Archive for May 2009

Acts 10

May 9, 2009

This chapter initiates a full reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, and clearly separates the Christians from the Jews. God appears to Peter, while he is in a trance, in Joppa, and repeals Jewish dietary law, even declaring reptiles to be clean. Simultaneously, an angel appears to a righteous Roman centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea. Cornelius sends for Peter, and Peter brings some (in the next chapter, he says six) of the Christian congregation of Joppa with him. Peter notes that it is contrary to Jewish law to associate with Gentiles. But Peter extends the vision having to do with dietary law to relationship, declaring Cornelius to be pure. At Caesarea, the Holy Spirit descends upon Cornelius and his family and friends and on Peter and his brothers from Joppa. The Gentiles speak in tongues to praise God. Peter baptizes Cornelius and his family.

There are many clues and cues in this chapter. Note the frequent appearance of the number three.
* Cornelius [1] is of the Italian [2] regiment, living in Caesarea [3]. He and his family are devout and God-fearing, giving to the poor and praying regularly.
* Having fasted, Cornelius is praying at 3 in the afternoon [4] when an angel distinctly appears. Cornelius apparently recognizes the angel because of his shining clothes [5].
* Cornelius sends three people (two servants and a soldier) to fetch Peter in Joppa [6].
* Joppa to Caesarea was roughly 40 kilometers, or 25 miles. Since the contingent from Caesarea arrives on the outskirts of Joppa at around noon, they must have traveled either by horse or at night.
* Peter is staying at a tanner’s house [7] in Joppa.
* Peter was praying on the roof at noon [8].
* Peter sees three times a vision of creatures which were forbidden to Jews [9] by dietary laws and hears a voice that commands him to kill and eat.
* The Spirit commands Peter to go with the contingent from Cornelius.
* Peter, being a good host, asks his guests to stay with him, overnight and perhaps through a full day or more.
* The round trip apparently requires four days (it could be three, depending on how Cornelius counts)
* Peter arrives at about three in the afternoon.
* Peter asserts that Cornelius knows about Jesus, specifically that Jesus is Lord, that He is the means by which we obtain peace, that God empowered Him by anointing with the Spirit and with power, and that He healed. Then Peter seems to shift to things which Cornelius may not know: that Jesus was crucified, that He rose on the third day, that He appeared to witnesses, and instructed the witnesses to testify that Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Finally, Peter tells Cornelius that the Prophets testify about Jesus and that all who believe in Jesus receive forgiveness through the Name of Jesus.
* There is a new outpouring of the Spirit on Jews and Gentiles alike, and the Gentiles speak in tongues.
* Peter associates the appearance of the Holy Spirit with the baptism of water, whereas in Acts 2, it is associated with a baptism of fire.
* Cornelius, being as good a host as Peter, asks the contingent from Joppa to stay a few days.

1. “Cornelius” means “horn” or “antler.” Nowadays, the immediate association is with the devil, but in the Old Testament and in Revelation, the horn is associated with power.
2. Cornelius, as a member of the Italian regiment is truly a citizen of Rome and not a mercenary or a conscript.
3. Living in a city dedicated to Augustus Caesar intensifies the connection to Rome
4. Three in the afternoon, the ninth hour (Luke 23:44ff), is the time that Jesus died.
5. This is how the angels appeared at the tomb (Luke 24).
6. Joppa is the town from which Jonah departed to Tarshish, to flee from the Lord.
7. The occupation of tanner was disfavored, though not because of concerns related to Jewish Law. According to Hershey Friedman’s Ideal Occupations: the Talmudic Perspective, the Babylonia Talmud says “woe to him whose occupation is that of a tanner.” The noxious odors and undignified nature of the work (because it involved selling to women) made it one to avoid.
8. Noon was the time in the crucifixion when darkness came over the land (Luke 23:44ff)
9. Since the vision involved all kinds of four-footed animals, it included pigs.