Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentActs 10
This chapter is concerned exclusively with the conversion of Cornelius, the same event also being under consideration in Acts 11. Luke's devoting so much space to the narrative of a single conversion indicates the importance of it. It was in the conversion of this Roman centurion that the issue of receiving Gentiles into Christ was finally decided. Yes, other Gentiles had been saved prior to this; but it was upon the basis of their having first been proselytes to Judaism. Many of the earliest Christians (most of whom were Jewish) were willing to welcome Gentiles into the faith AS PROSELYTES first and Christians later. Cornelius' baptism was the end of that, despite the fact of "Judaizers" continuing to advocate the old view for a considerable time afterward, as seen in the Pauline epistles.
That the devout Gentile chosen by God for the special treatment accorded him in such things as (1) visitation by an angel, (2) hearing the gospel preached by one of the Twelve, (3) having the Holy Spirit fall upon him in a manifestation suggesting that of Pentecost, etc. - that the Gentile chosen for such blessings should have been a soldier must be regarded as significant. Ryle noted that "In no case is there the slightest hint that the profession of a soldier is unlawful in the sight of God." F1 There are some eight or ten centurions mentioned in the New Testament, and without exception they all appear in a favorable and commendable light. In the decadent condition of the Roman Empire at that time, the non-commissioned officers of the imperial army constituted something of a residual repository of the ancient virtues of honesty, sobriety, integrity and the fear of God. Only this could account for the number and character of the centurions mentioned in the New Testament. For a list of these and other comment, see Luke 7:2 in my Commentary on Luke.
The absolutely unique aspect of the event related in this chapter should not be overlooked, there never having been the slightest hint anywhere in the New Testament that what happened at the house of Cornelius was to be considered any such thing as a normal Christian experience. Safeguards against such a misconception appear in every line of the narrative. As a matter of fact, God prepared both the apostolic preacher and the convert himself for the unique event by supernatural appearances to both of them.
Verses 1, 2
Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
THE CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS
Italian band ...
The word for "band" here actually means "cohort," usually the tenth part of a Roman legion; but a detached cohort, as this evidently was at Caesarea, usually had a thousand men. F2 The commander of such a regiment was called a "chiliarch," and his force was divided into hundreds, each commanded by a centurion. It is strange that the decimal system should have prevailed in that ancient army and that today the same system should be advocated as the best possible and extended to include all weights and measures.
Feared God with all his house ...
The devout, God-fearing Cornelius had enlisted his entire household as participants in the worship and devotions which were practiced by them; and this stresses the quality of that house where Peter would "open the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles by the only possible `key' - the word preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:19)." F3 Yes, without doubt, this is another instance of Peter's using the keys which the Master had mentioned. For a discussion of this subject, see my Commentary on Mathew, under Matt. 16:19.
Gave alms ... and prayed ...
This has reference to Cornelius' gifts to the Jewish people according to many, but there appears in the text no reason for thus restricting it. He gave to all who were needy. Oddly enough, the order of the words here, "alms ... prayed" is reversed in the words of the angel who placed the prayers first (Acts 10:4).
There would appear to be a certain affluence, if not indeed wealth, belonging to Cornelius; and, while it is true of course that even the poor may be generous (and they often are), the mention of "much alms" points toward greater than ordinary ability. Coupled with the example of that centurion who built the Jews a synagogue (Luke 7:5), implying extensive wealth on his part, this tremendous financial ability of Roman centurions in the New Testament raises two questions: (1) Was the rank of centurion limited to the command of a hundred men as universally supposed? and (2) Why would men who were independently wealthy consent to the rank of a non-commissioned officer? The writings of Luke justify the understanding of the centurion as a much more important officer than is generally assumed.
He saw in a vision openly, as it were about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him, Cornelius.
Although called a "vision," the addition of the word "openly" would seem to require that this supernatural event be understood as the actual appearance of an angel of God to Cornelius. Again from Hervey:
It was, as Meyer said, a clear angelic
appearance. There was no
indistinctness or confusion about it,
and consequently it left no kind of
doubt in the mind of Cornelius. F4
It is notable that the names of individuals are known by God and those representatives whom he commands to bear messages to men. Thus the angel called Cornelius by his name. Despite the fact of this man's worship and alms-giving, already mentioned, there is absolutely no evidence that he was a proselyte to Judaism. Hervey observed that:
He is spoken of simply as a Gentile
and as uncircumcised, indicating that
though he had learned from the Jews to
worship the true God and to practice
those virtues which went up as a
memorial to God, yet he was in no
sense a proselyte. F5
An angel of God ...
The Scriptures reveal no less than seven classes of functions performed by these holy beings on behalf of them who shall be saved, one of these being, as in evidence here, that of aiding providentially in bringing sinners into contact with the gospel. For more on this, see my Commentary on Hebrews and my Commentary on Luke.
And he, fastening his eyes upon him, and being affrighted, said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, thy prayers and thine alms are gone up for a memorial before God.
What is it, Lord? ...
The use of this word here, and by Peter in Acts 10:14, may not have been in exactly the same manner; but both instances suggest the supernatural nature of what was taking place. That one should have an angel speak to him is beyond all natural phenomena; nor should this fact be lost on believers. The Christian religion is a supernatural religion; and, if the supernatural elements in it can be denied, the entire system is not merely worthless, but detestable.
Incidentally, the popular idea of winged angels is probably derived from the cherubim (Exodus 25:20) and from the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2); but there are no New Testament descriptions of angels with any mention of wings.
A memorial before God ...
What interest attaches to these words! Man's natural desire for a permanent memorial may truly be realized, but not in the types of monuments so often erected. The true memorial ascends to the presence of the Father in heaven, and it is made up of the prayers and alms of those who, upon earth, loved God and sought to know and do his will.
Someone has remarked that "Cornelius was a do-gooder"; and while not wishing to deny this at all, this writer would like to point out that there is a remarkable distinction between Cornelius and the "do-gooders" promoting the public welfare today. The difference is this: Cornelius did alms with his own money, whereas another class of "do-gooders" practice all their mercies and charities by spending other people's money, not their own.
Verses 5, 6
And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side.
The angel's directions as given to Cornelius to enable him to contact Peter were full, explicit, sufficient and correct. The mention of Simon's occupation was noted under Acts 9:43; and, if Simon was the head of a large tanning industry, which is a definite possibility, the mention of his being a tanner would greatly have facilitated finding him.
The big question that appears here, however, is, "Why did not the angel himself tell Cornelius what to do to be saved?" The sole purpose of Cornelius' sending for Peter was to speak words "whereby thou shalt be saved" (Acts 11:14); and the thought inevitably surfaces as to why the angel himself did not speak those words. As Root noted:
Jesus committed this task to man and
does not intend to relieve him of it.
An angel sent Philip to the Ethiopian;
but it was the man Philip that told
him what to do to be saved. Also,
Jesus himself appeared to Saul; but it
was Ananias who was commissioned to
tell Saul what to do to be saved; and
this same pattern is here. Not the
angel, but Peter would tell Cornelius
what to do to be saved. F6
Milligan also answered this question the same way:
Because Jesus had committed to the
apostles, and through them to the
church, the word of reconciliation
(1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18,19;
1 Tim. 3:15; and 2 Tim. 2:2). F7
The importance of Peter's participation in this event was stressed by Lange, thus:
It was so ordered that the first pagan
should be baptized and received into
the church, not by an ordinary member
of the church, nor by an evangelist
like Philip, but by one of the Twelve
themselves, and indeed by that one,
who had by his words and deeds, become
the most prominent of their number. F8
Also, as noted in the introduction to this chapter, this was one of the factors establishing this event as altogether unique.
Verses 7, 8
And when the angel that spake unto him was departed, he called two of his household-servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; and having rehearsed all things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
The scope and extent of the centurion's authority appears in this verse to have been far beyond what is usually associated with the commander of a hundred men. Several of the soldiers were assigned to wait on Cornelius continually, and one of these was dispatched with the two servants sent to Joppa, perhaps to serve as an escort or guard. Moreover, the two household-servants appear in context as two of many, certainly not as the only two he had. Also, the authority to initiate and order a military mission involving a soldier plainly belonged to Cornelius, indicating an authority more like that of a colonel or general in present-day armies, rather than that of a captain, with which rank centurion is usually equated.
The detail thus dispatched by Cornelius left almost immediately; because their arrival time at Joppa, some 30 miles distant, on the following day about noon, demands the understanding that they departed for Joppa about 3:00 o'clock that same afternoon of the angel's visitation, the same being the ninth hour (Acts 10:3). See under Acts 10:9. The promptness and obedience of Cornelius to the angelic command are evident.
Having rehearsed all things unto them ...
A mutual love and trust between Cornelius and his subordinates appear in such a thing as this. Rather than writing a letter, Cornelius fully explained the details and purpose of his mission to trusted servants and sent them on their way.
Verses 9, 10
Now on the morrow, as they were on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour: and he became hungry, and desired to eat: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance.
THE LORD APPEARS TO PETER
About the sixth hour ...
This was noon, of course; and, as Bruce said, "Noon was not one of the appointed times for prayer, but pious Jews prayed three times a day (Psalms 55:17)." F9 Those who observed that custom prayed at noon. It is remarkable that Peter, a fisherman, should have been one of the most devout of his race, a fact indicated by his practice of a long-ingrained habit of prayer at noon, as here.
While they made ready ...
One is amazed at a comment of Bruce, who said of Peter in this situation that "He probably called down for some food; and while this was being prepared, the revelation came to him in a vision." F10 It should be remembered, however, that Peter was not staying at the Waldorf, and that such a thing as room service on top of the house would not have been available in a tanner's residence. No, it was noon; and the usual preparations for the midday meal in Simon the tanner's house were being made, perhaps delayed a little; and, as many a preacher has done since, Peter dozed while the ladies prepared dinner.
He fell into a trance ...
This, of course, is something utterly different from merely falling asleep. Milligan said that "A trance denotes a state in which the soul seems to be freed from the body; so that it can then perceive things which lie beyond the reach of the natural senses." F11 Nothing much is known of the condition into which Peter fell during the revelation recorded here; but it may be assumed that the kind of trance into which he fell was not the ordinary state of the so-called "trance" into which some are said to enter now. In the Old Testament, the example of Balaam reveals that he, before uttering his prophetic oracles,
Saw the vision of the Almighty,
falling into a trance, but having his
eyes open (Numbers 24:4). He hath said,
which heard the words of God, and knew
the knowledge of the Most High, which
saw the vision of the Almighty,
falling into a trance, but having his
eyes open (Numbers 24:16).
All of the mention here of what Peter "saw" would indicate that this "trance" also was one in which his eyes remained open, thus revealing his condition to have been like that of the prophets of old who received words from Almighty God.
Verses 11, 12
And he beholdeth the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth; wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven.
All manner ...
is the significant word concerning all those creatures let down. In Leviticus 11, one may find a list of clean and unclean creatures, the latter being forbidden for Jews to eat; but the collection of creatures Peter saw was clearly remade up of many that were unclean. God was about to open Peter's eyes to the truth stressed by Paul, that "Every creature of God is good (to eat); and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving, etc." (1 Timothy 4:4). Of course, this was no new doctrine "discovered" by the apostles; Jesus had plainly taught this, but it took a miracle to get Peter to believe it. See Mark 7:15-19. A similar thing may also be noted in the fact of Peter's Pentecostal declaration that the promise of the gospel was "to them that are afar off," plainly including the Gentiles; but the miracle before us was required before Peter could understand that this meant the Gentiles could receive the gospel without being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses.
Verses 13, 14, 15
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter, kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common and unclean. And a voice came unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, make not thou common.
No so, Lord ...
In all ages, there have been those who, while acknowledging Jesus as Lord, nevertheless presumed to contradict what the Lord taught. This phenomenon was pointed out by Jesus himself in Luke 6:46. For a sermon on this topic, see my Commentary on Luke, under 6:46.
I have never ...
What men have always done, or what their habitual behavior is, usually determines their reaction to any given circumstances. Peter did not yet know, despite all the teaching he had received of the Lord, that the Mosaic restrictions on diet were no longer binding on Christians; therefore, based upon that misconception on his part, Peter's refusal seemed perfectly right and proper to him; but it was wrong. God, at that very moment, was in the act of teaching him the fundamentals of the new dispensation.
And this was done thrice: and straightway the vessel was received up into heaven.
We agree with Milligan who understood this verse as teaching that "The whole scene, including the sights and sounds, the vision and the dialogue, was repeated three times." F12 The purpose of this, of course, was to emphasize it. It will be remembered that when Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh, in two similar events of the good ears being destroyed by the blasted ears, and the fat cattle being devoured by the lean cattle, the dreams were one.
"The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one." (Genesis 41:26).
Now while Peter was much perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood before the gate.
The timing of all events is ordered by the infinite God; and it is obvious in Acts that the inspired prophets and evangelists of the apostolic age regarded the timing of events with the utmost attention. Thus, it appeared in Acts 5:9 that the return of the young men who had buried Ananias, their feet being that very moment "at the door," was one of the circumstances that enabled Peter to know that Sapphira would also die. Here also, the appearance of the three messengers from Cornelius coinciding so exactly with a vision repeated three times to Peter, certainly must have assisted the apostle in relating the two occurrences.
It would appear from the time of their arrival that Cornelius had not delayed his response to the angel's command, a noon arrival of his emissaries in Joppa being just about the earliest that was possible in view of the distance.
Verses 18, 19
And called and asked whether Simon, who was surnamed Peter, was lodging there. And while Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold three men seek thee.
These verses emphasize the coincidence mentioned in the comment on the preceding verse. Providences of this kind can occur only when God wills them; and, although it would be rash to suppose that in our own times we are able properly to interpret such things, nevertheless, we may in awe and reverence behold them.
Illustration: Bernard Lemmons and Lennos Norton, a preacher and elder of God's church respectively, were in an automobile accident on a New Jersey thoroughfare; and Brother Norton's face and throat were cut when his head went through the windshield. Twenty minutes before that accident occurred, however, one of the most skilled surgical nurses in New York City, who was returning from having spent the night with a friend in New Jersey, had suffered a minor accident with her car when it hit the same icy strip that caused Brother Lemmons to lose control of his car. Although the nurse did not particularly need an ambulance, someone had called it anyway; and that ambulance arrived almost simultaneously with the occurrence of the near-fatal accident to Brother Norton. The nurse tied off key arteries and saved his life. That this event had elements of Providence in it is clear enough. The services of that surgical nurse, and the timely arrival of an ambulance dispatched to the scene twenty minutes before the accident occurred, were both absolutely necessary to saving his life. There are many providences in life, and our hearts should be attuned to take account of them.
But arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting: for I have sent them.
Peter did not depend upon the coincidence of events for the decision he had to make; but the Spirit spoke to him in audible, intelligible words, commanding what he should do. We do not know just how that was done; but it is clear enough that more was involved than some mere feeling or impression made subjectively upon Peter.
I have sent them ...
These words appear to identify the speaker with the person Peter addressed as "Lord" in Acts 10:14. "On that occasion the voice seemed to come from without; and it may have been a voice that Peter well remembered, and immediately recognized." F13 We believe it was probably the same here.
Verses 21, 22
And Peter went down to the men, and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? And they said, Cornelius a centurion, a righteous man and one that feareth God, and well reported of by all the nation of the Jews, was warned of God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words from thee.
Coupled with the revelation already given to Peter, this message left Peter no choice except to receive it as a command from God; and so he received it.
So he called them in and lodged them. And on the morrow he arose and went forth with them, and certain of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
This was Peter's first break with the exclusiveness of the law of Moses. The Gentiles he invited into the house, shared the meal which by that time had been prepared for him, and kept them overnight, the lateness of the hour requiring that they should wait until the morrow to start to Caesarea. By this one act, Peter swept aside the prejudices of a lifetime, letting in the fresh air of the kingdom of heaven.
Brethren ... accompanied him ...
As an act of prudent foresight, Peter took the precaution of taking witnesses with him. He no doubt anticipated that what would be done in Caesarea might lead to misunderstandings and disputes, unless every word and act should be certified by competent witnesses. Significantly, the guidance of God's Spirit did not diminish Peter's responsibility to act prudently in all things.
And on the morrow they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his kinsmen and his near friends.
The godly life and righteous desires of Cornelius had been shared with all who were in any sense near or intimate with him, this giving a glimpse of how one's influence reaches others.
They entered into Caesarea ...
"This was a memorable event, being the first invasion of the Roman Empire by the soldiers of the cross." F14
And when it came to pass that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
Worshiped him ...
All five New Testament words translated "worship" indicate that worship is an act, not some kind of subjective feeling. Note these:
- [Greek: proskuneo] means "to bow down toward" and is used of:
- worshiping God (Matt. 4:10; John 4;:21f; 1 Cor. 14:25; Rev. 4:10, etc.).
- worshiping Christ (Matt. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 28:9,17; John 9:38; Heb. 1:6, etc.).
- worshiping a man (Matthew 18:16).
- worshiping the dragon (by men) (Revelation 13:4).
- worshiping the beast (Rev. 13:4,8,12; 14:9-11).
- worshiping the image of the beast (Revelation 13:15; 14:11; 16:2).
- worshiping demons (Revelation 9:20).
- worshiping idols (Acts 7:43).
- [Greek: sebomai] means "to revere," stressing the feeling of awe; but the word is used of reverencing God (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7; Acts 16:14; 18:7,13), and also of reverencing a goddess (Acts 19:27).
- [Greek: sebazomai], akin to (2), above, means "to honor religiously" (Romans 1:25).
- [Greek: latreuo] means "to serve or to render religious service" (Philippians 3:3; Acts 7:42; 24:14 (in some versions)
- [Greek: eusebeo] means "to act piously toward" (Acts 17:23).
Thus the New Testament Greek words confirm the usual dictionary definition of "worship" as a transitive verb meaning "to pay an act of worship, to venerate, or to adore." There is no New Testament definition of "worship," but it is always associated with doing, rather than with feeling, although, of course, feeling is present in true worship. However the notion that worship is some kind of communion with God is ridiculous, never being true at all except in the most poetic and romantic sense. The action of worship, whether presented to God or to idols, is the same in both instances, according to the New Testament, as indicated in the words above; and of course no communion with an idol is possible.
Contrary to the facts which are clearly discernible from the above considerations, there is nevertheless a hurtful heresy to the effect that "worship is an attitude of mind." Philip Wendell Crannell asserted that "Worship is not a physical or material offering but an attitude of mind." F15 Such a notion should be rejected. Note the following:
- The public assemblies of Christians, dating from the resurrection itself, specifically commanded by the apostles and forming an essential element in the worship of Christ, are physical acts of presentation before the Lord, as evidenced by Romans 12:1.
- The Quaker conception that the Lord's Supper is a "spiritual act," requiring no physical emblems such as bread and wine, is incorrect. Faithful observance of the Lord's Supper is a physical act; and without that physical act, there is no observance of it. To be sure, "the proper attitude" is a part of it also, but only a part of it. True and faithful observance of the Supper is worship.
- Giving money or wealth to the support of God's work is worship in the truest and highest sense, properly attended of course by an attitude of loving obedience to the Father; but that attitude is not the worship; it is the giving of one's means that is worship.
- Praying is a physical thing, involving the total person in both mind and body; but it is nonetheless the action of an appellant seeking the blessing and forgiveness of God. No attitude may take the place of petitions addressed to God through Jesus Christ.
- Singing is likewise physical, as well as spiritual and mental. Singing is something that Christians do, not merely something they feel. That there is a way to do this, involving the spirit and the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15), does not and cannot nullify the fact that singing is something the Christian does.
Once the premise is allowed that worship is not anything that men do, but a subjective condition or disposition of the mind, then the inevitable corollary follows that whatever is done has nothing whatever to do with worship! Crannell expressed such a deduction as follows:
Anything that stimulates and expresses
the worshipful spirit is a legitimate
aid to worship, but never a substitute
for it, and harmful if it displaces
Such a view justifies every innovation ever introduced into the worship of Christ, as well as every innovation that may be dreamed up in the future! This conception of what worship is cannot be otherwise than profoundly wrong. Worship in any real sense is doing what God has commanded us to do; and, although it must be admitted that subjective feelings inevitably arise in the doing of those things, they must be looked upon as a consequence of worship and not as worship itself.
The author of Hebrews said, "Through Christ let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name" (Hebrews 13:15); but such praise is not a sacrifice, so long as it is merely "in mind." It is when it passes the portal of the lips that it becomes a sacrifice of praise to God.
Thus, Cornelius' worshiping of Peter refers not merely to some attitude within Cornelius' heart but to what he did in Peter's presence.
But Peter raised him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
In further development of the thoughts concerning worship presented under the foregoing verse, this event should be studied in connection with Rev. 19:10 and Rev. 22:8,9. Peter did not know the subjective state of Cornelius' mind; but what Cornelius did was wrong and under no circumstance to be allowed, regardless of the state of his mind in so doing. In the case of John in the passages cited, he KNEW the subjective state of his own mind, and that he INTENDED the act of worship as being unto God, and not unto the angel; but, despite the fact of his subjective attitude being correct, the angel disallowed such an act anyway. Thus worship appears in both circumstances as something other than the subjective condition. See my Commentary on Romans, Rom. 1:23.
And as he talked with him, he went in, and findeth many come together.
What a great opportunity was this to preach the truth. After the preliminary noted in the next few verses (Acts 10:28-34), Peter preached the gospel to all who were there assembled, with the amazing result that the total company obeyed the gospel, the same being perhaps the only occasion ever known in which an entire company of many souls unanimously accepted the truth.
Verses 28, 29
And he said unto them, Ye yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation; and yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean: wherefore also I came without gainsaying, when I was sent for. I ask therefore with what intent ye sent for me?
This introduction by Peter was probably spoken as much for the brethren who were with him as it was for the benefit of the company before whom he spoke. We learn from Acts 11:12 that there were six of these witnesses who had accompanied Peter; and the apostle's strategy here was clearly directed to their enlightenment. Root believed that "Peter did not yet realize that he was there to preach the gospel; and if this seems absurd to us, it is because we fail to realize the gulf between Jew and Gentile." F17 Considered apart from the presence of the six brethren who accompanied Peter, Root's opinion would appear true; but the view here is that Peter fully anticipated the entire event, and that it was precisely in view of what Peter had already concluded would take place in Caesarea that he invited the brethren to accompany him.
One of another nation ...
Bruce informs us that this expression is frequently used in the Septuagint (LXX) to denote "an uncircumcised Philistine." F18 It is in this that all thought of Cornelius' possibly being a proselyte disappears.
Cornelius at once responded with a resume of the circumstances which had prompted his request.
And Cornelius said, Four days ago, until this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in white apparel.
Four days ago ...
The travel time between Caesarea and Joppa was two days, the distance each way being thirty or thirty-five miles. Both going and coming, they would "probably have stopped the night at Apollonia, which was half way, on the coast road." F19
The ninth hour of prayer ...
was 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. See under Acts 10:10.
A man ... in white apparel ...
In the writings of Luke, the "white apparel" is often mentioned in describing the appearance of an angel. It should also be noted that the angel did not walk in, he merely appeared in the presence of Cornelius.
And saith, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
This repeats the information already given in Acts 10:2, the only significant difference being the mention of the prayers ahead of the alms.
Verses 32, 33
Send therefore to Joppa, and call unto thee Simon, who is surnamed Peter: he lodgeth in the house of Simon a tanner, by the sea side. Forthwith therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord.
Thou hast done well that thou art come ...
The meaning here is not exactly certain, being (1) either the equivalent of a "thank you" for Peter's response, or (2) a complimentary notice of the dispatch with which Peter had come, or perhaps something of both.
All here ... to hear all things commanded thee of the Lord ...
Cornelius, by such a remark, made it clear that his only concern was in knowing what God's message was, concerning himself and the household he had assembled. Never did a gospel minister have a greater opportunity than that afforded on such an occasion as this. "All things ..." could hardly have failed to ring a bell in Peter's heart; for he had heard the Lord command that "all nations" should be taught "all things" whatsoever Jesus had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). His duty, therefore, was crystal clear; for here was a Gentile household belonging to the "all nations," declaring that they were assembled to hear "all things" the Lord commanded.
Verses 34, 35
And Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him.
Peter opened his mouth ...
This is the same expression found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, where it is related that "Jesus opened his mouth, etc." This indicates formal preparation and the deliberate presentation of significant truth. Bruce said that such an expression "is used to introduce some weighty utterance." F20 Peter's first sentence swept away the racial prejudice of centuries.
The first sweeping declaration that God's salvation was available to people of "every nation" was perhaps the only thing in Peter's sermon that was any different from the sermons he had been preaching throughout Palestine for years prior to the events here; and, as might have been expected, the sermon following this epic opening remark took the form which "the message" always took in Peter's preaching. That oral message, reduced here to writing by the evangelist Luke, had been available for years prior to the conversion of Cornelius, and was available throughout Peter's lifetime. There would have been no problem whatever in Luke's procurement of a "verbatim" record of that formalized apostolic sermon. He might have procured it either from Peter or from Paul, or from any one of a thousand Christians throughout the world of that period, all of whom had long ago committed the last syllable of it to memory.
That period, prior to the New Testament writings, in which the gospel was orally proclaimed, was, in the historical sense, so brief as to be negligible. To refer to Peter's speech recorded here as "traditional" is ridiculous; and, although the form of Peter's presentation of the message had probably jelled into something of a pattern, it was, nevertheless, Peter's eye-witness account of experiences and information in which he had participated personally. As Paul noted, "the greater part (of those witnesses and participants) remain until now" (1 Corinthians 15:6). If one wishes to know what the [Greek: kerygma] really was, let him read the New Testament; it is the [kerygma]!
Before passing to a consideration of the rest of Peter's speech, an event, the chronology of which is given in the next chapter, should be noticed:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning
Acts 10:44, says that "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word."
While Peter yet spake ...
does not contradict Peter's own statement that the Holy Spirit fell upon them as he "began to speak." Thus the truth appears that it was at the beginning of Peter's message when the Holy Spirit fell upon that company, thus disconnecting the event from the message of salvation that Peter delivered. The importance of this distinction will appear later.
The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all).
Peter's entire speech, as recorded here, requires only fifty-eight seconds to be read aloud, which fact underscores the error of Dibelius, who said that "in the conversion of a centurion, such a comparatively long speech can have no place. (It) is a literary composition of the author Luke." F21 There can be no way of viewing this as "such a long speech"; such a criticism exposing the bias and unreliability of the criticism.
The same author declared that, "Except for Acts 10:34-35, there is nothing in the present speech relevant to the special question of Gentile evangelization." F22 But that remark is an unbelievable affirmation that (1) the lordship of Jesus Christ, (2) the mighty works of the Master, (3) the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, (4) the final judgment of all men, (5) the remission of sins through faith in Christ, and (6) the fact of Christ's being appointed to be the Judge of all men in the last day - that none of these things is relevant to evangelizing Gentiles! Dibelius' contention in this is as wild, irresponsible and unbelievable as any comment this writer has ever seen. It is repeated here only to illustrate the monstrous errors men will swallow in their efforts to discredit some portion of the New Testament.
All of the mighty teachings listed in (1) through (6) above are not merely relevant to the evangelization of every man on earth, whether Jew or Gentile; but they are the sine qua non of the whole system of Christianity as delivered by Christ and his apostles.
That saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached.
Ye yourselves know ...
Cornelius and his assembled friends were far from being raw pagans; and the publication of the gospel had already been so extensively achieved, that Peter presumed their knowledge of the saying that "Jesus is Lord of all," and perhaps also their knowledge of some of the other great Christian teachings being enunciated.
Even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
Anointed with the Holy Spirit ...
The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit occurred at his baptism, at which time the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove alighted and remained upon him; also, at that same time, the voice from heaven declared him to be the Son of God, beloved of the Father.
Healing all that were oppressed with the devil ...
The view that Satan oppresses men's bodies with diseases appears in this, as also in Luke 13:16.
And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree.
The scandal of the cross was emphasized by the words `hanging him on a tree'; but, in the apostolic preaching of that event, it is clear that they also grasped the glory of it: that "by his stripes" we are healed, and that "God laid on him" the iniquity of us all.
Verses 40, 41
Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
This is the heart of Christianity. If this is not relevant to every man on earth, then nothing is relevant. The facts in view here are the cornerstone and foundation of all faith and doctrine in Christ. This is the essential theme that both launched and sustained the triumph of Christianity over the pagan religions of antiquity. The apostles did not preach what they had merely heard, but what they had heard and seen. Hervey rightly affirmed that "This constant reference to eyewitnesses is an indication of the historical character of Christianity, and of the importance of Christian evidences." F23
And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead.
In these dynamic words, Cornelius was made aware of the great truth that Jesus Christ will judge every man at the last day. Implicit in such an epic fact is the teaching: (1) that all men shall be raised in a general resurrection, (2) that Christ is risen from the dead, (3) that he has ascended to heaven, (4) that all power and authority in heaven and upon earth are his, and (5) that salvation may be found only in him.
To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins.
Whosoever believeth shall receive remission ...
is not a statement of the "sole condition" of salvation, as often alleged, but a revelation that only believers shall be saved. Within seconds, or minutes, after this, Peter commanded his hearers to be baptized (Acts 10:48).
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on them that heard the word.
This event actually occurred "as Peter began to speak," being intended not to save Cornelius (for Peter would tell him "words whereby he and his house should be saved" as in 11:14), but for the purpose of convincing Peter and his companions that the gospel should be preached to Cornelius and company without reservation or prior requirement. It is in the necessity for this that the unique character of this entire episode is evident.
Regarding the fact of the Holy Spirit in this instance falling upon people who had not been baptized, whereas on Pentecost the promise of the Holy Spirit was made to depend upon the repentance and baptism of believers, many strange and untenable theories have been erected. Trenchard, for example, thought that here, "The Pentecostal baptism was extended to Gentile believers on the sole ground of repentance and faith." F24 However, there is no mention of repentance in this passage; and, as the Spirit fell on them "as Peter began to speak," it is incorrect to say that they were "believers" when that occurred. It is a mistake to make this unique occurrence a normal Christian experience. Murray-Beasley was certainly correct when he declared that:
This gift of the Spirit without
baptism must be viewed as exceptional,
due to a divine intervention in a
highly significant situation, teaching
that Gentiles may be received into the
church by baptism, even when they have
not removed their uncleanness through
circumcision and sacrifice. F25
It is that "exceptional situation" mentioned by Beasley-Murray that must be emphasized here. The divine manifestation of the Holy Spirit falling on those Gentiles of Cornelius' household was not for the purpose of saving them, in any sense, but for the purpose of convincing the apostle Peter and his companions of the propriety of welcoming the Gentiles into the church of God upon the same conditions as everyone else. And again from Beasley-Murray:
Whatever the relationship between
baptism and the gift of the Spirit
elsewhere in Acts, there appears to be
no doubt as to the intention of
Acts 2:38; the penitent believer baptized
in the name of Jesus Christ may expect
to receive at once the Holy Spirit,
even as he is assured of the immediate
forgiveness of his sins. F26
Verses 45, 46
And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
The outpouring here was like that on Pentecost (Acts 11:15), only in this case it was not upon the apostles, but upon those who were hearing an apostle. The clear intention was that of sealing absolutely the reception of Gentiles into the church of Jesus Christ upon the same basis as others.
Verses 47, 48
Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Commanded them to be baptized ...
Peter did not jump to the conclusion, as many moderns have done, that "Glory be; this does away with baptism altogether"; but, as Bruner noted:
It was impossible for the apostles to
associate the gift of the Holy Spirit
with anything but baptism; the new
converts were immediately
Moreover, the fact that baptism for Gentiles was necessary to their salvation, no less than it was declared to be on Pentecost, appears in the facts (1) that an angel of God told Cornelius that Peter would tell him words whereby he would be saved (Acts 11:14), and (2) that in all of the words spoken by Peter there was but one commandment, that requiring them to be baptized.
In the name of Jesus ...
They are in error who view baptism as here commanded in the name of Jesus to be any different from that enjoined in the great commission, "to baptize ... into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Sprit" (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is invariably "in the name of" Jesus Christ, meaning by his authority; but the purpose is the unity of the convert with the sacred triple name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The baptism "in the name of Jesus" is at the same time "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." As Campbell said, "The authority by which any act is performed must never be confounded with the meaning, or intention, of it." F28
Footnotes for Acts 10
1: J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 205.
2: A. C. Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950), Acts, p. 332.
3: E. H. Trenchard, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 309.
4: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 333.
6: Orin Root, Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1966), p. 75.
7: Robert Milligan, Analysis of the New Testament (Cincinnati, Ohio: Bosworth, Chase and Hall, Publishers, 1974), p. 349.
8: John Peter Lange, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1866), p. 192.
9: F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 218,
11: Robert Milligan, op. cit., p. 150.
13: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 220.
14: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 334.
15: Philip Wendell Crannell, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: The Howard Severance Company, 1915), p. 3112.
17: Orin Root, op. cit, p. 79.
18: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 222.
19: A. C. Harvey, op. cit., p. 334.
20: F. F. Bruce, op. cit, p. 224.
21: Martin Dibelius, Die Bekehrung des Cornelius (Gottingen, 1951), p. 97.
23: A. C. Hervey, op. cid., p. 336.
24: E. H. Trenchard, op. cit., p. 3.
25: Beasley-Murray, G. F., Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1962), p. 108.
27: Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1971), p. 193.
28: Alexander Campbell, Acts of Apostles (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House), p. 76.
29: F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950) p. 181.
30: Ibid, p. 182.
31: J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 142.
32: Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 412.
33: Joseph Benson, op. cit., in loco.
34: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 142.
35: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 184.
36: Thomas Scott, The Henry-Scott Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 461.
37: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 49.
38: J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 148.
39: Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 112.
40: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 188.
43: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 53.
44: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 162.
45: John Peter Lange, op. cit., p. 101.
46: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 825.
47: John William Russell, op. cit. p. 295.
48: Alexander Campbell, op. cit., p. 18.
49: As quoted by Campbell, ibid.
50: E. H. Plumptre, The Acts of Apostles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 15.