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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Peter and Cornelius Meet (10:23-33)
Peter and Cornelius Meet (10:23-33)
Peter and Cornelius Meet (10:23-33)

Because of the precedent-setting nature of Peter's visit to Cornelius (compare 15:7) or possible trouble the visit would cause Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem, Peter sets out with a delegation of six brothers who can serve as witnesses (10:45; 11:12). The journey to Caesarea takes somewhat longer than it had taken Cornelius's envoys, maybe because of the larger group and their lack of mounts (Williams 1985:175).

Cornelius's expectancy in many ways models the stance of the people of God toward the final salvation (Lk 3:15; 7:19-20; 12:46; compare Ps 119:166). Obediently and magnanimously he too gathers a delegation including relatives and close friends (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 7:350; compare Acts 11:14).

There is some understandable awkwardness when Peter and Cornelius meet. It is not because of Peter's reluctance. Luke chronicles his determined progress (10:24-25, 27). Rather, it's due to Cornelius's enthusiastic greeting in which he falls at Peter's feet in homage (NIV in reverence; literally, "he worshiped"). Is this indeed "worship" from a God-fearer? Everett F. Harrison (1986:180) says no. But if Cornelius is showing only respectful gratitude, Peter probably would not correct him so forcefully. (All other uses of the term refer to true or false worship—Lk 4:8; 24:52; Acts 8:27; 24:11; Lk 4:7; Acts 7:43). Filled with joy at the sight of the one whose message will bring salvation and filled with awe at seeing the one whom an angelic vision said to summon, Cornelius naturally falls down in worship.

Peter will have none of this. Grabbing him by the arm, he tells him to get up, letting him know that he himself is only a human being. Peter is living out his commitment to a strict monotheism that will brook no worship of any but God (Lk 4:8; compare Ex 20:3-5; Deut 5:7-9; Rev 19:10; 22:8-9; contrast Haenchen [1971:350], who says he is just modeling humility). At the same time he places Cornelius and himself on the same footing. Peter avoids two extremes when he treats humans as neither "gods" nor "dogs" (Acts 10:26, 28; Stott 1990:189; compare Acts 3:11-12; 14:15). With a simple act and firm words, Peter removes from Cornelius's mind and heart the difference between Jew and Gentile. This is the starting point for any who would take the gospel to those who have never heard. There must at the least be acknowledgment of the level ground of creation: "I too am a human being."

Conversing, they enter the house and encounter a large gathering. Luke consistently uses this phrase to describe the effect of miracles and response to the gospel at each stage of the fulfillment of Acts 1:8 (2:6; 4:4; 5:16; 8:7). The response of the Gentiles potentially will be as enthusiastic as that of the Jews.

When Peter says that it is against our law to associate or visit with a Gentile (literally, "a person of another race"), he is not pointing to explicit Old Testament teaching as much as to Jewish custom. Nehemiah did take the mandate excluding Ammonites and Edomites from the assembly (Deut 23:3-4) and extended it to all Gentiles (Neh 13:3). Rabbinic law extended the separation, however, by proscribing Jewish social contact with Gentiles, particularly accepting hospitality in their homes (m. `Aboda Zara 5:5; m. Toharot 7:6; compare m. Demai 3:4). In the end, in Jewish eyes, Gentiles themselves became a source of ritual impurity (t. Demai 3:14; t. `Aboda Zara 4:11).

Despite this deep-seated taboo, Peter announces he has learned the lesson of the heavenly vision, which providentially converged with the arrival of Gentile messengers and the Spirit's instruction "Go with them, not making any distinctions" (10:9-19). Peter puts it tersely: God has shown me that I should not call any man impure [common] or unclean (v. 28; compare vv. 14-15). Just as the external cultural barrier between holy and profane (the common), clean and unclean, has come down, so the prejudicial barrier between races and ethnic groups is forever removed. No human being is to be treated as profane, somehow beyond the reach of a sacred God's saving and sanctifying work. No human being is to be viewed as unclean, a hindrance to my pursuit of spiritual purity before God (compare Jesus' example in Lk 5:30; 7:34; 15:1).

Peter has acted on his new insight by coming without objection (compare Acts 10:20). Now he wants to know why he has been called. Cornelius's response indicates that God has orchestrated this historic meeting, the inauguration of the Gentile mission.

Cornelius's vision and his subsequent obedience are the most repeated features of his conversion narrative (10:3-7, 22, 30-33; 11:13-14). Thus Luke continues to emphasize that the Gentile mission is God's will and would not have happened without divine intervention. In Cornelius's retelling here Luke emphasizes that it was while at prayer, and possibly in answer to a particular prayer for further knowledge of the way of salvation, that the angelic vision was given (compare 10:4; Lk 1:13). Cornelius's comments conclude with an expression of polite gratitude—it was good of you to come (compare 3 Jn 6)—and a statement of the receptivity of all present. Cornelius also stresses the message's divine origin and universal applicability, along with his audience's accountability. Is Luke holding up Cornelius as a model for hearing the gospel?

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