Acts: Chapter 11

Themes:

  • A Generous God: In Acts chapter 11, we see the consequences of the Holy Spirit descending on the Gentiles and Peter baptizing the family of Cornelius. When Peter returns the Church of Jerusalem, he is immediately approached and confronted by the “circumcision party.” The “circumcision party” is not the celebration of a routine medical procedure for Jewish male babies as it sounds, rather it was almost like a political party in the church that opposed uncircumcised Gentile baptism. It did not oppose Gentiles becoming Christians, but demanded they become “clean” first by becoming Jewish through circumcision. Most of the church would have been a part of the “circumcision party” as even Peter himself had to be convinced otherwise directly by God himself (see Acts 10 research). Peter explains to the other apostles and then the whole church the vision he received and convinced them through his humility, reasoning, and authority from God that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to receive baptism and the Spirit. And all the Christians there believed Peter and believed in the truth. This shows that God is generous to all nations. That God does not require a human to adapt the Jewish nationality to receive the Gospel and baptism. Chinese, Kenyan, Lebanese, Icelandic, and American Christians do not need to be ceremonially cleansed as Jews in order to receive the grace of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ. In Jesus the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles was ripped in half, for our God is a generous God.

    Moving forward in the book of Acts and the other New Testament books, there are those who will not fully accept this and the “circumcision party” will become known as the Judaizers. We will see that sadly they have legitimate power in the church, because even Peter is afraid of offending the Judaizers of Galatia by dining with Gentile Christians. Sadly, we must always be aware that there are those who do confine the generous grace of God to those who do specific actions.

    After this great event of Gentile conversion that shows God’s generosity, a famine hits the Roman Empire and Jerusalem is hit the hardest. It is in these circumstances that the church comes together to send money and food the hungry and poor in Jerusalem. This means that these newly converted Gentiles would have sent money to the Jerusalem church in need. This shows that the generosity of God to individuals results in the love of others. Because God was generous to us, we are to be generous to those who are in need. And our help of others is not to be done in partiality, as to only help those that are comfortable for us to help. Rather the Spirit directs us to help all those who cross our path in need, as the parable of the Good Samaritan impresses on our hearts!

People:

  • The Circumcision Party: ”It was a group of strict Jewish Christians, perhaps of Pharisaic background. They probably held the position that Gentiles who wished to become Christians must first become converts to Judaism, which included circumcision and living by ritual law.”

Culture:

Places:

  • Antioch, In syria: “In the early history of Christianity, Antioch occupies a distinguished place. The large and flourishing Jewish colony offered an immediate field for Christian teaching, and the cosmopolitanism of the city tended to widen the outlook of the Christian community, which refused to be confined within the narrow limits of Judaism. Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch, was one of the first deacons (Acts 6:5). Antioch was the cradle of Gentile-Christianity and of Christian missionary enterprise. It was at the instance of the church at Antioch that the council at Jerusalem decided to relieve Gentile-Christians of the burden of the Jewish law (Acts 15). Antioch was Paul's starting-point in his three missionary journeys (Acts 13:1; Acts 15:36; 18:23), and he returned from the first two back to Antioch as his headquarters (Acts 14:26; Acts 18:22). Here also the term "Christian," doubtless originally a nickname, was first applied to the followers of Jesus (Acts 11:26). The honorable record of the church at Antioch as the mother-church of Gentile-Christianity gave her a preeminence which she has long enjoyed.”

Cultural Background:

  • A great famine in Judea: “The Famine prophesied about by Agabus in Acts 11 is verifiable through historical accounts. Pliny the Younger (Roman Historian), Josephus (Jewish Historian), and Eusebius (Christian Historian) all record the same famine that occurred for three years. The notes of Josephus’ Antiquities states, “This, says he, is that famine foretold by Agabus Acts 11:28, which happened when Claudius was consul the fourth time: [A.D. 47.] and not that other which happened when Claudius was consul the second time, and Cæsina was his colleague, [A.D. 42.] as Scaliger says upon Eusebius, page 174. Now when Josephus had said a little afterward, Chapter 5. that “Tiberius Alexander succeeded Cuspius Fadus as procurator,” he immediately subjoins, that “Under these procurators there happened a great famine in Judea.” Whence it is plain, that this famine continued for many years, on account of its duration under these two procurators. Now Fadus was not sent into Judea till after the death of King Agrippa; i.e. towards the latter end of the IVth year of Claudius [the end of A.D. 44. or beginning of 45.] So that this famine foretold by Agabus, happened upon the 5th and 6th and 7th years of Claudius, [A.D. 45, 46, and 47.] as says Valesius on Euseb. II.12.”

Contemplating God:

Voices of the Past :

  • Albert Barnes, The Doors of the Church are Open: “The great truth in this manner established that the doors of the church are opened to the entire world, even the Gentile world - a truth that was worthy of this remarkable explanation by Luke. This speech and story of Peter’s changed the views of the apostles and of the early Christians; gave them new, large, and liberal conceptions of the gospel; it broke down their long-cherished prejudices; taught them to look upon all people as their brethren; impressed their hearts with the truth, never after to be erased, that the Christian church was founded for the whole wide world, and that it opened the same glorious pathway to life wherever a man or woman might be found, whether with the narrow prejudice of the Jew, or amidst the degradations of the pagan (non-Jewish) world. To this truth we owe our hopes; for this, we should thank the God of heaven; and, impressed with it, we should seek to invite the entire world to partake with us of the rich provisions of the gospel.”

    John Chrysostom, Prepared to Give: “Do you see how to these new Christians the famine was an opportunity to encourage those who shared their same salvation in Jesus, to give alms to help those in need? The famine was foretold that they might prepare their hearts beforehand to give alms to those in need. For before the famine came they were not suffering, but the famine cause them to endure terrible hardships, yet they still gave. They sent what they had to the Church of Jerusalem by the hand of Saul and Barnabas. “They gave,” it says,” ”ach according to his own ability.” Look at this! These who were young in the faith immediately helped those in need and not only their direct neighbor, but also those far away!”

Footnotes:

Bruce, F.F. Commentary on the Book of Acts. Acts 11.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. “Antioch, In Syria.”

Josephus. Antiquities. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-20.html.

Barne’s Notes on the Bible. Acts 11.

Chrysostom, John. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles. Homily 25.

Peter Elliott