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Bible Commentaries
Acts 11

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Acts 11:0


Peter's Report to the Church at JerusalemPeter Defends God's GracePeter's DefensePeter's Report to the Church at JerusalemJerusalem: Peter Justifies His Conduct
Acts 11:1-18Acts 11:1-18Acts 11:1-18Acts 11:1-4Acts 11:1-10
Acts 11:5-17
Acts 11:11-14
Acts 11:15-17
Acts 11:18Acts 11:18
The Church at AntiochBarnabas and Saul at AntiochMission to the Greeks in AntiochThe Church at AntiochFoundation of the Church of Antioch
Acts 11:19-26Acts 11:19-26Acts 11:19-26Acts 11:19-26Acts 11:19-21
Acts 11:22-24
Acts 11:25-26
Relief to JudeaFamine Relief Sent to JerusalemBarnabas and Saul Sent as Deputies of Jerusalem
Acts 11:27-30Acts 11:27-30Acts 11:27-30Acts 11:27-30Acts 11:27-30

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why was Gentiles receiving Christ such a theological problem?

2. Is repentance a gift of God (Acts 11:18) or a covenant requirement (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21)?

3. Why did Barnabas go and seek for Saul (Paul)?

Verses 1-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 11:1-18 1Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." 4But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5"I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' 8But I said, 'By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' 10This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man's house. 13And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, 'Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" 18When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."

Acts 11:1 This verse implies that the church in Jerusalem's leadership was surprised at this turn of events. They were shocked and not fully supportive! They had not understood the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8) to include pagans. This same phrase occurs in Acts 8:14 at Samaritan's receiving the gospel.

"brethren" This is an early title for believers which emphasizes our corporate family identify (cf. Acts 1:15; Acts 6:3; Acts 9:30; Acts 10:23; Acts 11:1, Acts 11:12, Acts 11:29; Acts 12:17; Acts 14:2; Acts 15:1, Acts 15:3, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:23, Acts 15:32-33, Acts 15:40; Acts 16:2, Acts 16:40; Acts 17:6, Acts 17:10, Acts 17:14; Acts 18:18, Acts 18:27; Acts 21:7, Acts 21:17; Acts 22:5; Acts 28:14-15). To be a Christian is to be a part of a family (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).

"throughout Judea" This shows the geographical limitations of the church up to the time. Even after many years the church had not moved beyond its cultural boundaries. Jesus' command in Acts 1:8 had not been obeyed! It is "almost" parallel to Genesis 10-11.

"Gentiles also had received the word of God" This is aorist middle (deponent) indicative. It shows the necessity of a personal reception of the gospel message (cf. John 1:12; John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13 Ephesians 2:8-9).

The phrase "the word of God" is parallel to "the gospel." The OT universal promises/prophecies are being fulfilled. See the Special Topic at Acts 1:8.

Acts 11:2 "When Peter came up to Jerusalem" Apparently the problem with the Gentile mission which continues in Acts 15:0 was a recurring problem for the Jerusalem leadership of the early church. Many of the converts to Christianity were still very nationalistic (cf. Acts 15:5; Acts 21:18-26).

NASB"those who were circumcised" NKJV"those of the circumcision" NRSV, NJB"the circumcised believers" TEV"those who were in favor of circumcising Gentiles" Williams"the champions of circumcision"

This phrase is used in several different senses:

1. in Acts 10:45 to describe Peter's six Jewish companions

2. here, it refers to a group of believers in the church at Jerusalem (cf. Acts 11:18 or Acts 15:5)

3. in Galatians it refers to believers from the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 2:12) as well as Jewish unbelievers (cf. Acts 1:7; Acts 2:4; Acts 5:10, Acts 5:12)

There is no question about the sincerity of these believers, nor the logic of their position. However, the radical nature of the gospel had opened the door to all people totally unconnected to the Mosaic Law (i.e., Romans 3:21-31) This is a message (grace, not performance, brings salvation) many modern believers need to hear and heed!

NASB"took issue" NKJV"contended" NRSV, TEV"criticized" NJB"protested"

This is an imperfect middle indicative. This grammatical form can denote repeated action in past time or the beginning of an action. Notice these believing traditionalists took issue with Peter, not with the gospel. They did not see that this was a gospel issue.

Acts 11:3 "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them" Obviously Peter is not the unchallenged leader. Grammatically this verse can be a statement or a question (NRSV).

This issue of table fellowship was very important to Jewish people. This may be the very issue behind the food laws of Leviticus 11:0. Jews were not to share any social event with Canaanites. Eating in the Ancient Near East was a kind of covenant of fellowship.

Jesus had been accused of a similar breach of tradition in Matthew 9:11; Matthew 11:19; Luke 5:30; Luke 15:2.

Peter struggled with this issue in his ministry (cf. Galatians 2:12). This was such a sensitive issue for these first believers. It is so hard to rethink traditions, culture, and personal preferences, but the gospel demands that we do (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:23-29; Colossians 3:11). The Jew vs. Gentile model of the OT has been totally replaced with the believer vs. unbeliever model!

Acts 11:4-18 Peter recounts his experience at Simon's and Cornelius' houses (Acts 10:0) for the Jewish leaders at Jerusalem. This repetition (cf. the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:0) is Luke's way of showing how important this issue (world evangelization) was for the life of the church. This was a theological watershed moment!

Acts 11:4

NASB"in orderly sequence" NKJV"in order from the beginning" NRSV"step by step" TEV"a complete account" NJB"the details point by point"

The word kathexçs is used in the NT only by Luke (cf. Luke 1:3; Luke 8:1; Acts 3:24; Acts 11:4; Acts 18:23). It has the connotation of explaining something in a logical, temporal, or sequential order. This fits Luke's research method (cf. Luke 1:1-4), personality, and professional training (physician).

Acts 11:6 "fixed my gaze on it" See note at Acts 1:10.

Acts 11:12

NASB"without misgivings" NKJV"doubting nothing" NRSV"not to make a distinction" TEV"without hesitation" NJB"have no hesitation"

There are several Greek manuscript variants connected to the tense of this participle (present middle from Acts 10:20 or aorist middle in MSS P74, אi2, B). It is even omitted in the Greek manuscripts P45, D, and some Old Latin and one Syrian version. Scribes tended to make parallels agree. As with most of the textual variants in the NT, these do not affect the meaning of the phrase. The UBS4 put the aorist middle participle in the text but gives it a "C" rating (difficulty in deciding).

Acts 11:14 "will be saved" Cornelius' piety and generosity did not make him a Christian! He and his family and friends are saved by faith in Christ!

Acts 11:15 This verse is theologically crucial in seeing the purpose of the repeated Pentecostal experience in Acts. God used the inaugurating experience in Jerusalem to show His acceptance of other racial, geographical, and cultural groups (cf. Acts 11:17). The experience was not only for Cornelius, but for

1. Peter

2. the accompanying Jewish believers

3. the church in Jerusalem

Acts 11:16 "I remembered the word of the Lord" This is an allusion to Jesus' words in Acts 1:5. This shows the pattern of the early Apostles' approach to theology:

1. quote Jesus

2. use Jesus' example

3. quote the OT (cf. Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5)

Peter is establishing that the Lord Himself foresaw this development (i.e., sign).

Acts 11:17 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

"God gave to them the same gift" This, like Acts 11:15, refers to the Pentecost experience (cf. Acts 2:1-4; Acts 8:15; Acts 10:46; Acts 15:8). Salvation, like the Spirit, is also a gift from God (cf. Romans 3:24; 5:15-17: 6:23; Ephesians 2:8).

"after believing in the Lord" It must be received (cf. Acts 11:1; John 1:12; Ephesians 2:8-9). Notice how Acts 11:17 asserts both the sovereignty of God and the mandated human response. There are several prepositions in the NT used to describe faith in Jesus:

1. epi = on (here)

2. eis = into

3. en = in

4. hoti = statement about Jesus

5. Dative case without preposition

This variety seems to imply that there was no specific grammatical form connected to "believe" (pisteuô). Usually the personal, volitional aspect is emphasized (except for hoti, which means the content of the gospel or doctrines). Jesus is a person to be welcomed! See Special Topics at Acts 2:40 and Acts 3:16.

Acts 11:18 "they quieted down and glorified God" Peter's testimony not only stopped the negative atmosphere, but it engendered praise! Most of these early leaders and believers were teachable and flexible. They were willing to adjust their theology and follow God's lead.

"God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life" There are several passages in the NT that imply that the sovereign God is the source of repentance as well as grace (cf. Acts 5:31, Acts 5:8:22; 2 Timothy 2:25).

The theological issue related to this phrase is, "how is the sovereignty of God related to salvation versus the demanded response of humans?" Are faith and repentance (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21) human responses or gifts from God? There are texts which strongly imply that they are a gift from God (cf. Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18; Romans 2:4; and 2 Timothy 2:25). Since I believe that all Scripture is inspired (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16) then one must compare all texts related to any theological issue and not succumb to a proof-text or denominational method. It is obvious that the one true God is in control of all things! Acts emphasizes this over and over. However, He has chosen to relate to His highest creation by means of covenant. God always takes the initiative and sets the agenda, but mankind must respond and continue to respond. It is never an either/or question. It is always a both/and relationship. See Special Topic: Covenant at Acts 2:47. For "repentance" see Special Topic at Acts 2:38.

Michael Magill, NT TransLine (p. 435, #24) has a good summary statement of what the early believing Jews in Jerusalem thought would happen.

"The Jewish believers knew the message was for the world. But that salvation was to come to the Gentiles apart from Judaism, with all the implications that this has, was a new thought for them. They were assuming salvation would be proclaimed to the world as part of and through a true, spiritual Judaism; that Judaism would reign and all people would become Jews as part of finding life in Christ; that Israel's culture would gloriously become world culture."

Verses 19-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 11:19-26 19So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Acts 11:19-30 These verses seem to be a historical flashback and a theological summary. They connect to Acts 8:4.

Acts 11:19 "those who were scattered because of the persecution" We have several early examples of these persecutions in Acts (cf. Acts 5:17ff; Acts 6:8-15; Acts 8:1-3; Acts 9:1-2). Stephen's understanding of the radical implication of the gospel forced all the Jewish believers in Palestine to reassess their faith and the purpose of the gospel.

"Antioch" Antioch was the third largest city of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria. It was the capital of Syria and it had a large Jewish population. It was well known for its university life and its sexual immorality. It was also famous worldwide for its chariot racing. It will become a major center of Christianity!

"speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone" This shows that the early church was not certain whether preaching to the Gentiles was appropriate. The conservatives would quote the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:5, while the visionaries would quote Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:8. This theological issue will resurface in Acts 15:0.

Acts 11:20 "men of Cyprus and Cyrene" These are the same Greek-speaking Jewish believers as in Acts 6-8, who began to preach the universal implications of the Christian gospel in Jerusalem. Barnabas was also from this geographical area.

"to Greeks" This word (Hellçn) normally refers to Gentiles (cf. Acts 14:1; Acts 16:1, Acts 16:3; Acts 18:4; Acts 19:10, Acts 19:17; Acts 20:21; Acts 21:28). However, in Acts 17:4 it refers to Gentiles who were connected to the synagogues (God-fearers), but not members (i.e., proselytes).

The question is, "Who is Luke referring to as being preached to."

1. Greek-speaking Jews as in Acts 11:1 and 9:29 (Hellçnists)

2. Gentiles related to the synagogue (Hellçn)

3. full Gentiles (cf. TEV, NJB)?

With all the commotion this caused, possibly the term refers to those who spoke Greek; some might be Jews of the Diaspora, and others full Gentiles.

"preaching the Lord Jesus" This is a present middle participle of the verb from which we get the English term "evangel" and evangelism." Their message was not about OT laws and procedures, but about Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah (see Special Topic at Acts 2:31)!

Acts 11:21 "the hand of the Lord was with them and a large number who believed turned to the Lord" This is another summary statement of the great movement of God through evangelistic preaching. Finally Acts 1:8 was being fulfilled (cf. Acts 11:24b).

This is an OT idiom for the acknowledgment of YHWH's presence and power for the accomplishing of His purpose in human activity (cf. 2 Samuel 3:12).

It is interesting to note that the term "Lord" (Kurios) is used in the first of this verse to refer to YHWH (cf. LXX Exodus 3:14; 2 Samuel 3:12; Isaiah 59:1, see Special Topic at Acts 1:6). However, in the latter part of the verse it is used to refer to Jesus Christ. This transference of titles is a common literary technique of the NT authors to assert the deity of Jesus. Notice where Paul quotes Ot texts referring to YHWH and applies them to Jesus (i.e., Romans 10:13; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:10-11).

The "hand of the Lord" is an OT anthropomorphic idiom (see special Topic at Acts 2:33). YHWH is an eternal spirit present through time and creation. He does not have a physical body. However, the only vocabulary humans have to speak of anything personal is physical, human terms. We must remember the limits of fallen, temporal, earth-bound human language. It speaks of the spiritual realm in metaphors, analogies, and negations. It expresses truth, but in non-exhaustive ways. God is far greater than our ability to know and express. He communicates truly to us, but not exhaustively. We can trust the Bible as God's self-revelation, but we must realize God is greater still! Human language both reveals and limits!


Acts 11:22 "Barnabas" Barnabas is a major figure in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 4:36-37; Acts 9:27). His name is used in the sense of encourager, which is obvious in Acts 11:23. The church in Jerusalem was still uncomfortable about Gentile inclusion! See Special Topic at Acts 4:36.

Acts 11:23 It is interesting to notice that when Barnabas saw the active presence of God's grace through the Spirit, he encouraged all of them to remain in faith (cf. Acts 14:22). This clearly shows the need for diligence on the part of God's people for purposeful perseverance (see Special Topic at Acts 14:22). The Jews and the church were very concerned about the immoral cultural context of paganism. The gospel was not only a free gift of salvation, but a call to godliness (cf. Matthew 5:48; Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 1:15). God wants a people who reflect His character to a lost world. The goal of Christianity is not only heaven when we die, but Christlikeness now so that others may come to faith in Christ!

Acts 11:24 "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" This description is very similar to the Greek-speaking Jewish believers (the seven) of Acts 6:3, Acts 6:5. The early church was full of men like this! Oh that it may be true of our day, our culture, our church!

Acts 11:25 "And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul" This verb in the Egyptian Koine papyri (but not the LXX) implies that Saul was not easy to find. Only Luke uses this term in the NT (cf. Luke 2:44, Luke 2:45; Acts 11:25).These silent years are apparently referred to in Galatians 1:21. The exact time frame is uncertain, but it was approximately ten years.

Acts 11:26 "church" See Special Topic at Acts 5:11.

"he brought him to Antioch. . .the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" At first "Christian" was a derogatory reference to believers coined by pagans. Surprisingly this is a rare term in the NT. The word's formation (ending ianos) follows the pattern of the formation of a term for those who support and follow; Herod (and his family) are called "Herodians" (cf. Mark 3:6; Mark 12:13; Matthew 22:16). Its use in this Hellenistic environment shows how the title for Messiah (Hebrew) translated Christ in Greek has become a name for Jesus' followers (Christians).

In this Hellenistic setting, it is possible that the term was given by governmental officials to differentiate Jews from believers.

Verses 27-30

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 11:27-30 27Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. 29And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

Acts 11:27 "prophets" Prophets are mentioned several times in the NT (cf. Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 1 Corinthians 14:29-33; Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 4:10). It is not always certain whether their function is primarily foretelling, as here, or forth-telling, as in 1 Corinthians 14:0 and Acts 2:17 (cf. Acts 13:6; Acts 15:32; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 1 Corinthians 14:29-33; Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 4:10).

In the OT prophets are seen as the spokesmen of God, explaining His revelation; however, NT prophets are not the mediators of God's revelation. This is reserved to NT authors, most of whom were Apostles or those related to an Apostle (Mark, Luke) . The NT gift of prophecy must be limited. Inspired revelation has ceased (cf. Jude 1:3 and 20).


Acts 11:28 "great famine all over the world. . .Claudius" This geographical phrase refers to the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 17:6, Acts 17:31; Acts 19:27; Acts 24:5). Claudius reigned from A.D. 41-54. He followed Caligula and preceded Nero. There were several severe famines during his reign (cf. Suetonius, Life of Caludius Acts 18:2). The worst famine for Palestine was sometime between A.D. 44-48, according to Josephus, Antiq. 20.5.2.

Acts 11:29 "in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution" This is one of the major strategies of the Gentile churches, to promote fellowship with their sister church in Jerusalem. This would set a pattern in Paul's churches (cf. Acts 24:17; Romans 15:2-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 1 Corinthians 2:0 Cor. 8-9; Galatians 2:10).

Acts 11:30 "sending it. . .to the elders" This is the first mention of church "elders" (cf. Acts 14:23; Acts 15:2, Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:23; Acts 16:4; Acts 20:17; Acts 21:18). The term "elders" is synonymous with the terms "overseers," "bishops," and "pastors" (cf. Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28 and Titus 1:5, Titus 1:7). The term elder (presbuteros) has an OT tribal background, while overseer (episkopos) has a Greek city-state governmental background. Apparently this refers to a specific group of leaders in the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 15:2, Acts 15:6, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:23). The more Jewish portions of the NT, like James and Hebrews, still use the Jewish understanding of older, local leaders, but not necessarily pastors.

"of Barnabas and Saul" There is much discussion as to whether the visit to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 2:2, Galatians 2:10 is referring to this visit or to the Jerusalem Council which is mentioned in Acts 15:0. We know so little of Paul's early life and ministry.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Acts 11". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/acts-11.html. 2021.
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