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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 10

 

 

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Verse 1

1. Cesarea—See note on Acts 8:40.

Cornelius—A common Roman name, and belonging to one of the oldest and noblest Roman lineages.

A centurion—Captain over a hundred men.

Italian band—A cohort of native Italians, forming the body guard of the Roman procurator, just as an English governor in India needs a body of English troops for safeguard. Cornelius, therefore, as a Roman and a military man, was the proper representative of Gentilism to be met by Peter, the representative of Jerusalem Christianity.


Verses 1-33

III. GENTILE INDUCTION—NEW CHRISTIAN CENTRE—ANTIOCH, Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:30.

1. Cornelius’ Vision and Mission to Peter, Acts 10:1-33.

Luke now unfolds a new and positive advance in the secession of Christianity from Judaism. (See notes on Acts 4:1; Acts 6:8; Acts 6:13.) The martyrdom of Stephen had sealed the certainty of such a separation, and now head of the movement must be the leading Apostle Peter, under angelic guidance, at the Gentile capital, Cesarea. This was a vital question not for Judaism only, but for even us in this nineteenth century, and in this land of America: Must we be circumcised Jews in order to be Christians? So believed the first Jerusalem Church; so, at first, Peter held; and from this yoke it was Paul, the apostle of us Gentiles, preeminently, who was our emancipator!

That Gentiles should be admitted into the Church was clear; they could be admitted even into the Jewish Church. (See note on Acts 3:26.) The Old Testament predicted that Christ, the Messiah, should be a light to the Gentiles, a salvation to the ends of the earth. Jesus commanded his apostles to Go teach all nations, that is, go disciple all Gentiles. This the apostles well understood. But this they could not understand, that the Mosaic ritual, circumcision and all, should, as the Church expanded to universality, fall off, like a dry, outgrown shell, from its back. Of this great truth the Hellenists caught the first glimpse, Stephen the first clear view, and Paul embraced the great conception as the one idea of his life. The Epistle to the Romans is his written and forever permanent expression of this great truth.


Verse 2

2. Devout… feared God—Men of deep thought and solemn consciousness of sin at this time looked for a true, infinite, holy God, by whose worship the reason would be satisfied and the conscience be assured of divine mercy. Such men often found the true God in Israel, and hence when stationed in the Holy Land (like Cornelius and the centurion of Luke 8:2, and perhaps Acts 27:3) they would first be attracted to the synagogue, with perhaps some repugnance to circumcision and the heavy Mosaic ritual, but would find true relief in Christianity, both from the ritual and the condemnation of sin.

With all his house—His own family under the influence of his own devout spirit; his official aids, like the devout soldier of Acts 10:7, were selected for their like spirit.

Always—With established and regular home devotion.

Cornelius, had not the Gospel been brought to his knowledge, would have had his piety, under the influence of that Spirit granted to all sincere and earnest souls, completed unto salvation by the atonement of the unknown Redeemer. Millions of holy men have by this same unknown Saviour gone, even from pagan lands, to glory. Where the Gospel is rightly presented such thirsty souls drink it in powerfully; and by such men and the energetic Church combined the Gospel is destined to overflow the world with a deluge, not of destruction, but of universal salvation. It is the existence of such spirits in all lands which constitute the encouragement for our missionary Church and the hope of a dying world. They are the scattered tinder in the pagan mass to catch the Gospel spark and spread it to a flame.


Verse 3

3. In a vision evidently… ninth hour—The word vision, or, more literally, sight, indicates that it was no dream, but that he was awake; the ninth hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, declares that it was open day not night.

An angel—His radiant attire (Acts 10:30) showed him to be superhuman.


Verse 4

4. Afraid—See note on Luke 1:12.

What is it?—What business is it you bring? So Esther 5:3, in the Greek of the Septuagint is, What is it, Esther? And what is thy request?

Up for a memorial—For a reminder. The continual ascent, like incense, of his acceptable offerings would not allow him to be forgotten of God, and God’s present message win assure him that he is remembered.


Verse 5

5. Simon… Peter—Dr. Clarke, on Acts 8:26, remarks how very minute angelic directions are, as in Acts 9:11, and in this place. Naturally so; for the directions for an errand must be minute and must be remembered, and, being so remembered, can be reported subsequently with verbal accuracy.


Verse 6

6. A tanner—See note on Acts 9:43.

By the sea side—For the sake of the necessary water in preparing the hides, and separate from dwellings on account of fetid and unhealthy odours. The Jewish rule was, “Separate corpses, sepulchres, and tanneries fifty cubits from the city.”


Verse 7

7. Servantsοικετων, domestics, probably slaves.

Devout soldier—See note on Acts 10:2. “A very rare epithet for a soldier,” says Grotius.


Verse 8

8. All these things—The whole narrative of the vision and the message to Peter.


Verse 9

9. On the morrow—Starting at three in the afternoon, they completed the journey of almost thirty miles from Cesarea to Joppa on the next day about noon. Thereby their arrival and Peter’s noon-day prayer would coincide.

Housetop to pray—The Jewish custom of worshipping (and other purposes) under their clear sky upon the housetop lined with battlements is repeatedly alluded to in the Old Testament. (2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5; Daniel 6:10.)

Writing from Calcutta, our late Bishop Kingsley said: “I had the first genuine experience of the meaning of the word ‘housetop’ as used in Scripture, an experience which has been repeated again and again since I have been in India. The preparation for the ‘housetop,’ or roof, in all this country, is first a sufficient number of strong beams, near enough together to support an immense weight. These are covered with strong plank or thick boards, on which is a covering of brick and mortar, a foot or more in thickness, and over all a thick coat of cement, which by the action of the air becomes as hard and durable as stone. And you have the impression that you are standing on a rock while on the top of the house. The roof is so nearly level that the eye can detect no inclination, and offers a delightful retreat in the close of the day.”

Sixth hour—Noon; one of the ordinary hours for the prayers of the devout Jew. So Daniel prayed thrice a day, (Daniel 6:10 :) and David says, “Evening, and morning, and noon will I pray.”


Verse 10

10. Trance—Ecstasy. The Greek εκστασις, derived from εκ, out of, and στασις, standing or position. Mentally it designated the mind or soul out of its ordinary status in the body. This the word expressed in very different degrees. First, any ordinary excitement by which the mind was out of its ordinary state, as by surprise, Mark 5:42; Luke 5:26; or terror, Mark 16:8. Second, a withdrawal of the soul from the use of its outer senses to a condition in which its own conceptions appeared realities. Those conceptions might be framed by the soul itself, as in reveries and dreams; or they might be shaped to the soul by some other mind, as in revelations and in imparted visions. So this trance of Peter was dictated to his conception from a divine source; but not so the appearance of the angel to Cornelius, nor that of Jesus to Saul; for these are not called trance, the appearing object being not a mere conception, but an independent reality. Third, some have held that the soul may entirely leave the body, inanimate like a corpse, and depart to distant regions and deal with external objects. We know no such instance in Scripture except at death, as of Dives, or that of Paul, (2 Corinthians 12:2-4,) who certainly thought it in his own case a possibility. Pliny, the philosopher, however, narrates the case of one whose soul left his body, and in its absence his body was burned by his enemies! Augustine (“De Civitate Dei”) relates the case of a presbyter named Restitutus, whose body could be so abandoned by his soul.


Verse 11

11. Heaven opened—The polished surface of the visible firmament seemed to part and let the square sheet down through.

Vessel—An article in which a thing could be contained and borne.

Sheet—Of white linen, the emblem of purity.

Knit—Rather, fastened, as if the sheet were suspended by cords, which were attached to its four corners and fastened at the upper end to the firmamental roof.

Down to the earth—So that Peter could look from the housetop down upon its upper surface.


Verse 12

12. All manner of—Greek, all, by which we are not to understand all that ever existed, nor every kind or manner; but all without any discrimination of clean or unclean, a sufficient universality for the purpose in hand.

Wild beasts—These words are rejected by the best authorities.

Creeping things—Insects, reptiles, testacea, and even, according to Jewish classification, fishes. For why Lechler should insist that the all means a universality because this is a trance, and so able to include an impossibility, and yet should say that fishes are excluded, it is difficult to guess. The sheet might to the so entranced eye as easily include an ocean with all its finny and finless tribes as an earth with all its animal tribes.


Verse 13

13. Kill—Literally sacrifice. For the clean Jew to kill the clean animal for his own eating was in a manner to sacrifice him. Rather, however, the word symbolizes that the unclean Gentile may, through the great sacrifice of the pure Lamb of God, present himself a living sacrifice to Jehovah.


Verse 14

14. Unclean—Even under the patriarchal dispensation the distinction of animals into clean and unclean was religiously established. (Genesis 7:2.) Man, indeed, by nature makes a distinction. Some animals are so repugnant to human tastes and health that we are disgusted at the very thought of eating them. Early in the divine education of man God so used this natural distinction which he had made, as the basis of a moral discrimination, as to impress the minds of fallen men with the difference between the pure and the impure in spirit and life, and between the righteous and the wicked among men. And when God set apart the posterity of Abraham from the idolatries and licentiousness into which the nations were sinking, he made such a distinction of meats as separated Jew and heathen from the same table, and thus struck out one of the most powerful points of union between men. Thus was Israel alone amid the nations; the lonely maintainer of the true God until the time of the God incarnate should come, and then the distinction should be abolished, and all the world be called to the knowledge of Jehovah.

Common or unclean— ”One term,” says Grotius, “defines the other. For the swine (Leviticus 11:7) is called unclean, and the same (1 Maccabees 10:50; 1 Maccabees 10:65) is called common, that is, commonly used by Gentiles, a people not sanctified to God. Seneca narrates that ‘In the time of the Emperor Tiberius foreign religious systems were forbidden at Rome, and the test was abstinence from certain animals.’”


Verse 15

15. Call not thou common—In the expressive Greek the word for call common is a verb: What God has cleansed common thou not.


Verse 16

16. Done thrice—Greek, επι τρεις, up to thrice. The divine number implying that the vision was from God. (See on the sacred numbers, vol. ii, p. 77.) We understand that either there were three separate visions, or that the sheet was thrice let down in continuance of the same vision and withdrawn completely into heaven at the close.

Received up again—As if all men might be good enough for heaven. For we do not understand the sheet to represent the Church, into which none but the clean are admitted; but the world, waiting for the Gospel without any ceremonial distinction.


Verse 17

17. What… should mean—The threefold repetition convinced him that it had a meaning; it did not tell him what meaning. Did it mean simply what it said, namely, that all animals were now clean, the old distinction being abolished, so that Peter might eat pork, or oysters, or what he pleased? Or was this meaning pregnant with an inner meaning, an idea within an idea; what theologians have called, perhaps not happily, “a double sense?” The event shows that there was this interior lesson within the exterior. It is what we have described in our note on Matthew 1:15, an antitype indicated by and through the type. The distinction between clean and unclean animals was a type of which the distinction between Jews and Gentiles was the antitype. And thus, verbally or visibly, the typical point in the type is so indicated that it describes and predicts the corresponding point in the antitype. The predicted abolishment of the distinction between typical animals contains a prediction of the abolishment of the distinction between antitypical men. (See notes on John 2:19-20.)

Before the gate—The entrance at the front, from the street. The messenger did not enter the house, being of a Jew.


Verse 19

19. The Spirit said—In Acts 10:13-14 there was a voice; but the change of the phraseology here seems to imply that, although there were words, there was no voice. Spirit spoke to spirit, silently yet significantly.


Verse 20

20. Get thee down—By the outer stairs. (See notes on Matthew 9:2; Matthew 26:68.)

Doubting nothing—On account of their being Gentiles. So Acts 11:12. I have sent them—The double active, says Grotius: I have caused that they should be caused to come.


Verse 22

22. They said—The use of repetitions in this narrative is after the style of the most antique simplicity, found in the Old Testament and in the poems of Homer. But it indicates also that Luke (probably now at Jerusalem; see note on Acts 13:1) was most fully informed of the facts, and that he esteemed the whole narrative to be of the most impressive importance, being the first great divine assurance that the Gentile, unbound by Jewish shackles, should be admitted by holy baptism into the kingdom of God.

Good report among… the Jews—This is a stroke of eulogy not given in Acts 10:2. Speaking to a Jew, the messengers wisely quote the favourable report of all Jews in their master’s behalf. It is a good messenger who enters into the spirit of his orders and of his sender.


Verse 23

23. Certain brethren—Six in number, (Acts 11:12,) for the purpose doubtless of being witnesses to testify and defend, if Peter were arraigned for being too free with Gentiles.


Verse 24

24. Kinsmen and near friends—Not only all his house is influenced and pressed into the way of piety, but his hearty and powerful nature compels relatives and friends into the same self-committal. For the great soul of this captain in its simplicity is full of joy and no shame, in view of this great occasion, when an angel-called visitant shall enter his house.


Verse 25

25. Worshipped him—Some trace of his pagan education Luke impartially notes here. Yet it is not clear nor probable that the centurion held Peter for a god or demigod, nor even an angel, as Grotius conceived. Limborch well replied that it is not likely that Cornelius believed that one angel told him to send for another angel, or that an angel by the name of Simon Peter was lodging with a tanner. Limborch rightly explains it that Cornelius paid a more prostrate reverence to Peter as an ambassador of God and a saint or sacred personage than true Christianity allows to be paid to any mere man. Hence Peter’s words. It is remarkably significant that Peter, the supposed first so-called Roman pope, should be the man to utter this marked caution against ever reverence of saints.


Verse 26

26. A man—A noble title in itself; a humble title when worship is in question.


Verse 27

27. Went in—From the porch into the reception room. (See notes on vol. i, p. 325.)


Verse 28

28. Unlawful—There was nothing in the Mosaic law rendering it in itself unlawful to keep company with one of another nation. Grotius remarks that the word unlawful here corresponds to the rabbinical אסור, signifying the unlawful, not by the law of Moses, but by the decree of the doctors, which was held equal in rank.

God hath showed me—First, by the symbolical sheet; second, by his Spirit bidding me meet your messengers; and, third, by the fact that your angel corresponds with my vision. For these two last facts fully answer Peter’s doubt, Acts 10:17. And the whole will receive the closing and conclusive confirmation of Acts 10:44.

Any man common—For though the sheet included only animals, he knew that the truth symbolized embraced man. And as the symbol forbade calling any man common, so the sheet symbolically includes all men, and not the Church alone.


Verse 30

30. Until this hour—Until this time on that day. He does not mean that he has now been fasting four days, but that he fasted to about this hour of day on the day of the angel’s appearance, namely, the fourth day before his present speaking.


Verse 33

33. Hast well done—Hast generously done; a phrase of thanks. Grotius finely remarks: “The angelic ministry was surpassed by apostolic; for the former directed Cornelius to an apostle, the latter directed him to Christ.”


Verse 34

2. Uncircumcised Converts receive the Holy Ghost and Baptism, Acts 10:34-48.

34. I perceive—What had always been true; though through Jewish prejudice he had never before realized it. He had believed that no one who never beard of Judaism could be saved; just as many believe now that no one who never heard of Christianity can be saved.

No respecter of persons—A true judge applies the law without regard to whom it severely cuts. He regards the principle irrespective of the person. Wherever a responsible man exists, the temper of heart is, or has been, in his power, so that he might obtain grace if he would. So that in whatever age, land, or dispensation the man exists, God, without respect of persons, gives him his fair opportunity for salvation.


Verse 35

35. Feareth him, and worketh righteousness—In heathen lands this will appear in rectitude of life. In Christian lands it will appear in faith in Christ and obedience to his holy requirements. The unbelieving moralist who quotes this text to prove his acceptability with God shows by the very fact of his unbelief that he does not truly fear God. That Cornelius feared God and was a devout man truly appears from the fact that from the very moment Christ was announced to him he accepted Christ. And so there may be thousands who never heard of Christ, who have that spirit of faith which would heartily accept him were he truly known to them. [On this subject see the chapter on “Probational Advantages” in our work on “The Will.”]

Is accepted with him—”Through Christ, though he knows him not,” says Wesley most truly.

Accepted with him—Just as Cornelius was accepted even before the angel appeared to him; as he evinced by his ready and hearty faith in every syllable of Peter’s preaching.


Verse 36

36. The word—The term word (meaning the Christ-history) in this and the following verse is the object of know. They in Cesarea had heard of the propagation of that Gospel history to Israel by the preaching of Philip, the evangelist; but they had never heard as yet what they now hear, that it is a Gospel as free to Gentiles, as Gentiles, as it is to Jews.

Peace—It was a word of peace, equivalent to the remission of sins, Acts 10:43.

Lord of all— Peter cannot name Christ here, for the first time, without stopping to pronounce his universal lordship, namely, over every man in every nation.


Verses 36-43

36-43. Peter now sees his way clear to preach Christ directly to these Gentiles, as follows: 1. He assumes that, the Gospel’s being preached to the Jews of Palestine, they knew, (36, 37;) 2. He rehearses that Gospel in its facts of Jesus’ life and death, (38-44;) and, 3. Proceeds to its announcement of Christ as final judge, and attested author of remission of sins on condition of faith.


Verse 37

37. Judea… Galilee… John—Peter recites the facts of his history backwards. Rightly, for he thus begins with the latest and best known facts, and runs his narrative into the earlier and less known facts. And this having brought him to the beginning, he in the next verses runs down from the beginning to the present.


Verse 38

38. AnointedChrist, Messiah, both signify the anointed. How God Christed, Messiahed Jesus, the Nazarene.


Verse 39

39. We—The apostles.

Land—The countries of Judea, Galilee, and Perea.

Jerusalem—The capital. The verse should have closed here, having given a summary of Christ’s life and its proofs; next follows his death and its results, beginning with the last clause of this verse.


Verse 41

41. Not to all the people—(See note introducing Matthew 28, vol. i, p. 345.)


Verse 42

42. Quick—Living. Those who are living when Christ comes, and those who are then dead; the former to put on the resurrection nature by a change, without death; the latter to be raised from the dead.


Verse 43

43. To him—The last verse touches the preaching of Christ in his judicial character; this in his redeeming office.

All the prophets—Not each one individually, but the whole in sum.

Whosoever—Whether Jews, like these men of Joppa, or Gentiles, like these of Cesarea.

Remission of sins—The dismissal of sins in their condemning power, forgiveness.


Verse 44

44. While Peter yet spake—With a wonderful, immediate, and self-surrendering faith did these Gentiles embrace every word by Peter uttered, and every heart melted. At once, with a sudden, yet most acceptable abruptness, Peter’s words are interrupted by the rushing descent of the Holy Ghost upon all present. There is, as at Samaria and Ephesus, a pentecostal scene. (See note on Acts 8:17.)


Verse 45

45. They of the circumcision—The Jews from Joppa with Peter.


Verse 46

46. Speak with tongues—The Roman was inspired beyond any power of his own to pour forth his soul, perhaps in exalted Hebrew, while he heard the Jew utter his joy in fluent and rapturous strains of Latin.

Magnify God—The languages of both the Roman and the Jew were surely raised to their highest glory in praising Him who gave the marvellous utterance.


Verse 47

47. Forbid water—Forbid the water to be applied in cleansing symbol upon the person; not forbid the person to be applied to the water.

Have received the Holy Ghost—As they have received the reality so they should receive the symbol. Such was Peter’s reasoning. He did not, like a Quaker, reason that because they had the reality they did not need the symbol.


Verse 48

48. Commanded—He performed not, it seems, the baptism himself, but gave direction that others, namely, the Christians from Joppa, should perform it, as an inferior office seldom performed by apostles. So Jesus baptized not, but his disciples, and Paul seldom himself performed the rite. (1 Corinthians 1:17.) The relation of the baptismal consecration, as to Christ, is stated with different prepositions in the Greek. Into the name of Father, Son, etc., Matthew 28:19. Into my own name, 1 Corinthians 1:15. Into Christ, Acts 6:3; Galatians 3:27. Here in the name. To be baptized into Christ, or into his name, is to be consecrated, as it were, into his mystical body; to be baptized in his name is to be consecrated by or in his authority.

Tarry certain days—Fully to indoctrinate them in the Gospel history and principles. The ancient tradition is that Mark’s Gospel was really in substance written from Peter’s oral narration of its facts. Had Mark been with Peter at this time he probably could have mainly written his complete Gospel from Peter’s utterance; and very likely written records were made for the Church at this time. We have here, then, a Gentile Church commenced in Cesarea, with its Gospel tradition and documents derived from apostolic lips. (See note on Luke 1:1-2.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 10:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-10.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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