Acts 10:1-48 – Peter and Cornelius
SummaryPeter 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.
AnalysisIn 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.