(1) The Vision of Cornelius (10:1–8)
1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
10:1 The narrative begins by introducing the first main character. His name was Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian regiment who resided in Caesarea. Each of these details is significant. That he was mentioned by name is perhaps indicative that he was well known in the early Christian communities for whom Luke wrote.67 He was a military man with the rank of centurion, which placed him in command of 100 soldiers.68
One is immediately reminded of Jesus’ encounter with a centurion at Capernaum who was described as well respected by the Jewish community, much like Cornelius (Luke 7:1–10). Centurions generally are depicted in a favorable light throughout the Gospels and Acts, and this may well be evidence of the success of the early Christian mission among the military. Cornelius’s division is described as the “Italian regiment,” a group that is documented as occupying Palestine after a.d. 69.69 The place of his residence is of some importance, since Caesarea was from a.d. 6 the provincial capital and place of residence of the Roman governor. Unlike Lydda and Joppa, which were mainly inhabited by Jews, Caesarea was a Hellenistic-style city with a dominant population of Gentiles. Originally a small town named Strato’s Tower, it was rebuilt on a grand style by Herod the Great, complete with a man-made harbor, a theater, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, and a temple dedicated to Caesar. There was a substantial Jewish minority there and considerable friction between the Jews and the larger Gentile community.70 It was fitting that it should be the place where Peter came to terms with his own prejudices and realized that human barriers have no place with the God who “does not show favoritism.”
10:2 Cornelius already had some preparation for the gospel he was soon to hear. Luke described him as “devout” (eusebēs) and “God-fearing” (phoboumenos ton theon). There is some question about whether the term “God-fearer” should be seen as a technical term designating a special class of Gentile adherents to the Jewish synagogue who had not taken the full step of becoming proselytes to Judaism.71 Cornelius, however, was clearly a Gentile who worshiped God and supported the Jewish religious community. In fact, he was described as performing two of the three main acts of Jewish piety—prayer and almsgiving. (Only fasting is not mentioned.) In short, his devotion to God put him well on the way, preparing him for receiving the gospel and for the full inclusion in God’s people that he could not have found in the synagogue.
10:3 In the course of the practice of Cornelius’s piety, God spoke to him. Cornelius was keeping one of the three traditional Jewish times of prayer, the afternoon hour of 3 p.m., which coincided with the Tamid sacrifice in the temple. God’s agent was an angel who appeared to him in a vision. Frequently in Luke-Acts God used prayer time as the opportunity for leading to new avenues of ministry.72 Prayer is a time for opening oneself up to God, thus enabling his leading. Visions occur frequently in Acts as a vehicle of divine leading, which illustrates that the major advances in the Christian witness are all under divine direction.73 In no case is that clearer than in the present instance. Cornelius and Peter took no initiative in what transpired. Their mutual visions illustrate that all was totally under God’s direction.
10:4 Cornelius’s response to the heavenly epiphany is understandable. It was a response of awe and reverence (emphobos), not of cowering fear (v. 4). Much like Paul, Cornelius addressed his heavenly visitant with a respectful “Lord.” The angel responded by noting that God was aware of his piety.74 His prayer and his acts of charity had gone up as a “memorial offering” in the presence of God. The term “memorial” (literally, “remembrance,” mnemosynon) is Old Testament sacrificial language.75 Cornelius’s prayers and works of charity had risen like the sweet savor of a sincerely offered sacrifice, well-pleasing to God (cf. Phil 4:18). The importance of Cornelius’s piety is reiterated throughout the narrative (vv. 2, 4, 22, 35).
10:5–8 One would like to know the content of Cornelius’s prayer. Could it possibly have requested his full acceptance by God, his full inclusion in God’s people?76 At this point the angel revealed nothing to Cornelius about his ultimate purpose for him, simply that he was to send to Joppa for a certain Simon named Peter. The additional note that Peter was staying with the tanner Simon serves to link the narrative with the previous (9:43) and was essential in providing the needed directions for locating him. Still very much in the dark about what God had in store for him, Cornelius neither questioned the angel further nor hesitated in complying with directions. He called forth two of his servants77 and a “devout” soldier, who probably was a worshiper of God like himself. The Greek text adds that all three “continually waited on him,” which is a classical expression for “orderlies,” for those who are most tried and true. Cornelius was thus careful to choose his most trustworthy attendants to go to Joppa and seek Peter.
(2) The Vision of Peter (10:9–16)
9About noon the following 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 the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
10:9 Joppa was about thirty miles to the south of Caesarea. Having set out the same day as Cornelius’s vision or early the next morning, the attendants approached Joppa about noon the next day. Peter in the meantime had gone up to the flat roof of Simon’s house in order to pray.78 Hungry and waiting for a meal to be prepared, he fell into a trance.
10:10–16 Noon was not a usual weekday meal time. The custom was to have a light midmorning meal and a more substantial repast in the late afternoon. If Peter had missed his midmorning breakfast, it would explain his drowsiness all the more.79 Roofs were often covered with awnings. Perhaps that or the glimpse of a distant sail at sea provided the vehicle for the vision Peter had. He saw a large vessel or container like a large sheet descending from heaven, held by its four corners. Some interpreters suggest a symbolic meaning here, the four corners representing the ends of the earth in a vision, the ultimate meaning of which points to the worldwide mission.80 The sheet contained representatives of all the animals of the earth—four-footed animals, reptiles of the land, and birds of the air.81 It thus symbolized the entire animal world and included clean as well as unclean animals.82 A voice from heaven commanded Peter to rise, kill from among the animals, and satisfy his hunger. Peter was perplexed by the vision and protested vigorously. What the voice requested was strictly against the law.83 Never had he eaten anything defiled and unclean.84 The voice ignored his protest, reissuing the command and adding, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” The command came three times; each time Peter objected and fell into further confusion.85
Some scholars feel that Peter’s vision dealt more with food laws than with interaction with Gentiles. This is to overlook the fact that the two are inextricably related. In Lev 20:24b–26 the laws of clean and unclean are linked precisely to Israel’s separation from the rest of the nations. The Jewish food laws presented a real problem for Jewish Christians in the outreach to the Gentiles. One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing those laws either by the consumption of unclean flesh or of flesh that had not been prepared in a kosher, i.e., ritually proper, fashion (cf. Acts 15:20). Jesus dealt with the problem of clean and unclean, insisting that external things like foods did not defile a person but the internals of heart and speech and thought render one truly unclean (Mark 7:14–23). In Mark 7:19b Mark added the parenthetical comment that Jesus’ saying ultimately declared all foods clean. This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean.86 In Mark 7 Jesus’ teaching on clean/unclean was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile. It is simply not possible to fully accept someone with whom you are unwilling to share in the intimacy of table fellowship. The early church had to solve the problem of kosher food laws in order to launch a mission to the Gentiles. Purity distinctions and human discrimination are of a single piece.
(3) Peter’s Visit to Cornelius (10:17–23)
17While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.
10:17–23 At this point Peter was still in the dark about the meaning of his vision. What possible point could this implied nullification of the food laws have? At that very moment the answer to his puzzle was beginning to come forth, as Cornelius’s messengers arrived at Simon the tanner’s. Now the Spirit spoke to him directly. With Cornelius it had been an angel; with Peter’s vision, a voice from heaven. Now it was the Holy Spirit. All three represent the same reality—the direction of God. Nothing was left to chance. All was coordinated by the divine leading. The Spirit directed Peter to the three messengers standing at the gate and identified them as men he had sent (v. 19f.).87 In accordance with the Spirit’s direction, Peter descended the outside staircase that led from the roof to the courtyard below, identified himself, and eagerly inquired why they were seeking him. By now he had a good notion that they were a key piece in the puzzle of his vision. The men replied with the information Peter needed, which is all material the reader has already encountered. Luke could have summarized by simply noting that they told him of Cornelius’s vision. Instead, by employing dialogue, he repeated and thus underlined the important points of the vision.
Two things in particular are emphasized—the devoutness of Cornelius and the leading of God.88 There is a slight advance over the original account of the vision in vv. 4–6. The messengers informed Peter that Cornelius was to “hear what you have to say” (v. 22). Peter began to see the ramifications of his vision. He was to witness to this centurion whom God had directed to him. That Peter was beginning to understand is exemplified by his inviting them to spend the evening as guests. Already he was beginning to have fellowship with Gentiles he formerly considered unclean.89
(4) Shared Visions (10:24–33)
24The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
10:24–26 Peter and the three messengers set out the next morning accompanied by several of the Jewish Christians from Joppa. According to Peter’s report in Jerusalem, there were six of the latter (11:12). After spending the night en route, they arrived at Caesarea on the fourth day from Cornelius’s original vision (cf. v. 30). Cornelius had invited a number of relatives and close90 friends to hear Peter, and they were all gathered at his home when the party from Joppa arrived. This would prove to be of considerable importance to subsequent events. The movement of the Spirit in Cornelius’s home would not be an isolated conversion but would involve a considerable number of Gentiles, what Luke called “household” salvation (11:14). As Peter entered the house,91 Cornelius fell at his feet in a gesture of reverence and respect.92 Peter protested vigorously—even more in the Western text, which adds, “What are you doing?” to the Alexandrian reading, “I am only a man myself.” Compare the similar protest of Paul and Barnabas when the Gentiles at Lystra attempted to sacrifice to them as gods (Acts 14:14f.).93
10:27–29 After a polite introductory conversation with Cornelius, Peter related the unusual circumstances of his coming. He did not tell of his vision but rather of the conclusion he had drawn from the experience. Everyone present needed to realize how unacceptable it was for a Jew to associate closely or even visit in the home of a person of another race.94 God, however, had shown Peter that he should not call another person common or unclean (v. 28). Actually, Peter’s vision had only related to unclean foods, but he had understood fully the symbolism of the creatures in the sheet. All were God’s creatures; all were declared clean. God had led him to Cornelius, and God had declared Cornelius clean. The old purity laws could no longer separate Jew from Gentile. Since God had shown himself no respecter of persons, neither could Peter be one anymore. Still, Peter had not realized the full implication of God’s sending him to Cornelius. He did not yet understand that God intended him to accept Cornelius as a Christian brother. So he asked Cornelius why he had sent for him. Cornelius responded by reiterating his vision (vv. 30–32).
10:30–32 This is now the third time the reader has encountered this experience. It is virtually a summary of vv. 3–8 with slight variations, such as the notice that it was now four days since the vision occurred95 and the fact that he spoke of a “man in shining clothes” rather than an angel. A man in shining clothes is, of course, an angel; so it is merely a variation in expression.96 Even Peter’s location in Joppa is repeated in detail. The emphasis and the reason for the repetition is to underscore the importance of the divine direction that led to this scene. Peter was not yet fully certain why he was at Cornelius’s house.
10:33 Everyone there, however, including Peter, was certain of one thing: God had brought them together. Cornelius also knew that God brought Peter to him to share something important. That is why he assembled family and friends. All were now waiting to hear the Lord’s message from Peter (v. 33).97 God had led him to Cornelius’s house. But Peter had a message, the message, the word of life. It was now clear to him why God had led him there. He was to bear his witness to the gospel before this gathering of Gentiles.
(5) Peter’s Witness (10:34–43)
34Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us 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 whom God appointed 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.”
10:34–35 Peter’s sermon is somewhat unique among the speeches in Acts. Since it was addressed to Gentiles, one would expect it to differ somewhat from the other sermons of Peter, all of which were addressed to Jews. Still, it is quite different from Paul’s sermons addressed to the Gentiles of Lystra (14:15–18) and Athens (17:22–31).
Cornelius and his family already were worshipers of God and thus had some prior preparation for the gospel. Peter could have assumed such knowledge on their part and not have to start by first introducing the basic monotheistic message of faith in God as he did when preaching to pagan Gentiles. Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’s basically followed the pattern of his prior sermons to the Jews but with several significant differences. One is found at the very outset, where he stressed that God shows no favoritism, accepts people from every nation, and that Jesus is “Lord of all.” This emphasis on the universal gospel is particularly suited to a message to Gentiles. Peter’s vision had led him to this basic insight that God does not discriminate between persons, that there are no divisions between “clean” and “unclean” people from the divine perspective. The Greek word used for favoritism (v. 34) is constructed on a Hebrew idiom meaning to lift a face.98 Peter saw that God does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnic background, looking up to some and down on others. But God does discriminate between those whose behavior is acceptable and those whose attitude is not acceptable. Those who reverence God and practice what is right are acceptable to him (v. 35; cf. Luke 8:21).
Peter was basing this statement specifically on Cornelius. Throughout the narrative his piety had been stressed—his constant prayers, his deeds of charity. This raises the problem of faith and works. Was God responding to Cornelius’s works, “rewarding” him, so to speak, by bringing Peter with the saving gospel and granting him his gift of the Spirit? One must be careful not to introduce Paul’s theology into a context that is not dealing with the same issues, but one should also note that even Paul was capable of describing the impartial justice of God as being based on one’s good or evil works (Rom 2:9–11).99 The early church fathers struggled with the question of faith and works in Cornelius, and perhaps Augustine’s view offers as good an answer as any. Cornelius, like Abraham, had shown himself to be a man of faith and trust in God. God was already working his grace in him, and it manifested itself in his good deeds.100 Now God would show him his greatest grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit. The stress on both Cornelius’s devoutness and his works is perhaps, then, a good corrective to an abused doctrine of grace with no implications for behavior and a reminder of James’s dictum that at base, faith and works are inseparable.
10:36 As with Peter’s other addresses in Acts, considerable stress is placed on God’s act in Jesus Christ. This theme is introduced in v. 36, where Peter stressed the good news of peace through Jesus Christ.101 There is an interesting interplay in the verse between the limited nature of the gospel’s beginnings and its unlimited scope. God sent the gospel message to his people, “the people of Israel.” But its content was peace, the peace Christ brings, who is “Lord of all.” If he is truly Lord of all, then the gospel and Christ’s peace are for all peoples, not just the people of Israel. Verse 36 echoes Isa 52:7; 57:19. In Eph 2:17 Paul employed the latter passage to argue the universal gospel and the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ. Peter also had come to see that it is a natural corollary that there can be no barriers between those who profess Christ as “Lord of all.” He could not allow such nonessentials as particularistic Jewish food laws to separate him from Gentiles like Cornelius who were, like him, those for whom Christ died. Where Christ is Lord of all, a worldwide witness and a worldwide fellowship of believers free of all cultural prejudice are absolutely imperative.
10:37–38 Verse 37 begins the explicit treatment of Jesus’ life, which continues through v. 42. This section is unique among the speeches of Acts in the amount of attention it gives to the ministry of Jesus. The other speeches of Peter emphasize the death and resurrection, as does this speech (vv. 39–40). Only the sermon in Cornelius’s house, however, provides an outline of Jesus’ earthly ministry (vv. 37–38). In fact, these verses are almost a summary of the outline of Jesus’ life as presented in Mark’s Gospel: the baptism of John, the Galilean period with its extensive healing ministry, the death and resurrection.102 That Peter began the summary of Jesus’ career with “you know” (v. 37) is interesting. He could perhaps have assumed that Cornelius, residing in Caesarea, would have heard some prior report of John’s baptizing and Jesus’ reputation for miracles. Paul later made a similar assumption that these events could not have escaped king Agrippa’s knowledge because they “did not happen in a corner” (26:26). His reference to Jesus’ being anointed with the Spirit (v. 38) most likely refers to the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22). In turn, the anointing with the Spirit is closely tied with Jesus’ miracles in Luke’s Gospel, as it is here (Luke 4:18f., citing Isa 61:1f.).103
10:39–42 In v. 39 Peter turned to his role as apostolic witness to the entire ministry of Jesus (cf. 1:22) and above all to his death and resurrection. As in 5:30, Jesus’ crucifixion is described as “hanging him on a tree.” As always in Peter’s speeches, the crucifixion is attributed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In v. 40 the familiar kerygmatic formula occurs: they killed him, but God raised him up on the third day.104 Particularly striking and unique to this sermon is Peter’s stress on Jesus’ appearance to the apostles after his resurrection, even his eating and drinking with them.105 This emphasis would have been particularly important in preaching to Gentiles like Cornelius for whom the idea of a bodily resurrection was a new concept (cf. 17:18). Peter concluded his treatment of the apostolic witness by referring to Jesus’ command for them to preach the word (Acts 1:8) and especially to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God as eschatological judge (v. 42).106 The role is that of the Danielic Son of Man, and Peter perhaps was interpreting the title in terms that would have been comprehensible to a Gentile.107
One characteristic element of other sermons by Peter has to this point been lacking in this one—the proofs from the Old Testament Scriptures.108 Peter seems to have been moving in this direction when he referred to the witness of the prophets to Jesus (v. 43), and he connected this closely with repentance and forgiveness of sins. Perhaps Peter’s line of thought was related to Jesus’ words to the disciples after the resurrection, where the Scriptures that predict Christ’s suffering and resurrection are also closely tied to repentance and forgiveness in his name (Luke 24:46–48). In any event, Peter seems to have been moving toward his appeal with the references to the coming judgment and to repentance and forgiveness through Jesus’ name. He was, however, cut short. The miracle of repentance and forgiveness occurred before he could even extend the invitation, and the Spirit sealed the event.
(6) The Impartiality of the Spirit (10:44–48)
44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
10:44–48 As they listened to Peter’s words about forgiveness for everyone who believes in Christ, the Holy Spirit suddenly descended upon all the Gentiles assembled in Cornelius’s house (v. 44). They began to speak in tongues and to praise God (v. 46).109 It was an audible, visible, objective demonstration of the Spirit’s coming upon them. Peter and the Jewish Christian brothers from Joppa witnessed the event and were astounded that God had so given the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles (v. 44). It has often been described as the “Gentile Pentecost,” and that designation is appropriate. In v. 47 Peter practically gave it that designation when he described the Gentiles as having received the Holy Spirit “just as we have.” Like the Pentecost of Acts, it was a unique, unrepeatable event. It was scarcely programmatic. The sequence, for one, was most unusual, with the Spirit coming before their baptism. The pattern of a group demonstration of the Spirit invariably accompanies a new breakthrough in mission in Acts. We see it in the initial empowering of Pentecost, the establishment of the Samaritan mission (8:17–18), the reaching of former disciples of John the Baptist (19:6), and the foundation of the Gentile mission and its legitimation for the Jerusalem church.
Always the demonstration of the Spirit serves a single purpose—to show that the advance in witness comes directly from God, is totally due to divine leading. This was especially important in this instance. Peter had already shown his own hesitancy to reach out to Gentiles. More conservative elements in Jerusalem would be even more reticent. Only an undeniable demonstration of divine power could overrule all objections, and God provided precisely that in Cornelius’s house. Surely the Spirit had already moved among the Gentiles gathered there in a more inward experience of repentance and faith. Luke hinted at this. The very last words in the Greek text of Peter’s sermon before the Spirit descended are “everyone who believes in him.” The faith of the Gentiles is even more explicit in Peter’s report to Jerusalem, where he compared his own experience of belief in Christ and receipt of the Spirit with the experience of Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles (11:17).
Peter called for the baptism of the Gentiles (v. 47) in language that is highly reminiscent of the Ethiopian eunuch’s request for baptism (8:36). As with the eunuch, there was now no barrier, no way anyone could hinder (kōlyō) the baptism of these Gentiles and their full inclusion into the Christian community. The NIV obscures the similarity in the questions “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” and “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized?” Both questions involve the verb “to hinder.
Another obstacle had been overcome in the ever-widening scope of Christian mission, the barrier of national and racial particularism and separatism, the barrier of prejudice that looks down on others as “unclean.”110 It is interesting that Peter gave orders for them to be baptized. Evidently he did not baptize them himself but committed the task to some of those who had accompanied him from Joppa. This is further evidence that the early Christian leaders put no premium on who administered the rite.111
The narrative concludes with the note that Peter spent several days with his new Christian brothers and sisters in Caesarea (v. 48b). This inevitably involved table fellowship, but that now presented no problem for Peter.112 It would, however, constitute a major difficulty for more conservative Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem.
67 “Cornelius” represents the second of three names Romans generally bore and was fairly common among the military, largely because in 82 b.c., P. Cornelius Sulla freed 10,000 slaves. Many of these freedmen served in the military and took the name of their benefactor. See Cadbury, The Book of Acts in History, 76.
68 The main division in a Roman army was the legion, consisting of 6,000 men. These were divided into ten cohorts of 600 soldiers each. These in turn were subdivided into groups of 100 under a centurion, which groups were considered the backbone of the army. The Roman historian Polybius described centurions as “not seekers of adventure but men who can command, steady in action, reliable.” Cf. F. J. Foakes-Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles, MNTC (New York: Harper, 1931), 88.
69 An inscription found in Austria indicates the Italian cohort was an auxiliary division. (Auxiliary forces usually consisted of soldiers drawn from the territory where they were located rather than consisting of Roman citizens, as was the case with the regular legions.) See Beginnings 5:427–45. Whether a Roman division would have been located in Caesarea in the period of Herod Agrippa’s rule over Palestine (a.d. 41–44) is debated. Quite possibly some Roman auxiliary forces were under his command, and one corps is known to have been located in Caesarea. See Bruce, Acts: NIC, 214–15. That Cornelius was retired from service and settled in Caesarea is also possible, as the presence of his rather large household might indicate.
70 J. D. Williams, Acts, GNC (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 171.
71 The view that the terms σεβούμενος and φοβούμενος refer to a special class of Gentile synagogue worshipers has been generally assumed by scholars. For example, see G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), 1:323–26. One of the first to challenge whether they are technical terms was Lake in Beginnings 5:74–96. More recently A. T. Kraabel has questioned, largely on the archaeological evidence, whether there was a significant group of Gentiles attached to the Diaspora synagogues at all (“The Disappearance of the God-fearers,” Numen 28 : 113–26). See also M. Wilcox, “The ‘God-fearers’ in Acts—A Reconsideration,” JSNT 13 (1981): 102–22. There is, however, considerable literary evidence for such a group of nonproselyte Gentile adherents to the synagogues of the NT period. See T. M. Finn, “The God-fearers Reconsidered,” CBQ 47 (1985): 75–84. It probably is best not to consider σεβούμενος and φοβούμενος as technical terms invariably referring to such Gentile adherents but to give attention to each separate context in which the word occurs. In the case of Cornelius, the context clarifies that he was indeed a Gentile worshiper of God and seemingly not a proselyte to Judaism.
72 Luke 3:21f.; 6:12–16; 9:18–22, 28–31; 22:39–46; Acts 1:14; 13:1–3.
73 Cf. 9:10, 12; 10:3, 17, 19; 11:5; 16:9–10; 18:9; 27:23, 25.
74 Angels were often viewed as intercessors in prayer (cf. Tob 12:12).
75 Lev 2:2, 9, 16; cf. Phil 4:18; Heb 13:15f.
76 Suggested by Pesch, 1:337.
77 The word for servant (οίκέτης) refers to household servants who were considered part of the family, as opposed to mere slaves (δοῦλοι). Cf. Luke 16:13; Rom 14:4; 1 Pet 2:18.
78 Roofs were a common place of prayer and worship. Cf. 2 Kgs 23:12; Neh 8:16; Jer 19:13; 32:29; Zeph 1:5. Noon was not a set hour of prayer for Jews, but prayer was not confined to the prescribed times.
79 The word πρόσπεινος, used here for Peter’s hunger, is only found elsewhere in first-century literature in an account about an eye doctor named Demosthenes from Laodicea. See F. W. Dillistone, “Prospeinos (Acts x.10),” ExpTim 46 (1934–35): 380. This observation is often cited in support of the medical theory for Lukan authorship, as is the occurrence of ἀρχαῖς (“corners”) in v. 11, a term that is used in medical writings for the ends of bandages.
80 So Pesch, Apostelgeschichte 1:338.
81 This is the same threefold division of the animal world as found in the Noah account of Gen 6:20 and the creation account of Gen 1:30. Cf. Rom 1:23.
82 In general, unclean animals were those which showed some anomaly with reference to their species as a whole. Thus sea creatures without the usual fish scales were unclean. Four-footed beasts were considered normal if they had cloven hooves and chewed the cud. Pigs do not chew the cud and are thus unclean. See Lev 11. See also G. J. Wenham, “The Theology of Unclean Food,” EvQ 53 (1981): 6–15.
83 Cf. Lev 11:2–47; Deut 14:3–21. Although no evidence suggests that clean animals were defiled by mere contact with unclean animals, one would assume Peter’s reaction was provoked by his sheer disgust at so many unclean animals making any further discrimination impossible. Possibly only unclean animals were in the sheet.
84 C. House argues that the two terms (κοινός and ἀκάθαρτος) in v. 14 should be distinguished, κοινός referring to something defiled by association and ἀκάθαρτος being something inherently unclean, thus making the application to the Gentile mission more precise—unclean Gentiles and Jewish Christians defiled by association with them (“Defilement by Association: Some Insights from the Usage of Koinos/Koinoō in Acts 10 and 11,” AUSS 21 : 143–53). This might hold for 11:8, where a disjunctive ἢ (“or”) occurs, but not for 10:14, where the two terms are linked by the conjunctive καί (“and”).
85 Pesch (Apostelgeschichte 1:339) cites an ancient source, according to which one could only be certain that a vision was truly from God rather than from demonic influences if it occurred three times. Whether or not this ancient mode of “testing the spirits” is at play here, surely the importance of its message for Peter was the primary reason for the repetition.
86 E. Haulotte sees a “new creation” theme in Peter’s vision. The animals represented all those of God’s original creation. God declared them all clean, thus establishing a new community in Christ in which all people are acceptable (“Foundation d’une communauté de Type Universal: Actes 10, 1–11, 18,” RSR 58 : 63–100). The most fascinating interpretation was that of Augustine, who applied the vision of Peter directly to the mission of the church. The church is to “kill and eat,” to kill the sins of the godless and digest them into the life of the church (Bovon, De Vocatione Gentium, 177–80).
87 B reads “two men” at v. 19, and many scholars feel this may be the original reading. If so, the soldier would not be considered a messenger but one who functioned as a guard.
88 The reference to the angel “telling him” in v. 22 employs the word χρηματίζω, which in this context has the meaning of a divine communication by revelation. The word seems to have originally meant to do business, then to consult an oracle, then to be divinely directed (as here), and finally to receive a name (from one’s activity or business). The latter meaning occurs in Acts 11:26. See A. T. Robertson, WP 3:139.
89 To be sure, the problem of table fellowship was less acute when a Jew entertained a Gentile than in the reverse situation, as would be the case when Peter dined at Cornelius’s (v. 48b). Still, scrupulous Jews avoided any association with Gentiles (G. Krodel, Acts, ACNT [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986], 192, citing Jub. 22:16 and Joseph and Asenath 7:1).
90 Ἀναγκαίους—“intimate, familiar, close.”
91 The Greek text has simply “as Peter entered” and does not specify “the house.” Assuming Peter was entering the outskirts of the city, the Western text adds that Cornelius sent a slave out as a scout, who returned to announce Peter’s arrival. For a similar practice among present-day Arabs, see E. F. F. Bishop, “Acts x.25,” ExpTim 61 (1949–50): 31.
92 Such behavior would not have been unusual for a Gentile like Cornelius. Prostrating oneself at the feet of another was a common Near Eastern gesture of respect, and Cornelius surely identified Peter with his angelic vision and may well have seen him as more than an ordinary man. Bowing as an act of reverence is particularly frequent in Matthew: cf. 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 18:26; 20:20; cf. Luke 8:41; Acts 9:4; 22:7.
93 Even the angel of Rev 19:10; 22:9 refused such gestures of worship. Such strict monotheism was absolutely essential in a Gentile culture where humans were often revered as being related to divinities. Herod Agrippa offers a contrast with Peter’s refusal to be revered (Acts 12:22f.).
94 No specific law forbade Jews to associate with Gentiles, but the purity regulations rendered close social interaction virtually impossible. Robertson (WP 3:141) cites Juvenal’s Satire 14.104f. and Tacitus’s Hist. 5.5 as evidence from Gentile writers that such Jewish refusal to associate with Gentiles was in fact the practice. According to S. Wilson, this passage is the closest in Acts to actually abrogating the Jewish laws (Luke and the Law [Cambridge: University Press, 1983], 63–73).
95 The Greek could be construed in v. 30 as “four days ago until this hour, I was praying,” thus indicating Cornelius’s continual prayer for four days. The NIV is surely correct in translating “at this hour.”
96 For dazzling garments representing heavenly beings, cf. Luke 9:29f.; 24:4; Acts 1:10.
97 Cornelius’s reference to being gathered together “in the presence of God” is very much the language of being assembled for worship, which is not inappropriate to this context. Cf. 1 Cor 5:4; Marshall, Acts, 189. The group gathered in Cornelius’s home recalls the group gathered in Acts 1:13–14 awaiting Pentecost.
98 For God’s judgment on the basis of one’s conduct, see also Gen 4:7; Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12f. For God’s impartiality cf. Eph 6:9; Col 3:25, Jas 2:1, 9; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 22:12. The idiom “lifting a face” pictures God as an oriental monarch lifting the face of a petitioner. To lift the petitioner’s face is to receive him or her with favor (cf. Esth 4:11; 5:2, where the custom is different but the import is the same).
99 For a helpful contrast between Rom 2 and Acts 10, see J. M. Bassler, “Luke and Paul on Impartiality,” Bib 4 (1985): 546–52.
100 Bovon, De Vocatione Gentium, 315.
101 The Greek syntax of vv. 36–38 is notorious, consisting of several dangling clauses whose relationships to the main sentence are unclear. In general, translators take three main approaches: (1) to transpose “you know” from v. 37 to v. 36 and see “the word” (v. 36) as its object (RSV); (2) to drop the relative pronoun after “word” in v. 36 and make two separate sentences for vv. 36–37 (NEB, NIV); (3) to see v. 36 as in apposition to the phrase “God is no respecter of persons” of v. 34 (first suggested by H. Riesenfeld). See Marshall, Acts, 191. The NIV (option 2) provides the best solution from a grammatical perspective. Theologically, option 3 is extremely attractive, making God’s impartiality the underlying assumption of the entire gospel message.
102 C. H. Dodd in The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936) argued that Mark wrote his Gospel on the basis of the sort of kerygmatic summary found in Acts 10:37–42. This line has recently been take up by P. Stuhlmacher, “Zum Thema: Das Evangelium und die Evangelien,” and R. Guelich, “The Gospel Genre,” in Das Evangelium und die Evangelien, ed. P. Stuhlmacher (Tübingen: Mohr, 1983), 1–26; 183–219. For an opposing view, which would trace Acts 10:37–43 to Luke rather than kerygmatic tradition, see A. Weiser, “Tradition und lukanische Komposition in Apg. 10, 36–43,” in A Cause de l’Evangile, ed. F. Refoulé (Paris: Cerf, 1985); cf. U. Wilckens, “Kerygma und Evangelium bei Lukas (Beobachtungen zu Acta 10, 34–43),” ZNW 49 (1958): 227–30.
103 Jesus’ miracle-working is described as εὐεργετῶν in v. 38, a term that would have been meaningful to a Gentile—“one who works good deeds.” It was a term often applied to Hellenistic kings (cf. Ptolemy Euergetes). The true disciple, however, eschews such honorific titles and is instead a servant (cf. Luke 22:25f.). Only God is the true “benefactor.”
104 “On the third day” occurs only here and in Paul’s resurrection tradition in 1 Cor 15:3. By Jewish inclusive reckoning, which would have considered Friday the “first day,” Jesus rose on the third day.
105 Cf. Luke 24:30, 41–43; Acts 1:4.
106 For Jesus’ being “appointed” by God, see 2:23; 3:20; and especially 17:31, where the reference is to his appointment as eschatological judge, as it is here. For the phrase “the living and the dead,” cf. 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5.
107 For the Son of Man as eschatological judge, see Dan 7:13f. and John 5:22, 27.
108 Parallels to Acts 10 and the story of Jonah include: the mention of Joppa (Jonah 1:3; Acts 10:8), the importance of the number 3 (Jonah 3:2; Acts 10:20), the repentance of the Gentiles (Jonah 3:5; Acts 10:43), the hostile response to their repentance (Jonah 4:1; Acts 11:2), and God’s rebuttal of this response (Jonah 4:2–11; Acts 11:17–18). See R. W. Wall, “Peter, ‘Son of Jonah’: The Conversion of Cornelius in the Context of the Canon,” JSNT 29 (1987): 70–90.
109 The NIV footnote gives the alternative “other languages”; that reflects the Western text, which adds ἑτέραις. This makes the event in Acts 10 parallel to Pentecost. “Speaking in tongues” (λαλούντων γλώσσαις) is the better-attested reading and refers most likely to the phenomenon of tongue-speaking, which Paul sought to regulate in 1 Cor 12–14. In Peter’s report in Jerusalem, the mode of the Spirit’s expression is never mentioned. Peter was interested not in the manner of the Spirit’s expression but that the Spirit had been granted to the Gentiles. See J. Dupont, Nouvelles Etudes sur les Actes des Apôtres (Paris: Cerf, 1984), 102.
110 See F. Stagg, The Book of Acts: The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel (Nashville: Broadman, 1955), 120.
111 Cf. Paul’s disclaimer in 1 Cor 1:14–17 and Jesus’ refusal to administer the rite in John 4:2.
112 It would later become a problem for Peter when the same conservative elements pressured him to withdraw from table fellowship with Gentiles in Antioch (Gal 2:11–13), a reminder that enough social pressure can thwart even the strongest convictions.
John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 251–265.