Peter’s Testimony to the Circumcision Group
Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me. When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of small animals, wild animals, reptiles, and birds. And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’ “‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean. ‘ “But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven. Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’ “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as He fell on us at the beginning. Then I thought of the Lord’s words when He said, ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.‘ And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” [NLT]Acts 11:4-17
I have already pointed out the various elements included in this story that the witnesses have added to strengthen their case that these events were orchestrated by God but now I will focus on examining the addition points Peter adds in his defence presented to the Circumcision Group:
- Just then three men from Caesarea arrived
- at the house where we were staying.
- The Holy Spirit told me to go with them – not to worry that they were Gentiles. (Acts 11:12)
- These six brothers here accompanied me – we entered the home of the man who had sent for us.
- He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home
- and told him – send messengers to Joppa
- summon a man named Simon Peter – he will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!
- As I began to speak – the Holy Spirit fell on them,
- just as He fell on us at the beginning.
- Then I thought of the Lord’s words – John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
- since God gave these Gentiles the same gift He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ
- who was I to stand in God’s way?”
Let’s examine what the Holy Spirit said in verse twelve.
- (ABP+) [said And to me the spirit] to come together with them, [nothing examining].
- (AMP) And the [Holy] Spirit instructed me to accompany them without [the least] hesitation or misgivings or discrimination.
- (ASV) And the Spirit bade me go with them, making no distinction.
- (BBE) And the Spirit gave me orders to go with them, doubting nothing.
- (CEV) The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry.
- (EMTV) And the Spirit said to me to go with them, without wavering.
- (ERV) The Spirit told me to go with them without wondering if it was all right.
- (ESV) And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.
- (GNB) The Spirit told me to go with them without hesitation.
- (GW) The Spirit told me to go with them without any hesitation.
- (ISV) The Spirit told me to go with them and not to treat them differently.
- (JUB) And the Spirit bade me go with them, doubting nothing.
- (KJV) And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting.
- (LEB) And the Spirit told me to accompany them, not hesitating at all.
- (LITV) And the Spirit said to me to go with them, not discriminating.
- (MKJV) And the Spirit told me to go with them, not discriminating.
- (MSG) The Spirit told me to go with them, no questions asked.
- (Murdock) And the Spirit said to me: Go with them, without hesitation.
- (NAS77) “And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.
- (NASB) “The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.
- (NLT) The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles.
- (RV) And the Spirit bade me go with them, making no distinction.
- (TLV) The Ruach told me to go with them without hesitating.
- (WEB) The Spirit told me to go with them, without discriminating.
- (WEBA) The Spirit told me to go with them, without discriminating.
- (Webster) And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting.
- (YLT) and the Spirit said to me to go with them, nothing doubting,
This statement can be interpreted in two different ways. That’s because there are two different forms of the Greek word in the manuscripts. There are two different texts we have to chose between – some manuscripts have [diakrinomenos] a present middle participle which means “without hesitation” while a greater number of manuscripts have [diakrinanta] an aorist active participle which means “without making distinction”. The latter is the one which has more documentary evidence. You can see from the above translations where they aligned to make their decision with the exception of the Amplified and the Message. They have both chosen to translate the verse with a form which includes both options but without making a distinction between one of the other.
The aorist active fits the situation better and puts the sense firmly on the matter before them of the differences between Jew and Gentile. The present middle participle contains more the idea that there is no need to wait and figure out the the issue but rather to respond to the Spirit and take action. There is much debate over whether Luke made a distinction between the two meanings or not. In other places Luke appears to like changing the way he expresses something so that he doesn’t always say things the same way. It appears to be a style of writing Luke has. It seems he may have done that here because in Acts 10:29 he uses the adverb [anatiretos] which carries the meaning “without objection”. Therefore a number of commentators suggest that Luke is not changing the meaning here but rather is simply finding another way of saying the same thing.
So the question for us to answer is should we go with the sense of without discriminating between Jew and Gentile or making a distinction as to whether the people we relate to are Jew or Gentile? Or should we go with the sense of without hesitating or debating the matter and simply respond to the Spirit’s leading? In the long run does it really matter? Well as you can imagine if you belong to the Circumcision Party then it really does matter. It becomes a really big issue which requires resolution. It is that context which makes me opt for the aorist option and choose to think that Peter is dealing with the issue of Jews not relating to Gentiles head on. So he made it clear that the Holy Spirit told them they should go without discriminating between whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Rather to be open to all people Jew or Gentile. This is why I favour the NLT translation which keeps the meaning firmly fixed on the Jewish-Gentile issue and leaving nothing to the readers choice. It is more than likely that Luke himself was not intending that sense here.
Ultimately we need to seek the mind of Spirit to determine what He intended when He inspired Luke to write this passage. Is the focus to be not doubting, hesitating or wavering over what the Spirit has said, set aside your opinion and follow the Spirit’s leading? Or is the focus to be without discriminating or making distinction between whether they are Jew or Gentile? i.e. Don’t let your cultural prejudices sway your decision, set aside your prejudice and accept people without distinction.
Sometimes knowing Greek doesn’t help at all. It can take something which seems straight forward and make it complicated. But isn’t that what we do anyway. We take something straight forward and turn it into an issue. Exactly what these Judaisers were doing. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Peter has made it clear to those criticising him that they were to go to the Gentiles. Isn’t that the main point? All these things have happened as they have in order to move Peter and his six fellow Jews beyond their cultural boundaries into something very new and different for them. The Holy Spirit of God was behind it all and orchestrated a series of connections and timely moments to convince them to communicate the Gospel to the Gentiles. In short tell these Gentiles how to be saved by the Jewish God. Now that is radical.
To this Peter adds the evidence from Cornelius’ perspective, namely that an angel told him to send for Peter and where to find him. Furthermore he conveys to Peter exactly what it was that he was to tell Cornelius and his household – how to be saved. Peter then adds for the benefit of those pushing circumcision that as soon as he open his mouth to tell them the Holy Spirit fell on the hearers and they experienced exactly what those present in the Upper Room had experienced at Pentecost. To which Peter adds, “And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” This takes us back to the strong emphatic 1st person pronoun at the beginning of this segment. As for me, this is what happened. When you are faced with some many indications that the GOD was involved in all of this, who was I to stand in God’s way or attempt to thwart God’s plan. Now that would be foolish. Don’t be caught on the wrong side fighting God.
Obedience to the call of God nearly always costs us everything and alienates us from the half hearted.Ian Vail
I have said that there is nothing in the world or the Church, except it’s disobedience, to render the evangelization of the world in this generation an impossibility.Robert Speer
It is not wise to debate with God over a command that He has given you.Ian Vail
As Mary said at the wedding in Cana of Galilee “Whatever He says to you do it”. The same goes for any member of the Godhead.Anon
Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.Ian Vail
Delayed obedience is disobedience.Ian Vail