10:3.
I prayed, literally, ‘I was praying.’ It is not expressly said before (Acts 10:3) that he was occupied in this way at the moment.
In my house. This is part of the vividness of the personal narrative given by Cornelius himself. In the account given by St. Luke above, it is said that the centurion saw the angel ‘coming in to him.’ Another remark may be added, that though Cornelius never heard the sermon on the Mount, he is seen here practising what is there enjoined as to private prayer.
Behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing. Here, again, are three particulars, all of which may be classed together under the general head of the vividness with which Cornelius describes what had happened to himself. The exclamation ‘Behold’ is not found in chap. Acts 10:3, nor is it there said that the angel ‘stood.’ The description given .by Cornelius himself of that which he saw was, that it was ‘a man in bright clothing.’
Acts 10:31. Thy prayer is heard. In the actual words of the angel ‘prayer’ is mentioned before ‘alms;’ whereas in the direct narrative (Acts 10:2), ‘alms’ are mentioned before the ‘prayers.’ Moreover, two separate verbs are used in this place. It is to be observed further that ‘prayer’ here is in the singular. It seems fair to infer that he was praying here for Divine illumination. This ‘prayer’ was perhaps the crisis and consummation of many previous ‘prayers.’
Had in remembrance in the sight of God. See note above on Acts 10:4.
Acts 10:32. Send to Joppa. Cornelius repeats to Peter with exact precision the instructions which had been given in his vision (Acts 10:5-6). The city is named to which the message is to be sent, the surname of Peter is given, also the name and trade of his host, and the exact position of his residence. In one respect, in the mention of the ‘house’ of Simon, this statement is more vivid than the former.
Who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. See notes on Acts 10:6 and Acts 11:14.
Acts 10:33. Immediately I sent unto thee. See Acts 10:7.
We are all here present before God. Both in this phrase and in that which follows, ‘all things that are commanded thee of God,’ we have evidence of the deeply reverential and attentive attitude of the mind of Cornelius. We must remember that he does not at all know what Peter will have to say to him. Of this only he is sure, that he is on the eve of learning what he had lone been anxious to know, and had earnestly prayed to be taught.
St. Peter’s Address in the House of Cornelius, 34-43.
Acts 10:34. Then Peter opened his month. This denotes that something grave and deliberate, and demanding serious attention, is about to be uttered. The most solemn instance of the use of this phrase is in Matthew 5:2. What had been said before by Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:27) was merely conversational and preparatory.
Of a truth I perceive. This is half a soliloquy. Peter now feels that he can justify to himself his own conduct, and he can take firm ground in instructing others. There had been some remnant of doubt in his mind before. Now he sees the whole case. The account of Cornelius himself, confirming what had been stated by the messenger, and showing an astonishing harmony between the experience of the centurion and his own, had brought his conviction to its culminating point. As Cornelius named all the circumstances minutely, and as Peter marked the religious, reverential spirit of those who were assembled before him, all hesitation vanished.
No respecter of persons. This word ( προσωπολη ́ πτης ) is found only here; but the kindred words, προσωποληπτω and προσωπολημψι ́ α are found in Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; James 2:1; James 2:9. They do not belong to Classical Greek, but are strictly part of the Christian vocabulary. They denote the judging a man by a test which has nothing to do with his moral character; as, for instance, by his wealth, his social position, or his beauty (see 1 Samuel 16:7). Here the meaning is, that God does not judge of a man by his nationality, but by his character. Up to this time St. Peter had treated nationality as a kind of moral test.
Acts 10:35. In every nation. The stress is on this part of the sentence. Nationality, even a divinely-appointed nationality, like the Jewish, constitutes, in the sight of God, no essential mark of difference between one man and another.
Accepted with him. The true distinction between one man and another, as before God, is moral. It is absurd to gather from this passage that all religions are equally good, if those who profess them are equally sincere, or, in the words of our eighteenth article, ‘that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law, and the light of nature.’ If this theory were true, why should such elaborate pains have been taken to bring Peter to Cornelius, so that the latter might become acquainted with Christ? On this theory Christian missions are an absurdity. The history of Cornelius is itself a proof that, in the words of the same article, ‘Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.’ The meaning of this passage is, that all the blessings of Christianity are freely offered to every human hand that is stretched out to receive them. The language of St. Peter himself at the Apostolic Council (Acts 15:9; Acts 15:11) was as follows: ‘God put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith: we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.’
Acts 10:36. The word which God sent. The grammatical thread is very difficult to follow through this verse and the two subsequent verses. It is really impossible to disentangle the construction satisfactorily. Nor is it essential that we should do this. The simplest view, perhaps, is this, that we have here three things in apposition (1) the proclamation of the Gospel ( τὸν λόγον ) which was spread through Judaea; (2) the subject-matter ( τὸ ρῆμα ) of the proclamation, the new religion which was thus diffused; (3) the fact that Jesus was divinely anointed for this mission. A general knowledge of what was involved in these three expressions was already possessed by Cornelius and his friends. It was the inner meaning of this revelation which was now to be unfolded to them.
Preaching peace by Jesus Christ. More fully and accurately, ‘proclaiming the good news of peace by Jesus Christ.’ It has been asked whether this denotes peace between God and man, or peace between Jew and Gentile. The right answer probably is that both are included, but that the former is primarily intended. We should compare Ephesians 2:15-17, where, part of the language is remarkably similar (see Isaiah 57:19).
He is lord of all. The commentators do not appear to have given to this most remarkable parenthesis the full attention which it deserves. In the first place, it assigns to Christ Divine supremacy in language which, though very brief, is as forcible as possible; and, secondly, it brings all mankind on a level, because all men stand in the same relation to Him (see Romans 3:29-30).
Acts 10:37. That word ye know. It has been pointed out above that the Greek term here translated ‘word’ is different from that translated in the same way in the preceding verse. The emphasis is on the word ‘ye,’ and there is an intentional contrast between it and the ‘we’ of Acts 10:39. It was inevitable that Cornelius and his friends should have had a general knowledge of the facts connected with the early promulgation of the Gospel, such as the work of John the Baptist and the beneficent miracles of the Lord Jesus. The news of these things must have penetrated among the Pagan population of Palestine, especially among those who were drawn by sympathy towards the Jews and the Jewish religion. Bengel remarks that St. Peter spoke to these Gentiles in a way very different from that in which St. Paul addressed Gentiles remote from Palestine, at Lystra and at Athens, and points out how St. Peter here refers (Acts 10:43) in general to the prophets, which St. Paul did not do on those occasions, while yet he does not, as when addressing the Jews, bring forward prophetic testimonies in detail.
Began from Galilee. For the facts of the case, see John 1:43; John 2:1; John 4:3. It is worth while to note that Cæsarea was very near the district of Galilee.
Acts 10:38. Bow God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost and with power. Some see in this an allusion, wholly or in part, to the action of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation of Jesus. It seems more natural to refer the words to the baptism of Jesus, an event on which the Evangelists lay the greatest stress. Thus Jesus of Nazareth became χριστός . Mr. Humphry quotes a curious passage from Justin Martyr (Dial. p. 226, B), in which he alludes to the expectation of the Jews that the Messiah would not be manifested till He had been anointed by Elias( μικρός ἂν ἰλθὼν ήλίας χρίσῃ αυτὸν πᾶσι ποιήσῃ ). Bishop Pearson (Exposition of the Creed, Art. II.), referring to the doubt as to whether St. Peter alludes here to the sanctification of our Lord at His conception, or to His unction at His baptism, says: ’We need not contend which of these two was the true time of our Saviour’s unction, since neither is destructive of the other, and consequently both may well co-exist together.’ It is to be observed that in using this language St. Peter gives to Jesus the title of Christ, a name which soon after, if indeed this had not already occurred, became the basis of the name Christian. See the close of the next chapter.
Who went about doing good. The charm of this description of Christ’s character and work could not be surpassed; and we should particularly observe that He is presented to Cornelius and his friends as a Benefactor before He is presented to them as a Judge: and could this description come from any one with greater weight than from St. Peter? for he had been with the Lord on those journeys of mercy, and had seen Him engaged in those works of healing. To quote the language of the next verse, he had been ‘a witness of all things which He did, both in the land of the Jews an I in Jerusalem.’
All that were oppressed by the devil. We need not suppose that there is in this phrase any special reference to demoniacal possession. In his ‘former treatise’ St. Luke attributes bodily suffering to the Devil. The woman ‘which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years’ is said (Acts 13:11; Acts 13:16) to have been ‘bound by Satan.’ The word Devil ( διάβολος ) occurs in the Acts of the Apostles only here and in Acts 13:10.
For God was with him. This reference to the perpetual presence of God with Jesus is in close harmony with what is said above that God anointed Him, and with what is said below that God raised Him from the dead.
Acts 10:39. We are witnesses. There is an emphatic stress in this sentence on the word ‘we’ Dean Alford adds very justly, that by this emphatic word Peter at once takes away the ground from the exaggerated reverence for himself individually, shown by Cornelius (Acts 10:25), and puts himself, and the rest of the apostles, in the strictly subordinate place of witnesses for Another.
All things which he did. See Acts 1:21-22, where it is made essential that an apostle should be able to bear personal testimony regarding ‘all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John’ and continuing to the Ascension.
Whom they slew and hanged on a tree. St. Peter does not shrink from setting forth strongly the humiliating circumstances of the death of Christ. His purpose is to lead Cornelius to the Cross (see Acts 10:43).
Acts 10:40. Him God raised up on the third day. Here, as everywhere in the Acts of the Apostles, the Resurrection is the culminating point of the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus Christ (see, for instance, Acts 2:24, Acts 17:31, Acts 26:23).
Showed him openly. Literally, ‘gave Him to become visibly manifest.’
Acts 10:41. Not to all the people. Alexander’s remark here is just, that to commit the testimony to select eye-witnesses was ‘more in keeping with the dignity and glory of the risen Saviour, which would now have been degraded by the same promiscuous and unreserved association with men, that was necessary to His previous ministry;’ and he adds: ‘The very fact that no such public recognition of His person is recorded, though at first it might have seemed to detract from the evidence of His resurrection, but serves to enhance it, by showing how free the witnesses of this event were from a disposition to exaggerate or make their case stronger than it was in fact.’
Witnesses chosen before of God. ‘Witnesses, namely those who had been previously appointed by God.’ Again there is reference to the Divine regulation of everything that related to the first proclamation of the gospel.
Who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. It is a fancy of Bengel that the eating and drinking with Christ, here referred to, took place before the Crucifixion. But we must follow the natural order of the words. The facts here stated belong to the period of the Great Forty Days. Both St. Luke and St. John give instances.
Acts 10:42. Commanded us to preach. The quoting of this royal command puts Christ before Cornelius in the position of supreme dignity.
Ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. Again the Lord Jesus, and in a more awful manner, is set forth in the position of supreme dignity. His judicial work is made prominent here, as in St. Paul’s address to heathen listeners at Athens (Acts 17:31). It is an appeal to the natural conscience. The absolutely universal expression ‘the quick and dead,’ including both Jews and Gentiles, is in harmony with the whole occasion.
Acts 10:43. To him give all the prophets witness. It would be quite perverse to object here that no explicit reference of this kind is found in each several prophet of the Old Testament. St. Peter alludes to the general class of the prophets, and to the general drift of their writings. Some knowledge of the prophetic scriptures was, doubtless, possessed by Cornelius and his friends. It is observable, at the same time, that more stress is laid in this speech on the evidence from miracles than on the evidence from prophecy.
Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. These concluding words of St. Peter’s speech, here arrested by a Divine interruption, deserve the utmost attention. The language is absolutely universal, including Jews and Gentiles alike. It is, of course, implied that all men equally need this forgiveness. The doctrine of justification by faith could not be more clearly set forth. Compare St. Peter’s own words, on a later occasion, with what now occurred at Cæsarea (Acts 15:9; Acts 15:11). We must add that there is great beauty and tenderness in St. Peter’s passing from the contemplation of Christ as a Judge, to the contemplation of Him as a Redeemer.
Second Pentecost at Cæsarea Baptism of Cornelius and his Friends, 44-48.
Acts 10:44. While Peter yet spake these words. In his own account afterwards (Acts 11:15) he says that the miraculous interruption came ‘ as he began to speak’ He was, therefore, evidently intending to address the assembly at much greater length. We need not speculate on the substance of what he intended to say. The other speeches in the Acts of the Apostles would furnish to us a sufficient analogy to guide us to a right conclusion. What is of the utmost importance to us to mark is, that an occurrence took place on this occasion which is recorded on no other occasion of the same kind. This is enough to mark off these event at Cæsarea as having a character and meaning of their own. The sudden interruption was far more forcible in its effect on the hearers than any additional words from Peter would have been. The arguments from history, from miracle, from prophecy, from conscience, were suddenly merged in something higher. The force, too, of this new and Divine argument was of the utmost weight for the ‘apostles and brethren at Jerusalem’ as it is indeed for every subsequent age of the Church, including our own. It is observable, moreover, that the interruption came just when the word ‘ faith’ was pronounced in connection with ‘the remission of sins.’
The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. The same verb, fell ( ε ̓ πε ́ πεσε ), is used in St. Peter’s account. The new impulse came from above. It was manifestly supernatural and Divine. So far there is a close resemblance with what we read in Acts 2:2, of the sound which came from heaven. The expression of St. Peter, too, at Jerusalem is distinct and express: the Holy Ghost fell on them at Cæsarea, ‘ as on us at the beginning.’ The manifestation of the Spirit then was an appeal to the senses, probably to the sense of sight, and certainly to that of hearing. It is said below (Acts 10:46) that they were heard ‘speaking with tongues and magnifying God.’ How far the phenomena had a closer affinity with what is described in the second chapter of the Acts, or with what we learn from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, may be difficult to determine. Possibly it was a link between the two.
Acts 10:45. They of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter. The expression in the original is very strong. They were almost out of their mind with wonder. As to the persons whose wonder here forms so prominent a part of the scene, see Acts 10:23 and Acts 11:12.
Acts 10:46. They heard them speak with tongues. It is not said here, as in Acts 2:4, that they spoke with other tongues. See note above on Acts 10:44.
Acts 10:47. Can any forbid water? The true translation is ‘ the water,’ the baptismal water, the ‘water sanctified unto the mystical washing away of sin.’ The highest blessing of all, the Holy Spirit, had been received: hence the minor gift, which was emblematic of the other, and which procured admission into the Church of Christ, could not be refused. Moreover, there is a strong testimony here to the importance of Baptism. On the one hand, indeed, nothing can be more emphatic than this narrative in its assertion that God can communicate His highest spiritual gifts irrespectively of all ordinances; but, on the other hand, it is asserted with equal emphasis, that divinely-appointed ordinances are not to be disregarded. ‘Non dicit,’ says Bengel, ‘Habent Spiritum, ergo aquâ carere possunt.’ Lechler, in Lange’s Homiletical Commentary, has a striking sentence at this place: ‘The peculiar manner in which the question is expressed sounds as though there was attributed to the water of Baptism conscious and energetic will, as though Peter had said, If no one has been able to hinder the Spirit from coming upon these people, so also no one can restrain the water which wills to flow over them at Baptism.’ Another thought also comes into the mind in considering these incidents. The baptisms appear to have taken place in the house; and the question arises whether they were effected by sprinkling or by immersion.
Which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we. The fact that in this instance, and in this instance only, the Holy Ghost was received previously to Baptism, has been the subject of many notes by commentators. There was sufficient reason, on this occasion, if we may reverently say so, for deviation from the common rule. No ordinary attestation would have sufficed to make the Divine command perfectly clear, that the Gentiles were to be admitted at once, and on equal terms with Jews, to the blessings of Christianity. This was in fact a second Pentecost: and may we not add that there was a close parallel between this occasion and the first Pentecost, in the fact that the open communication of the Spirit took place in both cases before the administration of baptism? (See Acts 2:4; Acts 2:41.)
Acts 10:48. He commanded them to be baptized. St. Peter did not administer the baptism himself. This was in harmony with the practice of St. Paul, who seems to have been very anxious lest baptism or any outward ordinance should be unduly elevated in comparison with the preaching of the Word. See 1 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:17. On such an occasion as that which is recorded in Acts 2:41, there must have been a large amount of subsidiary ministration. How many persons were baptized on this occasion at Cæsarea we do not know.
Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. This residence of some days in the house of Cornelius is to be marked as a time of the utmost importance for St. Peter’s future life, and is to be compared with the remarkable ‘fifteen days’ which he and St. Paul spent together afterwards (Galatians 1:18). During this short residence at Cæsarea, he must have learnt much that he never knew before concerning the Gentile mind, especially in its aspirations after religious light and peace.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 10". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30