Acts: Chapter 10

Themes:

  • Clean: In Acts chapter 10, we see that what God makes clean no man can make unclean or dirty. Much fighting in the church has come over cultural differences. In Acts 6, we have already seen the Jewish Christians butt heads with the Hellenistic Jews and in the other writings of Paul we can see that the Jewish Christians often forced their rituals onto the Gentile Christians. In Acts 10 we see God’s vision for the church as many cultures that focus on the truth of God incarnated in Jesus Christ. In Acts 10 we are first told of the piety and humility of Cornelius. Before we see God teach Peter, Luke makes the point that Cornelius was a humble man seeking God. This is similar to the Ethiopian eunuch. Humble, ethnically diverse men seeking God. Men who would have been “accepted” by Jews but denied entrance into the inner court of the temple, because they would have been considered second class Jews and “dirty.” This teaches us that God again, does not look on the outside but on the intent of the heart. God draw close to these men, because they are drawing close to God in humility. Once Cornelius’ humility is established then Luke shows the mission and vision of God for his church. God is making clean what the Jews viewed as dirty. God tells Peter three times to eat what in Jewish law would have been dirty and unclean in a vision. He does this to show Peter that specific cultural actions do not determine cleanliness, rather the heart of a man. God cares about the heart and a humble spirit. This is why later in the New Testament Paul tells people to not eat meat (Romans 14 & 1 Corinthians 8) that God had stated as clean, isn’t that a contradiction? Paul is condemning eating meat offered to idols if it causes a brother to stumble. Paul is attacking a haughty heart, a heart that cares more about personal freedom than the spiritual well-being of his weaker brother. Paul’s message and Peter’s vision perfectly work together, because all things are clean but a worshipper’s heart is what matters most. Cornelius is clean not because of what he does or doesn’t do; Cornelius is clean simply because he has been given Jesus righteousness, and he is seeking Jesus humbly. In Acts 10 we see God’s vision for the church: different people groups, nationalities, and countrymen seeking Jesus together humbly. Peter a poor, Jewish Christian teaching and baptizing Cornelius a rich Gentile, Roman, Military commander. As Peter himself states, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

People:

  • Cornelius: “was a “centurion”, a commander of 100 men, and a member of the “Italian Cohort”. A cohort consisted of 600 men under the command of 6 centurions, but with auxiliary forces in remote areas such as Judea a cohort might have as many as 1000 men. Ten cohorts formed a “legion.” Centurions were paid very well (as much as five times the pay of an ordinary soldier), so Cornelius would have been socially prominent and wealthy. He was “a devout man who feared God.” This identifies Cornelius as a “God-fearer”, a Gentile who worshiped Israel’s God and was in some way attached to a synagogue but who had not submitted to Jewish conversion rites (esp. circumcision). He followed two of the primary expressions of Jewish piety—prayer and almsgiving. “Alms” are gifts to the poor.”

Culture:

Places:

  • Caesarea (Coastal): “Often called Caesarea of Palestine, situated on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, between Joppa and Tyre. It was anciently a small place, called the Tower of Strato, but was rebuilt with great splendor, and strongly fortified by Herod the Great, who formed a harbor by constructing a vast breakwater, adorned the city with many stately buildings, and named it Caesarea, in honor of Augustus. It was inhabited chiefly by Greeks, and Herod established in it quinquennial games in honor of the emperor. This city was the capital of Judea during the reign of Herod the Great and of Herod Agrippa I., and was also the seat of the Roman power while Judea was governed as a province of the empire. It was subject to frequent commotion between the Greeks, Romans, and Jews, so that on one occasion 20,000 persons are said to have fallen in one day. It is noted in gospel history as the residence of Philip the evangelist, Acts 8:4021:8; and of Cornelius the centurion, the first fruits from the Gentiles, Acts 10:1-4811:1-18 Here Herod Agrippa was smitten by the angel of God, Acts 12:20-23. Paul several times visited it, Acts 9:30 18:22 21:8,16; here he appeared before Felix, who trembled under his appeals Acts 23:23 24:1-27; here he was imprisoned for two years; and after pleading before Festus and Agrippa, he sailed hence for imperial Rome, Acts 25:26 27:1. It is now a heap of ruins.”

Cultural Background:

  • Jews and Gentile Households: “If it was necessary for Cornelius to be instructed by a heavenly messenger to invite Peter to visit him, it was even more necessary for Peter to be prepared for Cornelius’ invitation. Cornelius had no religious scruples to overcome before inviting a Jew into his house, but Peter had strong scruples which would have prevented him from accepting such an invitation. These had to be removed, and their removal could be effected only by divine authority, for they were part and parcel of Peter’s ancestral religion. Gentiles were idolaters. Cornelius might be a worshipper of the God of Israel, but he was still a Gentile and a Gentile house was likely to be tainted by idolatry. Jews believed that the Gentile idols were malignant demons who might well haunt Gentile houses. A Jew who entered such a place would therefore expose himself to their evil influence. Moreover, any one who paid a social visit to a Gentile would be invited to accept food, and the eating of such food could involve the breaking of several Jewish dietary laws. The vision contained an important lesson for Peter. As he reflected on it, he came to realise that the repeated words, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common” (10: 15), applied to people as well as to food. “God has shown me”, he said to Cornelius, “that I should not call any man common or unclean” (10: 28). It was a momentous lesson for the spread of Christianity.”

Contemplating God:

Voice of the Past:

  • John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles: But Cornelius says, “We are present before God to hear all things that are commanded of the Lord.” See how Cornelius said “before God” and not “before man?” This is the way we should listen to God’s servants, our pastors.”

Footnotes:

Acts 10:34-35. ESV.

Bruce, F.F. Commentary on the Book of Acts. Acts 10

ATS Bible Dictionary. “Caesarea (of Palenstine).”

Bruce, F.F. Commentary on the Book of Acts. Acts 10

Chrysostom, John. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 10.

Peter Elliott