Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
Ac 11:1-18. Peter Vindicates Himself before the Church in Jerusalem for His Procedure towards the Gentiles.
1-11. the apostles and brethren … in Judea—rather, "throughout Judea."
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
2. they … of the circumcision—not the Jewish Christians generally, for here there were no other, but such as, from their jealousy for "the middle wall of partition" which circumcision raised between Jew and Gentile, were afterwards known as "they of the circumcision." They doubtless embraced apostles as well as others.
Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
3, 4. Thou wentest in … But Peter rehearsed the matter, &c.—These objectors scruple not to demand from Peter, though the first among the apostles, an explanation of his conduct; nor is there any insinuation on Peter's part of disrespect towards his authority in that demand—a manifest proof that such authority was unknown both to the complainers and to himself.
But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:
Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
12-18. we entered the man's house—No mention of Cornelius' name, much less of his high position, as if that affected the question. To the charge, "Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised," he simply speaks of the uncircumcised "man" to whom he had been divinely sent.
And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
13. seen an angel—literally, "the angel," for the rumor took that definite shape.
Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
14. Who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved—The historian makes the angel express this much more generally (Ac 10:6). So also the subsequent report of it by the deputies and by Cornelius himself to Peter (Ac 10:22, 32). But as Peter tarried with Cornelius certain days, and they doubtless talked over the wonderful scene together, perhaps this fuller and richer form of what the angel said was given to Peter; or the apostle himself may have expressed what the angel certainly designed by directing them to send for him. Observe, "salvation" is here made to hang upon "words," that is, the Gospel message concerning Christ. But on the "salvation" of Cornelius, see on Ac 10:34, 35. On that of his "house," see on Lu 19:10.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
16, 17. Then remembered I the word … John … baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then, &c.—that is, "Since God Himself has put them on a level with ourselves, by bestowing on them what the Lord Jesus pronounced the higher baptism of the Holy Ghost, would it not have been to withstand God if I had withheld from them the lower baptism of water, and kept aloof from them as still 'unclean?'"
Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
18. held their peace and glorified God—Well had it been if, when Paul afterwards adduced equally resistless evidence in justification of the same line of procedure, this Jewish party had shown the same reverential and glad submission!
Then hath God also granted to the Gentiles, &c.—rather, "granted to the Gentiles also." (See a similar misplacement of "also" in Heb 12:1). To "grant repentance unto life"—that is, "such as issues in life" (compare 2Co 7:10, "repentance unto salvation")—is more than to be willing to pardon upon repentance [Grotius]. The case of Cornelius is so manifestly one of grace reigning in every stage of his religious history, that we can hardly doubt that this was just the feature of it which they meant here to express. And this is the grace that reigns in every conversion.
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
Ac 11:19-24. The Gospel Being Preached to Gentiles at Antioch Also Barnabas Is Sent Thither from Jerusalem, Who Hails Their Accession and Labors among Them.
19. they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen—and who "went everywhere preaching the word" (Ac 8:4).
travelled as far as Phenice—that part of the Mediterranean coast which, commencing a little north of Cæsarea, stretches northwards for upwards of one hundred miles, halfway to Antioch.
and Cyprus—(See on Ac 4:36). An active commercial intercourse subsisted between Phenice and Cyprus.
and Antioch—near the head of the northeast coast of the Mediterranean, on the river Orontes, and containing a large colony of Jews, to whose religion there were there numerous proselytes. "It was almost an Oriental Rome, in which all the forms of the civilized life of the empire found some representative; and through the two first centuries of the Christian era it was what Constantinople became afterwards, 'the Gate of the East'" [Howson].
And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
20. some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene—(see on Lu 23:26); as Lucius, mentioned in Ac 13:1.
spake unto the Grecians—rather, "the Greeks," that is, uncircumcised Gentiles (as the true reading beyond doubt is). The Gospel had, from the first, been preached to "the Grecians" or Greek-speaking Jews, and these "men of Cyprus and Cyrene" were themselves "Grecians." How, then, can we suppose that the historian would note, as something new and singular (Ac 11:22), that some of the dispersed Christians preached to them?
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
21. a great number believed—Thus the accession of Cornelius and his party was not the first admission of uncircumcised Gentiles into the Church. (See on Ac 10:1.) Nay, we read of no influence which the accession of Cornelius and his house had on the further progress of the Gospel among the Gentiles; whereas there here open upon us operations upon the Gentiles from quite a different quarter, and attended with ever growing success. The only great object served by the case of Cornelius was the formal recognition of the principles which that case afterwards secured. (See on Ac 15:19-29.)
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
22. sent … Barnabas … as far as Antioch—implying that even on the way to Antioch he found churches to visit [Olshausen]. It was in the first instance, no doubt, a mission of inquiry; and no one could be more suitable to inquire into the proceedings of those Cyprians and Cyrenians than one who was himself a "Grecian" of Cyprus (Ac 4:36), and "a son of consolation."
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
23. when he … had seen the grace of God—in the new converts.
was glad—owned and rejoiced in it at once as divine, though they were uncircumcised.
exhorted them all that with purpose of heart—as opposed to a hasty and fickle discipleship.
they would cleave unto the Lord—the Lord Jesus.
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
24. For he was a good man—The sense of "good" here is plainly "large-hearted," "liberal-minded," rising above narrow Jewish sectarianism, and that because, as the historian adds, he was "full of the Holy Ghost and of faith."
and much people were added unto the Lord—This proceeding of Barnabas, so full of wisdom, love, and zeal, was blessed to the great increase of the Christian community in that important city.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
Ac 11:25, 26. Barnabas, Finding the Work in Antioch Too Much for Him, Goes to Tarsus for Saul—They Labor There Together for a Whole Year with Much Success, and Antioch Becomes the Honored Birthplace of the Term Christian.
25. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul—Of course, this was after the hasty despatch of Saul to Tarsus, no doubt by Barnabas himself among others, to escape the fury of the Jews at Jerusalem. And as Barnabas was the first to take the converted persecutor by the hand and procure his recognition as a disciple by the brethren at Jerusalem (Ac 9:27), so he alone seems at that early period to have discerned in him those peculiar endowments by virtue of which he was afterwards to eclipse all others. Accordingly, instead of returning to Jerusalem, to which, no doubt, he sent accounts of his proceedings from time to time, finding that the mine in Antioch was rich in promise and required an additional and powerful hand to work, he leaves it for a time, takes a journey to Tarsus, "finds Saul" (seemingly implying—not that he lay hid [Bengel], but that he was engaged at the time in some preaching circuit—see on Ac 15:23), and returns with him to Antioch. Nor were his hopes disappointed. As co-pastors, for the time being, of the Church there, they so labored that the Gospel, even in that great and many-sided community, achieved for itself a name which will live and be gloried in as long as this world lasts, as the symbol of all that is most precious to the fallen family of man:—"The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." This name originated not within, but without, the Church; not with their Jewish enemies, by whom they were styled "Nazarenes" (Ac 24:5), but with the heathen in Antioch, and (as the form of the word shows) with the Romans, not the Greeks there [Olshausen]. It was not at first used in a good sense (as Ac 26:28; 1Pe 4:16 show), though hardly framed out of contempt (as De Wette, Baumgarten, &c.); but as it was a noble testimony to the light in which the Church regarded Christ—honoring Him as their only Lord and Saviour, dwelling continually on His name, and glorying in it—so it was felt to be too apposite and beautiful to be allowed to die.
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
Ac 11:27-30. By Occasion of a Famine Barnabas and Saul Return to Jerusalem with a Contribution for the Relief of Their Suffering Brethren.
27. came prophets from Jerusalem—inspired teachers, a class we shall afterwards frequently meet with, who sometimes, but not necessarily, foretold future events. They are classed next to apostles (1Co 12:28, 29; Eph 4:11).
And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
28. that there should be great dearth throughout all the world—the whole Roman empire.
which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar—Four famines occurred during his reign. This one in Judea and the adjacent countries took place, A.D. 41 [Josephus, Antiquities, 20.2,5]. An important date for tracing out the chronology of the Acts. (But this subject is too difficult and extensive to admit of being handled here).
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
29. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief, &c.—This was the pure prompting of Christian love, which shone so bright in those earliest days of the Gospel.
Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
30. sent it to the elders—an office well known to be borrowed from the synagogue; after the model of which, and not at all of the temple, the Christian Churches were constituted by the apostles.
by the hands of Barnabas and Saul—This was Saul's Second Visit to Jerusalem after his conversion.