Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
Ac 10:1-48. Accession and Baptism of Cornelius and His Party; or, The First-fruits of the Gentiles.
We here enter on an entirely new phase of the Christian Church, the "opening of the door of faith to the Gentiles"; in other words, the recognition of Gentile, on terms of perfect equality with Jewish, discipleship without the necessity of circumcision. Some beginnings appear to have been already made in this direction (see on Ac 11:20, 21); and Saul probably acted on this principle from the first, both in Arabia and in Syria and Cilicia. But had he been the prime mover in the admission of uncircumcised Gentiles into the Church, the Jewish party, who were never friendly to him, would have acquired such strength as to bring the Church to the verge of a disastrous schism. But on Peter, "the apostle" specially "of the circumcision," was conferred the honor of initiating this great movement, as before of the first admission of Jewish believers. (See on Mt 16:19). After this, however, one who had already come upon the stage was to eclipse this "chiefest of the apostles."
1, 2. Cæsarea—(See on Ac 8:40).
the Italian band—a cohort of Italians, as distinguished from native soldiers, quartered at Cæsarea, probably as a bodyguard to the Roman procurator who resided there. An ancient coin makes express mention of such a cohort in Syria. [Akerman, Numismatic Illustrations of the New Testament.]
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
2. A devout man, &c.—an uncircumcised Gentile proselyte to the Jewish faith, of whom there were a very great number at this time; a distinguished proselyte, who had brought his whole household establishment under the hallowing influence of the Jewish faith and the regular observance of its principal seasons of worship.
gave much alms to the people—that is, the Jewish people, on the same principle as another centurion before him (Lu 7:5); thinking it no "great thing," if they had "sown unto him spiritual things, that they should reap his carnal things" (1Co 9:11).
prayed to God alway—at the stated daily seasons. (See on Ac 10:3).
He 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.
3-6. saw … evidently—"distinctly."
the ninth hour of the day—three o'clock, the hour of the evening sacrifice. But he had been "fasting until that hour" (Ac 10:30), perhaps from the sixth hour (Ac 10:9).
And 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.
4. What is it, Lord?—language which, tremulously though it was uttered, betokened childlike reverence and humility.
Thy prayers and thine alms—The way in which both are specified is emphatic. The one denotes the spiritual outgoing of his soul to God, the other its practical outgoing to men.
are come up for a memorial before God—that is, as a sacrifice well-pleasing unto God, as an odor of a sweet smell (Re 8:4).
And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
5. send to Joppa … for one Simon, &c.—(See on Ac 9:11).
He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
And 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;
7, 8. when the angel … was departed, he called—immediately doing as directed, and thereby showing the simplicity of his faith.
a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually—of the "soldiers under him," such as the centurion at Capernaum had (Mt 8:9). Who this "devout soldier" was, can only be matter of conjecture. Da Costa [Four Witnesses] gives a number of ingenious reasons for thinking that, having attached himself henceforth to Peter—whose influence in the composition of the second Gospel is attested by the earliest tradition, and is stamped on that Gospel itself—he is no other than the Evangelist Mark.
And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
On 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:
9-16. upon the housetop—the flat roof, the chosen place in the East for cool retirement.
the sixth hour—noon.
And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
10. a trance—differing from the "vision" of Cornelius, in so far as the things seen had not the same objective reality, though both were supernatural.
And 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:
Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
12. all manner of four-footed beasts, &c.—that is, the clean and the unclean (ceremonially) all mixed together.
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
14. Not so, Lord—See Marginal reference.
I have never eaten anything that is common—that is, not sanctified by divine permission to eat of it, and so "unclean." "The distinction of meats was a sacrament of national distinction, separation, and consecration" [Webster and Wilkinson].
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
15. What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common—The ceremonial distinctions are at an end, and Gentiles, ceremonially separated from the chosen people (Ac 10:28), and debarred from that access to God in the visible ordinances of His Church which they enjoyed, are now on a perfect equality with them.
This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
16. done thrice—See Ge 41:32.
Now 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,
17-24. while Peter doubted … what this should mean, behold, the three men … stood before the gate … and asked—"were inquiring," that is, in the act of doing so. The preparations here made—of Peter for his Gentile visitors, as of Cornelius for him—are devoutly to be noted. But besides this, at the same moment, "the Spirit" expressly informs him that three men were inquiring for him, and bids him unhesitatingly go with them, as sent by Him.
And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.
Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
Then 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?
21. I am he whom ye seek—This seems to have been said without any communication being made to Peter regarding the men or their errand.
And 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.
22. they said, Cornelius … a just man, &c.—fine testimony this from his own servants.
of good report among all the nation of the Jews—specified, no doubt, to conciliate the favorable regard of the Jewish apostle.
to hear words of thee—(See on Ac 11:14).
Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
23. called them in and lodged them—thus partially anticipating this fellowship with Gentiles.
Peter went … with them, and certain brethren—six in number (Ac 11:12).
from Joppa—as witnesses of a transaction which Peter was prepared to believe pregnant with great consequences.
And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
24. Cornelius … called together his kinsmen and near friends—implying that he had been long enough at Cæsarea to form relationships there and that he had intimate friends there whose presence he was not ashamed to invite to a religious meeting of the most solemn nature.
And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
25-29. as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him—a mark of the highest respect.
fell down at his feet, and worshipped him—In the East this way of showing respect was customary not only to kings, but to others occupying a superior station; but among the Greeks and Romans it was reserved for the gods. Peter, therefore, declines it as due to no mortal [Grotius]. "Those who claim to have succeeded Peter, have not imitated this part of his conduct" [Alford] (therein only verifying 2Th 2:4, and compare Re 19:10; 22:9).
But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
And 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.
28. Ye know it is … unlawful … for … a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation, &c.—There was no express prohibition to this effect, and to a Certain extent intercourse was certainly kept up. (See the Gospel history, towards the end). But intimate social fellowship was not practiced, as being adverse to the spirit of the law.
Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
29. I ask therefore, &c.—The whole speech is full of dignity, the apostle seeing in the company before him a new brotherhood, into whose devout and inquiring minds he was divinely directed to pour the light of new truth.
And 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,
30-33. Four days ago—the messengers being despatched on the first; on the second reaching Joppa (Ac 10:9); starting for Cæsarea on the third; and on the fourth arriving.
And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
Send 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.
Immediately 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.
33. we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God—Beautiful expression of entire preparedness to receive the expected divine teaching through the lips of this heaven-commissioned teacher, and delightful encouragement to Peter to give free utterance to what was doubtless already on his lips!
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
34, 35. Peter opened his mouth—(See on Mt 5:2).
Of a truth I perceive—that is, "I have it now demonstrated before mine eyes."
that God is no respecter of persons—Not, "I see there is no capricious favoritism with God," for Peter would never imagine such a thing; but (as the next clause shows), "I see that God has respect only to personal character and state in the acceptance of men, national and ecclesiastical distinctions being of no account."
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
35. But in every nation—not (observe), in every religion; according to a common distortion of these words.
he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness—This being the well-known phraseology of the Old Testament in describing the truly godly man, within the pale of revealed religion, it cannot be alleged that Peter meant it to denote a merely virtuous character, in the heathen sense; and as Peter had learned enough, from the messengers of Cornelius and from his own lips, to convince him that the whole religious character of this Roman officer had been moulded in the Jewish faith, there can be no doubt that the apostle intended to describe exactly such saintship—in its internal spirituality and external fruitfulness—as God had already pronounced to be genuine and approved. And since to such "He giveth more grace," according to the law of His Kingdom (Jas 4:6; Mt 25:29), He sends Peter, not to be the instrument of his conversion, as this is very frequently called, but simply to "show him the way of God more perfectly," as before to the devout Ethiopian eunuch.
The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)
36-38. the word … sent unto the children of Israel—for to them (he would have them distinctly know) the Gospel was first preached, even as the facts of it took place on the special theater of the ancient economy.
preaching peace by Jesus Christ—the glorious sum of all Gospel truth (1Co 1:20-22).
he is Lord of all—exalted to embrace under the canopy of His peace, Jew and Gentile alike, whom the blood of His Cross had cemented into one reconciled and accepted family of God (Eph 2:13-18).
That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
37. That word … ye how—The facts, it seems, were too notorious and extraordinary to be unknown to those who mixed so much with Jews, and took so tender an interest in all Jewish matters as they did; though, like the eunuch, they knew not the significance of them.
which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee—(See Lu 4:14, 37, 44; 7:17; 9:6; 23:5).
after the baptism which John preached—(See on Ac 1:22).
How 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.
38. Now God anointed Jesus of Nazareth—rather, "Jesus of Nazareth (as the burden of that 'published word'), how God anointed Him."
with the Holy Ghost and with power—that is, at His baptism, thus visibly proclaiming Him Messiah, "the Lord's Christ." See Lu 4:18-21. For it is not His unction for personal holiness at His incarnation that is referred to—as many of the Fathers and some moderns take it—but His investiture with the insignia of the Messianic office, in which He presented Himself after His baptism to the acceptance of the people.
went about doing good—holding up the beneficent character of all His miracles, which was their predicted character (Isa 35:5, 6, &c.).
healing all that were oppressed of the devil—whether in the form of demoniacal possessions, or more indirectly, as in her "whom Satan had bound with a spirit of infirmity eighteen years" (Lu 13:16); thereby showing Himself the Redeemer from all evil.
for God was with him—Thus gently does the apostle rise to the supreme dignity of Christ with which he closes, accommodating himself to his hearers.
And 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:
39-43. we are witnesses of all … he did—not objects of superstitious reverence, but simply witnesses to the great historical facts on which the Gospel is founded.
slew and hanged—that is, slew by hanging.
on a tree—So Ac 5:30 (and see on Ga 3:13).
Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;
40-41. showed him openly; Not to all the people—for it was not fitting that He should subject Himself, in His risen condition, to a second rejection in Person.
but unto witnesses chosen before of God … to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose, &c.—Not the less certain, therefore, was the fact of His resurrection, though withholding Himself from general gaze in His risen body.
he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead—He had before proclaimed Him "Lord of all," for the dispensing of "peace" to all alike; now he announces Him in the same supreme lordship, for the exercise of judgment upon all alike. On this divine ordination, see Joh 5:22, 23, 27; Ac 17:31. Thus we have here all Gospel truth in brief. But, forgiveness through this exalted One is the closing note of Peter's beautifully simple discourse.
Not 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.
And 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.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
43. To him give all the prophets witness—that is, This is the burden, generally of the prophetic testimony. It was fitter thus to give the spirit of their testimony, than to quote them in detail on such an occasion. But let this apostolic statement of the evangelical import of the Old Testament writings be devoutly weighed by those who are disposed to rationalize away this element in the Old Testament.
whosoever believeth in him—This was evidently said with special reference to the Gentile audience then before him, and formed a noble practical conclusion to the whole discourse.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
44, 45. While Peter yet spake … the Holy Ghost fell—by visible and audible manifestation (Ac 10:46).
And 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.
45. they of the circumcision … were astonished … because that on the Gentiles also was poured out, &c.—without circumcision.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
46. heard them speak with tongues and magnify God—As on the day of Pentecost it was no empty miracle, no mere speaking of foreign languages, but utterance of "the wonderful works of God" in tongues to them unknown (Ac 2:11), so here; but more remarkable in this case, as the speakers were perhaps less familiar with the Old Testament songs of praise.
46-48. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water … which have received the Holy Ghost, &c.—Mark, he does not say, They have received the Spirit, what need have they for water? but, Having the living discipleship imparted to them and visibly stamped upon them, what objection can there be to admitting them, by the seal of baptism, into the full fellowship of the Church?
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
47. which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we—and are thus, in all that is essential to salvation, on a level with ourselves.
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
48. he commanded them to be baptized—not doing it with his own hands, as neither did Paul, save on rare occasions (1Co 1:14-17; compare Ac 2:38; Joh 4:2).
prayed … him to tarry certain days—"golden days" [Bengel], spent, doubtless, in refreshing Christian fellowship, and in imparting and receiving fuller teaching on the several topics of the apostle's discourse.