Peter explains his actions. 11:1-18
For Luke, the movement of the gospel toward the Gentiles is a significant event and so he takes time to show that it is not only authorized by the Jerusalem church, but by God himself. Our passage for study records Peter's defense, before the Jerusalem church, for the baptism of Cornelius and his family.
v1-3. The Jerusalem church was divided between liberals and conservatives, with the apostles sitting on the fence. The liberals were mainly Jews of the dispersion, Greek speaking Jews who aligned with Stephen. The conservatives were mainly residents of Jerusalem and Judea. The conservatives saw themselves as "kosher" believers, and because they were sticklers for the law, they were initially left alone by the Jewish authorities. Paul would soon find himself in dispute with these hard-line believers of the Circumcision party, these Judaizers. It was the members of the Circumcision party (better than "circumcised believers") who challenged Peter over his open neglect of the law by his association with Gentiles. Chapter 10 actually doesn't tell us he ate with them, although he did "stay with them for a few days." At any rate, the Jerusalem church soon heard the news and were quickly on the case.
v4-10. Peter defends himself by narrating the events of his meeting with Cornelius. He begins with his vision on the roof of the Tanner's house in Joppa. The account is now personalized, with some extra details. There is a fourth group of unclean animals in his vision - "wild beasts". The quadrupeds seem to be clean animals, ie. animals that chewed the cud and had cloven hooves, cf. Lev.11. Yet, clean animals, as well as unclean, seem to undermine the point of the vision and the command "kill and eat". Of course, not all four-footed animals are clean, so they are probably the unclean ones. Note that Peter's response is close to a similar response made by Ezekiel, Ezk.4:14.
v11-14. Peter now tells of his submission to the Spirit's command. He goes with the three visitors to Caesarea and enters the home of Cornelius. His words here are obviously only a summary. For example, he would have given the details of Cornelius' background - a seeker after God, a God fearer (ie. a Gentile with links to the Jewish faith), a good and righteous man. Note that Peter has brought his "six brothers" with him to substantiate his story. They witnessed the conversion of Cornelius.
v15-17. We now come to the center of Peter's argument. He states that as he "began to speak the Holy Spirit came on them." Acts 10 records his gospel presentation to Cornelius and his family. Peter's sermon begins with the declaration that "God does not show favoritism", and goes on to outline the life of Jesus, his resurrection, the coming judgment and the forgiveness of sins to those who believe. Before Peter could finish his gospel message, the Spirit fell on his audience - they believed and received the Holy Spirit.
Cornelius, his family and friends, had obviously received the Holy Spirit because he came on them "as he had come on us at the beginning", ie. "they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God", Act.10:46. Clearly, this was a Pentecost type experience where ecstatic prophecy served to evidence a widening of membership in the kingdom of God. If the belief of these Gentiles prompted the gift of the Holy Spirit, who was Peter to think he "could oppose God" (ie. refuse baptism, Act.10:47-48). The visible fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 on this occasion, served to prove that the promise applies to all mankind, not just Jews.
v18. The right of Gentiles to access the Christian church was therefore now established (by God), but the debate over the extent to which Gentiles were bound by Old Testament law was yet to come. The church then "praised God", although one wonders if the members of the Circumcision party were all that joyful.
God does not show favoritism
After the pictures on Saturday afternoon, our friend Tony Dixon would always have to call into the Roman Catholic church for confession. We would sit on the front steps of the church and wait for him. His church seemed so different, but in the innocence of youth it didn't even register. In my later pious years I did wonder whether his church was the real thing. As the years went by I was to have many pass a similar judgment on my church. There was the Adventist who told me I was outside God's blessings because my church didn't keep the seventh day. There was the Pentecostal who told me that I would never be fully in the Lord while I associated with a church that wasn't Spirit filled. There were many others, and they all remind me of my own pious partiality.
The truth is that God shows no partiality. When Peter defended his actions before the Jerusalem church he asked, "who was I to think that I could oppose God?" In the Lord's eyes there is "neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female." Our Lord is not bigoted. Full acceptance before Him rests on grace through faith, it has nothing to do with the privilege of our association. If the children of Abraham had to accept this truth and welcome despised Gentiles into their fellowship, how much more should we welcome fellow believers, whose distinctions and differences are nothing to compare with the difference between a Jew and a Gentile?
Our passage reminds us to resist the temptation of breaking fellowship with those who have a different theology to our own, but the same faith.
Discuss how denominational differences divide us.
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