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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The centurion of this name, whose history occurs in Acts 10, most probably belonged to the Cornelii a noble and distinguished family at Rome. He is reckoned by Julian the Apostate as one of the few persons of distinction who embraced Christianity. His station in society will appear upon considering that the Roman soldiers were divided into legions, each legion into ten cohorts, each cohort into three bands, and each band into two centuries or hundreds; and that Cornelius was a commander of one of these centuries, belonging to the Italic band; so called from its consisting chiefly of Italian soldiers, formed out of one of the six cohorts granted to the procurators of Judea, five of which cohorts were stationed at Caesarea, the usual residence of the procurators. The religious position of Cornelius, before his interview with Peter, has been the subject of much debate. It is contended by some that he was what is called a proselyte of the gate, or a Gentile, who, having renounced idolatry and worshipping the true God, frequented the synagogue, and offered sacrifices by the hands of the priests; but, not having received circumcision, was not reckoned among the Jews. But, on the whole, it is more probable that he belonged to the class of pious Gentiles who had so far benefited by their contact with the Jewish people as to have become convinced that theirs was the true religion, who consequently worshipped the true God, were acquainted with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, most probably in the Greek translation, and observed several Jewish customs, as, for instance, their hours of prayer, or anything else that did not involve an act of special profession. This class of persons seems referred to in , where they are plainly distinguished from the Jews, though certainly mingled with them. To the same class is to be referred Candace's treasurer (, etc.): and in earlier times, the midwives of Egypt (), Rahab (), Ruth, Araunah the Jebusite (, etc.), the persons mentioned , Naaman (). We regard Cornelius, therefore, as having been selected of God to become the firstfruits of the Gentiles. His character appears suited, as much as possible, to abate the prejudices of the Jewish converts against what appeared to them so great an innovation. It is well observed by Theophylact, that Cornelius, though neither a Jew nor a Christian, lived the life of a good Christian. He was influenced by spontaneous reverence to God. He practically obeyed the restraints of religion, for he feared God, and this latter part of the description is extended to all his family or household (). He was liberal in alms to the Jewish people, which showed his respect for them; and he 'prayed to God always,' at all the hours of prayer observed by the Jewish nation. Such piety, obedience, faith, and charity, prepared him for superior attainments and benefits, and secured to him their bestowment (; ; ; ; ).

The remarkable circumstances under which these benefits were conferred upon him are too plainly and forcibly related in Acts 10 to require much comment. While in prayer, at the ninth hour of the day, he beheld, in waking vision, an angel of God, who declared that 'his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God,' and directed him to send to Joppa for Peter, who was then abiding 'at the house of one Simon, a tanner.' Cornelius sent accordingly; and when his messenger had nearly reached that place, Peter was prepared by the symbolical revelations of a noonday ecstasy, or trance, to understand that nothing which God had cleansed was to be regarded as common or unclean.

It is well remarked by Paley, that the circumstances of the two visions are such as to take them entirely out of the case of momentary miracles, or of such as may be accounted for by a false perception. 'The vision might be a dream; the message could not. Either communication taken separately might be a delusion; the concurrence of the two was impossible to happen without a supernatural cause.' (Evidences, prop. 1 chap. 2). The inquiries of the messengers from Cornelius suggested to Peter the application of his vision, and he readily accompanied them to Joppa, attended by six Jewish brethren, and hesitated not to enter the house of one whom he, as a Jew, would regard as unclean. The Apostle waived the too fervent reverence of Cornelius, which, although usual in the East, was rendered by Romans only to their gods; and mutual explanations then took place between him and the centurion. After this the Apostle proceeded to address Cornelius and his assembled friends, and expressed his conviction that the Gentiles were no longer to be called unclean, and stated the leading evidence and chief doctrines of the Gospel. While he was discoursing, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, contrary to the order hitherto observed of being preceded by baptism and imposition of hands, fell on his Gentile auditors. Of this fact Peter and his companions were convinced, for they heard them speak with tongues, foreign and before unknown to them, and which Peter and his companions knew to be such by the aid of their own miraculous gifts, and, under divine impulse, glorify God as the author of the Gospel. The Jewish brethren who accompanied Peter were astonished upon perceiving, by these indubitable indications, that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles, as upon themselves at the beginning (). Peter, already prepared by his vision for the event, and remembering that baptism was by the command of Jesus, associated with these miraculous endowments, said, 'Can any man forbid water that these should be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?' and yet, agreeably to the apostolic rule of committing the administration of baptism to others, and, considering that the consent of the Jewish brethren would be more explicit if they performed the duty, he ordered them to baptize Cornelius and his friends, his household, whose acceptance as members of the Christian church had been so abundantly testified.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Cornelius'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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