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Bible: What Does Acts 10:34-11:30 Tell Us About Peter and Cornelius?
The Apostle Peter
Cornelius, the Centurion
The Identity of Cornelius
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Acts 10:34-11:30-- Peter's Message to Cornelius; His Defense Before the "Brethren"
Peter prefaces his evangelistic remarks to Cornelius with an acknowledgement that God is impartial and that He accepts individuals from every nation who fear Him and do righteous deeds (vv. 34-35).
[God sends the gospel to people from all nationalities whom, through His common grace, He enables to live decent human lives.
These individuals, though “accepted,” still need to hear the Word in order to obtain salvation.
The question remains: How can believers regard these unsaved people, however religious, as “accepted”?]
The topic emphasized in God’s Word proclaimed to Israel is “peace through Jesus Christ,” i.e., reconciliation with God through the ceasing of hostilities achieved through Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice on the cross (v. 36a).
(After mentioning Jesus’ name and Messianic title, Peter inserts a parenthetical doxology that asserts the Lord’s universal sovereignty [v. 36b]).
The apostle reminds his audience that they know the proclamation history of this message: namely, it began in Galilee after John the Baptizer completed his mission, and it spread throughout Judea (v. 37).
He loads several truths about Jesus into the next verse:
(1) His hometown—Nazareth—was widely known as an insignificant place;
(2) Jesus was divinely anointed with the Holy Spirit and power;
(3) Christ spent His life “doing good” and freeing the “physically and emotionally challenged” from Satanically-caused ailments; and
(4) God accompanied and energized Him (v. 38).
Peter admits to having seen Jesus’ miracles throughout Israel (“the land of the Jews”) and in Jerusalem (v. 39a).
[Interesting it is that the apostle does not include the most famous city in Israel (Jerusalem) as part of “the land of the Jews,” possibly because Rome still controlled it.]
The relative clause that the NKJV translators place next in the sentence (“whom they killed by hanging on a tree”) diminishes the verse’s clarity, for neither pronoun (“whom”or “they”) has an antecedent.
NASB scholars improve upon their translator brethren’s efforts by beginning a new sentence. It appears that the grammatical “irregularity” belongs to Peter (v. 39b).
By placing the pronoun “Him” first—the word representing Jesus as the Object upon Whom God directed His resurrection power on the third day after the Lord’s death—Peter stresses Christ as the preeminent Person for his audience to consider (v. 40a).
Not only did God raise Jesus back to life, but He also afterwards allowed Christ to become visible only to chosen witnesses with whom He subsequently fellowshiped (vv. 40b-41; NASB).
Peter informs his audience that God commanded these select believers to tell the “people” that Christ is the divinely-ordained Judge of every human being, whether alive or deceased (v. 42).
The Spirit Comes
As Peter begins to conclude his message, asserting that every OT prophet testified that people must believe in Christ in order to receive forgiveness of sins (v. 43), the Holy Spirit “falls” upon the Gentiles, causing them to speak in tongues and magnify God, astonishing the six Jewish believers who accompanied the apostle from Joppa (vv. 44-46).
[Ryrie states that the authenticating sign preceded immersion and occurred without Peter identifying himself with them through ritual (that is, the laying on of hands).
The Gentiles became equal members of the Church by believing in Jesus; baptism only identified them as such and played no salvific part in their conversion.]
Witnessing the sign of the Gentiles’ conversion—the same one Peter himself experienced on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2)—the apostle asks his Jewish friends if they should not immerse the new believers (v. 47).
After Cornelius and his family submit to immersion in the name of the Lord—Trinitarian, or just in the name of Christ?—, they invite the apostle to visit with them for a few days (v. 48).
News of Gentile conversion finds its way to the Judean church leadership (v. 1).
Those professing Christians still attached to Mosaic ritualism give Peter a hard time when he arrives in Jerusalem, claiming that the apostle broke the Law by associating with Gentiles (vv. 2-3).
This controversy offers the accused an opportunity to rehearse all the events that convinced him that he must accept non-Jews if they meet the conditions (vv. 4-17).
His account includes:
(1) a report of the vision which detailed the descent from heaven of a sheet-like object full of all kinds of creatures (vv. 5-6);
(2) the divine command for him to eat them, and his refusal to do so (vv. 7-8);
(3) the triple repetition of the command, and the sheet’s ascent (vv. 9-10);
(4) the arrival of the three servants from Cornelius, and Peter’s obedience to the Spirit to go with them (vv. 11-12);
(5) Cornelius’ vision-inspired testimony (vv. 13-14);
(6) the descent of the Spirit upon the Gentiles (v. 15);
(7) Peter’s remembrance of Jesus’ words regarding Spirit baptism ten days before Pentecost (v. 16; cf. 1:5); and
(8) his logical conclusion regarding God’s gracious gift (v. 17).
[This summary report contains some interesting additions to the earlier narrative.
First, Peter cites the number of brethren—six—who accompanied him (three of Cornelius’ men [10:7] and three men from Joppa [10:23]) (v. 12).
Second, whereas the angel told Cornelius that Peter “will tell you what you must do” (10:6), and whereas the three servants said that Cornelius would “hear words from you” (10:22), and whereas Cornelius awaited Peter “to hear all the things commanded you by God” (10:33), the apostle rightly combines these details to relate that he would tell the centurion “words by which you and all your household will be saved” (v. 14).
Third, Peter recounts to the brethren the very words he remembered Jesus saying a few days before Pentecost—words which convinced him to allow the Gentiles to be immersed (v. 16; cf. Acts 1:5.]
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God Convinces the Brethren
After hearing the apostle’s report, none of the brethren still has an objection, for Peter’s words persuade them that God is saving Gentiles, too.
In other words, He is granting them “repentance to life” (v. 18).
Stephen’s martyrdom forced many believers to move to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch—Ryrie’s note about Antioch is helpful (New Testament Study Bible, 228)—where they preached Christ among the Jews only.
Some Cyprians and Cyrenians, however, proclaimed the gospel to Antiochan Hellenists with the result that many of them trusted the Lord (vv. 19-21).
After learning about this good report, the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas as its envoy to Antioch to confirm what they had heard.
Observing the accuracy of the intelligence, this “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” rejoices in God’s grace and encourages the infant church to persevere (vv. 22-24).
Barnabas finds Saul in Tarsus and brings him to Antioch; together, they “team teach” the church for one year. During this period, the world first labels disciples of Jesus "Christians" (the ones of Christ) [vv. 25-26].
Also at about this time, Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem, visits Antioch and foretells a worldwide famine—a disaster that, according to Josephus, occurred during Claudius’ reign in A.D. 46 (vv. 27-28; see Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 229).
In response to the pending emergency, Saul and Barnabas carry relief from the generous disciples in Antioch to the Judean saints—Christians who experienced great deprivation because their Jewish relatives and associates had rejected them and excommunicated them from their synagogues (vv. 29-30).
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