Acts 9:32–11:18comment (0)
June 30, 2008
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Acts 9:32–11:18
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Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Other than a brief mission to Samaria (cf. Acts 8:14–25), Peter seems to have made Jerusalem his headquarters. At this point, he entered an itinerant ministry that took him to various parts of Judea and Samaria. The account focuses on four places.
In the course of his travels “throughout all” the area, Peter came to visit Lydda (25 miles northwest of Jerusalem in the Plain of Sharon). Possibly the “saints” there were refugees from Jerusalem after Stephen’s death or converts of Philip’s (cf. Acts 8:40). There Peter healed Aeneas, a man bedridden with paralysis for eight years. The verb in Peter’s statement, “Jesus Christ heals you,” carries the idea of “This very instant.” In response to Peter’s command to rise and make his bed, Aeneas got to his feet at once. This miracle resulted in numerous conversions.
Dorcas’ resuscitation (this writer reserves “resurrection” to describe what happens when a person is raised from the dead never to die again) was the first in Acts. She had spent her life doing good and charitable deeds, which had endeared her to her friends. That no husband is mentioned suggests she never married or, more likely, was a widow. After her death following what seems a short illness, her body was prepared and laid out in an upstairs room. Friends went for Peter. When he arrived, he found her body surrounded by mourning widows wearing garments Dorcas had made for them. He raised her from the dead. Like the one at Lydda, this miracle resulted in a spiritual revival. Peter did not return at once to Lydda but stayed in Joppa in the house of a tanner. This is significant because a tanner’s trade made him unclean to other Jews. A woman whose husband became a tanner had grounds for divorce. When he lodged with a tanner, Peter was halfway to Cornelius and the Gentiles. He was beginning to open.
Cornelius was the first Gentile admitted into the church without first becoming a full-fledged proselyte to Judaism. (The Ethiopian eunuch went on home without causing a stir.). Its importance is indicated by the large space devoted to it (all of Chapter 10 and half of 11) and by its repetition (Cornelius’ vision is described four times and Peter’s twice, while Acts 11:5–18 contains a summary of the entire story of Chapter 10). The divide between Jew and Gentile was much wider and deeper than that between Jew and Samaritan. A Gentile’s touch was defiling, his or her food an abomination and his or her religion blasphemy to a devout Jew. Cornelius was a “God-fearer,” the technical title for a Gentile who was drawn to the ethical monotheism of Judaism and worshiped in the synagogue but never submitted to circumcision and the yoke of the Law to become a Jewish proselyte. Acts 11:14 suggests he was praying for guidance about the way of salvation. An angel directed him to send for Peter and he did. Meanwhile Peter’s vision left him perplexed about its lesson. Was it that he should eat what he had thought unclean, or did it have wider application? When Cornelius’ messengers showed up, he understood clearly the message of the vision.
The next day, Peter went to Caesarea. The introduction to his address meant not that Cornelius was already saved and that in all nations, men like him are saved with no knowledge of Christ but that through Christ, men of all nations can be saved even though they are not Jews. Then Peter declared the basics of the gospel and opened Christ’s forgiveness to “everyone that believes on Him.” He did not get to finish his sermon. The Spirit fell, bringing to Cornelius and his household an experience like that at Pentecost. Peter was fully open.
When Jewish critics in Jerusalem called him to account, Peter related the entire experience and concluded that had he done otherwise he would have stood against God. This silenced his opponents. Their admission that God “granted” to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life used a verb tense (aorist) that implied they conceded this one incident but did not commit to the principle for permanent application. They allowed Gentile inclusion then but opposed it later.