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Acts 10:1-48 – Peter and Cornelius

Summary

Peter is called to go to the house of a Gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius, to tell him about God's grace revealed in Jesus. To go to Cornelius's house and stay there, Peter must leave behind the scriptural commands of God that require separation of foods and persons into the categories of clean and unclean.

Analysis

In the story of Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed in Caesarea, Peter is the first of the apostles (who were all Jews) to stay in the house of a Gentile and eat with him and his household. This is a major step in Acts, requiring the full length of Acts 10 to bring it to fruition and two repetitions of the story (11:1-18; 15:6-11) to explain it.

From the beginning of Luke's story (see Luke 1:1-4), it has been clear that the ordering of events in both Luke and Acts is crucial to understanding their meaning. This is again true in the story of Peter and Cornelius. Peter, who up to this point in Acts has been the primary leader among the believers, is given great credibility for healing Aeneas and raising Dorcas/Tabitha from death in the preceding scenes (9:32-41). Now, in Acts 10, through a series of experiences, Cornelius, a Gentile who prays to God and gives alms (a form of repentance among Jews), sees a vision that will answer his prayers. Peter receives a vision that is puzzling precisely because it requires him to ignore Scripture itself, as well as the long-held tradition of his people concerning clean and unclean things (see, for example, Leviticus 20:22-26).

Both Cornelius and Peter follow the promptings of their visions, Peter at the additional prompting of the Spirit. Peter knows that for a Jew to enter and remain in the home of a Gentile and risk eating unclean foods is unacceptable, even unfaithful to God's commands. Yet he is called upon to reinterpret his own Scripture in order to follow the paths that God continues to put before him. He must enter Cornelius's home. The two men come together and Peter understands that God has decided to end the separation of clean and unclean. The coming of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household confirms Peter's interpretation and leads to baptism and to Peter's decision (along with his fellow Jewish believers) to stay with Cornelius for some days. Peter and Cornelius express the idea of friendship and neighbor-love, reflecting the conviction that God has made them equals in a new way.

Later, in Acts 11:3, the believers back in Jerusalem query Peter, not about baptizing Gentiles, but about eating with them. It is clear that what is at stake in this passage is how the church will be a church of Scripture, honoring the word of God from so long ago, and yet be in mission among Gentiles without insisting on keeping the law as Scripture presents it.

Acts 10:1-48

Peter and Cornelius

10In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ 4He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.’ 7When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 15The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three* men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’ 21So Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?’ 22They answered, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ 23So Peter* invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers* from Joppa accompanied him. 24The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. 26But Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal.’ 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28and he said to them, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?’

30 Cornelius replied, ‘Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31He said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” 33Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’

Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

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10 February 2011

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