8. The Spirit Falls on Gentiles (Acts 10:1-11:18)

Audio (46:22)

Francesco Trevisani, 'Saint Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius' (1709), oil on canvas
Francesco Trevisani, 'Saint Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius' (1709), oil on canvas, private collection, 28 x 17 in.

We've seen an increasing move of the Spirit, starting with the Jewish, Hebrew-speakers to the Greeks-speakers, then to the mixed populations of Jews and Gentiles in the port city of Joppa and the Plain of Sharon along the coast. Now Luke introduces us to a Gentile, a Roman centurion, who lives in the decidedly Roman city of Caesarea at the north end of the Plain of Sharon.

8.1 A Devout Centurion in Caesarea (Acts 10:1-8)

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima was originally a Phoenician fortification known as Strato's Tower, built in the 4th century BC by a king of Sidon.395 Captured by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC, it was later given to the Jewish king Herod the Great by Caesar Augustus, who renamed it Caesarea in his honor.

In 22 BC, Herod embarked upon a lavish, 12-year campaign of constructing sumptuous palaces and public buildings. The reconstructed city was dedicated in 10 BC amidst magnificent competitive games, with horse races, single combat with gladiators and beasts in honor of Caesar -- all held in a Roman amphitheater that covers an area slightly larger than the Colosseum in Rome,396 still standing two thousand years later. Elaborate buildings surrounded part of the harbor and there were statues of the emperor at the entrance. All this, of course, was deeply offensive to the Jews.

Herod constructed a huge breakwater that protected an excellent harbor, 200 feet (60 meters) wide and about 120 feet (37 meters) in depth, extending 150 feet (46 meters) from the shore. Its enormous stones can still be seen today. Joppa had been the primary harbor in the region; now preeminence shifted to Caesarea.

Like most coastal cities during this period, Caesarea had a mixed population. This was the seat of the governor of the Roman Province of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and was the administrative and military center of Palestine. Herod Agrippa also lives in Caesarea, dying there in 44 AD (Acts 12:19, 23). Later, Philip the Evangelist resides in Caesarea with his four daughters who prophesy (Acts 21:8-9). Paul is imprisoned here under Roman Governors Felix and Festus for two years about 57-59 AD (Acts 23:23-24:32).397

Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10:1-2)

"At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment." (Acts 10:1)

Now we meet Cornelius, centurion of the Italian cohort398. There are no full 6,000 man legions in Judea at this time, about 37 AD.399 Rather, there are five cohorts (corresponding roughly to our regiments), each consisting of perhaps 500 to 600 men garrisoned in Jerusalem and Caesarea.400 Cornelius's regiment is called "the Italian cohort," meaning that this body of troops was originally recruited in Italy.

A cohort would be commanded by a tribune (Latin tribunus; corresponding to a lieutenant colonel or colonel in a modern army), under whom would be several centurions (Latin centurio) perhaps corresponding to a captain in a modern army, each leading approximately 80 to 100 men.

Cornelius, then, is from Italy. He probably isn't of a noble family, but rose up through the ranks. To be selected as a centurion, a soldier must be literate -- able to read written orders -- come with recommendations from important people, be at least 30 years old, and show the ability to both encourage morale and maintain proper discipline.

The ancient historian Polybius offers a list of qualifications looked for in centurions. They must be not so much

"... seekers after danger as men who can command, steady in action, and reliable; they ought not to be over anxious to rush into the fight; but when hard pressed they must be ready to hold their ground and die at their posts."401 

A centurion is a man among men.

It is likely that Cornelius has been attending a Jewish synagogue, not as a convert but as a "God-fearer." Jewish synagogues in Gentile areas tended to attract a group of Gentile sympathizers who admired the strong moral values taught in the Jewish faith and celebrated various Jewish rites without becoming full proselytes. Full conversion would have required circumcision. These God-fearers attending synagogues in various cities around the Mediterranean prove to be the group by far the most receptive to the Christian gospel.

Our text tells us several additional things about Cornelius's character.

"He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly." (Acts 10:2)

Cornelius is:

1. Devout, that is, reverent, godly, pious in a good sense.402

2. Fears God. Throughout the Old and New Testaments you see the phrase "fear God." This doesn't mean to be terrorized by God, but to hold God and holy things in deep reverence, with a deep desire not to offend him.403

3. Gives generously to the poor. Giving alms to the poor had always been a high value among the Jews and is taken up as a high value by the Christian communities as well. Cornelius is a generous giver to those in need.404

4. Prays continually. His prayer is not a once-a-week thing, but constant, continual.405

We also learn in verse 22 from Cornelius's servants:

"He is a righteous and God-fearing man,
who is respected by all the Jewish people." (Acts 10:22)

We already have "God-fearing" on our list. Now we can add two more from verse 22.

5. Righteous.406 Cornelius is known as a straight-shooter, upright in his dealings, serious about doing the right thing.

6. Respected by the Jewish people. Though not a Jew, he probably attends synagogue and participates in the alms-giving projects of the Jews in Caesarea. Literally, he is "well spoken of."407

Does all this mean that Cornelius is "worthy" of salvation. Not really. But for his part, he takes his faith seriously. He is a believer in Yahweh. Now at the direction of an angel, he is seeking the truth about Jesus.

Q1. (Acts 10:2, 22) What do we learn about Cornelius' character? Why do you think God chose to reveal himself to Cornelius, rather than the average pagan? Is he more worthy of salvation?

Sweet-Smelling Incense before the Lord (Acts 10:4)

I find the angel's words in verse 4 fascinating:

"Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering408 before God." (Acts 10:4)

The angel is comparing prayers and righteous deeds to a temple offering of fine flour, and oil burned with frankincense on the altar, producing a sweet-smelling "pleasant aroma" to the Lord. David says something similar:

"May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:2)

Paul says of the gifts the Philippian church have sent to support his ministry:

"They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18)

In Revelation's heavenly throne room they offer the prayers of the saints as incense before the Lord.

"They were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." (Revelation 5:8; cf. 8:3-4)

Those who love the Lord spend time in prayer before him. They show compassion, they help those in need, they exercise their spiritual gifts, they minister on the Lord's behalf. And this is right! But have you ever thought of it from God's point of view? That our prayers and service are sweet to him, like a fragrant incense before him. Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic runner whose life is depicted in the Oscar-winning film "Chariots of Fire" (1981) -- and later missionary to China -- is quoted as saying:

"I believe God made me for a purpose,
but he also made me fast!
And when I run I feel his pleasure."

Oh, to live our lives to bring pleasure to our Lord!

Q2. (Acts 10:4) Why do you think your prayers and your obedient life are like incense that gives God pleasure? Do you think you can actually bring pleasure to God?

Cornelius's Vision (Acts 10:3-8)

An angel of the Lord comes to Cornelius in an afternoon vision and says:

"5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.'" (Acts 10:5-6)

Wow! An angel! But the instructions are clear and specific. Find this man. Here is where you will find him. So Cornelius takes action.

"7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa." (Acts 10:7-8)

Cornelius dispatches them the same afternoon. Joppa is down the coast, about 35 miles (57 kilometers) south of Caesarea, a full day's journey. They make good time, staying overnight on the way. On the road again at the break of day, they are almost to Joppa by noon.

Simon's house and tanning enterprise are near the sea for two reasons. (1) Water is used in tanning and saltwater is useful for part of the process. Sea water will do. Also, (2) the stench of tanning will be carried away by the prevailing ocean breeze.

8.2 Peter's Rooftop Vision (Acts 10:9-16)

The delegation from Caesarea is about to arrive, but before they do, Jesus needs to brief his servant Peter in preparation for the callers.

Notice Peter's pattern of life. It is noon and he wants some privacy to pray before the midday meal.

"9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance." (Acts 10:9-10)

Perhaps this is a regular time of prayer for him, like the psalmist and Daniel.

"Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice." (Psalm 55:17)

"Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed,
giving thanks to his God." (Daniel 6:10)

Or perhaps he just felt he should go and pray. As he is praying, he falls into a "trance." The Greek noun is ekstasis (from which we get our word "ecstasy"), literally, "displacement," "an altered state of consciousness, usually experienced by an individual privately, in which extrasensory sights and sounds, or visions and auditions, are experienced."409 This may be something like Paul's experience of being caught up to paradise where he sees amazing revelations (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) or John's experience on the Isle of Patmos: "on the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit" (Revelation 1:10).410

Luke describes Peter's vision.

"11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'

14 'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.'" (Acts 10:11-14)

As you may recall, the Mosaic Law specifically prohibits eating many kinds of "unclean" animals -- pigs, camels, the rock badger, eels, vultures, owls, hawks, storks, herons, and such (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14), as well as reptiles, amphibians, worms, etc. Peter observed these dietary laws. There was a time for that; now the Lord is about to teach him something new.

The dietary laws had served several important functions, one of which was to keep the Jewish people separate from their pagan neighbors, to keep their religion free from pagan influences. But now God is doing a new thing. He is reaching out to the Gentiles. Now, instead of separation, it is a time for outreach, ingathering, and offering the redeeming love of Jesus.

In the vision, God tells Peter to kill and eat the animals indiscriminately. Peter resists. And so the vision comes again and again.

"15 The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven." (Acts 10:15-16)

The thrice-repeated vision has Peter thinking. What is God saying? The application of the vision is knocking at the door.

"17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there." (Acts 10:17-18)

The Lord has given specific instructions to Cornelius. Now the Spirit speaks clearly to Peter also.

"19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.'" (Acts 10:19-20)

Peter has learned to recognize God's voice. He has also learned obedience.

"Peter went down and said to the men, 'I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?'" (Acts 10:21)

Now the two servants and the soldier deliver their master' invitation.

"22 The men replied, 'We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.' 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests." (Acts 10:22-23a)

Peter invites them to eat and stay overnight in Simon's house. Simon has no doubt told Peter "Mi casa es su casa." ("My house is your house.") From a Jewish standpoint, these Gentiles are invited to eat Kosher food and are shown traditional Near Eastern hospitality. The question about unclean meals will come when Peter eats in Cornelius's home.

"23b The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself.'" (Acts 10:23b-26)

Cornelius is so in awe of Peter that he falls at his feet. After all, Peter has been summoned by an angel visiting the centurion. But Peter won't have a man worshipping him and tells him to stand up. "I'm only a man like yourself." Humility.

It occurs to me that some Christian leaders position themselves in such a way that their followers almost worship them. It can help a leader get his way, but it can get in the way of real ministry and I believe is offensive to Jesus. A ministry style that is vulnerable and talks about struggles is much more effective than one that makes us look like saints (to those besides our spouse and children).

Q3. (Acts 10:9-16) Why does God have to bring this noon-time vision to Peter? What prejudices did Peter have against Gentiles? How did his religion prevent him from reaching out to Gentiles? What specifically did God tell him about "common and unclean"? How does this revelation affect his attitude towards Jewish dietary laws?

8.3 Peter Meets with the Gentiles

Peter Addresses Cornelius's Friends (Acts 10:27-29)

Peter enters this large Gentile home feeling a bit out of his comfort zone. This Gentile home is a first for him. So he explains himself, based on the vision God had given him the day before.

"27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.
28 He said to them: 'You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with411 a Gentile412 or visit413 him." (Acts 10:27-28)

Some have accused Peter of overstating the Mosaic law, since nowhere does it forbid associating with a Gentile. But this Greek word isn't used here doesn't refer to activities forbidden by some written ordinance, but "a violation of tradition of what is seemly or proper."414 Peter is saying that it isn't customary or considered proper for a Jew to fellowship with a Gentile -- and that was largely true, especially among stricter Jews such as the Pharisees.

Call No One Common and Unclean (Acts 10:28)

Peter's vision in Joppa referred to unclean food, but Peter has made the appropriate jump to people.

"28b But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection." (Acts 10:28b-29a)

Jesus' criticizes the Pharisees' haughty attitude of looking down at others -- especially on Jews who aren't as strict as they were. I think of Jesus' Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). Luke directs it "to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else." The Pharisee prays, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men..." (Luke 18:11). Jesus concludes, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14). Peter says,

"God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean." (Acts 10:28)

Two attitudes are forbidden to us. The first is considering others "common." The adjective is koinos, "pertaining to being of little value because of being common."415 The second is considering others "unclean,"416 thus to be avoided. A person who is ritually unclean might make me unclean also, and then I would have to go through purification rites. What a bother! Think of the priest and Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

How does this apply to us? White Americans like myself are notorious for how badly we have spoken about and treated the native peoples who were living in America when we came, the people of color we enslaved, and how we have resisted every new wave of immigrants to our shores over the last hundred years. I hope we are more loving to people who attend our worship services who are different from us. We are called to love, and God will judge us disciples by Jesus' standard. We need to repent of our exclusive hearts and begin to emulate Jesus.

Cornelius's Story (Acts 10:29b-33)

Now Peter asks Cornelius to tell his story.

"29b May I ask why you sent for me?' 30 Cornelius answered: 'Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, "Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea." 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.'" (Acts 10:29b-33)

God Doesn't Show Favoritism (Acts 10:34-43)

"34 Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism417 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34-35)

This is a huge leap for Peter the Jew, that God doesn't favor the Jews over others who seek him. We Christians need to drop our prejudices and sense of superiority over other Christian denominations, Christian sects, Muslims, Hindus, everyone.

This message of not showing partiality is repeated by both Paul and James.

"God does not show favoritism" between Jew and Gentile. (Romans 2:11)

To slave-owners: "there is no favoritism with him." (Ephesians 6:9)

"Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism." (Colossians 3:25)

"My brothers ... don't show favoritism." (James 2:1)

Of course, Jesus famously approaches this issue another way.

"Love your enemies ... that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45)

In addition, we must ponder that God has no favorites among nations. American Evangelicals sometimes think of themselves as exceptional, as God's gift to the nations. And, indeed, God has used American missionaries in his work. But we forget the stories of missionaries from South Korea and China, from Kenya and India. In God's eyes, we Americans are no better than humble brothers and sisters in the most obscure nation you can think of. There's a sense in which we're all God's favorite child, and a sense in which God has no favorites. He loves us all and treats us the same.

Peter Preaches Jesus (Acts 10:36-43)

"You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." (Acts 10:36)

Peter assumes some knowledge of the basic outline of the story of Jesus since Cornelius and his household are far from rank pagans.418 In the phrase, "the good news of peace," the word "peace" refers to messianic salvation, rather than mere suspension of hostilities.419 Peter may have in mind the passage from Isaiah about bringing good news.

"How beautiful on the mountains
the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation...." (Isaiah 52:7)

It is the theme of one of Billy Graham's earliest books about salvation: Peace with God (1953).

Notice the declaration: "... Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." Every single person on the planet, living and dead, owes him honor and allegiance as Creator and Lord. Before him "every knee will bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11). Kyrios means "lord, master," and is used both of "one who is charge, owner," as well as of "one who is in a position of authority, lord, master."420 Every time the name Yahweh appears in the Old Testament, it was read aloud by the Jews as "Lord" (Hebrew Adonai) to avoid even speaking the divine name. Thus, the term "Lord" has divine connotations. "Lord" in the New Testament comes to refer to the Father as well as the Son.

Anointed with the Holy Spirit and Power (Acts 10:38)

"You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached...." (Acts 10:37)

Peter goes back to Jesus' baptism in Judea, and Jesus' subsequent ministry of signs and wonders in Galilee -- a brief snapshot of his ministry.

In verse 38, Peter talks about the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life. I want to look at it carefully.

"... How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38)

Two results of this anointing Peter gives are:

  1. Doing good.421 Jesus brings good and shalom to people wherever he goes.
  2. Healing422 those under the devil's power. It's interesting that Peter uses the normal word for healing, but he seems to be either (1) speaking of exorcism of evil spirits, or (2) attributing sickness to the devil's attack -- or both. Sometimes the gospel writers attribute physical illnesses to demonic activity (Luke 13:16; Mark 9:20-22; etc.). Jesus is at war with the destroyer!

This verse brings together three words -- anointing, Holy Spirit, and power.

"... How God anointed[423] Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power...." (Acts 10:38a)

Throughout the Old Testament, when the Spirit comes upon a person, he or she can act in power beyond native capability.424 One Scriptural analogy sees the Spirit's coming as an "anointing." As you recall Samuel anointed both Saul and David with oil as king, and subsequently the Holy Spirit came upon them (1 Samuel 10:1, 6; 16:12-13). From then on we see an association between the Holy Spirit and anointing. In Nazareth, Jesus applies Isaiah 61:1a to himself.

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me to...."
(Isaiah 61:1a, quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18).

Kings and priests were anointed with oil. How about us? Paul says,

"He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Corinthians 1:21b-22)

The Apostle John also uses the term "anointing" to describe the Holy Spirit's presence in a believer's life.

"You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth." (1 John 2:20)

"As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit -- just as it has taught you, remain in him." (1 John 2:27)

In both Acts 10:38 and Luke 4:18 the anointing of the Holy Spirit set Jesus apart for service. I want to suggest that "anointing" is one of several metaphors describing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a person. Here are some metaphors we saw in Lesson 1, Lesson 2, and Lesson 6.

"I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5)

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

This isn't the place to thoroughly argue these positions. For that see my study, Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit (JesusWalk Publications, 2018). But I'll state my tentative conclusions about some of the questions raised by Acts 10:38 for your consideration and thought.

  1. Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit and always has the Spirit. But when he is baptized by John, the Holy Spirit comes upon him in a special way; he is "anointed" or "filled" with the Spirit for his ministry (Luke 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18; etc.).
  2. Jesus ministers by the power of the Holy Spirit. His miracles are not the result of who he is -- the Son of God. He has "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7, ESV, NRSV) of many of his divine prerogatives to become a human being. Rather, his power comes from the Father and the Spirit (John 5:19, 30). Thus he can be an exemplar for us, who can do nothing by ourselves.
  3. We follow the example Jesus set for us. We are effective when we learn to minister by the Spirit. Attempts to ministry in our own strength have little power and effectiveness by comparison. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you..." (Acts 1:8).
  4. The Scripture uses a number of synonyms to describe the Spirit coming upon or into someone: being anointed, being clothed, being filled, being baptized, receiving, etc. To try to differentiate these into separate experiences of the Spirit is likely to lead down misleading doctrinal paths.

Q4. (Acts 10:38) Since Jesus is God, why is he dependent upon the Spirit's anointing? Are we dependent upon the Spirit's empowerment in a similar way, or is it different for us?

Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection (Acts 10:39-43)

Peter continues.

"39 We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen -- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:39-43)

Peter is outlining the simple Gospel:

  1. We are eyewitnesses of what Jesus did (verse 39a).
  2. The Jews crucified him but God raised him from the dead (verses 39b-40).
  3. He was seen after his resurrection by specific witnesses (verse 41)
  4. We are told to preach that Jesus is the One whom God appoints as Judge of all (verse 42), implying the need for us to repent.
  5. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins (verse 43).

8.4 The Holy Spirit Comes upon the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46)

While Peter is still preaching something amazing begins to happen. All over the room these Gentiles are beginning to praise the Lord and speak in tongues.

"44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God." (Acts 10:44-46)

All the Gentiles are filled with the Spirit. Amazing! God has blessed Gentiles with the Spirit. Note that speaking in tongues and praise is a sign to the Jewish believers that this is authentic outpouring of the Spirit.

Tongues as a Sign of Receiving the Spirit

One of the controversial questions today is about tongues. The Assemblies of God, a leading Pentecostal denomination, believes that,

"The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance."425

Others go farther and say that tongues is the "necessary evidence" of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some "Oneness" Pentecostals assert that if you haven't spoken in tongues you aren't saved.

I discuss this in greater detail in my study, Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit (JesusWalk Publications, 2018), Lesson 6. Full disclosure: When I was 18 I had the experience that Pentecostals call the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and I still occasionally pray in tongues.

In brief, this are my conclusions.

  1. Clearly, speaking in tongues is an irrefutable sign to the Jews that the Spirit has fallen upon the Gentiles in Acts 10 and 11. Lack of tongues seems to be a sign in Samaria (Acts 8) that the Spirit hasn't yet come upon the Samaritans (though this is not explicitly stated). Ephesian disciples of John the Baptist speak in tongues when they are baptized in Jesus' name (Acts 19:1-6).
  2. I believe that speaking in tongues is a common experience among believers today. However, to generalize two or three incidents and form a doctrine that tongues is the "necessary sign" of the Spirit's coming, goes beyond Scripture. It builds a doctrine on a partial pattern in Acts that is not supported by Paul's teaching in the Epistles. It also creates two classes of Christians: (1) "born-again" believers (who are thus born by the Spirit, John 3:5-6) and (2) "Spirit-filled" believers who have been "baptized" by the Spirit and have spoken in tongues. I believe this is a harmful dichotomy that isn't supported in Paul's epistles, leads to confusion about the Spirit's ministry, and is damaging to the unity of the body of Christ.

Q5. (Acts 10:44-48) Clearly tongues were a sign to Peter that Cornelius's household had been baptized with the Spirit. Does the Scripture support a doctrine that speaking in tongues is a "necessary sign" of the baptism of the Holy Spirit? If so, how? (Christians disagree on these matters, so be gentle as you share your thoughts with one another.)

Peter Baptizes the Gentiles in Cornelius's Household (Acts 10:47-48)

"46b Then Peter said, 47 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days." (Acts 10:46b-48)

Peter makes an apostolic decision to baptize them based on the evidence -- a decision that will prevail, but will get him in hot water when he returns to Jerusalem. Since God has obviously baptized the Gentiles with his Spirit, he concludes that it makes no sense to withhold baptism from them. So he and his Jewish comrades baptize the lot of them. Hallelujah!

8.5 Criticism from the Jewish Believers in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18)

"1 The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.'" (Acts 11:1-3)

Notice that Peter's critics are not unbelieving Jews, but Christian Jews, "circumcised believers." And he is criticized not for baptizing Gentiles -- at least that's not their stated criticism. He is criticized for fellowshipping and eating with Gentiles and thus not observing Jewish dietary laws.

In his defense, Peter rehearses in detail the whole story that we have just studied. Marshall observes:

"The sheer length of this story and the way in which it is in effect told twice over (see also the summary in Acts 15:7--9) indicate the very great importance which Luke attaches to it in the context of Acts as a whole. It deals with the decisive issue in the history of the early church, namely the recognition that the gospel is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and it makes clear that this was no merely human decision, but that it was the result of God's clear guidance."426

I don't think there's a need for us to spend a lot of time analyzing Peter's retelling of the incident. Instead, we'll jump to Peter's conclusion:

"15  As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16  Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (Acts 11:15-17)

Peter's story and conclusion made sense to the Jewish believers.

"When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18)

Observe in verse 18 that the ability to repent is granted427 by God.428 We can't assume that man can repent on his own, purely on his own volition. Lest we get too proud of man's free will, remember that even our ability to repent is a gift. I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit to prepare the heart, what Wesleyans call "prevenient grace."

How Soon We Forget (Galatians 2:11-13)

The Lord has taught the apostles and the Jewish believers an important lesson, that God has accepted the Gentiles as full believers. That God doesn't call any food -- or person -- common or unclean.

Later, Peter amazingly forgets the lesson and Paul has to remind him. Paul writes to the Galatian church about an incident that took place in Antioch a few years later.

"12 Before certain men came from James, [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." (Galatians 2:11-13)

Paul sets him straight in no uncertain terms (Galatians 2:14-16). The lesson is basic. God has accepted them; we cannot withdraw from them. God help our denominational prejudices!

Lessons for Disciples

Acts 10 and 11 are rich in lessons for us disciples.

  1. Many non-Christians are well prepared by God to receive the Gospel and immediately believe, just like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2, 22).
  2. Our prayers and righteous deeds come up to God as if they are sweet-smelling incense. They please him greatly! (Acts 10:4).
  3. Peter's pattern was to pray at noon -- perhaps morning, noon, and evening (Acts 10:9). A good example for us!
  4. The Lord teaches Peter in a vision that he is not to consider any food unclean that God has made clean. It applies to food as well as people, even to classes of people (Acts 10:9-16; 28-29).
  5. God does not show favoritism to one people or another. Rather he sees each person's heart and actions (Acts 10:34-35). Neither should we show favoritism or discriminate against any race or ethnic group.
  6. God can speak to both Christians and non-believers at will. He is Lord! (Acts 10:22-23)
  7. By means of his death on the cross, Jesus establishes a relationship of peace with God of peace and forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:36a).
  8. Jesus is Lord of all creation and all people. All owe him allegiance whether they realize it or not (Acts 10:36b).
  9. Being anointed with the Spirit is another synonym for being filled with the Spirit or having the Spirit come upon a person (Acts 10:38).  (See Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 6, and Lesson 8.)
  10. Jesus' power to do signs and wonders comes from the anointing of the Spirit that came upon him at his baptism (Acts 10:38). The Spirit is also the source of any miracles that believers might see come to pass. The Spirit is the power-source of all spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12).
  11. God is not bound by any order of events. At Caesarea, the Holy Spirit falls on people before they are baptized (Acts 10:44-46).
  12. Tongues was a sign to Peter that the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10:44-46). However, to generalize and make tongues the necessary sign of the Spirit baptism today goes beyond Scripture. It builds a doctrine on a partial pattern in Acts that is not supported by Paul's teaching in the Epistles.

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Father, thank you that you have poured out your Spirit on us, Jew and Gentiles alike. Thank you for the trouble you went to in Jesus to free us from our sins and draw us close to you. May we please you like the sweet smell of incense! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." (Acts 10:4b, NIV)

"Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (Acts 10:15b, NIV)

"God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." (Acts 10:28b, NIV)

" ... How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38, NIV)

"The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God." (Acts 10:45--46, NIV)

"When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[395] Josephus, Antiquities 13.15.4.

[396] Josephus, Antiquities 16.15.1.

[397] William Ewing and R. K. Harrison, "Caesarea," ISBE 1:567-569.

[398] The word "regiment" (NIV), "cohort" (ESV, NRSV), "band" (KJV) is speira, the word used to translate the Latin cohors, "cohort, the tenth part of a legion, nominally about 600 men (BDAG 936). The Italian Cohort was garrisoned in Caesarea. There was also an Augustan Cohort around Caesarea (Acts 27:1), and a Praetorian Guard stationed in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16).

[399] Schnabel (Acts, p. 473) sees it unlikely that Roman troops were stationed in Caesarea during the reign on Herod Agrippa beginning in AD 41 (citing Avemarie, Tauferzählungen pp. 340-41).

[400] Josephus, Antiquities, 19.9.2.

[401] Polybius, History 6.24, cited by William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (The Daily Study Bible Series; Westminster Press, 1953, revised edition 1975), p. 84.

[402] The Greek adjective is eusebēs, "pertaining to being profoundly reverent or respectful, devout, godly, pious, reverent" (BDAG 413).

[403] The present participle is phobeō, "fear," but here with the sense, "to have a profound measure of respect for, (have) reverence, respect," with special reference to fear of offending (BDAG 1061, 2a).

[404] "Gave generously to those in need" (NIV), "gave alms generously to the people" (ESV, NRSV), "gave much alms to the people" (KJV) is the noun elēmosunē, "exercise of benevolent goodwill, alms, charitable giving." We saw this in the description of Dorcas's charitable giving (Acts 9:36) BDAG 315-316, 1. It is modified by polus, "much, a great number of" (BDAG 847, 1).

[405] "Praying" is the present middle participle of the verb deomai, "to ask for something pleadingly, ask, request" (BDAG 218, b). "Continually" (ESV), "regularly" (NIV), "constantly" (NRSV), "always" (KJV) is two words, dia pantos, used adverbially, "always, continually, constantly" (dia, BDAG 224, 2a, with the genitive case).

[406] "Righteous" is dikaios, "pertaining to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair" BDAG 246, 1aα.

[407] "Respected" (NIV), "well spoken of" (ESV, NRSV), "of good report" (KJV) is the present passive participle of martureō, "to affirm in a supportive manner, testify favorably, speak well (of), approve," here, "be well spoken of, be approved" BDAG 618, 2b. We saw this word as a qualification for the Seven in Acts 6:3.

[408] "Memorial offering" (NIV) is mnēmosunon, "memory," here, "an offering that presents a worshiper to God, a memorial offering." The same Greek word is found in the Greek Septuagint in Leviticus 2:2, 9, 16: 5:12 to translate ʾazkārâ. In Leviticus 2:2, "memorial portion" (ESV, NIV), "token portion" (NRSV), "the memorial of it" (KJV) ʾazkārâ, "memorial portion," from zākar, "to remember, recollect." It is the technical term for that portion of the cereal offering which was burned as God's share. Its derivation indicates a meaning such as "memorial" or "remembrance" (Andrew Bowling, TWOT #551d). Holladay (p. 8) offers "suggested meanings: reminiscence; summons; invocation; sign-offering."

[409] D. E. Aune, "Trance," ISBE 4:886. The word comes from ek-, "from" + stasis, "place or state." "A state of being in which consciousness is wholly or partially suspended, frequently associated with divine action, 'trance, ecstasy'" (BDAG 309, 2). Paul uses the same word when he describes this experience to others (Acts 11:5) and when the Lord tells him to leave Jerusalem shortly after his conversion (Acts 22:17).

[410] Also Revelation 4:2; 17:3; 21:10).

[411] "Associate with" (ESV, NRSV, NIV), "to keep company" (KJV) is the present passive infinitive of kollaō, originally join together. (The noun kolla is "glue," from which we get our word collagen," connective tissue.) "join oneself to, cling to, associate with," here, "'associate with' on intimate terms, 'join'" (BDAG 556, 2ba).

[412] "Gentile" (NIV, NRSV), "anyone of another nation" (ESV, cf. KJV) is the noun allophulos (from allos, "other" + phulon, "race"), "alien, foreigner," hence from the Judean viewpoint = "gentiles, outsiders;" substantive, "a gentile" (BDAG 48).

[413] "Visit" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "come unto" (KJV) is the present middle infinitive of proserchomai, "come/go to, approach," here, "visit" (BDAG 878, 1a).

[414] "Against our law" (NIV), "unlawful" (ESV, NRSV), "an unlawful thing" (KJV) is athemitos. Danker notes, "This term refers primarily not to what is forbidden by ordinance but to a violation of tradition or common recognition of what is seemly or proper. Here, 'pertaining to not being sanctioned, not allowed, forbidden'" (BDAG 24, 1).

[415] "Impure" (NIV), "common" (ESV, KJV), "profane" (NRSV) is the adjective koinos, "common," here, "pertaining to being of little value because of being common, "common, ordinary, profane" (BDAG 551, 2b). Also at Acts 10:14 and 11:8.

[416] "Unclean" is the adjective akathartos, "pertaining to that which may not be brought into contact with the divinity, "impure, unclean" (the cultic sense), of foods (BDAG 34, 1).

[417] "Favoritism" (NIV), "partiality" (ESV, NRSV), "respecter of persons" (KJV) is the noun prosōpolēmptēs, "one who shows partiality" (BDAG 887), referring to the person who commits the sin. The word is formed from prosopon, "face" + lambanō, "to receive." The sin itself is expressed by the noun prosōpolēpsia, "partiality" Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; James 2:1).

[418] Bruce, Acts, p. 225.

[419] Eirēnē, BDAG 288, 2b.

[420] Kyrios, BDAG 577, 2bγ.

[421] The active participle of the verb euergeteō, "to render exceptional service, especially to a community, do good to, benefit someone" (BDAG 405).

[422] "Healing" is the present middle participle of the verb iaomai, "to restore someone to health after a physical malady, heal, cure" someone (BDAG 465, 1). "Under the power" (NIV), "oppressed" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the present passive participle of the verb katadunasteuō, "oppress, exploit, dominate" someone (BDAG 516), from kata-, "under" + dunasteia, "power, lordship, domination."

[423] "Anointed" is chriō, "anoint," in the New Testament only in a figurative sense of an anointing by God setting a person apart for special service under divine direction (BDAG 1091, d).

[424] Judges 6:34; 14:19; 1 Samuel 10:6; 2 Chronicles 24:20; Luke 1:41; etc.

[425] Assemblies of God, 16 Fundamental Truths, #8 (https://ag.org/beliefs/statement-of-fundamental-truths#8). See an article by Pentecostal scholar Gordon D. Fee, "Baptism in the Holy Spirit: the Issue of Separability and Subsequence," Pneuma: Journal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Fall 1985, pp. 87-95. He argues that Pentecostalism's Bible support for their teaching that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit comes after conversion is weak, but their experience of the Spirit is right on.

[426] Marshall, Acts, p. 192.

[427] "Granted" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "given" (NRSV) is the aorist indicative of didōmi, "give," here, "to grant by formal action, grant, allow," frequently of God (BDAG 243, 13).

[428] Acts 5:31; 2 Timothy 2:25-26.


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