Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,X.
(1) There was a certain man in Cæsarea.—We enter on a new stage of expansion in the Church’s growth, the full details of which St. Luke may have learnt either from Philip the Evangelist during his stay at Cæsarea (Acts 21:8; Acts 24:27) or, possibly, from Cornelius himself. His admission into the Church, even if it were not the first instance of the reception of a Gentile convert as such, became, through its supernatural accompaniments and (in the strict sense of that word) its “prerogative” character, the ruling case on the subject. Whether it were earlier or later than the admission of the Gentiles recorded in Acts 11:20, we have no adequate data for determining. (See Note on that passage.)
Cæsarea was at this time the usual residence of the Roman Procurator of Judæa, and was consequently garrisoned by Roman troops. Greeks, Jews, and Romans, probably also Phœnicians and other traders, were mingled freely in its population.
Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band.—The office was a comparatively subordinate one, the centurion commanding the sixth part of a cohort, the sixtieth part of a legion. The Greek implies that he belonged to the cohort, not that he commanded it. The name Cornelius may indicate a connection with the great Cornelian gens which had been made famous by the Gracchi and by Sylla. The bands, or cohorts, stationed at Cæsarea consisted chiefly of auxiliaries levied from the province (Jos. Wars, ii. 13, § 6), who were not always to be relied on in times of popular excitement, and this cohort was accordingly distinguished from the others as Italian, i.e., as being at least commanded by Roman officers. A first Italian legion is repeatedly mentioned by Tacitus (Hist. i. 59, 64; c. 100; iii. 22), but this is said by Dion (lv. 24) to have been first raised by Nero; and the term which St. Luke uses for band (spira) was, strictly speaking, not used of the legions, the latter term being applied exclusively to Roman troops. In Acts 27:1 we meet with another of these cohorts, also at Cæsarea, known as the Augustan.
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.(2) A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house.—The word for “devout” is not the same as that used in Acts 2:5; Acts 8:2, and Luke 2:25, and appears to be used by St. Luke, as again in Acts 10:7, for the special type of devotion that belonged to Gentile converts to Judaism. The phrase “those that feared God” is employed distinctly for this class in Acts 10:22; Acts 10:35, and again in Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26. There is a special significance in the addition “with all his house.” The centurion was not satisfied with having found a higher truth for himself, but sought to impart it to the soldiers and slaves, possibly to those nearer and dearer to him, who came under his influence (Comp. Acts 10:7.)
And prayed to God alway.—As the vision that follows may rightly be regarded as an answer to the prayers thus offered, it is natural to infer that Cornelius was seeking for guidance as to the new faith which Philip had brought to Cæsarea, and of which he could scarcely fail to have heard. Was it really a new revelation from God to man? Could he be admitted to the fellowship of the society which confessed Jesus as the Christ without accepting the yoke of circumcision and the ceremonial law from which, as a “proselyte of the gate,” he had hitherto kept back?
He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.(3) In a vision evidently.—The adverb seems added to distinguish the manifestation from that of a dream like Joseph’s in Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:13, or of a trance like St. Peter’s (Acts 10:10) or St. Paul’s (Acts 22:17).
About the ninth hour of the day.—This was, as in Acts 3:1, one of the three hours of prayer, the hour when the evening sacrifice was offered in the Temple. Cornelius had therefore so far accepted the Jewish rules of devotion, and for him also the Law was “a schoolmaster” bringing him to Christ.
And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.(4) Are come up for a memorial before God.—The word so used was emphatically sacrificial and liturgical, as, e.g., in Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 2:16; Leviticus 5:12; Leviticus 6:15; Ecclesiasticus 45:16; and elsewhere. The words implied, therefore, that the “prayers and alms” were accepted as a true sacrifice, more acceptable than the blood of bulls and goats. If we ask, in the technical language of a later theology, how they could be accepted when they were offered prior to a clear faith in Christ, and therefore before justification, the answer is that the good works were wrought by the power of God’s grace already working in him. He was believing in the Light that lighteth every man, though as yet he did not identify that Light with its manifestation in Jesus as the Christ (John 1:9). He had the faith which from the beginning of the world has justified—the belief that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:(5, 6) Call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter.—The circumstances of the communication present, it is obvious, a striking parallelism with those attendant on the revelation to Ananias in Acts 9:10-17. To those who regard both narratives as fictitious, the resemblance will appear as characteristic of St. Luke’s style as a writer. Admitting, however, the possibility of a divine guidance being given by a supernatural message, it will not seem strange to us, as has been said already, that it should in each case take the form which made it most effectual, giving directions as to names and places, and yet leaving something open as a test of faith.
And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;(7) A devout soldier.—The word implies that the man was, like his superior officer, a convert to the faith of Israel, though not, in the full sense of the word, a proselyte. It is natural to infer the same of the two slaves to whom their master imparted the vision, which to those who were living as heathens would have seemed strange and unintelligible. It is obvious that all such facts are interesting as throwing light on the character of Cornelius, and showing that, to the extent of his power, he sought to lead those over whom he had any influence to the Truth which he had found precious as leading him to a higher life.
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:(9) As they went on their journey . . .—The distance from Cæsarea to Joppa was about thirty Roman miles.
To pray about the sixth hour.—As in Acts 3:1, we again find St. Peter observing the Jewish hours of prayer. The “hunger” mentioned in the next verse implies that up to that time he had partaken of no food, and makes it probable that it was one of the days, the second and fifth in the week, which the Pharisees and other devout Jews observed as fasts. The flat housetop of an Eastern house was commonly used for prayer and meditation (comp. Matthew 10:27; Matthew 24:17; Luke 17:31), and in a city like Joppa, and a house like that of the tanner, was probably the only place accessible for such a purpose.
And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,(10) He fell into a trance.—St. Luke characteristically uses, as in Acts 11:5; Acts 22:17, the technical term ekstasis (whence our English ecstasy) for the state which thus supervened. It is obvious that it might in part be the natural consequence of the protracted fast, and the intense prayer, possibly also of exposure under such conditions to the noontide sun. The state was one in which the normal action of the senses was suspended, like that of Balaam in Numbers 24:4, or that which St. Paul describes in 2Corinthians 12:3, “whether in the body or out of the body” he cannot tell, and, as such, it was, in this instance, made the channel for a revelation of the Divine Will conveyed in symbols which were adapted to the conditions out of which it rose.
And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:(11) A certain vessel descending . . .—The form of the vision corresponded, as has just been said, with the bodily condition of the Apostle. Its inward meaning may fairly be thought of as corresponding to his prayer. One who looked out from Joppa upon the waters of the Great Sea towards the far-off Isles of the Gentiles, might well seek to know by what process and under what conditions those who dwelt in them would be brought within the fold of which he was one of the chief appointed shepherds. The place, we may add, could not fail to recall the memory of the great prophet who had taken ship from thence, and who was conspicuous alike as a preacher of a gospel of repentance to the Gentiles, and, in our Lord’s own teaching, as a type of the Resurrection (Matthew 12:40-41). The Apostle was to be taught, as the prophet had been of old, that the thoughts of God were not as his thoughts (Jonah 4:10-11).
A great sheet knit at the four corners.—Better, bound by four ends—i.e., those of the ropes by which it seemed to Peter’s gaze to be let down from the opened firmament. The Greek word, literally beginnings, is used as we use “ends.”
Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.(12) All manner of four-footed beasts . . .—The classification seems to imply the sheep, the oxen, or the swine that were used as food by the Gentiles, as coming under this head, the deer and goats, and conies and hares under that of “wild beasts.” Stress in each case is laid upon there being “all manner” of each class, those that were allowed, and those also that were forbidden by the Jewish law.
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.(13) Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.—In the symbolism of the vision the natural promptings of appetite were confirmed by the divine voice. That which resisted both was the scruple of a hesitating conscience, not yet emancipated from its bondage to a ceremonial and therefore transitory law. It is natural to infer that the spiritual yearnings of Peter’s soul were, in like manner, hungering and thirsting after a wider fellowship which should embrace “all manner” of the races that make up mankind, while, on the other hand, he was as yet waiting to be taught that the distinction between Jew and Gentile was done away in Christ.
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.(14) Not so, Lord . . .—The emphatic resistance even to a voice from heaven is strikingly in harmony with the features of St. Peter’s character, as portrayed in the Gospels, with the “Be it far from thee, Lord,” when he heard of the coming Passion (Matthew 16:22), with “Thou shalt never wash my feet,” in John 13:8. He had been taught that that which “goeth into the mouth cannot defile the man” (Mark 7:15), but he had not taken in that truth in its fulness, either in its literal or symbolic meaning.
Any thing that is common or unclean.—“Common” is used, as in Mark 7:2, in the sense of “defiled” or “impure,” that which excludes the idea of consecration to a special service.
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.(15) What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.—In the framework of the vision, the clean and the unclean beasts stood on the same footing, were let down from heaven in the same sheet. That had purified them from whatever taint had adhered to them under the precepts of the Law. In the interpretation of the vision, all that belongs to humanity had been taken up into heaven; first, when man’s nature was assumed by the Eternal Word in the Incarnation (John 1:14), and, secondly, when that nature had been raised in the Ascension to the heaven of heavens, sitting on the right hand of God (Acts 7:56; Mark 16:19).
This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.(16) This was done thrice.—The three-fold repetition was at once general and personal in its significance. It was mystically the token of a complete ratification of the truth proclaimed. It reminded him of the three fold command, “Feed My sheep,” and taught him to take a wider range of work in obeying it (John 21:15-17).
Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate,(17) While Peter doubted in himself . . . .—A doubt might well arise whether the teaching of the vision went beyond its immediate scope. The Apostle might have admitted that it abrogated the old distinction between clean and unclean meats, and yet might hesitate to answer the question, “Did it do more than this?”
While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.(19) The Spirit said unto him, . . . .—The words seem to imply a state of consciousness intermediate between the “trance” that had passed away and the normal state of every-day life. The “voice” no longer seemed to come from heaven to the outward ear, but was heard as not less divine in the secret recesses of his soul.
Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.(20) Go with them, doubting nothing.—The command was specially addressed to the perplexed questionings of the disciple. For a time he was to walk, as it were, blindfold, but trusting in the full assurance of faith in the Hand that was guiding him. As once before (John 13:7), he knew not yet what his Lord was doing, but was to know hereafter. He and the messengers from Cornelius were alike acting on the promptings of the Divine Spirit.
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.(22) Cornelius the centurion.—The description seems to imply that the name of the soldier-convert was not altogether unknown at Joppa. It could not fail to remind Peter of that other centurion whose name is not recorded, who was stationed at Capernaum, and had built the synagogue (Luke 7:5), and with that recollection there would come back to his memory the words which his Master had spoken in connection with the faith which was greater than he had found in Israel, and which proclaimed that “many should come from east and west and north and south, and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 8:11).
Of good report among all the nation of the Jews.—St. Luke’s policy of conciliation, if one may so speak, is traceable in the stress laid on this fact. As in the case of the reception of the Apostle of the Gentiles by Ananias (Acts 9:10), so in that of Cornelius, all occasion of offence was, as far as possible, guarded against by the attestation given by those who were themselves Jews to the character of those concerned.
Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.(23) Then called he them in.—As it was about noon when Peter went up to the house-top to pray, the arrival of the messengers, allowing an adequate interval for the trance and the vision, may be placed at some time in the afternoon.
Certain brethren from Joppa.—We learn from Acts 11:12, that they were six in number. They were obviously taken that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word might be established” (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15), that they might report to the Church at Joppa what had been done by the Apostle whom they had learnt to reverence.
And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.(24) His kinsmen and near friends.—These, we may well believe, were, like the soldiers and slaves under his command, more or less in sympathy with Cornelius. He, at all events, was seeking to bring them also within the range of the new illumination which he was expecting to receive.
And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.(25) Fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.—The attitude was the extremest form of Eastern homage. So Jairus had bowed down before Jesus (Matthew 9:18), so St. John bowed before the angel (Revelation 22:8). Peter’s answer, in strong contrast with the words and acts, the very ceremonial, of those who claim to be his successors, shows that he looked on it as expressing a homage such as God alone could rightly claim. For man to require or receive it from man was an inversion of the true order, The language of the angel in Revelation 22:9—“See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant . . . worship God”—implies the same truth. Both bear their witness, all the more important because not controversial, against any culius of saints or angels that tends to efface the distinction between man and God. We must not pass over the parallelism between St. Peter’s words and those of St. Paul at Lystra, “We also are men of like passions with yourselves” (Acts 14:15).
And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.(27) And as he talked with him.—The word implies a conversation of some length; possibly, as the sequel seems to show, leading to the resolve that each should state separately how they, who had previously been strangers to each other, had thus been brought together.
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.(28) Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing.—St. Peter speaks from the standpoint of traditional Pharisaism rather than from that of the Law itself; but the feeling was widely diffused, and showed itself in forms more or less rigorous wherever Jews and heathens came in contact with each other. The strict Jew would not enter a Gentile’s house, nor sit on the same couch, nor eat or drink out of the same vessel. (Comp. Note on Mark 7:3-4.) The very dust of a heathen city was defiling. The Hindoo feeling of caste, shrinking from contact with those of a lower grade, driven to madness and mutiny by “greased cartridges,” presents the nearest modern analogue.
God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.—The Apostle had, we find, at last learnt the lesson which the vision had taught him, in all the fulness of its meaning. Humanity as such had been redeemed by the Incarnation and Ascension, and was no longer common or unclean, even in the most outcast heathen. God was willing to receive all men. Sin alone was that which separated men from Him. Impurity was thought of as a moral, not a physical taint, and men were taught to see even in the sinner the potentialities of a higher life. He, too, had been redeemed, and might be justified and sanctified, and to him therefore honour and reverence were due as to one in whom the image of God was not utterly effaced, and might be restored to brightness. It is interesting, in this connection, to note the “Honour all men” of 1Peter 2:17. It is obvious that the pride of class, resting on mere differences of culture, and showing itself in acts and words of contempt, is, from one point of view, even less excusable than that which at least imagined that it rested on a religious basis, while from another, it is less inveterate, and therefore more easily curable.
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,(30) I was fasting until this hour.—The hour is not stated, but the facts of the case imply that it could not have been much before noon, and may have been later. Assuming that Cornelius in his fasts observed the usage of devout Jews, we may think of his vision as having been on the second day of the week, and Peter’s on the fifth. It is probable, accordingly, that the meeting in the house of Cornelius took place on the Sabbath. Allowing some hours for the conference, of which we have probably but a condensed report, the outpouring of the Spirit, the subsequent baptism, and the meal which must have followed on it, may have coincided with the beginning of the first day of the week.
In bright clothing.—The phrase is the same as that used by St. James (Acts 2:2-3). The same adjective is employed by St. John to describe the raiment of the angels (Revelation 15:6), and of the bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:8).
And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.(31) Thy prayer is heard.—The singular number gives a greater definiteness to the object of the prayer than in Acts 10:4. It must have been, in the nature of the case, a prayer for fuller light and knowledge of the Truth. One who had heard, through Philip’s work at Cæsarea, or, it may be, through the brother-officer who had been stationed at Capernaum (Luke 7:2), of the teaching and the life of Jesus, and of the new society that acknowledged Him as its Head, may well have sought for guidance as to the special conditions of admission to that society. Philip was not as yet authorised to admit one who had not taken on himself the sign of the covenant of Israel. Was that an indispensable condition?
Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.(33) Thou hast well done.—The peculiar turn of the phrase, in social usage, made it the expression, not of mere approval, but of heartfelt gratitude. (Comp. St. Paul’s use of it in Philippians 4:14.)
Now therefore are we all here present.—The words imply that the circle that had gathered round Cornelius were sharers in his solicitude, ready to comply with whatever might come to them as the command of God, and yet anxiously hoping that it might not impose upon them a burden too heavy to be borne.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:(34) Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.—In regard to all distinctions of social rank, or wealth, or knowledge, Peter had seen in his Master that absence of “respect of persons” which even His enemies acknowledged (Matthew 22:16; Luke 20:21). St. James lays stress on that element of character, within the same limits, as essential to all who seek to be true disciples of the Christ (James 2:1-7). Both, however, needed to be taught that the same law of an impartial equity had a yet wider application, that the privileges and prerogatives of Israel, whatever blessings they might confer, were not to be set up as a barrier against the admission of other races to an equal fellowship in Christ. God had accepted the centurion. It remained for His servants to accept him also. It is instructive to note that St. Paul reproduces the same thought in nearly the same phrase (Romans 2:11).
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.(35) In every nation he that feareth him.—The great truth which Peter thus proclaimed is obviously far-reaching in its range. It applies, not to those only who know the name of Christ and believe on Him when He is preached to them, but to all who in all ages and countries “fear God” according to the measure of their knowledge, and “work righteousness” according to their belief and opportunities. The good works in such a case, are, in their measure and degree, as “fruits of faith, and follow after justification” (Article XII.), justification having been, in such cases, objectively bestowed for the merits of Christ, and subjectively appropriated by the faith which, in the Providence of God, was possible under the conditions of the case. They do not come under the head of “works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of His Spirit” (Article XIII.), for Christ is “the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), and the Spirit is to every man “the Lord, and giver of life,” and the works are done “as God hath willed and commanded them to be done.” What such men gain by conversion is a fuller knowledge of the Truth, and therefore a clearer faith, a fuller justification, and a higher blessedness, but as this history distinctly teaches, they are already accepted with God. They are saved, “not by the law or sect which they profess” (Article XVIII.), but, even though they know not the Name whereby they must be saved (Acts 4:12), by Christ, who is the Saviour of all. The truth which St. Peter thus set forth proclaims at once the equity and the love of the Father, and sweeps away the narrowing dreams which confine the hope of salvation to the circumcised, as did the theology of the Rabbis; or to those who have received the outward ordinance of baptism, as did the theology of Augustine and the Mediaeval Church; or, as do some forms of Protestant dogmatism, to those who have heard and believed the story of the Cross of Christ. The language of St. Paul in Romans 10:9-14 should, however, be compared with this, as showing that the higher knowledge brings with it an incomparably higher blessedness, and that the man first tastes the full meaning of “salvation” when he consciously calls on the Lord by whom he has been saved.
The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)(36) The word which God sent . . .—The structure of the sentence, beginning with the object and carried on though a series of clauses, is both in the Greek and English somewhat complicated, but it is characteristically like that of St. Peter’s speech in Acts 2:22-24, whether the actual form in which both now appear is due to the speaker or the reporter. It is possible, though the construction is less natural, that “the word which God sent” may look backward to the verb “I perceive” and not to the “ye know” of Acts 10:37.
Preaching peace.—Better, as reproducing with the Greek the thought and language of Isaiah 52:7, preaching glad tidings of peace.
He is Lord of all.—The parenthesis is significant as guarding against the thought which Cornelius might have entertained, that the Jesus of whom he heard as the Christ was only a Prophet and a Teacher. Peter, still holding the truth which had been revealed to him, not by flesh and blood, but by his Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17), proclaims that He was none other than the “Lord of all,” of all men, and of all things.
That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;(37) That word, I say, ye know.—The Greek for “word” differs from that in Acts 10:36, as including more distinctly the subject-matter of the message. In the words “ye know” we may trace the result of the conversation held before the more formal conference. The main facts of the life and ministry of the Christ were already known, either through that conversation, or through the previous opportunities which it had disclosed. The question at issue was the relation in which they stood to those who were now listening.
How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.(38) How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth.—In the Greek structure the name stands in apposition with the “word” in the two previous verses—“Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him.” The word “anointed” is used with distinct reference to the name of Christ in Acts 10:35, and assumes a knowledge of the facts connected with His baptism, as in Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:21-22, as the divine witness that that Name belonged of right to Him and to no other.
Healing all that were oppressed of the devil.—The words seem to us to refer specially to the works of healing performed on demoniacs, but were probably uttered with a wider range of meaning, all disease being thought of as the work directly or indirectly of the great enemy. So Satan had bound the woman with a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:11). So St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a messenger of Satan to buffet him (2Corinthians 12:7).
And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:(39) And we are witnesses of all things.—The Apostle still keeps before him the main idea of his mission as laid down in the command given by his Lord (Acts 1:8).
Both in the land of the Jews.—Speaking as St. Peter did at Cæsarea, and as a Galilean, we must probably take the word in its narrower sense as meaning the inhabitants of Judæa. So taken, the words have the interest of implying the ministry in Judæa, of which the first three Gospels record so little, but which comes out into full prominence in the fourth. (See Introduction to St. John’s Gospel.)
Whom they slew and hanged on a tree.—As in Acts 2:23, Peter represents the Crucifixion as virtually the act of the rulers and people of Jerusalem and not of the Roman governor. The mode of death is described as in the Greek of Deuteronomy 28:26 and in Galatians 3:10, rather than in the more technical language of the Gospels.
Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;(40) And shewed him openly.—Literally, gave him to be manifest.
Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.(41) Unto witnesses chosen before.—Better, appointed. The precise word which St. Luke uses occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but is connected with the word rendered “ordained” in Acts 14:23.
Who did eat and drink with him.—The three recorded instances of this are found in Luke 24:30; Luke 24:42; John 21:13. This was, of course, the crucial test which showed that the Form on which the disciples had looked was no phantom of the imagination.
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.(42) And he commanded us to preach unto the people. No such command is found in terms in the Gospel narratives of the words of the risen Lord, but it is partly implied in Matthew 28:18-20, and is covered by the general teaching as to the things of the kingdom of God in Acts 1:3. It is interesting to note that St. Peter and St. Paul agree in thus connecting the Resurrection with the assurance that He who had risen was to be the future Judge of all men. (Comp. Acts 17:31.)
Which was ordained.—More accurately, which has been ordained.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.(43) To him give all the prophets witness.—As in St. Peter’s earlier speeches in Acts 2, 3 so here, we trace the result of our Lord’s teaching given in the interval between the Resurrection and Ascension as to the method of prophetic interpretation which discerns, below all temporary and historical references, the under-current of testimony to the kingdom of which Christ was the Head.
That through his name. . . .—We can without difficulty represent to ourselves the impression which these words must have made on the anxious listeners. This was the answer to their doubts and perplexities. Not by submitting themselves to the bondage of the Law, not by circumcision and all that it implied, but by the simple act of faith in Christ, and in the power of His Name, i.e., of all the attributes and energies of which the Name was the symbol, they, Gentiles as they were, might receive that remission of sins which conscience, now roused to its full activity, taught them was the indispensable condition of acceptance and of peace. The intensity of that emotion, the satisfaction of all their previous yearnings, placed them subjectively in a spiritual condition which prepared the way for the wonder which the next verse narrates.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.(44) The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.—The words imply a sudden thrill of spiritual joy and elevation which showed itself, as it had done on the Day of Pentecost (see Note on Acts 2:4), in a burst of unpremeditated praise. Now, as then, the “tongues” manifested themselves, not as instruments of teaching, but in “magnifying God.” As there is no mention here of the utterance of praise being in any other language than those with which the speakers were familiar, there is no ground for assuming that this feature of the Pentecostal gift was reproduced, and the jubilant ecstatic praise which was the essence of that gift must be thought of as corresponding to the phenomena described in 1Corinthians 14:7-9.
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.(45) And they of the circumcision which believed . . .—St. Luke obviously dwells on this as a testimony, beyond suspicion, to the reality of the gift. Those who came with Peter were apparently not sharers at the time in the exultant joy which they were yet compelled to recognise as the Spirit’s work. They listened with amazement as they heard the rapturous chant burst from the lips of the as yet unbaptised heathens. Here, accordingly, was one definite fulfilment of Peter’s vision. Those who so spake had been, as it were, carried up into heaven, as the four-footed beasts and creeping things had been, and so a proof was given that no man might henceforth call them common or unclean. Peter himself had indeed learnt that lesson so fully (Acts 10:28) as not to need this special attestation, but for those who came with him this evidence was needed and was sufficient.
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?(47) Can any man forbid water . . .—The question was an appeal to the voice of reason. Could the outward sign be refused, when thus the inward and spiritual grace had been so manifestly bestowed? Ordinarily, as in the case of the Samaritans (Acts 8:15-17), the gift of spiritual powers followed, by the subsequent act of laying on of hands, on the grace given in baptism. Now even that gift had been anticipated, and all that remained was the outward act of incorporation with the society which owned Christ as its Head. While the history thus bore its witness that the gifts of God may flow through other channels than the outward forms which Christ had appointed, it testified no less clearly that no spiritual gifts, however marvellous, superseded the necessity of obedience to the law of Christ which had appointed those outward forms. The exceptional gift was bestowed, in this instance, to remove the scruples which “those of the circumcision” might otherwise have felt as to admitting Gentiles, as such, to baptism; and having served that purpose, as a crucial instance, was never afterwards, so far as we know, repeated under like conditions.
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.(48) And he commanded them . . .—It would seem from this that St. Peter acted on the same general principle as St. Paul (1Corinthians 1:14-17), and left the actual administration of baptism to other hands than his own. Who administered it in this instance we are not told. Possibly there may have been an ecclesia already organised at Cæsarea, as the result of Philip’s work, and its elders or deacons, or Philip himself, may have acted under Peter’s orders. If those who came with him from Joppa had so acted, it would probably we may believe, have been stated.
Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.—The days so spent must have included at least one “first day of the week,” and both in the solemn breaking of bread, and in the social intercourse of the other days, Peter must have mingled freely with the new converts, eating and drinking with them (Acts 11:2), without any fear of being thereby defiled. That visit to Cæsarea, St. Luke dwells on as one of the great turning-points in the Apostle’s life, attesting his essential agreement with St. Paul. We can well understand how he shrank from marring the effect of that attestation by recording the melancholy inconsistency of his subsequent conduct at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-12).