Verse 1: In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. (NRSV)
- Caesarea was a city about 65 miles north of Jerusalem, named for Caesar Augustus, and revamped by Herod the Great into a good seaport. This was a bastion of Roman power in Judea (Longenecker 180).
- A Centurion would be the leader of a hundred men in theory, though that varied with practice.
Verse 2: He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. (NRSV)
- Cornelius's faith is an interesting problem.
- Cornelius was not described as a full believer, but as being “god-fearing” which probably means a near-proselyte.
- There is no mention of normal Judaic rituals and practiced. He isn't mentioned as being circumcised, attending temple, synagogue, reading scripture, anything like that. This means that Cornelius might be a normal pagan and is worshiping the monotheistic God apart from Judaism.
- The prayers and alms-giving are standard Greek modes of piety and not Judaic specific.
Verse 3: One afternoon at about three o'clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” (NRSV)
- Three in the afternoon is a standard time of prayer for the Jewish people (Longenecker 182).
- The angel is specifically said to appear “openly in sight.” This is not a hidden meeting, but direct and plainly done.
- Calling Cornelius by name is a way of signifying that God knows Cornelius, this is a chosen encounter.
Verse 4: He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. (NRSV)
- Cornelius is understandably afraid here, a common reaction to God's presence or messenger. The angel's next words in fact seem tailored to relieving his fear and reassuring him that this is a good meeting, not a bad one.
- This probably should not be taken as Cornelius saying God's name, but as a general honorific.
- Again, there is no mention of anything specifically Jewish about what God commends Cornelius for. Indeed, there isn't anything specific about beliefs mentioned at all.
Verse 5: Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; (NRSV)
- The addition of mentioning that he is called Peter is needed because he is staying in the house of another “Simon.”
- This is very much like a soldier's orders here. Cornelius is neither told why he should do this, or what to expect once he had accomplished it. He is simply told what to do for the next step.
Verse 6: he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” (NRSV)
- A tanner is a ritually impure person and yet Peter was staying with him (Johnson 186).
smell out to sea. Also, docks usually already smell very badly and the horrible smell of a tanner's house would not be noticed as much.
- Peter might not have been ready to eat with Gentiles before the vision, but he was pretty close.
Verse 7: When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, (NRSV)
- Literally, Cornelius calls his servants “as” the angel is leaving. Like a good soldier, he does not wait to carry out his instructions.
Verse 9: About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. (NRSV)
- Apparently the journey took more than a single day.
- Noon was not one of the recommended times for Jewish prayer (Longenecker 183).
Verse 10: He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. (NRSV)
- Peter is presented as hungry, with a reason to dismiss the vision as not being valid, but he doesn't.
- The “trance” is literally “ecstasy.”
- It basically carries with it a sense of being transported spiritually or physically (TDNT vol. 2 pg 456).
- In later times it could refer to astonishment, terror, or a state where consciousness is not fully there (Bauer 245).
- This altered state is not the same thing as his prayers, but is a separate event, which seems more related to hunger than to prayer.
Verse 11: He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. (NRSV)
- Both a “pot” and a “great sheet” are mentioned here, with the sheet or sail acting like a pot, a container holding everything else mentioned.
- Some people have seen this vision as a message from God, given in his particular contest. The food comes from his hunger, and the sail is possibly a ship's sail or an awning (Longenecker 183). Obviously there would have been plenty of animals around for him to see as well. God using his surroundings to speak to him.
Verse 14: But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” (NRSV)
- There is a lot of space devoted to Peter's struggle within, which indicates that this was a big struggle for Peter.
- The food laws were a very big deal for Jews at the time. Abandoning them would not have been an option for most people.
- This probably would have seemed like a betrayal of the Jewish faith to Peter.
- The difference between impure and unclean?
- Impure is literally “common” and is from the same root as community “koinonia”
- The assumption is that the primary part of God's people is being holy, not being common.
- But everyone is supposed to have everything “in common”
- Same word as Acts 4:32 when they held all things in common. (koinos)
- 10:28 is the key here, the emphasis is on no one being unclean, not avoiding calling anyone that.
- The other word is “unclean” as in impure or unwashed (IGEL Page 25)
- Again in 10:15, “what God has cleansed do not make common.
- “common” and “unclean” is what connects the vision and Cornelius (Johnson 190).
Verse 15: The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (NRSV)
- Literally, the voice says “what God cleaned, you not common.” Obviously there are some verbs to be supplied.
- There isn't a time frame associated with God cleaning the animals. It could have been from the beginning.
- Most translators supply “call” as well, but it is more likely that the same verb should be supplied in both cases.
- Both verbs should probably be supplied as “make,” which intensifies the action of Peter here in that he is trying to make something common, unclean.
- The point is not that God has made stuff clean, but that it always has been clean because it comes from a clean source.
- The unclean food was called “common” by the Greeks because anyone could have it, all the non-Jews ate it (Fitzmyer 455).
- The idea is that if Peter can accept food (an easier topic) then he can accept people (the harder one).
Verse 16: This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. (NRSV)
- There is a double vision system similar to Paul being called (Johnson 182).
- Paul and Ananias both had visions, Cornelius and Peter both had visions.
- The double visions are indicative of the truth of what the visions say, almost like two witnesses.
- ”This thing” that happened is unclear. It could be the entire cycle from the sail dropping to God's second statement, or just the last phrase.
- It is probably not the last statement only because then the author could easily have said that God “said” it three times. The use of “happened” or “became” probably refers to the entire conversation.
- If it is the entire conversation, then Peter was once again in a situation where he was being spoken to/rebuked three times. Apparently, this time Peter didn't do anything different any of those times.
- There is no explanation about why Peter rejected what God was saying three times.
- Perhaps he thought he was being tested instead of instructed.
- We need to remember that both law and experience was on Peter's side here. What God was saying here went against everything that Judaism had become about.
Verse 20: Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” (NRSV)
- It is interesting that the direction to go with the men was so clear when the vision itself was so cryptic.
- Here we have the third party to speak with Cornelius and Peter. An angel spoke to Cornelius, a voice spoke to Peter in his trance, and the Holy Spirit speaks here. Of course, all are sent by God and represent God, but why the distinctions it is not clear.
- The Holy Spirit does not explicitly mention that these men are Gentiles, though that will become clear to Peter soon enough.
Verse 22: They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” (NRSV)
- Cornelius is not a full proselyte (Johnson 182). Or it would have been ok to eat.
- If Cornelius was a full proselyte, then why was he associating with other gentiles?
Verse 23: So Peterb invited them in and gave them lodging. (NRSV)
- This would have been a problem to usher in a Gentile and presumably to eat with them as Peter was so hungry.
- However, as a tanner, Simon was already unclean as was his house probably. So this was not too big of a problem as the Gentiles were no defiling anything. Entering Cornelius' house was a bigger deal.
- That the people who go with Peter are differentiated as “of the circumcision” indicates that Cornelius was not yet a full member of the Jewish faith.
Peter at Cornelius' House
Verse 25: On Peter's arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. (NRSV)
- There is a step by step progress with how Peter acts (Johnson 187).
- First he offers hospitality to the visitors in Simon's house,
- Then he actually goes somewhere with Gentiles.
- Then he enters their house, accepts their hospitality.
- Finally, he is preaching to a purely Gentile audience, there only for them.
Coming into Cornelius's house made Peter unclean (Longenecker 186) but it is uncertain whether Peter was ok with this or thought it no longer counted.
- There is a humility and trust in Peter here that is astounding. These people had never met Peter, and yet they bowed to him. Then they just sat down to listen to whatever God had to say through him.
Verse 28: and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. (NRSV)
- Peter still refers to it as “our law” in a literal sense.
- Therefore Peter includes himself within the Jewish religion.
- Equally as important, “our” seems to be referring to him and those who came with him, not to Cornelius and his family.
Verse 44: While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. (NRSV)
- The Holy Spirit came before baptism, which is backwards from normal.
Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter
Nothing uses this chapter yet