|<< Acts 10 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This chapter Acts 10 commences a very important part of the history of the transactions of the apostles. Before this, they had preached the gospel to the Jews only. They seemed to have retained the feelings of their countrymen on this subject, that the Jews were to be regarded as the especially favored people, and that salvation was not to be offered beyond the limits of their nation. It was important, indeed, that the gospel should be offered to them first; but the whole tendency of the Christian religion was to enlarge and liberalize the mind; to overcome the narrow policy and prejudices of the Jewish people; and to disuse itself over all the nations of the earth. In various ways, and by various parables, the Saviour had taught the apostles, indeed, that his gospel should he spread among the Gentiles. He had commanded them to go and preach it to every creature, Mark 16:15. But he had told them to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high, Luke 24:49.
It was natural, therefore, that they should receive special instructions and divine revelation on a point so important as this; and God selected the case of Cornelius as the instance by which he would fully establish his purpose of conveying the gospel to the Gentile world. It is worthy of observation, also, that he selected Peter for the purpose of conveying the gospel first to the Gentiles. The Saviour had told him that on him he would build his church; that he would give to him first the keys of the kingdom of heaven; that is, that he should be the agent in opening the doors of the church to both Jews and Gentiles. See the notes on Matthew 16:18-19. Peter had, in accordance with these predictions, been the agent in first presenting the gospel to the Jews Acts 2; and the prediction was now to be completely fulfilled in extending the same gospel to the Gentile world. The transaction recorded in this chapter is one, therefore, that is exceedingly important in the history of the church, and we are not to be surprised that it is recorded at length. It should be remembered, also, that this point became afterward the source of incessant controversy in the early church. The converts from Judaism insisted on the observance of the whole of the rites of their religion; the converts from among the Gentiles claimed exemption from them all. To settle these disputes; to secure the reception of the gospel among the Gentiles, and to introduce them to the church with all the privileges of the Jews, required all the wisdom, talent, and address of the apostles. See Acts 11:1-18; Acts 15; Romans 14; Romans 15; Galatians 2:11-16.
1There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
In Cesarea - See the notes on Acts 8:40.
Cornelius - This is a Latin name, and shows that the man was doubtless a Roman. It has been supposed by many interpreters that he was "a proselyte of the gate"; that is, one who had renounced idolatry, and who observed some of the Jewish rites, though not circumcised, and not called a Jew. But there is no sufficient evidence of this. The reception of the narrative of I Peter Acts 11:1-3 shows that the other apostles regarded him as a Gentile. In Acts 10:28, Peter evidently regards him as a foreigner - one who did not in any sense esteem himself to be a Jew. In Acts 11:1, it is expressly said that "the Gentiles" had received the Word of God, evidently alluding to Cornelius and to those who were with him.
A centurion - One who was the commander of a division in the Roman army, consisting of 100 men. A captain of 100. See the notes on Matthew 8:5.
Of the band - A division of the Roman army, consisting of from 400 to 600 men. See the notes on Matthew 27:27.
The Italian band - Probably a band or regiment that was composed of soldiers from Italy, in distinction from those which were composed of soldiers born in provinces. It is evident that many of the soldiers in the Roman army would be those who were born in other parts of the world; and it is altogether probable that those who were born in Rome or Italy would claim pre-eminence over those enlisted in other places.
2A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
A devout man - Pious, or one who maintained the worship of God. See the notes on Luke 2:25. Compare Acts 2:5; Acts 8:2.
And one that feared God - This is often a designation of piety. See notes on Acts 9:31. It has been supposed by many that the expressions here used denote that Cornelius was a Jew, or was instructed in the Jewish religion, and was a proselyte. But this by no means follows. It is probable that there might have been among the Gentiles a few at least who were fearers of God, and who maintained his worship according to the light which they had. So there may be now persons found in pagan lands who in some unknown way have been taught the evils of idolatry and the necessity of a purer religion, and who may be prepared to receive the gospel. The Sandwich Islands were very much in this state when the American missionaries first visited them. They had thrown away their idols, and seemed to be waiting for the message of mercy and the Word of eternal life, as Cornelius was. A few other instances have been found by missionaries in pagan lands of those who have thus been prepared by a train of providential events, or by the teaching of the Spirit, for the gospel of Christ.
With all his house - With all his family. It is evident here that Cornelius instructed his family, and exerted his influence to train them in the fear of God. True piety will always lead a man to seek the salvation of his family.
Much alms - Large and liberal charity. This is always an effect of piety. See James 1:27; Psalm 41:1.
Prayed to God alway - Constantly; meaning that he was in the regular habit of prayer. Compare Romans 12:12; Luke 18:1; Psalm 119:2; Proverbs 2:2-5. As no particular kind of prayer is mentioned except secret prayer, we are not authorized to affirm that he offered prayer in any other manner. It may be observed, however, that he who prays in secret will usually pray in his family; and as the facially of Cornelius is mentioned as being also under the influence of religion, it is, perhaps, not a forced inference that he observed family worship.
3He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
He saw in a vision - See the notes on Acts 9:10.
Evidently - Openly; manifestly.
About the ninth hour - About 3 o'clock p. m. This was the usual hour of evening worship among the Jews.
An angel of God - See the notes on Matthew 1:20. Compare Hebrews 1:14. This angel was sent to signify to Cornelius that his alms were accepted by God as an evidence of his piety, and to direct him to send for Peter to instruct him in the way of salvation. The importance of the occasion - the introduction of the gospel to a Gentile, and hence, to the entire Gentile world - was probably the chief reason why an angel was commissioned to visit the Roman centurion. Compare Acts 16:9-10.
4And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
And when he looked on him - Greek: Having fixed his eyes attentively on him.
He was afraid - At the suddenness and unexpected character of the vision.
What is it, Lord? - This is the expression of surprise and alarm. The word "Lord" should have been translated "sir," since there is no evidence that this is an address to God, and still less that he regarded the personage present as the Lord. Compare the notes on Acts 9:5. It is such language as a man would naturally use who was suddenly surprised; who should witness a strange form appearing unexpectedly before him; and who should exclaim, Sir, what is the matter?"
Are come up for a memorial - Are remembered before God. Compare Isaiah 45:19. They were an evidence of piety toward God, and were accepted as such. Though he had not offered sacrifice according to the Jewish laws; though he had not been circumcised; yet, having acted according to the light which he had, his prayers were hard, and his alms were accepted. This was done in accordance with the general principle of the divine administration, that God prefers the offering of the heart to external forms; the expressions of love to sacrifice without it. This he had often declared, Isaiah 1:11-15; Amos 5:21-22; 1 Samuel 15:22, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams," Hosea 6:6; Ecclesiastes 5:1. It should be remembered, however, that Cornelius was not depending on external morality. His heart was in the work of religion. It should be remembered, further, that he was ready to receive the gospel when it was offered to him, and to become a Christian. In this there was an important difference between him and those who are depending for salvation on their morality in Christian lands. Such people are inclined to defend themselves by the example of Cornelius, and to suppose that as he was accepted before he embraced the gospel, so they may be without embracing it. But there is an important difference in the two cases. For:
(1) There is no evidence that Cornelius was depending on external morality for salvation. His offering was that of the heart, and not merely an external offering.
(2) Cornelius did not rely on his morality at all. His was a work of religion. He feared God; he prayed to him; he exerted his influence to bring his family to the same state. Moral people do neither. "All their works they do to be seen of men"; and in their heart there is "no good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." Compare 1 Kings 14:13; 2 Chronicles 19:3. Who ever hears of a man that "fears God," and that prays, and that instructs his household in religion, that depends on morality for salvation?
(3) Cornelius was disposed to do the will of God as far as it was made known to him. Where this exists there is religion. The moral man is not.
(4) Cornelius was willing to embrace a Saviour when he was made known to him. The moral man is not. He hears of a Saviour with unconcern; he listens to the message of God's mercy from year to year without embracing it. In all this there is an important difference between him and the Roman centurion; and while we hope that there may be many in pagan lands who are in the same state of mind that he was - disposed to do the will of God as far as made known, and therefore accepted and saved by his mercy in the Lord Jesus, yet this cannot be adduced to encourage the hope of salvation in those who do know his will, and yet will not do it.
5And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
He lodgeth - He remains as a guest at his house. See Acts 9:43.
By the sea-side - Joppa was a seaport on the Mediterranean. Tanneries are erected on the margin of streams or of any body of water to convey away the filth produced in the operation of dressing skins.
7And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
A devout soldier - A pious man. This is an instance of the effect of piety in a military officer. Few people have more influence; and in this case the effect was seen not only in the piety of his family, but of this attending soldier. Such men have usually been supposed to be far from the influence of religion; but this instance shows that even the disadvantages of a camp are not necessarily hostile to the existence of piety. Compare Luke 3:14.
8And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
And when ... - "It has been remarked that from Joppa, Jonah was sent to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh, and that from the same place Peter was sent to preach to the Gentiles at Caesarea" (Clarke).
9On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
Peter went up ... - The small room in the second story, or on the roof of the house, was the usual place for retirement and prayer. See the notes on Matthew 6:6; Matthew 9:2. Even when there was no room constructed on the roof, the roof was a common resort for retirement and prayer. Around the edge a battlement or parapet was commonly made, within which a person could be quite retired from public view. "At Jaffa, the ancient Joppa," says Prof. Hackett (lllustrations of Scripture, p. 81), "where Peter was residing at the time of his vision on the house-top, I observed houses furnished with a wall around the roof, within which a person could sit or kneel without any exposure to the view of others, whether on the adjacent houses or in the streets. At Jerusalem I entered the house of a Jew early one morning, and found a member of the family, sitting secluded and alone on one of the lower roofs, engaged in reading the Scriptures and offering his prayers."
Dr. Thomson (Land and the Book, vol. i. p. 52) says of these roofs, "When surrounded with battlements, and shaded by vines trained over them, they afford a very agreeable retreat, even at the sixth hour of the day - the time when Peter was favored with that singular vision, by which the kingdom of heaven was thrown open to the Gentile world."
About the sixth hour - About twelve o'clock (at noon). The Jews had two stated seasons of prayer, morning and evening. But it is evident that the more pious of the Jews frequently added a third season of devotion, probably at noon. Thus, David says Psalm 55:17, "Evening and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud." Thus, Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed," Daniel 6:10, Daniel 6:13. It was also customary in the early Christian church to offer prayer at the third, sixth, and ninth hours (Clem. Alex. as quoted by Doddridge). Christians will, however, have not merely stated seasons for prayer, but they will seize upon moments of leisure, and when their feelings strongly incline them to it, to pray.
10And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
And he became very hungry - Prom the connection, where it is said that they were making ready, that is, preparing a meal, it would seem that this was the customary hour of dining. The Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, however, had but two meals, and the first was usually taken about ten or eleven o'clock. This meal usually consisted of fruit, milk, cheese, etc. Their principal meal was about six or seven in the afternoon, at which time they observed their feasts. See Jahn's Bible. Archaeol. section 145.
He fell into a trance - Greek: an ecstasy, ἔκστασις ekstasis, fell upon him. In Acts 11:5, Peter says that in a trance he saw a vision. The word "trance, or ecstasy," denotes "a state of mind when the attention is absorbed in a particular train of thought, so that the external senses are partially or entirely suspended." It is a high species of abstraction from external objects, when the mind becomes forgetful of surrounding things, and is fixed solely on its own thoughts, so that appeals to the external senses do not readily rouse it. The soul seems to have passed out of the body, and to be conversant only with spiritual essences. Thus, Balaam is said to have seen the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance Numbers 24:4, Numbers 24:16; thus Paul, in praying in the temple, fell into a trance Acts 22:17; and perhaps a similar state is described in 2 Corinthians 12:2. This effect seems to be caused by so intense and absorbing a train of thought as to overcome the senses of the body, or wholly to withdraw the mind from their influence, and to fix it on the unseen object that engrosses it. It is often a high state of reverie, or absence of mind, which Dr. Rush describes as "induced by the stimulus of ideas of absent subjects, being so powerful as to destroy the perception of present objects" (Diseases of the Mind, p. 310, ed. Philadelphia, 1812). In the case of Peter, however, there was a supernatural influence that drew his attention away from present objects.
11And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
And saw heaven opened - Acts 7:56. See the notes on Matthew 3:16. This language is derived from a common mode of speaking in the Hebrew Scriptures, as if the sky above us was a solid, vast expanse, and as if it were opened to present an opportunity for anything to descend. It is language that is highly figurative.
And a certain vessel - See the notes on Acts 9:15.
As it had been - It is important to mark this expression. The sacred writer does not say that Peter literally saw such an object descending; but he uses this as an imperfect description of the vision. It was not a literal descent of a vessel, but it was such a kind of representation to him, producing the same impression, and the same effect, as if such a vessel had descended.
Knit at the four corners - Bound, united, or tied. The corners were collected, as would be natural in putting anything into a great sheet.
12Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
Wherein ... - This particular vision was suggested by Peter's hunger, Acts 10:10. It was designed, however, to teach him an important lesson in regard to the introduction of all nations to the gospel. Its descending from heaven may have been an intimation that that religion which was about to abolish the distinction between the Jews and other nations was of divine origin. See Revelation 21:2.
13And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
14But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
I have never eaten ... - In the Old Testament God had made a distinction between clean and unclean animals. See Leviticus 11:2-27; Deuteronomy 14:3-20. This law remained in the Scriptures, and Peter pled that he had never violated it, implying that he could not now violate it, as it was a law of God, and that, as it was unrepealed, he did not dare to act in a different manner from what it required. Between that law and the command which he now received in the vision there was an apparent variation, and Peter naturally referred to the well known and admitted written Law. One design of the vision was to show him that that Law was now to pass away.
That is common - This word properly denotes "what pertains to all," but among the Jews, who were bound by special laws, and who were prohibited from many things that were freely indulged in by other nations, the word "common" came to be opposed to the word "sacred," and to denote what was in common use among the pagans, hence, that which was "profane," or "polluted." Here it means the same as "profane," or "forbidden."
Unclean - Ceremonially unclean; that is, what is forbidden by the ceremonial law of Moses.
15And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
What God hath cleansed - What God has pronounced or declared pure. If God has commanded you to do a thing, it is not impure or wrong. Perhaps Peter would suppose that the design of this vision was to instruct him that the distinction between clean and unclean food, as recognized by the Jews, was about to be abolished, Acts 10:17. But the result showed that it had a higher and more important design. It was to show him that they who had been esteemed by the Jews as unclean or profane - the entire Gentile world - might now be admitted to similar privileges with the Jews. That barrier was robe broken down, and the whole world was to be admitted to the same fellowship and privileges in the gospel. See Ephesians 2:14; Galatians 3:28. It was also true that the ceremonial laws of the Jews in regard to clean and unclean beasts was to pass away, though this was not directly taught in this vision. But when once the barrier was removed that separated the Jews and Gentiles, all the laws which were founded on such a distinction, and which were framed to keep up such a distinction, passed away of course. The ceremonial laws of the Jews were designed solely to keep up the distinction between them and other nations. When the distinction was abolished; when other nations were to be admitted to the same privileges, the laws which were made to keep up such a difference received their death-blow, and expired of course. For it is a maxim of all law, that when the reason why a law was made ceases to exist, the law becomes obsolete. Yet it was not easy to convince the Jews that their laws ceased to be binding. This point the apostles labored to establish; and from this point arose most of the difficulties between the Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity. See Acts 15; and Romans 14-15:
16This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
This was done thrice - Three times, doubtless to impress the mind of Peter with the certainty and importance of the vision. Compare Genesis 41:32.
17Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate,
Doubted in himself - Doubted in his own mind. He was perplexed, and did not know how to understand it.
Behold, the men ... - We see here an admirable arrangement of the events of Providence to fit each other. Every part of this transaction is made to harmonize with every other part; and it was so arranged that just in the moment when the mind of Peter was filled with perplexity, the very event should occur which would relieve him of his embarrassment. Such a coincidence is not uncommon. An event of divine Providence may be as clear an expression of his will, and may as certainly serve to indicate our duty, as the most manifest revelation would do, and a state of mind may, by an arrangement of circumstances, be produced that will be extremely perplexing until some event shall occur, or some field of usefulness shall open, that will exactly correspond to it, and indicate to us the will of God. We should then carefully mark the events of God's providence. We should observe and record the train of our own thoughts, and should watch with interest any event that occurs, when we are perplexed and embarrassed, to obtain, if possible, an expression of the will of God.
Before the gate - The word here rendered "gate," πυλῶνα pulōna refers properly to the porch or principal entrance to an Eastern house. See the notes on Matthew 9:2; Matthew 26:71. It does not mean, as with us, a gate, but rather a door. See Acts 12:13.
18And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
19While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.
The Spirit - See the notes on Acts 8:29. Compare Isaiah 65:24, "And it shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer," etc.
20Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
21Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?
22And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
To hear words of thee - To be instructed by thee.
23Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
And lodged them - They remained with him through the night. Four days were occupied before Peter met Cornelius at Caesarea. On the first the angel appeared to Cornelius. On the second the messengers arrived at Joppa, Acts 10:9. On the third, Peter returned with them, Acts 10:23; and on the fourth they arrived at Caesarea, Acts 10:24, Acts 10:30.
And certain brethren - Some Christians. They were six in number, Acts 11:12. It was usual for the early Christians to accompany the apostles in their journeys. See Romans 15:24; Acts 15:3; 3 John 1:6; 1 Corinthians 16:6, 1 Corinthians 16:11. As this was an important event in the history of the church - the bearing of the gospel to a Gentile - it was more natural and proper that Peter should be attended with others.
24And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
His kinsmen - His relatives, or the connections of his family. A man may often do vast good by calling his kindred and friends to hear the gospel.
25And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
Fell down at his feet - This was an act of profound regard for him as an ambassador of God. In Oriential countries it was usual for persons to prostrate themselves at length on the ground before men of rank and honor. "Worshipped him" This does not mean religious homage, but civil respect - the homage, or profound regard which was due to one in honor. See the notes on Matthew 2:2.
26But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
Stand up ... - This does not imply that Peter supposed that Cornelius intended to do him religious reverence. It was practically saying to him, "I am nothing more than a man as thou art, and pretend to no right to such profound respects as these, but am ready in civil life to show thee all the respect that is due" (Doddridge).
27And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
And as he talked with him - He probably met him at the door, or at a small distance from the house. It was an expression of joy thus to go out to meet him.
28And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
It is an unlawful thing - This was not explicitly enjoined by Moses, but it seemed to be implied in his institutions, and was, at any rate, the common understanding of the Jews. The design was to keep them a separate people. To do this, Moses forbade alliances by contract, or marriage, with the surrounding nations, which were idolatrous. See Leviticus 18:24-30; Deuteronomy 7:3-12; compare Ezra 9:11-12. This command the Jews perverted, and explained it as referring to contact of all kinds, even to the exercise of friendly offices and commercial transactions. Compare John 4:9.
Of another nation - Greek: another tribe. It refers here to all who were not Jews.
God hath showed me - Compare Acts 15:8-9. He had showed him by the vision, Acts 10:11-12.
Any man common or unclean - See the notes on Acts 10:14. That no man was to be regarded as excluded from the opportunity of salvation, or was to be despised and abhorred. The gospel was to be preached to all; the barrier between Jews and Gentiles was broken down, and all were to be regarded as capable of being saved.
29Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
Without gainsaying - without "saying anything against it"; without hesitation or reluctance.
I ask, therefore ... - The main design for which Cornelius had sent for him had been mentioned to Peter by the messenger, Acts 10:22. But Peter now desired from his own lips a more particular statement of the considerations which had induced him to send for him.
For what intent - For what purpose or design.
30And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
Four days ago - See the notes on Acts 10:23.
Until this hour - The ninth hour, or three o'clock, p. m. See Acts 10:3.
A man - Called, in Acts 10:3, an angel. He had the appearance of a man. Compare Mark 16:5.
In bright clothing - See the notes on Matthew 28:3.
31And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
32Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.
33Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
Thou hast well done - This is an expression of grateful feeling.
Before God - In the presence of God. It is implied that they believed that God saw them; that they were assembled at his command, and that they were disposed to listen to his instructions.
34Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
Then Peter opened his mouth - Began to speak, Matthew 5:2.
Of a truth - Truly, evidently. That is, I have evidence here that God is no respecter of persons.
Is no respecter of persons - The word used here denotes "the act of showing favor to one on account of rank, family, wealth, or partiality arising from any cause." It is explained in James 2:1-4. A judge is a respecter of persons when he favors one of the parties on account of private friendship, or because he is a man of rank, influence, or power, or because he belongs to the same political party, etc. The Jews supposed that they were especially favored by God. and that salvation was not extended to other nations, and that the fact of being a Jew entitled them to this favor. Peter here says that he had learned the error of this doctrine, and that a man is not to be accepted because he is a Jew, nor to be excluded because he is a Gentile. The barrier is broken down; the offer is made to all; God will save all on the same principle; not by external privileges or rank, but according to their character.
The same doctrine is elsewhere explicitly stated in the New Testament, Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25. It may be observed here that this does not refer to the doctrine of divine sovereignty or election. It simply affirms that God will not save a man because he is a Jew, or because he is rich, or learned, or of elevated rank, or on account of external privileges; nor will he exclude a man because he is destitute of these privileges. But this does not affirm that he will not make a difference in their character, and then treat them according to their character, nor that he will not pardon whom he pleases. That is a different question. The interpretation of this passage should be limited strictly to the case in hand - to mean that God will not accept and save a man on account of external national rank and privileges. That he will not make a difference on other grounds is not affirmed here, nor anywhere in the Bible. Compare 1 Corinthians 4:7; Romans 12:6. It is worthy of remark further, that the most strenuous advocate for the doctrines of sovereignty and election - the apostle Paul - is also the one that labored most to establish the doctrine that God is no respecter of persons - that is, that there is no difference between the Jews and Gentiles in regard to the way of salvation; that God would not save a man because he was a Jew, nor destroy a man because he was a Gentile. Yet in regard to "the whole race viewed as lying on a level," he maintained that God has a right to exercise the prerogatives of a sovereign, and to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. The doctrine may be thus stated:
(1) The barrier between the Jews and Gentiles was broken down.
(2) all people thus were placed on a level none to be saved by external privileges, none to be lost by the lack of them.
(3) all were guilty Romans 1-3, and none had a claim on God.
(4) if any were saved, it would be by God showing mercy on such of this common mass as he chose. See Romans 3:22; Romans 10:12; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6; compare with Romans 9; and Ephesians 1:
35But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
But in every nation ... - This is given as a reason for what Peter had just said, that God was no respecter of persons. The sense is, that he now perceived that the favors of God were not confined to the Jew, but might be extended to all others on the same principle. The remarkable circumstances here - the vision to him, and to Cornelius, and the declaration that the alms of Cornelius were accepted - now convinced him that the favors of God were no longer to be confined to the Jewish people, but might be extended to all. This was what the vision was designed to teach, and to communicate this knowledge to the apostles was an important step in their work of spreading the gospel.
In every nation - Among all people. Jews or Gentiles. Acceptance with God does not depend on the fact of being descended from Abraham, or of possessing external privileges, but on the state of the heart.
He that feareth him - This is put for piety toward God in general. See notes on Acts 9:31. It means that he who honors God and keeps His Law; he who is a true worshipper of God, according to the light and privileges which he has, is approved by him, as giving evidence that he is his friend.
And worketh righteousness - Does what is right and just. This refers to his conduct toward man. He that discharges conscientiously his duty to his fellow-men, and evinces by his conduct that he is a righteous man. These two things comprehend the whole of religion, the sum of all the requirements of God - piety toward God, and justice toward people; and as Cornelius had showed these, he showed that, though a Gentile, he was actuated by true religion. We may observe here:
(1) That it is not said that Cornelius was accepted on accouter of his good works. Those works were simply an evidence of true piety in the heart; a proof that he feared and loved God, and not a meritorious ground of acceptance.
(2) he improved the light which he had.
(3) "he embraced the Saviour when he was offered to him." This circumstance makes an essential difference between Cornelius and those who depend on their morality in Christian lands. They do not embrace the Lord Jesus, and they are, therefore, totally unlike the Roman centurion. His example should not be pled, therefore, by those who neglect the Saviour, for it furnishes no evidences that they will be accepted when they are totally unlike him.
36The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)
The word - That is, this is the Word, or "the doctrine." Few passages in the New Testament have perplexed critics more than this. It has been difficult to ascertain to what the term "word" in the accusative case τὸν λόγον ton logon here refers. Our translation would lead us to suppose that it is synonymous with what is said in the following verse. But it should be remarked that the term used there, and translated "word," as if it were a repetition of what is said here, is a different term. It is not λόγον logon, but ῥῆμα rēma - a word, a thing; not a doctrine. I understand the first term "word" to be an introduction of the doctrine which Peter set forth, and to be governed by a preposition understood. The whole passage may be thus expressed: Peter had been asked to teach Cornelius and his assembled friends. It was expected, of course, that he would instruct him in regard to the true doctrines of religion - the doctrine which had been communicated to the Jews. He commences, therefore, with a statement respecting the true doctrine of the Messiah, or the way of salvation which was now made known to the Jews. "In regard to the Word, or the doctrine which God sent to the children of Israel, proclaiming peace through Jesus Christ (who is Lord of all), you know already what was done, or the transactions which occurred throughout all Judea, from Galilee, where he commenced his ministry after John had preached, that this was by Jesus Christ, since God had anointed him," etc. Peter here assumes that Cornelius had some knowledge of the principal events of the life of the Saviour, though it was obscure and imperfect; and his discourse professes only to state this more fully and clearly.
Unto the children of Israel - To the Jews. The Messiah was promised to them, and spent his life among them.
Preaching - That is, proclaiming, or announcing. God did this by Jesus Christ.
Peace - This word sometimes refers to the peace or union which was made between Jews and Gentiles, by breaking down the wall of division between them. But it is used here in a wider sense, to denote "peace or reconciliation with God." He announced the way by which man might be reconciled to God, and might find peace.
He is Lord of all - That is, Jesus Christ. He is sovereign, or ruler of both Jews and Gentiles, and hence, Peter saw the propriety of preaching the gospel to one as to the other. See John 17:2; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20-22. The word "Lord" used here does not necessarily imply divinity, but only that the Lord Jesus, as Mediator, had been constituted or appointed Lord or Ruler over all nations. It is true, however, that this is a power which we cannot conceive to have been delegated to one that was not divine. Compare Romans 9:5.
37That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
That word - Greek: ῥῆμα rēma - a different word from that in the previous verse. It may be translated "thing" as well as "word."
Which was published - Greek: which was done. "You know, though it may be imperfectly, what was done or accomplished in Judea," etc.
Throughout all Judea - The miracles of Christ were not confined to any place, but were performed in every part of the land. For an account of the divisions of Palestine, see the notes on Matthew 2:22.
And began ... - Greek: having been begun in Galilee. Galilee was not far from Caesarea. There was, therefore, the more probability that Cornelius had heard of what had occurred there. Indeed, the gospels themselves furnish the highest evidence that the fame of the miracles of Christ spread into all the surrounding regions.
38How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.
How God anointed ... - That is, set him apart to this work, and was with him, acknowledging him as the Messiah. See the notes on Matthew 1:1.
With the Holy Ghost - See the notes on Luke 4:19. The act of anointing kings and priests seems to have been emblematic of the influences of the Holy Spirit. Here it means that God impaled to him the influences of the Holy Spirit, thus consecrating him for the work of the Messiah. See Matthew 3:16-17; John 3:34, "God giveth not the Holy Spirit by measure unto him."
And with power - The power of healing the sick, raising the dead, etc.
Who went about doing good - Whose main business it was to travel from place to place to do good. He did not go for applause, or wealth, or comfort, or ease, but to diffuse happiness as far as possible. This is the simple but sublime record of his life. It gives us a distinct portrait of his character, as he is distinguished from conquerors and kings, from false prophets and from the mass of people.
And healing ... - Restoring to health.
All that were oppressed of the devil - All that were possessed by him. See the notes on Matthew 4:23-24.
God was with him - God appointed him, and furnished by his miracles the highest evidence that he had sent him. His miracles were such that they could be performed only by God.
39And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
And we are witnesses - We who are apostles. See the notes on Luke 24:48.
In the land of the Jews - In the country of Judea.
Whom they slew ... - Our translation would seem to imply that there were two separate acts - first executing him, and then suspending him. But this is neither according to truth nor to the Greek text. The original is simply, "whom they put to death, suspending him on a tree."
On a tree - On a cross. See the notes on Acts 5:30.
40Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
Showed him openly - Manifestly; so that there could be no deception, no doubt of his resurrection.
41Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.
Not to all the people - Not to the nation at large, for this was not necessary in order to establish the truth of his resurrection. He, however, showed himself to many persons. See the Harmony of the Accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Chosen of God - Appointed by God, or set apart by his authority through Jesus Christ.
Who did eat and drink ... - And by doing this he furnished the clearest possible proof that he was truly risen; that they were not deceived by an illusion of the imagination or by a phantom. Compare John 21:12-13.
42And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
And he commanded us ... - ; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16.
And to testify - To bear witness.
That it is he ... - See the notes on John 5:22-27. Compare the references in the margin.
Of quick - The living. The doctrine of the New Testament is, that those who are alive when the Lord Jesus shall return to judge the world, will be caught up in vast numbers like clouds, to meet him in the air, without seeing death, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Yet before this they will experience such a change in their bodies as shall fit them for the judgment and for their eternal residence - a change which will liken them to those who have died, and have risen from the dead. What this change will be, speculation may fancy, but the Bible has not revealed. See 1 Corinthians 15:52, "The dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed."
43To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
To him give ... - See the notes on Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44.
That through his name ... - This was implied in what the prophets said. See Romans 10:11. It was not, indeed, expressly affirmed that they who believed in him should be pardoned, but this was implied in what they said. They promised a Messiah, and their religion consisted mainly in believing in a Messiah to come. See the reasoning of the apostle Paul in Romans 4:
44While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
The Holy Ghost fell ... - Endowing them with the power of speaking with other tongues, Acts 10:46. Of this the apostle Peter makes much in his argument in Acts 11:17. By this, God showed that the Gentiles were to be admitted to the same privileges with the Jews, and to the blessings of salvation in the same manner. Compare Acts 2:1-4.
Which heard the word - The Word of God; the message of the gospel.
45And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
And they of the circumcision - Who had been Jews.
Were astonished - Were amazed that Gentiles should be admitted to the same favor as themselves.
46For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Speak with tongues - In other languages than their own native tongue, Acts 2:4.
And magnify God - And praise God.
47Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Can any man forbid water ... - They have shown that they are favored in the same way as the Jewish converts. God has manifested himself to them as he did to the Jews on the day of Pentecost. Is it not clear, therefore, that they are entitled to the privilege of Christian baptism? The expression used here is one that would naturally refer to water as being brought; that is, to a small quantity; and would seem to imply that they were baptized, not by immersion, but by pouring or sprinkling.
48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
And he commanded them ... - Why Peter did not himself baptize them is unknown. It might be, perhaps, because he chose to make use of the ministry of the brethren who were with him, to prevent the possibility of future cavil. If they did it themselves, they could not so easily be led by the Jews to find fault with it. It may be added, also, that it seems not to have been the practice of the apostles themselves to baptize very extensively. See 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel."