The Speeches of Acts, Part 14: Acts 10:34-43; 11:1-18 (continued)

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:

    1. “God is not a ‘receiver of the face’ [proswpolh/pth$]” (v. 34)
    2. “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)
              • this One is Lord of all

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:

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)

The Speeches of Acts, Part 13: Acts 10:34-43; 11:1-18

In this part of the series on the Speeches of Acts, I will be looking at the two speeches given by Peter in chapters 10 & 11. As speeches, they are quite different from each other, but they are both essential to the overall narrative in these chapters—the episode of Cornelius, which begins the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. In order to understand the context of this episode within the overall structure of Acts, I offer the following outline of the first half of the book:

  • Introduction—the Disciples with Jesus (Acts 1:1-11)
  • The Believers in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12-8:3)
    Acts 1:12-26: The reconstitution of the Twelve, with a speech by Peter
    Acts 2:1-47: The Pentecost narrative (the coming of the Spirit), with a speech by Peter
    Acts 3:1-4:31: The healing miracle and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, with two speeches by Peter and a prayer
    Acts 4:32-5:11: Conflict among the Believers—Ananias/Sapphira
    Acts 5:12-42: Miracle(s) and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, with two speeches (by Peter and Gamaliel)
    Acts 6:1-7: Conflict among the Believers—the appointment of the Seven (incl. Stephen and Philip)
    Acts 6:8-8:3: The Stephen narrative, with a major speech, concluding with onset of persecution
  • The Early Mission outside of Jerusalem (Acts 8:4-12:25)
    Acts 8:4-40: Two episodes involving Philip (in Samaria and on the road to Gaza), along with an episode of the Apostles in Samaria (Peter and Simon Magus)
    Acts 9:1-31: The Conversion and early Ministry of Saul Paulus (Paul) (around Damascus)
    Acts 9:32-43: Two episodes (healing miracles) involving Peter (in Lydda/Sharon and Joppa)
    Acts 10:1-11:18: Peter and Cornelius (in Caesarea): first outreach to Gentiles, with two speeches by Peter
    Acts 11:19-30: Introduction to the Church in Antioch
    Acts 12:1-25: The arrest (and miraculous release) of Peter, followed by the death of Herod Agrippa
  • Paul’s (First) Mission to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-15:35)

These two speeches by Peter emphasize the importance and centrality of the Cornelius episode, marking the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles, and the first clear Gentile converts to Christianity. It is noteworthy that this episode appears prominently in the so-called Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (cf. vv. 7-9, 14ff), serving to legitimize the mission of Paul and Barnabas. The main speech of Peter in chapter 10 concludes an extensive narrative, which I divide as follows:

These are two interconnected pairs, each scene serving to draw Peter and Cornelius (Jew and Gentile) closer together. Before proceeding to the speech itself, I will briefly discuss each of the narrative scenes.

Scene 1: The vision of Cornelius (10:1-8)

The personal character of Cornelius (vv. 1-2)—A Roman military commander stationed in Caesarea, Cornelius is described (in verse 2) as:

    • eu)sebh/$ (euseb¢¡s)—This word is a bit difficult to translate literally, but fundamentally it would be rendered something like “(having/showing) good/proper respect”, especially in religious matters (i.e. “pious, devout”); though originally the root verb se/bomai would have more concretely indicated “fall back (in fear/awe)”. It is generally synonymous with qeosebh/$ (theoseb¢¡s, shorthand for sebome/no$ to\n qeo\n, “showing fear/respect for God”). For the eu)seb- wordgroup elsewhere, see Acts 3:12; 10:7; 17:23; it is especially common in the later (Pastoral) writings, 1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 5:4; 6:5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5, 12; Tit 1:1; 2:12; 2 Pet 1:3, 6-7; 3:11; for qeoseb- see John 9:31; 1  Tim 2:10. On the similar use of se/bomai, cf. Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7, 13; 19:27.
    • fobou/meno$ to\n qeo\n (“[one who] is in fear of God”, i.e. ‘God-fearer’)—This concrete expression is parallel to eu)sebh/$/qeosebh/$ (and the similar sebome/no$ to\n qeo\n); it also appears in Acts 13:16, 26, and generally seems to derive from the LXX (cf. Psalm 115:11 [113:19]; 118:4; 135:20). On the idea of “fearing God” in the New Testament, see Rom 3:18; 2 Cor 5:11; 7:1; Heb 11:7; 1 Pet 2:17; Rev 14:7; 19:5, etc.
    • “one doing (act)s of mercy [e)lehmosu/na$] for the people”—in such a context, the Greek word is typically understood as charitable gifts or contributions (“alms”); here “the people” specifically means the Jewish people.
    • “making request of God through all (things)”—The verb de/omai means to ask or request from someone (out of need); in a religious context, of course, it means requesting from God, but can have the more general sense of “prayer” as well as the specific sense of “petition”.
      —”prayer and almsgiving” came to be a typical expression of religious piety in Jewish tradition (cf. Tobit 12:8-9, 12, 15; Sirach 35:6; 38:11; 45:16, etc).

The vision of Cornelius (vv. 3-6)—He receives his vision at the Jewish hour for prayer (Acts 3:1); the angel specifically mentions his prayer and “gifts of mercy” (alms) which have gone up (like a sacrificial offering) as a memorial before God. For a similar angelic visitation and message, see Luke 1:13ff (and note Acts 9:10-12).

Cornelius’ response to the vision (vv. 7-8)—Cornelius’ obedience and care in responding is narrated simply (cf. Acts 9:17; 10:21; 11:12).

Scene 2: The vision of Peter (10:9-16)

Peter’s vision is something of a different character than that of Cornelius—it is a symbolic, revelatory vision, one which also takes place during a time of prayer (v. 9). It is also specifically related to food (note Peter’s hunger and the time setting for the noon-day meal), touching upon the dietary regulations in the Old Testament / Jewish Law (Lev 11:1-47; Deut 14:3-20). The revelatory character is indicated by:

    • Heaven being “opened” [a)new|gme/non] (cf. Acts 7:56; Lk 3:21)—v. 11
    • The vessel “stepping down” [katabai=non] (i.e., descending) out of heaven (cf. Mark 1:10 par; Jn 1:32-33, 51, and frequently in John)—v. 11
    • The vessel was “taken up” [a)nelh/mfqh] into heaven (cf. Acts 1:2, 11)—v. 16

Elsewhere in the Gospels, this sort of language and imagery is associated with the incarnation and theophanous manifestation of Jesus. The vision occurs three times (an echo of Peter’s three-fold denial? cf. Jn 21:15-17), each time accompanied by a (divine) voice. There is a two-fold aspect to the symbolism of the vision, marked by the adjective pa=$ (“all”):

    • “All [pa/nta] kinds of animals” (v. 12)—this indicates a removal of the clean/unclean distinction in the dietary laws; note Peter’s objection (“I have never eaten anything [pa=n] common or unclean”).
    • “All parts of the earth”—as symbolized by the vessel as a “great sheet” with four corners set down upon the earth (v. 11); this indicates the universality of the Christian mission (to the Gentiles), cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8; 2:5ff; 9:15.

Note in particular the structure of Peter’s objection (following the dietary laws) and the divine response (vv. 14-15):

    • Not anything common [koino/$]
      • Not anything unclean [a)ka/qarto$]
      • God has cleansed [kaqari/zw]
    • Do not call/consider common [koino/w]

Some commentators have tried to suggest that the vision does not abolish the dietary laws, but is simply meant as an example that the Gentiles should be accepted into the Church. This is most unlikely; while the symbolism regarding acceptance of the Gentiles is certainly correct (see vv. 28b, 35, 45 and 11:1ff), the argument related to the dietary laws themselves seems abundantly clear and specific. I will deal with this question in more detail as part of my series on “The Law and the New Testament” (in the article “The Law in Luke-Acts”).

Scene 3: The visit (of Cornelius) to Peter (10:17-23a)

This visit, of course, is made by Cornelius’ representatives—two servants and a soldier (v. 7)—rather than Cornelius himself. It is interesting how the drama of the scene is heightened by verse 17a, reflecting Peter’s uncertainty regarding the vision (“as Peter was thoroughly without answer in himself [as to] what [the meaning of] the vision might be…”); this may well reflect the joining of a separate tradition (Peter’s vision) into the fabric of the narrative, but it is most effective—note how this motif repeats in verse 19 (“and [at] Peter’s being thoroughly aroused in [thought] about the vision…”). There are perhaps several other subtle echoes of the vision in this scene:

    • Another revelation, here by the Spirit—”See, three men are seeking you” (v. 19)
    • Three men, just as the vision appeared three times
    • Peter “steps down” (i.e. goes down) to meet them (vv. 20-21), just as the vision “steps down” out of heaven—in both instances the verb katabai/nw is used

There is an additional parallel to Scene 1 with the description of Cornelius in verse 22, which now also characterizes him as “just/righteous” (di/kaio$).

Scene 4: The visit of Peter to Cornelius (10:23b-33)

The narrative builds as Peter’s arrival and his reception is described in solemn fashion (vv. 24-27); the “Western” text of Acts shows many differences in these verses. Peter states the central issue (and the basic conflict) clearly in verse 28:

    • It is contrary to law/custom [i.e. unlawful, a)qe/mito$]
      • for a Jewish man
    • to join [kolla=sqai] or come toward [prose/rxesqai]
      • (one) of another fulh/ [i.e. tribe/clan/race, etc]

Peter interprets or applies his vision in terms of people—no person should be treated as common or unclean. In verses 30-33, Cornelius reprises his own vision, setting the stage for the speech of Peter to follow.

The Speech of Peter (10:34-48)

Verses 34-48 could be broken into two scenes (5 and 6): the speech of vv. 34-43 and the effect/result of the speech (the manifestation of the Spirit) in vv. 44-48; however, I will deal with both under a single heading. Here is an outline of the speech, which loosely follows the basic sermon-speech pattern I have recognized and used earlier throughout this series:

    • 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)

The two speeches of 10:34-38 and 11:1-18 will be examined in detail in the next part of this article.