Peter’s Arrival and Cornelius’ Explanation
The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa. They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled. Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.‘ So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”Acts 10:23-33
- How is it that Peter went so quickly from being perplexed about the vision to knowing God has told him that he is no longer to think of anyone as impure or unclean? I don’t get the dramatic change in Peter. Please explain.
- Why does Peter say “tell me why you sent for me”? Hasn’t God already told him? Why does he need Cornelius to tell him again?
I don’t believe Peter was so perplexed about the vision that he didn’t get the point. I think the point of it was manifestly obvious. The way God put these two events together, the sheet with all the clean and unclean foods and the appearance of Gentiles sent by God must have been obvious. It is clear to us, is it not? If we Gentiles can get it then why couldn’t Peter? What was it about this vision that perplexed Peter? The idea is not that he didn’t understand the vision. I think rather than him being dumbfounded as to what it means, it was more a question of the implications. Now just what exactly are you saying to me Lord? Clearly there were implications far beyond the basic sense of the vision. Was this effectively the abolition of the Law related to clean and unclean foods or did it have a far deeper significance? A significance that will unfold as we read on. As one of you drew attention to, a few short verses later, Peter is recorded as saying, “But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.” That is a huge statement for a Jew. It was a complete reversal of a major part of his belief system. He truly has had a total shift in mindset – what we like to call in this day and age a paradigm shift. But admittedly between the puzzlement and this statement was a full day’s journey to Cornelius’ place in Caesarea.
If you look closely at Peter’s opening remarks to Cornelius there is a fascinating flow to the introduction. The Literal Version gives us an insight into Peter’s words opening words. “And he said to them, You know how unlawful it is for a man, a Jew, to unite with or to come near to one of another race. Yet God showed to me not to call a man common or unclean. Therefore, I also came without complaint, being summoned. Then I ask for what reason did you send for me?” (Acts 10:28, 29). Peter doesn’t use the normal word for Gentile, he uses a much softer word – [allophulos] the sense is “one of another nation”. To the Jew the Gentiles were simply “the uncircumcised ones”. At heart it was a derogatory term, as in the Old Testament reference to the uncircumcised Philistine. But here Peter appears more tactful and makes a more neutral statement “one of another nation”. Perhaps he remembers he is talking to a Roman soldier or maybe even at this stage God has done a deep work in his heart. You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with, come near to or enter into a gentile’s home. But he says instead one of another nation. Wow Peter, that is different.
Then, as I have been asked, Peter said, “Then I ask for what reason did you send for me?” But hasn’t God told him already? Well He did tell Peter a part of what has happened. “Peter pondered concerning the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men are seeking you. But rising up, go down and go with them, not discriminating, because I have sent them.” (Acts 10:19-20) Peter had a good idea this was all to do with not discriminating but at this stage he does not know specifically what has happened at Cornelius’ end. So Peter’s question is more an invitation for Corneilus to fill in the detail from his point of view. What happened at your end? This is what happened to me, now what happened to you?
- My culture tells me not to associate with people of another culture or nation.
- But God has told me not to call any man common or unclean.
- Therefore what is your reason for sending for me?
I think deep down Peter is still thinking there is a difference between Jews and Gentiles and how he react towards the Gentiles. For example he is willing to stay with Simon the tanner but he is not going to eat what God told him to eat.
If Simon the tanner was unclean, Peter should not have been in that Gentile’s house either.
Yes clearly Peter had to overcome his Jewishness. But let me clarify one point you seem to misunderstand. Simon the tanner was not necessarily a Gentile. He is more likely to be a Jew with a name like Simon. It is a Jewish name not a Gentile name. He was not Greek or Roman, he was Jewish. Simon was not unclean because he was culturally unclean, he was unclean because of what he did. Someone had to do it but it was smelly, dirty work. I know first hand because at one time Wycliffe’s office was above a tannery. Oh the smell was revolting at times, especially on a hot summer’s day. Simon was marginalised not because he was a Gentile but because he was a Jew doing dirty unclean work, so his place of work was outside of the town.
I am puzzled by Peter’s comment that Jews were not allowed to enter a Gentile home or ASSOCIATE WITH THEM. The first I accept but not the second. Where does it say in the Law of Moses that they can’t associate?
A very good observation Mike. You are correct in saying that there is a distinction in the Law of Moses between the food prohibitions and the association with Gentiles. Indeed God encouraged them to incorporate the Gentiles into their midst as long as they were circumcised and obey the food prohibitions. There was no prohibition related to association but by the time of the New Testament this practice had been generalised to NOT ASSOCIATING with them. It was not so much a Divinely instituted practice but more a violation of Jewish cultural practices. It had become cultural rather than following God’s laws. Not all association with Gentiles defiled the Jews but the practice or rather the prohibition had been overgeneralised. Apart from the food prohibitions there was the issue of food sacrificed to idols. The prohibitions related to certain foods and foods sacrificed to idols as well as certain basic ingredients in the cooking such as bread, milk and olive oil make for certain food intolerances. So by New Testament times to accept Gentile hospitality and even more to sit at the table with them was intolerable.
I will stop here and not add my response to the next questions simply because of time and space:
- Why all the repetitions of “you know”? How was Cornelius expected to know?
- Acts 10:28 “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.
- Acts 10:37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism.
- Acts 10:38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
- Peter said “you know..”, does this mean Peter knew that Cornelius already know about Jesus before Peter came, or is this just an expression people usually say before telling something, e.g. “you know.. yesterday I watched the solar eclipse and it was amazing!”
- Why was it that so many others suddenly joined them?
- Why did Peter not go to Cornelius alone and the two men meet? I don’t see why lots of others have to join in.
- Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. This all seems so formal Ian. Like they are proposing for marriage where all the witnesses of the families have to gather and represent each side of the contract. Is that a hint of what is going on here?
We will pick up these next set of questions in the next Gems and put it together.
Attitude is an inward thought that wiggles its way out.Anon
God will always bring the right people into your life, but you have to let the wrong people walk away.Anon
Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself, for he shall never cease to be entertained.John Boswell
Constant correction with no reinforcement kills confidence.Brian Houston