The narrative setting and background (10:1-33) were discussed in part 13 of this series; here the two speeches themselves will be treated. For the first speech of Peter (10:34-43) the outline is as follows:
- Narrative introduction (vv. 30-33)—the entirety of the narrative in Acts 10:1-33 (esp. vv. 23b-33) really should be considered here (see above), but I isolate verses 30-33 as the proper introduction to the speech itself.
- Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)
- [Citation from Scripture] (vv. 36-42)—instead of a Scripture citation (and exposition), we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation), the most complete and developed thus far in Acts.
- Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)
- Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)
Narrative Introduction (vv. 30-33)—All of chapter 10 up to this point serves as an introduction to the speech, in particular the section narrating Peter’s visit to Cornelius (vv. 23b-33). Here I focus on verses 30-33, in which Cornelius recounts his visionary experience of vv. 1-8. Verse 33b sets the stage for the speech:
“Now therefore we are all along (here) in the sight of God to hear all the (thing)s set in order toward you under the Lord [i.e. appointed/arranged for you by the Lord]”
Introductory Address (vv. 34-35)—this consists of two theological statements:
- “God is not a ‘receiver of the face’ [proswpolh/pth$]” (v. 34)
- “In every nation, the one fearing Him and working justice/righteousness is accepted by Him” (v. 35)
The word proswpolh/pth$ (“receiver of the face”, “one who takes/receives the face”) is taken from the Old Testament (LXX)—lamba/nein pro/swpon—and based on the Hebrew/Semitic idiom <ynp acn (“lift/raise faces”), cf. Deut 10:17; 2 Chron 19:7, etc. In the ancient Near Eastern world, a greeting of respect or honor (esp. to a superior) involved prostrating oneself and/or lowering one’s face toward the ground. Lifting or raising the face is a sign that the person so greeted recognizes and accepts the one greeting. However, in a judicial context especially, the expression could have the sense of favoring one person over another, showing partiality or preference, superficial flattery, and the like. From a social-ethical standpoint, judges were expected to render verdicts and decisions without regard to a person’s status or the extent to which one sought to influence the judgment (by offering a bribe or other incentive). The noun proswpolh/yia (“receiving the face”, i.e. showing favoritism/partiality) came to be part of Hellenistic Jewish vocabulary, and is used in the New Testament (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; James 2:1). When applied to God, it means that he is a completely fair and just judge, who does not act with regard to a person’s status, outward appearance, and so forth. The expression ‘Godfearer’ (“one fearing God”, o( fobou/meno$ to\n qeo/n) has already been used of Cornelius in verses 2 and 22 (on which see part 13), as has the description di/kaio$ (“just/righteous” [in the traditional sense], v. 22). The idea here is that Gentiles like Cornelius who are (or would be) sympathetic to the Israelite/Jewish religion, devoted to prayer, charitable giving and other acts of mercy, are accepted (dekto/$) by God, just like Jews who faithfully uphold the Covenant and observe the Torah. Verses 34-35 do not entirely equate Jews and Gentiles before God, but they do lay the groundwork for that doctrine.
Citation of Kerygma (vv. 36-42)—In place of the citation from Scripture (in the sermon-speech pattern), here we have a central kerygma (Gospel proclamation). In earlier speeches, there were kerygmatic elements and statements in and around a central Scripture citation; here the kerygma is greatly expanded and developed, bringing together the various strands found in the prior sermon-speeches. We can almost see the formation of the core Gospel narrative taking shape before our eyes. The kerygma is introduced in verse 36 (note the emphatic chain-structure):
- The word/account [lo/go$]
- which He sent
- to the sons/children of Israel
- announcing [lit. bringing the good message of] peace
- through Jesus the Anointed (One)
The accusative object “the word/account” (to\n lo/gon), which effectively serves as subject of the clause in v. 36, picks up again in verse 37, but with an odd shift in vocabulary: “you know the word/utterance [r(h=ma] (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Judea…”. This may be a sign that a kergymatic (credal) formula has been incorporated (somewhat awkwardly) into the speech (note also the use of the ‘frozen’ participle a)rca/meno$ which follows); Acts 1:1b-5 may draw upon a similar formula. I will now note briefly the key kerygmatic elements and phrases in each verse, with details found in prior speeches indicated; new/additional details are italicized.
- V. 37—”beginning from [a)rca/meno$ a)po\]… the dipping/dunking [i.e. baptism]…” (1:22); the baptism by John is specifically mentioned in 1:5 (cf. also 13:24-25). For the idea of “beginning from Galilee”, see 13:31.
- V. 38—”God anointed him” (4:27; cf. 2:36; 3:18); on his being anointed by/with the Holy Spirit (and power), cf. Lk 3:22; 4:1, 14; 5:17. For the association of the (Holy) Spirit and power, cf. also 1:8; 8:19; Lk 1:35; 4:14. The idea in Acts 2:22—Jesus’ doing works of power, signs and wonders—is here specified as doing good works, healing those down under the power of the devil (depicting numerous times in the Synoptic tradition). We have also the additional detail that God was with him.
- V. 39—The apostles (and other early believers) are witnesses to all that happened (1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:5; 5:32; 13:31; Lk 24:48) in Jerusalem and Judea (1:8; Lk 24:47), especially to the death (2:36; 3:15; 4:10) and resurrection (in v. 40) of Jesus. The verb a)naire/w is also used of Jesus’ death in 2:23; 13:28; his death as “hanging upon a tree” occurs in 5:30.
- V. 40—The demonstrative pronoun “this (one)” (ou!to$, acc. tou=ton) is used frequently referring to Jesus (2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31; 9:20; 10:36; cf. also 3:16; 4:17; 5:28; 7:35-38 [Moses/Jesus parallel], and similar usage in 6:13-14). Of course God’s raising of Jesus is central to the kerygma (2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30, etc), with the formula on the third day (or “after three days”) familiar from Synoptic tradition. The post-resurrection appearances (v. 41) are described here in unusual terminology: (God) gave him [i.e. made him] to come to be in (a manner of) shining forth [i.e. to appear clearly].
- V. 41—The apostles are witnesses of the resurrection appearances (1:3, 22; 2:32; 13:31 etc); the emphasis on eating and drinking with Jesus after the resurrection is attested in Gospel tradition, and may be suggested in Acts 1:4a. Here the apostles are uniquely described as those chosen [lit. by raising the hand] before(hand) under [i.e. by] God; on witness to the resurrection appearances as a requisite qualification for apostleship, cf. 1:21-22.
- V. 42—The disciples are commanded by Jesus to proclaim what they have witnessed (Lk 24:47-48); and they are to witness thoroughly/throughout (Acts 2:40; 8:25). Verse 42 concludes with a final kerygmatic statement, again using the demonstrative pronoun “this one” (ou!to$); Jesus is described as:
“the (one) marked out [i.e. appointed, w(risme/no$] under [i.e. by] God” (2:23; 17:31, cf. also Rom 1:4)
“(to be) judge of (the) living and dead” (cf. 17:31)
Concluding Exhortation (v. 43)—In many ways, this verse continues the central kerygma; note the following:
- “to this one” (tou=tw|)—on this use of the demonstrative pronoun for Jesus, cf. vv. 40, 42 above.
- “the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] give witness”—cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44; Acts 3:18, 21-25; 8:34; 13:27, etc.
- “to receive release [i.e. forgiveness] of sins”—Lk 24:27; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 13:38.
- “through his name”—Acts 4:30, and cf. 2:21, 38; 3:6, 16; 4:10, 12; 8:12, 16, etc.
- “(for) every (one) trusting in him”—cf. Acts 2:44; 3:16; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12-13; 9:42, etc.
The adjective pa=$ (acc. pa/nta), “all/every (one)” in context here means both Jews and Gentiles—cf. the use of pa=$ in Peter’s vision (v. 12, 14).
Narrative Conclusion (vv. 44-48)—The inclusion of Gentiles is thus emphasized in the first and last verses (vv. 34-35, 43) which bracket the speech. This theological (missionary) theme is played out dramatically in the narrative, as the Holy Spirit suddenly (“as Peter was yet speaking these words…”) falls upon all (e)pi\ pa/nta$) the ones hearing the word (v. 44). Clearly, this re-enacts the Pentecost manifestation of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4ff), a fact which amazes the Jewish Christians who are with Peter (referred to as “the ones of circumcision [who also] trusted [in Jesus]”), v. 45-46. The central underlying conflict (see verse 28) is addressed forcefully by Peter, with a question that effectively serves as a command: “(Surely) no one is able to cut off water for these (people so as) not to be dipped/dunked [i.e. baptized], (these) who have received the holy Spirit as we also (have)(—are they?)” It is important to note that the “baptism by the Spirit” takes priority over any baptism with water, which expressly emphasizes the miraculous, divinely-ordained sign that the Gentiles are to be included and accepted as believers in Christ.
The Second Speech of Peter (11:1-18)
This section is unusual in that it largely repeats (in summary fashion) the narrative of chapter 10. The only other such example we find in Acts is the conversion of Paul (Saul) in Acts 9:1-19ff, which Paul re-states and describes (in considerable detail) on two other occasions in his (defense) speeches (Acts 22:4-16ff; 26:9-18). This demonstrates the central importance of the Cornelius episode for the author of Acts (and/or his underlying sources). Before briefly treating the second speech of Peter in ch. 11, it is worth re-iterating the theological and apologetic character of the narrative, which dramatically illustrates a key controversy in the early Church—that is, the acceptance and admission of Gentile believers (cf. Haenchen, p. 360):
When confronted with the miraculous and divine nature of the mission to the Gentiles, Jewish believers are forced to recognize its validity (cf. the conclusion at 11:17-18, echoing 10:47).
The second speech of Peter has a different character and purpose from the first—it is not a sermon-speech, but an (apologetic) address to fellow believers. The outline is relatively simple:
- Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)
- Citation from (recent) History (vv. 4-17)
- Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)
Narrative Introduction (vv. 1-3)—This sets the basic conflict:
- Other Christians (“the apostles and brothers down [through] Judea”) hear that the Gentiles (“the nations”) also have “received the word of God” (v. 1).
- When Peter arrives in Jerusalem, certain believers are said to have “judged thoroughly [diekri/nonto] toward him”, that is, they marked/separated Peter out and disputed/contended with him about the matter (v. 2). These believers are described as “the ones of/from circumcision” (cf. 10:45), which has a two-fold significance here: (a) it means, of course, that they are Jewish Christians, but also (b) it is a foreshadowing of those Jewish Christians who would require that Gentile converts be circumcised and observe the Torah (cf. 15:1, 5).
- They are critical of Peter, saying “you went in toward men having a foreskin [i.e. uncircumcised men] and you ate with them” (v. 3). On the essential conflict involved, see 10:28 and the significance of Peter’s vision in 10:9-16 (related to the Jewish dietary regulations).
Narration of Recent Events (vv. 4-17)—Here Peter narrates the recent events of the episode with Cornelius (chapter 10); in the speech-pattern it effectively takes the place of the Gospel kerygma and citation(s) from Scripture. It also serves much the same role as the narratio in classical (deliberative) rhetoric (cf. Galatians 1:11-2:14). This recapitulation can be divided into three sections:
The Vision (vv. 5-10; cf. 10:9-16)—there is very little difference from the account in Acts 10, but note the way that the three appearances of the vision and the arrival of three messengers in vv. 10-11 are related even more directly (cp. 10:16-18).
The Message (vv. 11-14; cf. 10:17-22)—this corresponds with the visit of the men from Cornelius to Peter and the message which they bring from Cornelius.
Verse 12 is especially notable (cf. 10:20): “and the Spirit said to me to go with them, not judging one thing thoroughly”. There is a bit of wordplay involving the verb diakri/nw (also used in 11:2; 15:9)—it is an intensive compound form of kri/nw, usually rendered “judge”, but with the fundamental sense of separate. In English it corresponds with the idea of making a distinction, i.e., distinguishing, discerning, judging. It can have the secondary meanings of “giving (considerable) thought” to something, even “to question (or doubt)”; also the idea of distinguishing or separating one person from another may carry the nuance of “oppose, contend (with), dispute”. In the simple narrative context of 10:20 and 11:12, the Spirit may be telling Peter not to hesitate or doubt, but the real underlying message (via the wordplay) is not to make any distinction between people; similarly, in 11:2, the Jewish Christians are judging Peter and contending with him, but again the underlying emphasis is on judging/distinguishing between people (i.e., Jews and Gentiles, cf. 15:9).
In verse 12, then, there are two themes embedded: (a) the role of the Spirit in the mission to the Gentiles, and (b) the divine command not to make any distinction between Jew and Gentile.
The Manifestation of the Spirit (vv. 15-17; cf. 10:44-47)—this is narrated in abbreviated form, with one additional detail, the kerygmatic mention of John’s baptism in verse 16 (see 1:5, also 1:22; 13:24); thus we have both aspects of baptism re-iterated: by water and the Spirit.
The possible objection to accepting Gentile believers (10:47) is also presented here, by way of conclusion to the speech, in verse 17, with one particular difference: to cut off [kwlu=sai, i.e. prevent/hinder] water (for baptism) from the Gentiles is the same as (attempting) to cut off [kwlu=sai, prevent/hinder] God!
Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)—Upon hearing these things, those who questioned or contended with Peter were silent (see the same reaction to Peter’s speech in 15:12)—indicating that the dispute came to and end, the conflict being resolved through hearing the word/account of God—and they honored/esteemed (i.e. gave glory to) God in response. This, of course, parallels and foreshadows the events of the “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15, as does the ultimate declaration, with tacit or basic acceptance of the Gentile converts, in verse 18b:
“Then also God has given to the nations change-of-mind [i.e. repentance] unto/into life!” (cf. 2:38; 5:31)