Acts

11:1-18

2. The gospel reaches into Judea and Samaria, 6:1-12:25

xv] Peter explains his actions

Synopsis

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. In the passage before us Luke records Peter's defense to the leaders of the Jerusalem church for the baptism of Cornelius and his family.

 
Teaching

The good news of God's abundant grace in Christ is not the exclusive property of old Israel, but belongs to all humanity; "even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life", 11:18.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 10:28-43.

 

ii] Structure: This passage, Peter explains his actions, presents as follows:

Setting, v1-3;

"the circumcised believers criticized him."

Peter recounts the events leading to the conversion of Cornelius, v4-17;

Peter's vision, v4-10;

"do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

Peter's meeting with Cornelius, v11-14;

Cornelius receives the Spirit and so Peter baptizes him, v15-17;

"who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?"

Conclusion, v18:

"they had no further objections and praised God."

 

iii] Interpretation:

In v1-3 Luke records how the news of Gentile conversions has spread among the believers in Judea. Obviously the news is one of great joy, but the related issue of the circumcised fellowshipping with the uncircumcised causes some disquiet. In v4-17 Luke records Peter's defense for his actions before the Jerusalem church, both of baptizing Cornelius, a Gentile, and of staying in his house and eating with him. Peter's argument does not directly answer the criticism implied in the question recorded in v3. Peter simply recounts what happened in his dealings with Cornelius such that against his own better judgment it was God's will that he preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household and that he stay in his home. Peter supports this contention with an account of his encounters with God, v4-14, the evidence of Cornelius' conversion ("God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ"), v15-16, and his own conclusion "who was I that I could hinder God", v17. The Jerusalem church accepts Peter's explanation and responds with praise to God, v18.

 

Gentile inclusion in the way: The issue of the full inclusion of Gentiles into the Christian community, and this apart from compliance with Mosaic law, was a burning issue in the New Testament church. It is an issue that Paul had to contend with in his missionary churches due to the interference of the judaizers, the members of the circumcision party centered in Jerusalem. These law-bound believers followed up Paul's mission, seeking to correct his antinomian teachings. This struggle is evidenced in Paul's letters, particularly in his letters to the Galatians and Romans. In fact, the letter to the Romans, written in Corinth during Paul's third missionary journey, presents as a general treatise authored to deal specifically with the law / grace issue. The problem is even evidenced in the book of Revelation.

Luke, a colleague of Paul, goes out of his way, in his Acts of the apostles, to establish the divine authority by which the promised blessings of the covenant apply not just to Jews, but also to Gentiles; it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and not by race, cult, or works of the law. Luke's prime aim is to authenticate the Gentile ministry of Paul, and he does this by carefully showing the authority by which the Gentile mission proceeds. In his detailed recounting of the conversion of Cornelius, 10:1-48, and Peter's report to the Jerusalem church, Luke establishes the authority on which Gentiles are included in the way and thus the authority upon which Paul's Gentile mission rests, namely on the authority of God confirmed by that most significant of apostles, Peter, and by the Jerusalem church as a whole. As to the extent to which Gentiles converts are bound by Old Testament Law, this debate is yet to come, but Luke will again go to great lengths to support Paul's contention that salvation is by grace through faith apart from obedience to the Law. In detailing the Jerusalem Conference, chapter 15, Luke will establish that Paul's contention that Gentiles should not be expected to comply with Mosaic Law is supported by none other than James, the apostles and elders, along the whole Jerusalem church.

 

iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 11:1

Luke describes Peter's return to Jerusalem and his report concerning the admission of Cornelius, along with his household and friends, into the New Testament church, v1-18. This description serves to set the groundwork for the controversy over the admission of the uncircumcised / the lawless into the Christian church.

i] Disquiet in the Jerusalem church over the baptism of Gentile believers, 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.

oiJ adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - Meaning the "believers".

oiJ onteV "-" - the ones being. The participle is adjectival, attributive, forming an adjectival phrase, "the apostles and brothers who were throughout Judea"

kata + acc. "throughout" - through. Here with a spacial sense; "in Judea."

oJti "[heard] that" - that. Forming a dependent statement of perception expressing what they heard.

edexanto (decomai) aor. "[the Gentiles also] received" - The verb of a neuter plural subject is usually singular (the subject is treated as a collective noun) although here it is plural. This is sometimes the case in the NT, especially with persons, cf. Bruce. "The Gentiles believed the gospel."

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - The genitive is possibly adjectival, possessive, "God's word", or ablative, source/origin, "the word from God."

 
v2

de "so" - but, and. Transitional, as NIV.

oJte "when" - when. Introducing a temporal clause.

anebh (anabainw) aor. "went up [to Jerusalem]" - It is interesting how different cultures use the "going up" or "going down" term. In Australia, "going up" means going North, while "going down" means going South. Jerusalem is on the highland plateau, so it is up in height from say Jericho, so "Peter went to Jerusalem."

ek + gen. "[the circumcised believers]" - [the ones] from [circumcision]. The preposition here probably serves as a partitive genitive; "those of the circumcision" = "members of the circumcision party." It is unlikely they are unbelieving Jews. They are obviously believers of Jewish birth, but specifically Jewish believers who are unhappy with Peters association with ritually impure Gentiles. Given the ongoing debate over the place of the law in the life of the early church and the degree to which it should be applied to Gentile believers, it is likely that Luke intends us to understand these believers as nomist Christians, Judaizers, members of the circumcision party.

diekrinonto (diakrinw) imperf. "criticized" - were divided = were taking issue, disputing ..... criticizing. The imperfect is durative and so ongoing criticism may be intended, although an imperfect is often used of speech as a matter of form. The word can mean entering into a controversy with someone (which is probably the meaning here), or can take a gentler tack, eg. "questioned his action", Barclay.

proV + acc. "-" - to, toward [him]. Here expressing association; "they disputed with him."

 
v3

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "and said" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, as NIV.

oJti "-" - that. Probably introducing a dependent statement of direct speech, as NIV, but possibly used instead of ti as an interrogative, so Bruce; "why did you go ...?", so also NRSV. Barrett views an interrogative usage as unreliable, particularly if the 3rd person, instead of the 2nd person, is read for the verbs "to go" and "to eat".

econtaV (ecw) pres. part. "-" - [you entered into] having [uncircumcised men]. The participle is adjectival, limiting the assumed "house", "entered into [a house] which has uncircumcised men [in it]." "You went into the homes of uncircumcised heathens", Barclay.

sunefageV (sunesqew) aor. "ate" - you ate. A variant 3rd. person singular, sunefagen, exists, as against the 2nd. person singular here. In the original account we are not told that Peter eats with Cornelius, although given the substance of Peter's vision, it is probably what he did. Entering the home of a Gentile was not an acceptable act for a law-bound Jew, but eating with them was totally forbidden.

autoiV dat. pro. "with them" - The dative is adverbial, instrumental, expressing association / accompaniment, as NIV.

 
v4

ii] Peter recounts his vision to the leaders of the Jerusalem church, v4-10. 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.

arxamenoV (arcw) aor. part. "[Peter] began" - having begun. The participle is adverbial, probably modal, expressing the manner of his explanation, "Peter explained starting from the beginning", or possibly instrumental, "by starting at the beginning." Peter's account starts from the very first things that had happened to him.

autoiV dat. pro. "[told] them" - [explained] to them. Dative of indirect object.

kaqexhV adv. "precisely as it had happened / the whole story" - in order, sequence. Peter gave an account of what had happened "point by point"

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Redundant attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "explained"; "explained .... and said."

 
v5

egw pro. "I" - Emphatic by use and position.

hmhn ..... proseuxomenoV (proseucomai) pres. part. "was ...... praying" - The imperfect of the verb to-be with the present participle forms an imperfect periphrastic construction, possibly emphasizing durative aspect; "I was in the city of Joppa engaged in prayer", Cassirer.

en ekstasei (is ewV) "in a trance [I saw a vision]" - The preposition en is adverbial, possibly temporal, "and I saw, while in a trance, a vision"; "having fallen into a trace I saw a vision."

"I saw [something]" - The verb eidon, "I saw", is repeated for meaning; "I saw, while in a trance, something like a large sheet."

wJV "like [a large sheet]" - as, like [a large cloth]. Comparative; marking a relationship, the something descending was like a sheet descending.

katabainon (katabainw) pres. part. "being let down" - coming down. This participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the noun phrase "something like a large sheet" " which was coming down." Possibly predicative in the form of an object complement double accusative construction; "I saw .... a vision, a certain object/thing (accusative object in apposition to oJrama "vision") coming down (accusative object complement), cf. Wallace.

ek + gen. "from [heaven]" - Expressing source / origin. Peter may simply mean the sky, but probably he is saying that "the heavens opened", ie. the spiritual domain became visible to human senses and displayed a visionary image.

tessarsin arcaiV dat. "by it's four corners" - by four corners. The dative is adverbial, instrumental.

acri + gen. "[it came] down to where [I was]" - [it came] up to, near [me]. The sheet was lowered into Peter's presence.

 
v6

atenisaV (atenizw) aor. part. "I looked [into it]" - [into which (ie. the sheet)] having looked intently. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal; "then I looked carefully into it."

katenooun (katanoew) imperf. "-" - I was observing. The imperfect, expressing durative action, is followed by a punctiliar aorist eidon "I saw"; "considering it carefully, I saw."

ta qhria "wild beasts" - wild animals. An addition to the list in 11:6.

tou ouranou (oV) gen. "[birds] of the air / birds" - of heaven. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting birds;"Birds of the sky", Barclay, although better just "birds", TNIV.

 
v7

de "then" - but, and. Coordinative.

fwnhV (h) gen. "[I heard] a voice" - Genitive of direct object after a verb of perception.

legoushV (legw) gen. pres. part. "telling" - saying. The participle functions as an object complement, as NIV, "a voice saying", or it may be treated as a adjective; "a voice which said."

moi dat. pro. "me" - to me. Dative of indirect object.

anastaV (anisthmi) aor. part. "get up" - having arisen. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the imperatives, "kill" and "eat", so also imperative as NIV. "Up Peter", Barclay.

quson (quw) aor. "kill" - sacrifice. The word means to kill for the purpose of a sacrifice, but this is obviously not intended here. The spiritual significance of the occasion has probably prompted the use of this word.

 
v8

mhdamwV adv. "surely not" - by no means. Certainly not. The word serves a strong negation.

oJti "-" - that. Most likely expressing cause/reason here, introducing a causal clause explaining why Peter believes he should not eat of unclean food. "For nothing common or unclean has ever ....."

koinon h akaqarton "impure or unclean" - defiled or unclean. The sense is of ritually defiled or unclean, impure.

 
v9

ek + gen. "from [heaven]" - Expressing source/origin.

ek deuterou "a second time" - The preposition ek is virtually redundant other than to indicated a temporal expression is intended with the use of the adjective deuterou, "second", so "a second time", as NIV.

mh koinou (koinow) pres. imp. "do no call anything impure" - [you] do not call unclean. The "you", su, is emphatic. "Do not regard as common or defiled", cf. Cully. "Do not declare unclean that which God has cleansed", Cassirer.

ekaqarisen (kaqarizw) aor. "has made clean" - made clean, cleansed. Made suitable to be eaten. What God has declared suitable is suitable.

 
v10

epi "[this happened three times]" - [this happened] on [three occasions]. Temporal use of the preposition. Did the vision repeat itself three times or did God tell Peter to eat three times? The second option is to be preferred.

 
v11

iii] Peter recounts his meeting with Cornelius, v11-14. Right at this moment Peter is visited by three men who invite him to journey with them to Caesarea, to the home of Cornelius. Cornelius is not mentioned, but the invitation is obviously his. Peter sets off with six brothers who serve as Jewish Christian witnesses. On arriving, "he", obviously Cornelius, tells of an angelic visitation and the instruction to summon Peter so that he and his household may be saved.

exauthV adv. "right then" - [behold] at once, immediately, suddenly ... Also possibly just a transitional phrase "in the meantime". "At that very moment", ESV.

apestalmenoi (apostellw) perf. pas. part. "who had been sent" - having been sent. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "men", as NIV.

proV + acc. "to [me]" - to, toward. Spacial.

apo + gen. "from [Caesarea]" - Expressing source/origin.

epi + acc. "at [the house]" - Spacial.

en + dat. "where" - in [which]. Expressing space/sphere.

hJmen (eimi) imperf. "I was staying" - I was. A plural variant, hJmhn, exists which is a more difficult reading; "three men arrived at the house in which we were", ESV.

 
v12

to pneuma "the Spirit" - Note that in v8 Peter refers to the voice as "Lord".

moi dat. pro. "[said] to me" - Dative of indirect object.

diakrinanta (diakrinw) aor. part. "have no hesitation" - [without] making a distinction. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of "going with them." A textual variant here causes a minor problem. The NIV, along with the NEB, opts for the middle diakrinomenoV "without hesitation / doubting", while NRSV sides with the UBS Geek NT. reading "without making a distinction", so Barrett.

sunelqein (sunercomai) aor. inf. "about going" - to accompany. The infinitive forms a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the Spirit told Peter; "the Spirit said to me that I should accompany them without making a distinction (between Jew and Gentile)."

autoiV dat. pro. "with them" - them. Dative of direct object after a sun prefix verb.

sun + dat. "with me" - Expressing accompaniment.

tou androV (hr roV) gen. "[the] man's [house]" - [the house] of the man. The genitive is adjectival, possessive.

 
v13

hJmin dat. pro. "[he told] us" - to us. Dative of indirect object.

twV "how" - Introducing an object clause which states something about what is said, unlike oJti which can state (directly or indirectly) what is said.

staqenta (iJsthmi) aor. pas. part. "appear [and say]" - having stood [and having said]. This participle, as with the one following, is best treated as an object complement; "he saw the/an angel (object) in his house, standing (object complement) and saying (object complement). "He related how he had seen an angel standing in his house and saying", Moffatt.

ton epikaloumenon (epikalew) pres. pas. part. "who is called [Peter]" - the one being called. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "Simon", as NIV. "Someone named Simon Peter", CEV.

 
v14

proV + acc. "[he will bring you a message]" - [he will bring a word] to [you]. Spacial; of movement toward.

en + dat. "through [which]" - in [which]" - The dative is obviously instrumental; "by which you will be saved."

kai paV oJ oikoV sou "and all your household" - all the house of you. The salvation of households is an interesting feature in Acts. Of course, a promise to a specific group of people is not necessarily a promise to us. None-the-less, this promise does demonstrate a feature often repeated in the scriptures, namely, that God works with families, presumably because he has created the family as the fundamental unit of human association and therefore he tends to act in a way that does not undermine it. So, we have here the source of a general principle, but not a rule, namely that if the head of the home is saved then all members of the family are incorporated in that individuals salvation - does this include the staff? That incorporation may involve salvation, but it may just mean they are brought under the sound of the gospel and therefore given a greater opportunity to find salvation in Christ.

 
v15

iv] The Spirit comes upon Cornelius and so Peter baptizes him, 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. The evidence of this lay in their reception of the Holy Spirit "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 to Jews.

en ... tw/ arxasqai (arcw) aor. inf. "As I began" - in to begin. This preposition with the articular infinitive usually forms a temporal clause, contemporaneous time, "while, during"; "as I began to speak", ESV.

lalein (lalew) pres. inf. "to speak" - to speak. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the infinitive "to begin".

epepesen (epiptw) aor. "came on" - fell, fell upon. Always an interesting language problem for the modern mind. To a Jew, the Spirit obviously proceeds from an opening in the heavens and falls upon the recipient. To our mind, a spiritual confrontation involves our being surrounded and possessed.

ep (epi) + acc. "on [them]" - upon, on [them]. Spacial; redundant use of the preposition due to its presence in the verb "fell upon."

wJsper "as" - just as, as. Comparative, expressing similarity.

en arch/ "at the beginning" - in beginning. Temporal use of the preposition; when first the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, namely, at the time of the feast of Pentecost following Jesus' crucifixion.

 
v16

de "then" - but, and. Coordinative; "and I remembered."

tou kuriou (oV) "[what] the Lord [had said]" - [the word] of the Lord. Possibly an objective genitive, "the words ascribed to our Lord", Bruce, or subjective, as NIV, or adjectival, possessive, "the words that belong to Jesus", or ablative, expressing source/origin, "the words from the Lord."

wJV "-" - Here functioning adverbially, modal, expressing manner, "how he said", ESV, or temporal, "when he said".

men ...... de ".... but ..." - Adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand John baptized with water, but on the other hand ....."

ebaptisen (baptizw) aor. "[John] baptized" - immersed. The word "baptized" can cause problems where the type of "baptism" intended is unclear. Here it is obviously referring to water baptism. A word such as "immerse" is better than "baptize" since it is not so powerfully tied to water christening / baptizing and therefore, easily includes a figurative sense, eg. "I am immersed in my work..." NT figurative uses include: i] immersed in the Holy Spirit; ii] immersed in suffering; iii] immersed in the Name = the person of Jesus = his Word, teaching / authority.

uJdati (wr atoV) dat. "with water" - The dative may be instrumental, expressing means, "by the use of / with water", or local, "in water."

en + dat. "with [the Holy Spirit]" - It is interesting that Luke has chosen to use the preposition here rather than the simple dative uJdati "in/with water." Barrett thinks it is just stylistic although Moule thinks that Luke is making a point, but what? Is en local, "in", or instrumental, "with"? cf. Eph.5:18 where an instrumental use is likely, plrousqe en pneumati, "be filled with the Spirit", but here, if we take "baptized" to mean "immersed", a local "immersed in the Holy Spirit" seems likely; en expressing incorporative union.

 
v17

oun "so" - therefore. Drawing a logical conclusion.

ei + ind. "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed a reality; "if, as is the case, ..... then ...." The apodosis is in the form of a question, probably two questions, see below.

autoiV dat. pro. "[gave] them. [God gave the same gift] to them. Dative of indirect object.

wJV "[he gave us]" - as [also to us]. Comparative.

pisteusasin (pisteuw) aor. part. "who believed" - having believed. The participle is adjectival, limiting "us" and so forms the relative clause "who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ". "Belief" in the NT is a very important word, meaning something like a firm resolve to take God at his word, to rest upon, firmly rely on.

epi "in" - upon. This preposition, followed by the accusative, means movement onto. "I put the weight of my resolve onto/upon Jesus."

egw tiV h[mhn "who was I" - Page in the old London commentary, as does Culy, suggests that the apodosis of the conditional clause is made up of two questions. The imperfect verb to-be h[mhn may cover both questions, or the first question may carry an assumed present tense of the verb to-be.; "who am/was I?" The second question; "Was I able to hinder God?" "Who was I - how could I try to thwart God?" Moffatt.

kwlusai (kwluw) aor. inf. "[to think that I could] oppose [God]?" - [able] to hinder [God]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the periphrasis h[mhn dunatoV, "was able." Who was Peter to think that he was able to hinder God's will? Peter knew the answer to this question and it seems his opponents did as well.

 
v18

v] The leaders of the Jerusalem church warmly receive the news that God has given to the Gentiles the gift of salvation / life through repentance, 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.

akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "when they heard [this]" - having heard [these things]. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV.

hJsucasan (hJsucazw) aor. "they had no further objections" - they remained quiet. A literal rendering is "they remained silent", NRSV, their doubts were satisfied.

legonteV (legw) "saying" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "glorified / praised"; "praised God and said".

a[ra "so then" - therefore. Drawing a logical conclusion / inferential, "but in drawing conclusions, more subjective than oun", Barrett. "Why then, even to Gentiles ...."

kai "even [the Gentiles]" - even [to the Gentiles]. Ascensive.

thn metanoian eiV zwhn "repentance unto life" - repentance to life. Interestingly, the NRSV, which tends to be a more literal translation than the NIV, has "repentance that leads to life." The TEV certainly breaks open the meaning of this phrase with its rendering "the opportunity to repent and live." eiV often expresses purpose and that sense is probably found here; "the repentance which is the way to life", Barclay.

 

Acts Introduction

Exposition

 

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