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Over the centuries, much has been written about the origins of the church in Rome.

Catholics and the Orthodox hold to a different history than do Protestants.

Much hinges on what has been recorded a) by historians and b) in the New Testament.

Wikipedia has a bewildering array of ancient historical writings about Peter’s ministry there and whether he and Paul were martyred together, as Catholics and the Orthodox hold. I’ll let you read those.

What brought this to mind was Paul’s friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, introduced in Acts 18:1-4.

Acts 18:2 says that Aquila, born in Pontus in Asia Minor, was a Jew — a convert by then — who had been exiled from Rome. He and his wife Priscilla ended up in Corinth, which is where Paul made their acquaintance.

The Jews and Rome

Bible.org has an informative article by Dr Greg MaGee, ‘The Origins of the Church at Rome’, excerpts of which follow. Emphases mine below.

A number of historical artifacts and writings give us an idea of the Jewish population and where they lived:

Sources indicate that before Christians emerged in Rome, Jews had already established a presence in the city. Inscriptions from Jewish catacombs and comments from literary documents open a window into the life, organization, and struggles of the Jews in Rome. The catacomb inscriptions have most recently been dated from the late second through the fifth centuries A.D.1 Richardson concludes that the inscriptions attest to the existence of at least five synagogues in Rome in the early first century, with the possibility of even more. The “Hebrew synagogue” probably arose first, with subsequent synagogues named after famous allies of the Jews.2 The language used in inscriptions suggests that many of the synagogues were in the poorer districts of the city.3 Scholars have noted the lack of evidence for a central organization or leadership structure that oversaw the different synagogues.4 At the same time, in the inscriptions only leaders are identified in relation to their synagogues. Ordinary Jews affiliated themselves with Judaism as a whole rather than their particular synagogue.5 Thus the Jews viewed themselves as a unified group despite the apparent lack of a controlling body of spiritual leaders in the city.

Literary excepts describe the social and political environment of the Roman Jews. For instance, as early as 59 B.C., Cicero offers his opinion on the Jews during his defense of Flaccus: “You know what a big crowd it is, how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies… every year it was customary to send gold to Jerusalem on the order of the Jews from Italy and from all our provinces.”6 Cicero’s remarks confirm the presence of a large community of Jews in Rome and indicate misgivings about their separatist tendencies. Comments by Philo about events under the reign of Augustus provide further information:

[T]he great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber is occupied and inhabited by Jews, most of whom were Roman citizens emancipated. For having been brought as captives to Italy they were liberated by their owners and were not forced to violate any of their native institutions… . [T]hey have houses of prayer and meet together in them, particularly on the sacred Sabbaths when they receive as a body of training in their ancestral philosophy … [T]hey collect money for sacred purposes from their first-fruits and send them to Jerusalem by persons who would offer the sacrifices.”7

Like Cicero, Philo notes that the Jews maintained a distinct identity. The section of Rome Philo mentions (Trastevere) was “the chief foreign quarter of the city, a district characterized by narrow, crowded streets, towering tenement houses, teeming with population.”8 Philo also refers to the reason some of the Jews now lived in Rome: their ancestors had been forcibly taken to Rome as slaves (under Pompey).9 Once freed, the Jews bore the title libertini.

Augustus allowed the Jews to practise their faith freely.

However, Tiberius took against the Jews in 19 AD, shipping them to Sardinia. MaGee cites Tacitus’s account:

“Another debate dealt with the proscription of the Egyptian and Jewish rites, and a senatorial edict directed that four thousand descendants of enfranchised slaves, tainted with that superstition and suitable in point of age, were to be shipped to Sardinia and there be employed in suppressing brigandageThe rest had orders to leave Italy, unless they had renounced their impious ceremonial by a given date.”10

John MacArthur adds that Sardinia was rife with plague at the time of Tiberius’s edict:

He took 4,000 Jews and sent them to a country that had the plague, hoping they’d all catch the plague and die. So they were unpopular.

In 39 AD, Claudius also banished the Jews from Rome. MacArthur tells us:

every one of them had to go. Now we know a little about Claudius. And the reason we do is that about 70 years after the edict, it was written about 120 A.D., Suetonius wrote about Claudius. Suetonius was a historian, and he got all the information on Claudius, and he wrote about his life. And one of the statements that Suetonius makes in his life of Claudius is this: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots – listen – at the instigation of Chrestus, Claudius banished them from Rome.”

Aquila was one of those Jews. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

That the reason of his leaving Italy was because by a late edict of the emperor Claudius Cæsar all Jews were banished from Rome; for the Jews were generally hated, and every occasion was taken to put hardship and disgrace upon them. God’s heritage was as a speckled bird, the birds round about were against her, Jeremiah 12:9. Aquila, though a Christian, was banished because he had been a Jew; and the Gentiles had such confused notions of the thing that they could not distinguish between a Jew and a Christian. Suetonius, in the life of Claudius, speaks of this decree in the ninth year of his reign, and says, The reason was because the Jews were a turbulent people–assiduo tumultuantes; and that it was impulsore Christo–upon the account of Christ; some zealous for him, others bitter against him, which occasioned great heats, such as gave umbrage to the government, and provoked the emperor, who was a timorous jealous man, to order them all to be gone. If Jews persecute Christians, it is not strange if heathens persecute them both.

Chrestus

The name Chrestus is connected with Claudius’s edict.

It is unclear whether Chrestus was a person or, as is more likely, how the Jews in Rome referred to Christ.

MacArthur gives us more information about Chrestus:

Now, Claudius unloaded all of the Jews because they were always having riots, and the riots were instigated by a person named Chrestus. Now, you know, you can go back in history until you’re blue in the face and never find anything about anyone in that area who fits the bill named Chrestus. But what is very interesting is that the Greek Chrestus is only one letter different than the Greek Christis, which is Christ. It’s only the difference between an I and an E. And what it seems to be indicating is this: That what caused Claudius to send all the Jews out was they were rioting over the issue of Christ, which indicated probably some missionaries had come there, and had proclaimed Christ again as always was done in the synagogue, and as always happened with Paul, right? A riot ensued, and the element they had accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah was set against the Jews that were unbelieving, and they threw the city into turmoil, and Claudius got uptight and kicked them all out of town.

They were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus. And you see, Suetonius thinks that Chrestus is some guy who lived then in Rome. And remember, he was writing 70 years later, so it’s easy to see how he could’ve made that simple error. They were probably rioting over the issue of Christ. And it seems to me that that kind of issue would preclude the fact there had to be Christ presented there. So therefore, there was the possibility of Aquilla and Priscilla being saved already. You see? And so they arrive over there in Corinth to ply their trade, and they’re already Christians.

MaGee also mentions Chrestus in his article. He also believes there was no such person:

The claim that Christ stands at the center of the conflict of A.D. 49 is contested on several fronts. First, the most straightforward reading of Suetonius’s account implies that Chrestus himself was present in Rome, as an instigator of the unrest.29 In response to this objection, some advocates of seeing Christians in the mix of the unrest of A.D. 49 propose that either Suetonius or his source was confused about the event.30 Other scholars have supposed that instead of Suetonius confusing the vowels in the name, Christian copyists incorrectly copied the document.31 Alternatively, it is contended that the Latin sentence structure allows for Chrestus being simply identified as the cause of the disturbance rather than being physically present in Rome.32 In further rebuttal of the Christian hypothesis, critics point out that Suetonius only later introduces Christian movement, at the time of Nero.33 This suggests that the Christianity had not been on Suetonius’s radar up to that point. Spence counters by explaining that the chief aim in Claudius 25.4 is to highlight the Jewish rather than Christian experience, even though the claims of Christ were involved.34

Scholars skeptical of a Christian angle to the controversy offer an alternative theory. They assert that the reference to Chrestus indicates that a messianic figure living in Rome was generating turmoil among the Jews.35 One problem with this theory is that no such person is known from any other historical sources. Moreover, Suetonius does not qualify his description by designating the character as “a certain Chrestus,” which would be more expected if the leader had been a figure of only fleeting interest.36 Finally, a rebellion led by a messianic figure would have evoked a more violent response from the Roman authorities.37 The more likely scenario is that Jewish contentions involving the claims of Christ brought about the Roman opposition.

Origins of the church in Rome

For a big clue on the origins of the church in Rome, MaGee says we have only to look at Acts 2:10, part of the story of who witnessed the first Pentecost:

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,

about whom, he writes the following:

A number of scholars suggest that these temporary residents of Jerusalem may have taken the gospel back to Rome.52

MaGee points out other clues in Acts 6:9 and Acts 8:1:

In Acts 6:9, Luke mentions Stephen’s confrontation with Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (tine” tw’n ejk th'” sunagwgh'” th'” legomevnh” Libertivnwn). These libertini likely correspond to the freed slaves mentioned in sources examined earlier. If some of these freedmen eventually received the gospel message, their contact with libertini elsewhere could have facilitated the spread of the gospel to other regions, including Rome.53 The geographical spread of the gospel to new regions would have been further encouraged when persecutions against Christians erupted in Jerusalem (see Acts 8:1).

Clues from Acts may be incorporated into a wider model that surmises that geographical dispersions of Christians in the first century likely brought Christianity to Rome.54 Both Roman inhabitants who visited Jerusalem before returning to Rome and Jews who settled into Rome for the first time may have played a role.55 Once Jewish Christians reached Rome, they would have had relatively unhindered ministry access in the synagogues, since no Jewish controlling authority could step in to quickly and definitively oppose the propagation of the message.56

Peter — and Paul

MaGee looks at the difference between establishing and building the foundations for the church in Rome with regard to Peter, citing Acts 12:17:

A competing theory promotes Peter as the carrier of the gospel to Rome. The mysterious reference in 12:17 (Peter “went to another place”) opens the door to speculation that Rome was the destination.57 Later church tradition asserts that Peter’s ministry as bishop of Rome spanned 25 years. While the biblical evidence rules out a continuous presence in Rome, it is surmised that Peter could have founded the church in A.D. 42 and then continued his leadership over the church even when in other locations.58 Finally, Rom 15:20-24 could contain an allusion to Peter’s ministry to the Romans, which dissuaded Paul from focusing his outreach in Rome.59

A closer look at earlier Patristic testimony lessens the probability that Peter established the church at Rome. In the mid-second century A.D., Irenaeus envisions a founding role for Peter alongside Paul: “Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, laying the foundations of the Church.”60 Soon after, he refers to the “universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”61 Immediately, the problem surfaces that in comparing Peter to Paul, who arrived to Rome relatively late in the church’s history, Peter’s unique founding influence in the church becomes less likely.62 More likely, relatively obscure Christians made contributions to the church’s establishment, leading to a vital and growing community. As a parallel, Christianity surfaces in places like Cyprus and Cyrene without any apparent missionary journey by noted apostles (Acts 11:20). In the fourth century, the theologian Ambrosiaster shares a similar perspective on the beginnings of the Roman church:

It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law … One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ.”63

Scholars are quick to discount the value of Ambrosiaster’s viewpoint as independent testimony.64 Even so, one would expect that the memory of a prominent founder such as Peter or Paul would not likely be forgotten if one of them had indeed established the church of Rome.65

Lonely Pilgrim, a Protestant, wrote a well-researched article, ‘Early Testimonies to St Peter’s Ministry in Rome’. He wonders why anyone would dispute it:

This is somewhat surprising to me. Even as a Protestant, there was never any question in my mind that Peter ministered and died in Rome — perhaps because I’m also an historian. The historical evidence for Peter being in Rome is not just solid; it’s unanimous. Every historical record that speaks to Peter’s later life and death attests that he died in Rome a martyr under the emperor Nero, ca. A.D. 67. No record places the end of his life anywhere else.

Lonely Pilgrim points out that those who doubt Peter had much to do with the church in Rome are also the same people who support Paul’s presence there:

The primary reason for this opposition, I suspect, is that in a fundamentalist view, all religious truth must come from Scripture, sola scriptura — and it is not self-evident from Scripture that St. Peter was ever in Rome. This is also the reason why few Protestants seem to dispute that St. Paul was in Rome: because he tells us he was, repeatedly, in his scriptural epistles. Most more thoughtful Protestants realize that there is a difference between religious truth and historical truth, however intertwined the two may sometimes be; and historical sources are valid authorities for historical truth. These tend to be, incidentally, the Protestants least inclined toward anti-Catholicism.

Lonely Pilgrim cites the first of Peter’s letters:

But the Bible can be an historical source, too. And there is actually a significant testimony in the Bible to Peter’s presence in Rome. In the valediction of Peter’s first epistle, he wrote (1 Peter 5:13 ESV):

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.

Here the Greek grammar is clear: ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς (sends greetings to y’all) ἡ ἐν βαβυλῶνι (she who is in/at Babylon) συνεκλεκτὴ (she elected/chosen together) καὶ Μᾶρκος (and also Mark) ὁ υἱός μου (my son). Peter, writing the letter, and therefore sending the greetings, is obviously with “she who is at Babylon,” and also with Mark, “[his] son.” She elected is the Church, always personified as a woman; and Peter is with the Church. But the Church where? The ancient city of Babylon had been in ruins for centuries. Peter must have been speaking in a cryptic metaphor. The Babylon of the Bible was the capital of a vast, powerful empire, and stood at the height of sin and excess. Where else could that be in Peter’s day but Rome?

Writing under the emperor Nero, Peter would wisely have used discretion in revealing his whereabouts in writing, lest his letter be intercepted by Roman authorities. The symbolism that is transparent to Christians today would not have been so explicit to those not so steeped in the Old Testament or ancient Mesopotamian history.

Peter and Paul together in Rome

Lonely Pilgrim cites St Clement of Rome — an early bishop of the city — as mentioning that Peter and Paul were there together:

Among the earliest surviving testimony outside the Bible is the first letter of Clement (1 Clement), which is usually dated to around 95 or 96 A.D. Clement of Rome, as evident from the letter, was a high official of the Church in Rome, writing in exhortation to the Church at Corinth to settle a division between the established elders and an upstart faction. The Roman Catholic Church today holds St. Clement to have been the third bishop of Rome (i.e. pope); early patristic writers varied in their listings, placing Clement anywhere from second to fourth. His letter is a clear early example of the bishop of Rome exerting authority over other churches …

Clement was the first writer to place Saints Peter and Paul as a pair, as they have always been in the Roman Church. He showed a clear and personal knowledge of the deaths of both Peter and Paul, and he assumed that his recipients also knew the stories. Most Christians accept that Paul was martyred in Rome; it is not a far stretch to assume from Clement’s pairing of the two Apostles that he also believed Peter to have died in Rome. In fact, his grammar is revealing: Peter and Paul offered their example—their martyrdom—“among us” (ἐν ἡμῖν)—that is, among the Romans. Clement was consistent throughout his letter in the use of the pronouns ὑμεῖς (you, i.e. Corinthians) and ἡμεῖς (we, us, i.e. Romans).

St Ignatius of Antioch, Lonely Pilgrim says, wrote his Epistle to the Romans, which is dated between 98 and 117 AD:

Again he placed Peter and Paul as a pair, and implied that the Romans have had personal contact with the Apostles, who enjoined them with authority.

He also cites Irenaeus of Antioch, who wrote about Peter and Paul in Against Heresies III.1.1 and III.3.1-2:

Here we have, clearly stated, not only the statement that Saints Peter and Paul built the Church at Romenot that they were the first Christian missionaries there, but that by their apostolic ministry they laid its foundations—but also, Irenaeus affirmed the doctrines of Apostolic succession and Petrine primacy, unequivocally and authoritatively, at a date earlier than many Protestants would like to recognize. What is more, St. Irenaeus was not a partisan of the Church at Rome, but the Greek-born bishop of Lugdunum (today the city of Lyon in France). In the face of the growing threat of Gnosticism, the unity of the Church and the authority of Rome were more important than ever.

You can read the citations and more early testimonies from doctors of the Church at the link.

Conclusion

The church in Rome probably started thanks to Roman Jews who witnessed the first Pentecost in Jerusalem.

From there, Peter and Paul — separately and together — laid solid foundations for the church.

I’ll leave the final word to Dr MaGee:

Based on a study of relevant biblical and extra-biblical documents, it is generally agreed that non-apostolic Jewish Christians brought the faith of Christ to Rome in the early decades of the church. After generating both interest and controversy within the synagogues, Christianity was forced to reorganize in the wake of Claudius’s edict against the Jews. The resulting Gentile-dominated church that received Paul’s letter in the late 50’s met in small groups around the city of Rome but maintained communication and held onto a common identity and mission. Paul and Peter leave their mark on these believers, though they merely strengthen the work that had already begun to flourish in the capital city. Beyond these main points, scholars still differ on the exact timeline of the birth and growth of the Christian community, as well as on to what degree Roman reactions against Jewish instability stem from disagreements about Christ. When all is said though, the overall picture of the emergence of Christianity in Rome constitutes yet another significant example of God’s extraordinary work in the early church during the decades following Christ’s death and resurrection.

I hope this is helpful as an insight to the early church in Rome.

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Below are the readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year B), from Vanderbilt University’s three-year Lectionary site. Emphases mine.

The Old Testament reading tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. God promised not to destroy Earth with a flood. The sign of His covenant is the rainbow. This is one of my favourite Bible passages:

Genesis 9:8-17

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,

9:9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,

9:10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.

9:11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

9:13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

9:14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,

9:15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

9:16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

9:17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Psalm reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and steadfast love:

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

In the Epistle, Peter, in describing the New Covenant, points to both the themes in the Psalm and the reading from Genesis:

1 Peter 3:18-22

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

The Gospel recounts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’s subsequent exhortation to ‘believe in the good news’:

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is a powerful set of readings, well worth reflecting upon before church on Sunday.

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 15:6-11

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post introduced the background to the Jerusalem Council, the topic of Acts 15.

John MacArthur says that many theologians consider the Jerusalem Council to be the Magna Carta of the Church.

Briefly, Pharisees who converted were telling Gentile converts they had to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law in order to be notionally proper Christians. Said Pharisees went so far as to disassociate themselves from the Gentile converts who were uncircumcised.

These Pharisees were known as the circumcision party and as Judaisers. Both terms are in the New Testament. A group from Judea was going to new churches in Gentile lands spreading this false teaching. John MacArthur and other Bible scholars think that they could have been trailing Paul and Barnabas, who established these new churches, and infiltrated after they left. Paul had to deal with this issue in his letters to the Galatians, Galatia being in Asia Minor. These were determined men, some of them were political zealots. Last week’s post has more information about them.

Today’s reading describes how the Jerusalem Council unfolded. Note (verse 6) how the elders and Apostles spontaneously gathered together to discuss this issue which, left unresolved, could have fractured the Church into two parts — a Jewish one and a Gentile one.

Matthew Henry says the Jerusalem Council shows the example that churches must resolve issues when they arise rather then letting them play out:

Here is a direction to the pastors of the churches, when difficulties arise, to come together in solemn meetings for mutual advice and encouragement, that they may know one another’s mind, and strengthen one another’s hands, and may act in concert.

Much debate had been taking place before Peter rose to speak (verse 7). Some translations use ‘disputing’, but MacArthur says:

the word doesn’t really mean fighting, it really means discussing, back and forth …

Judaisers were among those debating.

Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us exactly when Peter spoke, but it was before the end, since Paul and Barnabas spoke next, followed by James. Henry’s commentary says of Peter (emphases mine):

He was not master of this assembly, nor so much as chairman or moderator, pro hac vice–on this occasion; for we do not find that either he spoke first, to open the synod (there having been much disputing before he rose up), nor that he spoke last, to sum up the cause and collect the suffrages; but he was a faithful, prudent zealous member of this assembly, and offered that which was very much to the purpose, and which would come better from him than from another … When both sides had been heard, Peter rose up, and addressed himself to the assembly

Peter said that ‘early on’ — meaning at the first Pentecost, which MacArthur says was ten years earlier — God chose him to be the first to preach to the Gentiles. Luke recounted this in Acts 10, with the conversion of Cornelius and those close to him. Up to then, either Jews or Samaritans (half-Jews) converted.

Henry points out that Peter spoke when he did because:

he had himself been the first that preached the gospel to the Gentiles.

Also, Peter was the first to get blowback for it when the ‘circumcision party’ criticised him afterwards in Jerusalem for converting Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). The issue was resolved at the time. Henry’s commentary reminds us:

He put them in mind of the call and commission he had some time ago to preach the gospel to the Gentiles; he wondered there should be any difficulty made of a matter already settled: You know that aph hemeron archaion–from the beginning of the days of the gospel, many years ago, God made choice among us apostles of one to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and I was the person chosen, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word, and believe, Acts 15:7. You know I was questioned about it and cleared myself to the universal satisfaction; every body rejoiced that God had granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life, and nobody said a word of circumcising them, nor was there any thought of such a thing. See Acts 11:18. “Why should the Gentiles who hear the word of the gospel by Paul’s mouth be compelled to submit to circumcision, any more than those that heard it by my mouth? Or why should the terms of their admission now be made harder than they were then?”

Yes, everyone glorified God:

18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter went on to say that God knows men’s hearts — i.e. knows those who are His — and He went on to give the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles just as He had to the Jews (verse 8). He made no distinction between the two peoples and cleansed their hearts by faith (verse 9). And that was all. God attached no conditions. He generously gave them the free gift of the Holy Spirit. He generously gave them the free gift of grace to strengthen their faith. They were saved by faith through grace. No wonder people glorified God (Acts 11:18). That’s exciting news then and now! That’s what God continues to do.

Peter then asked, with that in mind, why were some of those assembled testing God, in effect, by asserting their conditions were higher than His by demanding Mosaic law, a law that the Jews couldn’t bear and one that does not save (verse 10).

Peter used the word ‘yoke’ — the heavy wooden brace put on an ox’s neck — to describe Mosaic law. Remember what Jesus said (Matthew 11:28-30):

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Peter concluded by affirming that ‘we believe’ — a reminder for the Judaisers — that both Jew and Gentile will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (verse 11).

MacArthur points out:

God does not cleanse people from sin, whose salvation is not legitimate, right? … The Jews just kept doing more sacrifices without any relief of their consciences. Christ came along and clears the conscience, forgiveness is complete. So Peter says, look, he says they’ve already been purified by faith, what is law goin’ add to that? It’s done. Then Peter points out another fantastic evidence, that salvation is by free grace alone.

Salvation via faith through free grace is a marvellous note on which to close.

More on the Jerusalem Council next week.

Next time — Acts 15:12-21

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:12-17

12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.”[a] Then he departed and went to another place.

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Last week’s post discussed Peter’s dramatic escape from prison. An angel of the Lord appeared in his cell in the middle of the night before his trial, where he was chained to two of Herod Antipas’s guards — one on each side. The angel told Peter to wake up and stand. When he stood, his chains fell from him.

The broken chains were real. Matthew Henry mentions that a soldier kept them for many years as a religious relic. They were then given to an empress by the name of Eudoxia. Wikipedia says that the Venerable Bede, an early historian, wrote about them:

According to a letter quoted by Bede, Pope Vitalian sent a cross containing filings said to be from Peter’s chains to the queen of Oswy, Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria in 665, as well as unspecified relics of the saint to the king.[103]

The angel then led Peter out of the prison, past the guards and out of the gate, which opened by itself. Once they turned a corner onto a street familiar to Peter, the angel vanished. Peter thought he was receiving a vision during this time until he realised that he was a free man.

He went to the house of a lady named Mary, the mother of John Mark, where people were praying for Peter’s safety and freedom (verse 12).

Mary was related to Barnabas. Barnabas was the Levite in Acts 4:36-37 who gave all of his assets to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, he convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that they should accept the converted Saul of Tarsus, their greatest persecutor — later Paul — into their church.

John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. We will read more about him and Barnabas in Acts. They were cousins who spread the Gospel message together. Barnabas also worked with Paul. These are the references to John Mark and Barnabas.

Of Mary, John MacArthur tells us that she (emphases mine):

was wealthy. She had a maid, Rhoda, she had household servants, it was large enough to have prayer meetings and gatherings. Her son, whose surname was Mark, is the same Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark and he was a companion and buddy of Peter and got most of his information for the gospel of Mark from Peter. Of course, the Holy Spirit gave it to him, but it comes out of experiences that he had in the time of Peter. And so here’s the house of Mark. Incidentally it’s the same John Mark that accompanies Saul and Barnabas on the missionary journey at first and is finally sent home and later restored.

Matthew Henry surmised that there was a 24-hour prayer vigil at Mary’s house for Peter:

They were many that were got together for this work, as many perhaps as the room would hold; and first one prayed, and then another, of those who gave themselves to the word and prayer, the rest joining with them; or, if they had not ministers among them, no doubt but there were many private Christians that knew how to pray, and to pray pertinently, and to continue long in prayer when the affections of those who joined were so stirred as to keep pace with them upon such an occasion. This was in the night, when others were asleep, which was an instance both of their prudence and of their zeal. Note, It is good for Christians to have private meetings for prayer, especially in times of distress, and not to let fall nor forsake such assemblies.

Peter knocked at the gate, and Mary’s servant Rhoda went to answer (verse 13). MacArthur gives us the meaning of Rhoda:

The name means Rose.

Henry outlines the danger of a call in the middle of the night with Christians in jeopardy in Jerusalem:

A damsel came to hearken; not to open the door till she knew who was there, a friend or a foe, and what their business was, fearing informers.

He also thought that Rhoda was probably a Christian, as St Luke — the author of Acts — named her:

Whether this damsel was one of the family or one of the church, whether a servant or a daughter, does not appear; it should seem, by her being named, that she was of note among the Christians, and more zealously affected to the better part than most of her age.

She was so thrilled to hear Peter’s voice that, instead of opening the gateway door to him, she ran inside the house to tell everyone (verse 14).

Everyone told her she was out of her mind (verse 15). When she persisted, they said it was Peter’s angel, meaning his tutelary angel, a Jewish belief. MacArthur explains:

They believed that every Jew had an angel of his own, a guardian angel, and that angel could materialize in the form and the face of that person.

Henry points out that angelos was also frequently used to mean messenger. He adds that there was also a common belief that before someone died, a spirit in their likeness appeared presaging death.

Imagine Peter’s anxiety about having to wait while Rhoda and Mary’s household were discussing all of this. Peter was known throughout Jerusalem and was in grave danger should anyone see him in the street.

MacArthur points out the irony:

And what are they doing in there having an all night prayer meeting for Peter and she says your prayers are answered. He’s at the gate. And meanwhile Peter’s going, “Where did she go? Open the gate.” Standing in the middle of the road and she’s in there having a debate. And you know this is what’s so humorous here is because they’re so typically like the Christians today who pray with all the zeal in the world but none of the faith to believe. You know you hear a guy give his testimony and you know the Lord answered my prayer. Well shock! But anyway verse 15, “They said unto her, You’re crazy.” Now isn’t that unbelievable. Oh God get Peter out of Jail. Peter’s here! Oh you’re crazy. He’s in jail. I’m glad God answers the prayer of zeal as well as the prayer of faith. I think sometimes mine are mostly zeal and not always faith.

Finally, they opened the door of the gateway and let him in (verse 16). MacArthur points out:

“And when they had opened the door they saw him and they were astonished,” which shows you how much faith they really had.

As in, more zeal than faith.

Peter motioned with his hand for everyone to be quiet, that he wanted to stop by and tell them about the angel freeing him (verse 17). He specifically asked them to tell James — the Lord’s brother, the author of the letters of James in the New Testament — as well as the rest of the disciples. Then, Peter left.

Henry thought that Peter either went in to pray in thanksgiving with them before departing or he instructed them to do so while he left Jerusalem in great haste. He did not have much time.

Henry tells us Peter was wise to seek safety:

Note, Even the Christian law of self-denial and suffering for Christ has not abrogated and repealed the natural law of self-preservation, and care for our own safety, as far as God gives an opportunity of providing for it by lawful means.

MacArthur says:

We don’t know where he went, but wherever he went we know what he did just because the kind of person he was. He wound up stirring up trouble everywhere and wound up getting crucified upside down. But nevertheless he departed and went another place and that’s the fade out of Peter. Good-bye Peter, that’s him. Brief appearance in Chapter 15, but that’s all. He goes off.

I wrote about his letters to his flock in 1 Peter and 2 Peter. These are available near the bottom of my Essential Bible Verses page.

Early writings of the Church says that Peter and Paul — along with Peter’s wife — were martyred on the same day in Rome. Cruelly, the Romans forced Peter to watch his wife’s martyrdom. His last words to her were:

Remember the Lord.

If you missed reading about Peter’s ministry when I originally posted the following, you might enjoy these entries:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Next time — Acts 12:18-19

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:6-11

Peter Is Rescued

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

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Last week’s entry discussed St Luke’s — the author of Acts — account of Herod Agrippa’s beheading of James, the brother of John (the sons of Zebedee). Herod then went after Peter during Passover in order to please the Jews. He had Peter imprisoned and watched by 16 guards. Meanwhile, the church in Jerusalem prayed earnestly for his safety and that God would somehow release him.

John MacArthur preached that such prayer was an extreme spiritual effort. The Greek word used is ektenoce, which he explained is a medical term used when describing muscles stretched to their limit.

Matthew Henry believed that there was a rotating prayer vigil by the people for Peter (emphases mine):

It was an extended prayer; they prayed for his release in their public assemblies (private ones, perhaps, for fear of the Jews); then they went home, and prayed for it in their families; then retired into their closets, and prayed for it there; so they prayed without ceasing: or first one knot of them, and then another, and then a third, kept a day of prayer, or rather a night of prayer, for him, Acts 12:12. Note, Times of public distress and danger should be praying times with the church; we must pray always, but then especially.

It was nearing the time for Herod to release Peter for a show trial then sentence him to death (verse 6). That night, Peter was sleeping between two of the soldiers, chained to each of them. Sentries were outside guarding the prison.

An angel of the Lord appeared in Peter’s cell, a divine light brightening the area (verse 7). The angel gave him a sharp blow to awaken him immediately — and enough to function. When Peter stood, he found his chains broke and fell to the ground.

Herod thought his scheme was literally iron-clad, but God always has the upper hand on His creation, especially evildoers who think they are more powerful than He.

Furthermore, God does not forget His own. We see that clearly illustrated in this event. Henry tells us:

He seemed as one abandoned by men, yet not forgotten of his God; The Lord thinketh upon him. Gates and guards kept all his friends from him, but could not keep the angels of God from him: and they invisibly encamp round about those that fear God, to deliver them (Psalms 34:7), and therefore they need not fear, though a host of enemies encamp against them, Psalms 27:3. Wherever the people of God are, and however surrounded, they have a way open heavenward, nor can any thing intercept their intercourse with God.

The angel told Peter to put on his clothes and sandals and to wrap a cloak around himself. The King James Version is more specific:

And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

Readers might recall Jeremiah 1:17-19 in the KJV:

17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.

18 For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.

19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.

John MacArthur describes girding of the loins:

they used to wear an inner garment that hung very loosely and in the daytime they’d cinch it up with a belt. At night they’d loosen the belt and let it hang loose.

There is also a connotation of preparing to act. The Free Dictionary provides this definition:

gird (up) (one’s) loins
To summon up one’s inner resources in preparation for action.

Once Peter was dressed, he followed the angel but thought he was receiving a vision (verse 9). One can imagine he had probably dreamt of being released, and, in a possibly groggy state, believed this was too good to be true.

Henry reminds us of Psalm 126:1. I included the next two verses as this was probably how Peter felt later when he realised what had happened:

126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Verse 10 tells us that they passed the first, then the second, guard. The iron gate opened by itself. As they went along one street, the angel suddenly left Peter. That was because Peter was now free and knew his surroundings.

Henry discusses the gate:

And probably the iron gate shut again of itself, that none of the guards might pursue Peter. Note, When God will work salvation for his people, no difficulties in their way are insuperable; but even gates of iron are made to open of their own accord. This iron gate led him into the city out of the castle or tower; whether within the gates of the city or without is not certain, so that, when they were through this, they were got into the street.

This is more than history. Henry gives us much to consider:

This deliverance of Peter represents to us our redemption by Christ, which is often spoken of as the setting of prisoners free, not only the proclaiming of liberty to the captives, but the bringing of them out of the prison-house. The application of the redemption in the conversion of souls is the sending forth of the prisoners, by the blood of the covenant, out of the pit wherein is no water, Zechariah 9:11. The grace of God, like this angel of the Lord, brings light first into the prison, by the opening of the understanding, smites the sleeping sinner on the side by the awakening of the conscience, causes the chains to fall off from the hands by the renewing of the will, and then gives the word of command, Gird thyself, and follow me. Difficulties are to be passed through, and the opposition of Satan and his instruments, a first and second ward, an untoward generation, from which we are concerned to save ourselves; and we shall be saved by the grace of God, if we put ourselves under the divine conduct. And at length the iron gate shall be opened to us, to enter into the New Jerusalem, where we shall be perfectly freed from all the marks of our captivity, and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The broken chains remained in the cell:

Tradition makes a mighty rout about these chains, and tells a formal story that one of the soldiers kept them for a sacred relic, and they were long after presented to Eudoxia the empress

When Peter was fully alert, he then realised that he had experienced a miracle that delivered him from Herod and the Jewish people who wanted the Apostle dead (verse 11).

This is the KJV:

11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

The Bible MacArthur used for his sermon has the word ‘considered’. He provides this interpretation:

“And when he had considered,” I love that word considered soonhedon, soon means together and hedon means to see. To consider means to see together. It means to take all the parts of something and see it together in perspective.

Now we can see that Peter might have been thinking along the lines of Jeremiah 1:19 above.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 12:12-17

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 11:1-18

Peter Reports to the Church

11 Now the apostles and the brothers[a] who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party[b] criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

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Last week’s post concluded the visit of Peter to Cornelius’s house where the centurion and those present received the Holy Spirit then baptism.

I also wrote about Cornelius’s life afterwards. He was the first Italian saint, by the way. God gave him that vision so that he could accomplish great things in Christ’s holy name.

John MacArthur says that the events in Acts 11 — particularly the second half of the chapter, describing the establishment of the Church in Antioch — occurred seven years after the first Pentecost. He says that the Apostles did a lot of preaching and teaching to establish Church doctrine (emphases mine below):

Number one, apostolic authority had to be established. Now when God spoke to the early church through whom did He speak? The apostles, right? They were the teachers. They were the ones who were the spokesmen for God. And they were the ones who laid out the doctrine. It says that in 2:42, that they spent their time in the study of the apostles’ doctrine. God spoke to them and they spoke. They had no Bibles. They had no New Testaments. They hadn’t been written yet.

So when the early church came together what was their standard? I mean how did they know whether this is right, and this is wrong? How did they know how to do this, how to do that, what are God’s standards, what are these things unless they had to listen to the apostles through whom God spoke. And so there needed to be time for the apostles to lay down a solid doctrinal base. Can you imagine if they all got saved and then just shot out all over the world without any foundation? They would run into problems they wouldn’t be able to answer because they wouldn’t know what their own theology was. They wouldn’t have a Bible.

Yet, atheists believe that the first converts just bolted out with no rhyme or reason. I’ve heard it before, many times.

There is more:

What happened was for seven years the apostles laid that doctrinal foundation. They spoke, they taught, and these things were compiled and collected in the minds and hearts of men and the framework of doctrine was based as a foundation. And once that foundation was firm then somebody could start the building of the Gentile church on it. But they had to be able to run into a problem and turn around and say, “Hey, there’s an answer because the apostles have thus said.” You see. In other words doctrinal purity, friends, is at the very basis of a church. If it goes the whole building crumbles, right?

So we teach doctrine. That’s everything at the base and so there had to be doctrine and there wasn’t any Bible for everybody to read so they had to hang in and learn from the apostles. And then once it was in them in total they could move out and teach it to somebody else until such a time as the Scripture was completed. There were absolutes that had to be learned and they had to come to the apostles from God and the process was slow and it took time.

The second reason I believe there was a delay of many years before they moved out was because the right instruments had to be prepared. Nothing worse than sending out an unprepared person to do a job. It took time to mature these people

So the third thing you might add to that is that they needed time for prejudice to come down. And so for these reasons the Spirit of God delayed and at least seven years went by before they ever began to move toward Antioch, but believe me when the groundwork was done it was done right. And when that church moved out to build, they really built; they really built.

We wonder then, why St Luke, the author of Acts, did not make the timeline clearer. MacArthur explains:

… the average papari that they used, there was a paparus plant, a kind of a bulrush plant from which they made a long scroll, which they used to write on. This was before book form had come into vogue, and the longest ones that we could ever find; assuming that this would be about the maximum was 35 feet. Now that’s a good-sized scroll, 35-foot scroll. But on a 35-foot scroll you could probably crowd about the content of the book of Acts, 28 chapters to 30 chapters and that would be pushing it.

So Luke had a limited amount of space. He was going to put the whole thing on the scroll. He also had a tremendous amount of things to select from just from a human standpoint. There were many incidents in the church that had happened. There were many miracles. There were many signs and wonders done by the apostles and prophets. I imagine there were some fantastic conversion experiences. I just think about all the three thousand saved on the day of Pentecost. Just imagine what their testimonies could have been like. And all of the other thousands that were being saved all over the place, they could have been included.

As we know, they were not. However, St Luke did include the story of Peter and Cornelius — including their respective visions. We read three repetitions in Acts 10 and the first part of Acts 11:

There were so many fabulous things yet he spends all this space saying the same thing three times just filling a whole chunk of that scroll with this Cornelius account.

That means that Luke believed it was essential to the history of the early Church: the branching out and acceptance of Gentiles into membership.

This brings us to today’s reading.

Incredibly, news of what happened at Cornelius’s house in Caesarea travelled quickly back to the Apostles and other members of the church in Jerusalem (verse 1).

Upon Peter’s return to Jerusalem, he got an earful from the circumcision group who were deeply unhappy he associated and ate with Gentiles (verses 2, 3).

The circumcision party — group — believed that no one could become a Christian unless they became a Jew first. That included circumcision. As we saw from the past few weeks of Acts 10 study, there is no basis for that in Scripture. The Book of Hebrews discusses it in more detail.

MacArthur has more:

I just want you to pick up a few points. Keep in mind that as Peter comes back to report the word has already beaten him there and so they’ve already made up their preconceived ideas. That’s verse one. They’ve already heard and Peter’s going back into a storm. The ultra conservative Jews, particularly of the circumcision party, those former Pharisees who were now Christians who thought that Judaism was all in all and wanted everybody to become a Jew and get circumcised before he could become a Christian, they had already made up their mind that Peter made a wholesale sell out. Peter was probably on the outs because he’d even gone into Samaria and he’d preached all over Samaria and people got saved when the Holy Spirit came. So he was probably in trouble already and this was a wholesale washout on the part of Peter.

So when he came back they started a big argument. They really hassled him badly and they hassled him repeatedly. And you know orthodoxy can get mad. I remember when I was in Jerusalem they said don’t drive your cars in the orthodox section on the Sabbath unless you want it to get stoned. They get upset when someone violates the law, and I mean they got upset then too. And Peter had done exactly what their ceremonial law forbade and they were really upset that he would have anything to do with these Gentiles.

Verse 4 tells us about Peter’s mindset. He did not lord it over them, saying he was the rock on which the Church was built, as Jesus had told him. He approached them with the facts:

You know why? Because the issue explained itself. If the facts are on your side you don’t have to pull rank. Just recite the facts. He could have pulled spiritual rank. He could have said, “I was led of the Spirit,” you know which is a common statement for crackpots to make.

And, Peter went on to recite the facts ‘in order’ (verse 4). Verses 5-12 recount Peter’s vision and his obedience in journeying from Joppa to Caesarea with Cornelius’s men, which I discussed at length here and here.

Peter provided an interesting detail in verse 12, which we did not discover in Acts 10: six men from Joppa accompanied him. We knew there were men from Joppa who went with him, but we did not know the number.

MacArthur explains why there were six:

This is very important. Here’s a principle that you can grab a handle on and use: number one, he didn’t act alone. He took six people with him. Why? Because he didn’t want to be mistaken in what was going on. He wanted the testimony of six others to confirm his own. The Jews knew well Egyptian law and Egyptian law said that where there are seven witnesses the case is closed. And Roman law said that on any will or any testament there had to be seven seals, so seven became a kind of a number of sealing the authoritativeness of something. So Peter had six guys go along with him and that made seven and he was verifying in his own mind from the testimony of others that this thing in fact was true.

In verses 13 and 14, Peter related Cornelius’s vision as the centurion explained it to him, discussed in more detail here.

In verses 15 through 17, Peter explained to those in Jerusalem how the Holy Spirit descended on all present and that he saw no reason to deny baptism to Cornelius and the other Gentiles. I wrote about that last week.

So, Peter recounted the facts of the situation of how Gentiles were admitted into the young Church.

Peter’s legalistic critics fell silent (verse 18). Instead of arguing further, they glorified God and said:

Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.

We will see that, for now, that concluded the matter. However, the issue of Gentiles comes back in Acts 15.

The reason the Apostles needed to build a strong doctrinal foundation was, as MacArthur said, to open the Church to Gentiles and to prepare the Jews for that eventuality. MacArthur explains:

They couldn’t argue with the testimony of seven reputable witnesses. They couldn’t argue with the testimony of Jesus Christ. Peter built his foundation on the Word of Christ. And so they had nothing to say.

As for their statement about Gentiles, MacArthur tells us how significant that was:

That statement right there is one of the most shocking statements in Jewish history. That’s a statement for which Jonah, the failure for Jonah really in his whole life was the fact that he wasn’t willing to make that statement. And there weren’t very many Jews who were in the history of Judaism. What was the statement? Simply this: God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Shocking for a Jew to make that admission. Gentiles can get saved, guys. How can we argue? Look at what happened up there. Fantastic admission and people I want you to know that the importance of that statement is hardly able to be measured. You say why? Because until the Jews who were Christians made that statement they could never begin the work of evangelizing the Gentiles, you see. They had to come to that.

Matthew Henry points to this as a fulfilment of a prophecy of Zephaniah:

Now those who prided themselves in their dignities as Jews began to see that God was staining their pride, by letting in the Gentiles to share, and to share equally, with them. And now that prophecy was fulfilled, Thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain, Zephaniah 3:11. 2. They turned them into praises. They not only held their peace from quarrelling with Peter, but opened their mouths to glorify God for what he had done by and with Peter’s ministry; they were thankful that their mistake was rectified, and that God had shown more mercy to the poor Gentiles than they were inclined to show them, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life! He hath granted them not only the means of repentance, in opening a door of entrance for his ministers among them, but the grace of repentance, in having given them his Holy Spirit, who, wherever he comes to be a Comforter, first convinces, and gives a sight of sin and sorrow for it, and then a sight of Christ and joy in him.

I will cover the establishment of the church in Antioch separately. It is in the Lectionary, but it picks up where Acts 8 left off. It also brings back someone we have not read about since Acts 4: Barnabas.

Next time — Acts 12:1-5

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:44-48

The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

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Last week’s post discussed Cornelius relating his divine vision to Peter, explaining why he — a Gentile — sent for him.

Peter, too, had a divine vision revealing that nothing — and, by extension, no one — is unclean.

Peter took heed and, immediately afterward, met Cornelius’s men who had just arrived at the house where he was staying. He went with the men without complaint from Joppa to Caesarea.

The Holy Spirit was working wonders in Peter after that first Pentecost. Acts 2 gives us his first sermon and says:

41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

In Acts 3, Peter healed a lame beggar, who then went on to witness himself. Although Peter and John were arrested at the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 4):

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

There were thousands more, but it was not the custom in society to count women and children in those days.

These three posts explain how the Spirit transformed Peter into a great leader of the early church:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Therefore, by the time Peter met Cornelius, the resulting experience was going to be powerful. And, so it was. Last week’s post has Peter’s sermon, which is included in the Lectionary, but, unless the clergyperson preaching about it puts it into context, a lot of the power behind it is lost.

In today’s reading we have Cornelius, a faith-filled Gentile — accompanied by his household and friends — who has just learned more about God and Jesus Christ from Peter.

Peter hadn’t stopped preaching when the Holy Spirit fell upon all assembled — the converts among the Jews from Joppa as well as Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles (verse 44).

Matthew Henry has a good analysis (emphases mine below):

When the Holy Ghost fell upon them–while Peter was preaching. Thus God bore witness to what he said, and accompanied it with a divine power. Thus were the signs of an apostle wrought among them, 2 Corinthians 12:12.

Also:

Though Peter could not give the Holy Ghost, yet the Holy Ghost being given along with the word of Peter, by this it appeared he was sent of God.

Now consider that there were many witnesses in that room — Jew and Gentile.

Henry also tells us that the God follows no prescribed method:

The Holy Ghost fell upon others after they were baptized, for their confirmation; but upon these Gentiles before they were baptized: as Abraham was justified by faith, being yet in uncircumcision, to show that God is not tied to a method, nor confines himself to external signs. The Holy Ghost fell upon those that were neither circumcised nor baptized; for it is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.

The Jewish converts were ‘amazed’ to see that the Holy Spirit was ‘poured out’ on the Gentiles (verse 45):

Those of the circumcision who believed were astonished–those six that came along with Peter; it surprised them exceedingly, and perhaps gave them some uneasiness, because upon the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost, which they thought had been appropriated to their own nation. Had they understood the scriptures of the Old Testament, which pointed at this, it would not have been such an astonishment to them; but by our mistaken notions of things we create difficulties to ourselves in the methods of divine providence and grace.

John MacArthur tells us:

Well, Jesus was in the business of smashing fences, and this was one that had to go; and so as you come to the 10th chapter of the Book of Acts, the Lord adds to the church Gentiles. The pagans who were despised by the Jews and who, incidentally, despised the Jews, as well, who were thought to be unclean, in whose home Jews would never go, whose food Jews would never eat, and so forth and so on. He includes them into the church, into the one body with the Jews. Now, this is not going to be an easy thing, but our Lord had already designed to build one body. As Ephesians 2 says, “To make one new man, to join together Jew and Gentile. As Ephesians 3 said, “The mystery of the church was Jew and Gentile one in Christ.”

MacArthur says this was not going to be easy, and we will see next week that Peter caught flak for it.

Then the group spoke in tongues and extolled God (verse 46). Henry explores what this means:

They spoke with tongues which they never learned, perhaps the Hebrew, the holy tongue; as the preachers were enabled to speak the vulgar tongues, that they might communicate the doctrine of Christ to the hearers, so, probably, the hearers were immediately taught the sacred tongue, that they might examine the proofs which the preachers produced out of the Old Testament in the original. Or their being enabled to speak with tongues intimated that they were all designed for ministers, and by this first descent of the Spirit upon them were qualified to preach the gospel to others, which they did but now receive themselves. But, observe, when they spoke with tongues, they magnified God, they spoke of Christ and the benefits of redemption, which Peter had been preaching to the glory of God. Thus did they on whom the Holy Ghost first descended, Acts 2:11. Note, Whatever gift we are endued with, we ought to honour God with it, and particularly the gift of speaking, and all the improvements of it.

Then Peter asked if anyone — the Jews present — would deny these Gentiles baptism (verse 47). St Luke, the author of Acts, does not describe their reaction, but I would not be surprised if there wasn’t a moment or two of stunned silence.

Henry analyses Peter’s question:

The argument is conclusive; can we deny the sign to those who have received the thing signified? Are not those on whom God has bestowed the grace of the covenant plainly entitled to the seals of the covenant? Surely those that have received the Spirit as well as we ought to receive baptism as well as we; for it becomes us to follow God’s indications, and to take those into communion with us whom he hath taken into communion with himself. God hath promised to pour his Spirit upon the seed of the faithful, upon their offspring; and who then can forbid water, that they should not be baptized, who have received the promise of the Holy Ghost as well as we? … Thus is there one unusual step of divine grace taken after another to bring the Gentiles into the church. How well is it for us that the grace of a good God is so much more extensive than the charity of some good men!

Peter then commanded his companions from Joppa to baptise the Gentiles (verse 48). By doing so, those men became an active part of welcoming Gentiles into the Church through baptism.

Henry has more:

The apostles received the commission to go and disciple all nations by baptism. But is was to prayer and the ministry of the word that they were to give themselves. And Paul says that he was sent, not to baptize but to preach, which was the more noble and excellent work. The business of baptizing was therefore ordinarily devolved upon the inferior ministers; these acted by the orders of the apostles, who might therefore be said to do it.

Verse 48 also tells us that the Gentiles asked Peter to remain with them for a time. Cornelius, as we saw at the beginning of Acts 10 a few weeks ago, had a devout thirst to know and love God better. His friends and family gathered there with him were sober of spirit and he rightly believed they should share in that experience themselves. Once the Holy Spirit had descended and they were baptised, it follows logically that they wanted Peter to teach and preach to them about the Jesus he knew. It must have been a spirtually enriching period of time for them, one which further deepened their faith.

In closing, I wanted to look deeper into the verb ‘poured’ in verse 45. John MacArthur has a beautiful analysis of living water used in Scripture:

John chapter 7 introduces us to the Spirit of God in a very unique way; and I’m gonna take this as kind of a kickoff point; and then show you how important it is for us to have the Holy Spirit and why I believe, unequivocally with no contradiction, that we absolutely, at the moment of salvation, receive the Spirit.

John 7:37, feast of tabernacles is going on. The…the pouring of the water, symbolizing, of course, God’s sustenance of Israel in the wilderness. People have been saying Isaiah’s words about drinking at the wells of salvation. And, at that moment, when everybody’s looking at water, Jesus stands up in verse 37 and says, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” In other words, Jesus takes the whole illustration, the whole deal, and turns it to Himself and takes advantage of this. You know what He’s saying? He’s saying that if you’re thirsty, you can drink. You know that salvation could come at that day to those people if they would turn to Jesus Christ? They could’ve received the water. Remember the water that He gave the woman at the well? He said, “If you believe in Me, I’ll give you water, and you’ll never thirst again.”

And so there was the promise that they could have spiritual water, spiritual refreshment, a spring of pure cleansing water of life inside of them; but He goes a second step, 38, powerful statement. “He that believeth on Me.” Notice, what is the qualification? He that does what? Believeth on Me, no other qualification. “As the Scripture hath said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

Now you have a twofold promise. Hang on here. No. 1, you’re gonna receive the water. No. 2, it’s gonna gush out of you. Not a trickle, but a what? Rivers, gushing rivers of water. Two promises. Spiritual refreshment for Me, and a flowing of the water of life that comes out of Me to the world. That’s evangelism, beloved. That’s what He’s talking about. “That the life that is in me by Christ flows out of me to reach others.” That’s the promise; but watch verse 39. Here’s the key.

But this spoke He of the Spirit, whom they that believe on Him should receive.” Future tense, it’s coming. “For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Now watch here, your thought here for a moment. This is saying this…Jesus says, “People, you can now believe, and you can drink the water of life. Someday, you will gush with the water of life to the world; but that can’t happen until the Spirit comes in.” You see? Look at it again. “This spoke He of the Spirit, whom they that believe should receive; but He was not yet given.” The principle is this. All who believe will receive the Spirit.

And, the Holy Spirit is a free gift to all who believe that Jesus is Lord and Saviour:

And where is Christ right now? He’s right there where He can be to send the Spirit, and every moment in the man…in the life of a man, that very moment that he believes, wherever that man is in the world, the Spirit of God is dispensed to that man’s heart.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in our faith and to witness — as we are called, in our own ways — to the world. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence, we cannot love God, we cannot obey Him. Without the Holy Spirit, we will fall away from our Christian faith — and eternal salvation.

Next time — Acts 11:1-14

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:30-33

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour,[a] and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

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Last week’s post pointed out how important it was for Peter to follow the divine vision he was given and go with Cornelius’s men — Gentiles — to the Roman centurion’s home in Caesarea. This was the fulfilment of God’s plan to open the Church to Gentiles. Christ was no longer exclusively for the Jews and those who maintained those traditions (Samaritans).

We left off last week where Peter, accompanied by Jewish converts from Joppa, arrived with Cornelius’s men in Caesarea. Peter asked Cornelius why he was summoned.

Cornelius related the vision he received (verses 30-32). I wrote about that vision a few weeks ago. The only wording difference is an updated version from Cornelius: ‘your prayer has been heard’ (verse 31).

He said that because now Peter was in front of him. Recall that when the angel appeared to Cornelius, he said (Acts 10:4): ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God’.

Matthew Henry offers insight as to how and where Cornelius might have prayed at home that afternoon (emphases mine below):

He was at the ninth hour praying in his house, not in the synagogue, but at home. I will that men pray wherever they dwell. His praying in his house intimates that it was not a secret prayer in his closet, but in a more public room of his house, with his family about him; and perhaps after prayer he retired, and had this vision. Observe, At the ninth hour of the day, three of the clock in the afternoon, most people were travelling or trading, working in the fields, visiting their friends, taking their pleasure, or taking a nap after dinner; yet then Cornelius was at his devotions, which shows how much he made religion his business; and then it was that he had this message from heaven. Those that would hear comfortably from God must be much in speaking to him.

Henry also has this to say about the angel’s appearance:

He describes the messenger that brought him this message from heaven: There stood a man before me in bright clothing, as Christ’s was when he was transfigured, and that of the two angels who appeared at Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:4), and at his ascension (Acts 1:10), showing their relation to the world of light. [3.] He repeats the message that was sent to him (Acts 10:31,32), just as we had it, Acts 10:4-6.

As for Cornelius saying that his prayer was heard:

We are not told what his prayer was; but if this message was an answer to it, and it should seem it was, we may suppose that finding the deficiency of natural light, and that it left him at a loss how to obtain the pardon of his sin and the favour of God, he prayed that God would make some further discoveries of himself and of the way of salvation to him. “Well,” saith the angel, “send for Peter, and he shall give thee such a discovery.”

Cornelius went on to acknowledge his appreciation of Peter’s presence in his house and said that all there gathered in the presence of God awaited the Apostle’s words as the Lord commanded (verse 33). That demonstrates Cornelius’s faith and belief. The others around him would have been family members and trusted friends.

Henry has a beautiful analysis of the centurion’s words:

Observe, [1.] Their religious attendance upon the word: “We are all here present before God; we are here in a religious manner, are here as worshippers” (they thus compose themselves into a serious solemn frame of spirit): “therefore, because thou art come to us by such a warrant, on such an errand, because we have such a price in our hand as we never had before and perhaps may never have again, we are ready now at this time of worship, here in this place of worship” (though it was in a private house): “we are present, paresmen–we are at the business, and are ready to come at a call.” If we would have God’s special presence at an ordinance, we must be there with a special presence, an ordinance presence: Here I am. “We are all present, all that were invited; we, and all that belong to us; we, and all that is within us.” The whole of the man must be present; not the body here, and the heart, with the fool’s eyes, in the ends of the earth. But that which makes it indeed a religious attendance is, We are present before God. In holy ordinances we present ourselves unto the Lord, and we must be as before him, as those that see his eye upon us.

He then breaks down Cornelius’s request of Peter to speak as the Lord commanded:

Observe, First, Peter was there to preach all things that were commanded him of God; for, as he had an ample commission to preach the gospel, so he had full instructions what to preach. Secondly, They were ready to hear, not whatever he pleased to say, but what he was commanded of God to say. The truths of Christ were not communicated to the apostles to be published or stifled as they thought fit, but entrusted with them to be published to the world. “We are ready to hear all, to come at the beginning of the service and stay to the end, and be attentive all the while, else how can we hear all? We are desirous to hear all that thou art commissioned to preach, though it be ever so displeasing to flesh and blood, and ever so contrary to our former notions or present secular interests. We are ready to hear all, and therefore let nothing be kept back that is profitable for us.”

What a moment that must have been for everyone there.

John MacArthur has this take on salvation, submission and Peter’s reaction to what Cornelius said:

A man’s salvation is no accident. God orders the whole sequence, but men’s submissive will must move in. Where do you see the submission of Cornelius? In the word immediately. His will was ready. There are the first two things in salvation. Sovereign call and submissive will. Submissive will. You know what I love about that verse 33? He says, “We’re here present to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Cornelius says, “Peter, give us the whole shot. We want it all.” Boy, have you ever had an audience like that? Man, what evangelism. I mean he’s so used to fighting it in Jerusalem. Can you imagine all those open hearts. It must’ve taken him for a moment.

What do we see then this morning? We see how God works in salvation on the one hand, but demands submission in the will of a man.

And that theme of a submissive will to the sovereign call is one that runs through the entire set of New Testament letters, whether from Peter, Paul or John.

Peter spoke. This next reading is in the Lectionary at Epiphany (verses 34-38) and, more fully, at Easter, when all of the following is read. Peter’s message remained consistent with what he preached immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost (Acts 2), although he tailored it for a Gentile audience by omitting the Old Testament prophecies in detail:

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The account of Cornelius and his household concludes next week.

Next time — Acts 10:44-48

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 10:24-29

24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

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Last week’s entry was about Peter pondering the vision he was given about all foods being clean when Cornelius’s men arrived to take him to Caesarea. Peter, a guest in Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa, provided the men with hospitality before setting off with them the next day.

I wrote last week that it was interesting that men from Joppa, converts, accompanied Peter and the Gentiles — Cornelius’s emissaries — on the journey (verse 23).

There is much significance behind that. Jews were not allowed to mix with Gentiles other than in the street or in commerce. Therefore, not only was it a big deal that Peter invited the Gentiles into Simon’s house for refreshment and sleep, but this commingling in travel would also further the mixing of the two groups.

Peter’s vision was now making sense to him, and he followed its instruction.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur point out that this division between Jew and Gentile was never part of Mosaic law.

Henry tells us more and adds that there was similar animosity on the part of Gentiles (emphases mine):

It was not made so by the law of God, but by the decree of their wise men, which they looked upon to be no less binding. They did not forbid them to converse or traffic with Gentiles in the street or shop, or upon the exchange, but to eat with them. Even in Joseph’s time, the Egyptians and Hebrews could not eat together, Genesis 43:32. The three children would not defile themselves with the king’s meat, Daniel 1:8. They might not come into the house of a Gentile, for they looked upon it to be ceremonially polluted. Thus scornfully did the Jews look upon the Gentiles, who were not behindhand with them in contempt, as appears by many passages in the Latin poets.

We see this in verse 28, when Peter refers to his vision and rightly extends it from food to people, in this case, the Gentiles. Peter used the term ‘unlawful’.

MacArthur explains ‘unlawful’ and discusses ‘anathema’:

Notice the term unlawful. “You know that it is an unlawful thing.” Athematas, it means taboo. The Old Testament ceremonial law, of course, didn’t say that, but the rabbis added that. In fact, the rabbis said that defilement by going into a Gentile home was a seven-day defilement. Now the only seven-day defilement were contact…was contact with a dead body, but the Jews believed that the Gentiles put their aborted children down the drains. That when a Gentile woman had an abortion, she put the…the dead fetus down the drain, and so any contact with a Gentile home was contact with a defilement of a dead body. Therefore, that was a seven-day defilement; and because of the seriousness of such a defilement, Jews would not enter Gentile homes.

As for the the converts accompanying Peter and the Gentiles from Joppa to Caesarea, Henry said it was common. St Luke, the author of Acts, did not say whether Peter invited them or whether they invited themselves, however, everyone had good intentions:

Either Peter desired their company, that they might be witnesses of his proceeding cautiously with reference to the Gentiles, and of the good ground on which he went, and therefore he invited them (Acts 11:12), or they offered their service to attend him, and desired they might have the honour and happiness of being his fellow travellers. This was one way in which the primitive Christians very much showed their respect to their ministers: they accompanied them in their journeys, to keep them in countenance, to be their guard, and, as there was occasion, to minister to them; with a further prospect not only of doing them service, but of being edified by their converse.

Acts 11:12 says that six men from Joppa went. Whatever the circumstances were surrounding their decision to go, MacArthur says this was highly significant for the development of the Church. MacArthur thinks that Peter probably invited the men. We see God’s grace at work in giving them good and holy desires:

In fact, they became the key to the unifying of Jew and Gentile. You say, “What are you saying that for?” Just to say this. God not only led Peter through the direct voice of that… of the vision, through the very direct communication medium, but God led Peter through Peter’s own desires and Peter’s own ideas. God didn’t say, “Peter, take along six guys.” No, He didn’t do that at all. You say “Well, Peter just wanted to take ’em along?” Yeah, but where do you think he got that desire? God gave it to him, because God knew it was crucial to have them there.

Now, believe me, people, this is a great introduction as to how God works in the life of a believer. You and I don’t hear voices anymore. If we do, you come to see me. We don’t hear voices, and we don’t see visions, and God doesn’t do great, you know, skywriting…and give us all certain visions like in the old days. But how does God lead? He leads through our desires, and here we see exactly that. And mark it, people, it was just as important to have those guys there as it was for Peter to see that vision; but one of those came by God’s direct media. The other came by His indirect media, which is as He works in our hearts by His Holy Spirit to bring what He wants to do

It was critical that those Jewish Christians go, but there wasn’t any command. That’s how God works in us today. We…we don’t have the first half anymore. We just have that part. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God…I like this…who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Don’t you like that? God is working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure

And I think that’s how He works if you’re the right vessel. Now, if your desires are all clogged up with your own self-desires, you got problems filtering it out.

Verse 24 describes the men arriving in Caesarea ‘the following day’. Most probably, everyone was on foot, including the Gentiles. We will see next week that verse 30 says Cornelius talked about having his vision four days before. He sent his men to Joppa to fetch Peter immediately afterwards. From this we can deduce that it was a two-day trip each way. Henry says:

It seems, it was above a day’s journey, nearly two, from Joppa to Cesarea; for it was the day after they set out that they entered into Cesarea (Acts 10:24), and the afternoon of that day, Acts 10:30. It is probable that they travelled on foot; the apostles generally did so.

Note also in verse 24 that Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends with him. He knew something spiritually life-changing was going to happen. Henry emphasises Cornelius’s generosity in wanting to share this special time with others whom he loved and trusted:

Note, We should not covet to eat our spiritual morsels alone, Job 31:17. It ought to be both given and taken as a piece of kindness and respect to our kindred and friends to invite them to join with us in religious exercises, to go with us to hear a sermon. What Cornelius ought to do he thought his kinsmen and friends ought to do too; and therefore let them come and hear it at the first hand, that it may be no surprise to them to see him change upon it.

Whether Cornelius was overly excited or completely overcome by Peter’s presence, we do not know. However, his instinct was to fall down before Peter and worship him (verse 25).

Peter immediately lifted Cornelius up and disabused him of such a notion (verse 26): ‘Stand up; I, too, am a man’.

Given Peter’s humility, then, it is amazing that the Catholic Church came up with the idea of considering him as the first pope and that he was to have successors. MacArthur goes into all of that, citing a German book on Catholic doctrine, and concludes:

But Peter wants no worship. It is wrong to worship Peter. He is no pope. He is nothing to be worshiped. He is a man. Get up off your feet. Quit kissing his toe. He’s a man…He disallowed it at the very start, and no Christian is ever to be worshipped. No saint…at all. In Acts 14:14, they started to worship Paul and Barnabas…They were all calling ’em Jupiter and Mercury and thinking they were gods, and Paul says in verse 15, “What are you doing? We are men of like passions with you. Get up. What’s all this nonsense?”

You wanna hear what Isaiah said? Isaiah 42:8, he said this, “I am the Lord. That is My name, and My glory will I not give to another.” Did you hear that? “I am the Lord. That is My name. I am the Lord. That is My name. I will not give My glory to another.”…There’s only one in the Bible who ever accepted worship. You know who that was? God. There’s only one in the New Testament who ever accepted worship. Who is that? Jesus Christ. Then who is He? God. Peter didn’t want the worship of anybody.

Peter, post-vision, willingly entered Cornelius’s house. The former observant Jew goes into a Gentile’s house. This is highly significant.

There he sees many people (verse 27) and tells them of his vision that he is not to consider anyone unclean (verse 28).

Peter added that he came willingly, ‘without objection’, and asked why he was summoned (verse 29).

Note Peter’s discernment. He asked why he should be there. He did not work on assumptions or suppositions.

The story continues next week, but the three recent posts below explain how the first Pentecost transformed Peter from being foolish and rashly spoken into a true spiritual leader and fisher of men:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Next time — Acts 10:30-33

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (also here).

Acts 10:17-23

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation,[a] for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

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Last week we read of Peter’s vision about all foods being clean. Peter was initially reluctant to accept this divine instruction, but, by the third time the vision was given to him, he complied.

I wrote recently about how the Peter of the Gospels was transformed once he received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost. He turned into a robust leader — fisher — of men in Christ’s holy name:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Peter is about to make another life-changing move, which also impacted the life of the Church. This move was divinely ordained. God gave Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, a vision and the instruction to send his men from Caesarea to Joppa in search of Peter. Then He gave Peter a vision about all food being clean.

John MacArthur says:

God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger; and we learned something else about sovereignty and salvation. God not only chooses who will be saved, but He chooses how. He chooses vehicles to use.

Now this is not apart from man’s will, but it is in conjunction with man’s will. Nevertheless, God chose Cornelius, the receiver. God chose Peter, the messenger; and this is how salvation always begins …

Cornelius, then, was prepared by God. Then God, as we saw, began the preparation of Peter. Now how you gonna get a stubborn, died-in-the-wool, traditionalistic, nationalistic Jew to open up his heart and his arms to a Gentile? That’s a tough one. Well, God had to do a lotta work on old, crusty Peter to get him to the place where he’d ever pull off this thing, and He did. He sovereignly chose Peter, first of all, because he was available.

Now we take up today’s reading. Peter was still trying to figure out the vision when Cornelius’s men arrived at the house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was staying (verse 17). He was on Simon’s roof when he received the vision and was still up there when the men enquired of Simon whether Peter was staying there (verse 18).

Peter was still thinking about the meaning of the vision when the Holy Spirit told him to get off the roof and accompany the men whom the Spirit had sent (verses 19, 20).

Matthew Henry says that we sometimes find answers to the divinely imponderable through active service to God’s people:

Those that are searching into the meaning of the words of God, and the visions of the Almighty, should not be always poring, no, nor always praying, but should sometimes look abroad, look about them, and they may meet with that which will be of use to them in their enquiries;

I especially like this (emphases mine below):

for the scripture is in the fulfilling every day.

This is exactly what happened to Peter. The Holy Spirit got him off the roof before Simon’s servants had a chance to go look for him. The vision was about to make sense.

Peter went to meet the men and, after identifying himself, asked why they were looking for him (verse 21). Remember, these men were Gentiles. One of them was a Roman soldier, which might have been a bit scary for Peter had the Spirit not explained that He had sent them.

The men explained that they came on behalf of Cornelius (verse 22). They included the description of him being a ‘God-fearing man’ and ‘well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation’. That was important. Peter deciphered that Cornelius, although not Jewish himself, believed in the God of Israel, worshipped with the Jews, associated with them and gave alms as an observant Jew would. The men also told Peter of Cornelius’s vision and the direction from ‘a holy angel’ to go in search of him to hear what he had to say.

Peter invited the men into Simon’s house as his guests before he left with them the next day for Caesarea (verse 23). Interestingly, some of the male converts from Joppa accompanied them.

Think of it — a Jew willingly inviting Gentiles into a Jewish house. This was just not done. There was plenty of antipathy and suspicion between Jew and Gentile — yes, both sides, not just from the Jews — and St Luke, the author of Acts, documents this in the early Church. We will see how this unfolded in the next few chapters.

MacArthur reminds us:

Some Jews had said the Gentiles were created by God to be the fuel for the fires of hell. This is a very narrow view. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, a funeral was held. The Gentiles, in return, looked on Jews as slave material, persecuted, oppressed, and killed them. In fact, the Gentiles commonly called Jews enemies of the human race. You can get a little bit of imagination of this kind of contempt about the Gentile to the Jew when you hear Pilate saying, almost with dripping sarcasm, “I surely am not a Jew, am I?” The disdain in his voice, and you can hear the same sting of…of Gentile hate in the voices of the owners of the slave girl, you know, who was used to make them money by sorceries. And when Paul and Silas came along and cast out the demon in Philippi, you can remember the words of those leaders. They said, “These men, being Jews, do just exceedingly trouble our city.” There was a…a great hatred among the Gentiles for the Jews, a deep disdain, as if they didn’t belong even in the framework of humanity.

However, the divine master plan was to bring Gentiles into the church — and Peter was God’s instrument in making this happen.

MacArthur says:

In Acts 10, God directs the momentous, historical event when the church extends itself from the Jews and the half-breed Samaritans to encompass Gentiles. This is the final phase in the expansion of the church.

He reminds us that our Lord knew since forever that Peter and Cornelius would be brought together for this purpose. When you think of it this way, it becomes even more exciting and amazing:

Cornelius is important because Christ chose him before the foundation of the world, and his salvation itself is important … We wanna see what God was doing in Cornelius’ life. So as we look at the history, we’re also gonna see the sequence of salvation as illustrated in the life of Cornelius, and I think what we have here is…is a very general pattern for how salvation happens in the life of anybody. So we not only see history, but so many times we know Scripture’s like a diamond. It has different facets, and every time you turn the light on, you see a new one …

Now, the first point in the sequence of salvation is sovereign call. Sovereign call. Now, this we found in verses 1 through 20, and that’s where we’ve been before, so we’ll not go all over those verses; but the first 20 verses illustrate to us sovereign call. What that means is God sovereignly is active in salvation. It all is initiated by God. It isn’t men running around saying, “Oh, I’ve found that there’s a God somewhere. I think I believe.” All on their own will, no, God is sovereign in salvation; and we saw in the first 20 verses that God chose Cornelius. God just picked him out of all available Gentiles, God chose to do this in Cornelius’ life. God not only chose Cornelius, the receiver, God chose Peter, the messenger

And from this sermon, he touched on the same subject, concluding:

God is forever and ever doing that, people. I hope you’re learning that in your life. Never to be impatient, impatient with God when He’s trying to teach you how to be obedient. And so immediately he does exactly what God told him to do, and this is exciting, because it helps us to see again that God uses human instruments. God just coulda come down and said, “Okay, Cornelius, zap, you’re saved.” But God uses human instruments. God wanted to use Peter.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 10:24-29

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