– Acts 11:1-18, New International Version
Scene Seven: The Jewish Christians Approve (11:1-18)
The Jewish Christians: Verses 1-3
The news of the Gentile breakthrough spread throughout all Judea. The brethren heard that the Gentiles “had received the word of God.” This is an expression that Luke used earlier (Acts 8:14) in Samaria and later in Acts 17:11. Not only did the word of God come, but there was openness to it.
When Peter arrived back in Jerusalem “those who were circumcised” took issue with him. This expression does not refer to the six circumcised brethren who went with Peter (Acts 10:46 and 11:12) to Caesarea. They would not have raised the issue. Instead, Luke is referring to the Jewish believers who wanted to require circumcision. As Gangel (p. 176) explains:
This ‘circumcision group’ was so known not because of their own status (which would be a foregone conclusion), but because they expected any Gentiles coming to Christ would have to go through the corridor of Judaism first, and that would include circumcision.
The objection of the circumcised group was, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” They objected to his having fellowship, including eating, with Gentiles. Eating together and fellowship are closely related. Undoubtedly, they were unhappy with the fact that Peter baptized the Gentiles, but they raised eating together as a prior issue.
Go Without Misgiving: Verses 4-12
Upon hearing their objection, Peter responded by recounting how he had received his vision. The vision dealt with how God had showed him not to call things unclean that He had cleansed. God was helping the Jews overcome the views that held them back from including the Gentiles.
When Peter had finished telling them about his vision, he said (Acts 11:12) “The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.” What an awesome statement! With all of Peter’s past history and convictions, he is now being told to go without hesitation or doubt. Because it was the Spirit commanding him, he would go without further consideration of the consequences. Knowing the source of the command, He simply obeyed!
The Angel and Cornelius: Verses 13-14
Now, Peter tells how the angel had appeared to Cornelius. Just as Peter had been supernaturally led of the Spirit, so also Cornelius was led by the command of the angel. The Jewish believers would acknowledge the authority of both the angel and the Spirit. The angel said to Cornelius (verse 13-13), “‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.'”
What was the standing of Cornelius and his household before God? Luke does not criticize their spiritual condition. On the contrary, he had recognized their piety and the generosity of Cornelius. It may be that their standing was similar to the Old Testament saints. Luke does not fully define their status. Whatever their precise standing before God, there was another step to take to be saved.
Peter would tell them what that step would be. It was not circumcision. To be saved, they must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Philippian jailer asked (Acts 16:30), “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, (Acts 16:31) “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
The Outpouring of the Spirit: Verses 15-17
As Peter began to speak, the Holy Spirit interrupted! He “fell upon (epepsen) them just as He did upon us at the beginning.” The comparison between the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and Caesarea was so important that Peter repeated it four times: Acts 10:47; 11:15, 17; and 15:8. Peter was establishing the fact that the Gentiles were saved, just as the Jewish believers were. The outpouring of the Spirit provided the needed evidence.
As Horton points out (pp. 140-142) there were differences between Pentecost and Caesarea. For example, at Pentecost (Acts 2:3) there were “tongues of fire,” but not at Caesarea. However, with regard to the essential elements, he holds (p. 157) that the two experiences were identical. According to Lenski (p. 444), the key point of similarity is that they spoke in tongues.
Bruner declares (p. 194), that the expression “just as he did upon us at the beginning” does not mean “just as he always does with everyone,” but rather it points to the uniqueness of Pentecost and Caesarea. However, the overall picture presented by Luke is that the outpouring of the Spirit was a normal expectation. For example, this is the picture that emerges when you compare Acts 2:38-39; 8:16; and 19:2.
The experience at Caesarea is identified by Peter as the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He states (v. 16): “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” From this verse we know that Jesus frequently referred to the statement of John the Baptist. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was an important topic to Christ.
In verse 17 Peter declares “God gave (edoken) to them (autois) the same gift as He gave to us (hemin) also after believing (pisteusasin) in the Lord Jesus Christ.” The words “after believing” are a translation of the Greek aorist participle pisteusasin. A couple of questions concerning the participle are of interest to us.
First, does the participle (pisteusasin) refer to the Jews at Pentecost or the Gentiles in Caesarea? Robertson (p. 154) says, “It [the participle] agrees both with hemin (unto us) and with autois (unto them), “having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Both classes (Gentiles and Jews) trusted in Christ, and both received the Holy Spirit.” We conclude, therefore, that the participle refers to both.
Second, what does the aorist participle mean? It can mean “when” they believed, “after” they believed, or “having believed.” The main verb, “gave” (edoken) also is an aorist. According to Wallace (p. 624),
The aorist participle is normally, though by no means always, antecedent in time to the action of the main verb. But when the aorist participle is related to an aorist main verb, the participle will often be contemporaneous (or simultaneous) to the action of the main verb. Also, states (614): There is such a thing as an aorist participle of subsequent action, though quite rare.”
Just how we ought to translate the participle is often determined by the context. The disciples at Pentecost believed in Christ long before Pentecost. The only plausible translation with regard to them is “after believing” or “having believed.” Here, the Spirit fell upon the God-fearers as Peter was speaking. Lenski (p. 446) holds that “The participle is plainly predicative. Having come to faith is the essential thing.” The context favors the view that the God-fearers believed. As a result the Spirit was outpoured upon them.
The gift of the Spirit was sufficient evidence of God’s acceptance. Peter declared (verse 17) “who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” The lack of circumcision did not hinder the outpouring of God’s Spirit. Neither was it to hinder the Gentiles from being baptized.
The Jewish Believers: Verse 18
Now, the Jewish believers who raised the opening issue accepted what God had done. Luke writes (verse 18), “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God,” The Jewish believers, including “those who were circumcised,” had the good sense to accept the obvious work of God. They openly glorified him.
As they glorified God, the Jewish believers concluded: “Well then, God has granted (edoken) to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” When the God-fearers believed, God granted them “repentance that leads to life.” The gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, was bestowed upon them. The gift was evidence of God’s approval.
When Peter spoke to the Council at Jerusalem, he summarized (Acts 15:8-9) the entire event at Caesarea. His summary provides a fitting conclusion to our exposition. Peter said:
8 “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us;
9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”
Here, the aorist participle katharisas is translated “cleansing.” Having cleansed their hearts by faith, God made no distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles. Then, God, who knows the heart, gave them the Spirit. There was no delay. God quickly moved in to give His Spirit. This does not preclude the work of the Spirit in cleansing, but it is not what Luke is talking about. Luke leaves it to Paul to present the work of the Spirit in cleansing the heart.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Bruner, Frederick Dale. A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Gordon, A. J. The Ministry of the Spirit. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1964.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
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