Cornelius is described as a God fearer and a centurion of the Italian Cohort. John Dominic Crossan has called attention to the importance of the God fearers in the early church. This describes Gentiles who participated in synagogue worship and followed kosher rules. Many of the Roman troops in Judea were raised from local levies; the remark that it’s an Italian cohort may distinguish it as troops from Rome itself. Cornelius is in Caesarea, the area where Jesus began and Peter’s home. He has an angelic visitation commanding him to send to Joppa, a considerable distance, for Peter. The distance is emphasized by the two day journey it takes Peter to get to Cornelius.
Was God Mistaken?
We can only speculate on the fear that a visit from a Roman centurion would cause to a leader of a church being persecuted, whose Lord had been crucified by Romans. Still, Peter goes and along the way has an inspired dream. The dream is the shocking repudiation of the kosher rules. These specify a variety of foods as being ritually unclean and describe a process for slaughtering those that are acceptable. Both are rejected in the dream, where Peter is presented with food and told to slaughter and eat. Peter himself argues against the repudiation of the rules, saying, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The reply is simple: don’t contradict God!
When Peter arrives at the home of Cornelius, he himself points out that simply visiting the home (so reminiscent of Jesus’ visit to the homes of sinners), it is a violation of Jewish practice. He announces this principle: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
The content of Peter’s preaching is this: (Acts 10:38ff)
- God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power
- [Jesus] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil
- We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
- They put him to death by hanging him on a tree
- but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear
- not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
- He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify
- he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
- All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Notice the emphasis on the role of the witnesses. Jesus’ ministry is validated by the witnesses. Parenthetic note: no mention of the Galilean ministry, which seems strange since Peter himself is a Galilean. The crucifixion/resurrection is raised as a second principle, also validated by the witnesses. Note the important point that these are specified as those who ate and drank with the risen Lord, not just those who saw him; this contrasts with Paul whose experience of the Risen Lord is visual/auditory only.
In discussing the present and future, the role of the future moves to the front and becomes to understand Jesus is the Lord who judges all and dispenses forgiveness.
The result is that Cornelius’ household is visited by the Holy Spirit and converted.