Peter defends baptizing non-Jews
- 11:1 Word spread that non-Jews had accepted the message of God and joined the group of believers. The apostles1 heard about it. So did other believers who were scattered all over the territory of Judea.2
- 11:2 When Peter got back to Jerusalem, criticism greeted him. Jews who followed Jesus were not happy.
- 11:3 They said, “Hey, you went into the house of uncircumcised men—they weren’t our people! You even ate with them!”
- 11:4 Peter calmly told them what happened. He started at the beginning.
- 11:5 “I was in the city of Joppa. When I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. An object came down from the sky. It looked like a giant bedsheet getting lowered from all four corners. It came down next to me.
- 11:6 I looked to see what was inside. I saw four-footed animals, wild animals, some reptiles, and some birds.
- 11:7 Then I heard a voice. It said, ‘Get up, Peter. Go butcher something and eat it.’
- 11:8 But I said, ‘No way, sir. These animals aren’t kosher. I’ve never eaten anything but kosher food.’
- 11:9 But the voice answered, ‘What God has cleaned is kosher. So don’t think it’s not.’
- 11:10 This happened three times to me. Then everything lifted back into the sky.
- 11:11 Now listen. At that very moment three men arrived at the house where I was staying. They came from Caesarea with a message for me.
- 11:12 The Spirit told me to go with them right away. So I went. Six believers came with me. When we got there, we went inside the man’s house.
- 11:13 He told us he had seen an angel standing in his house. He said the angel told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa. Tell them to go and get a man named Simon, also known as Peter.
- 11:14 This man will explain how you and everyone in your home3 can be saved.’4
- 11:15 Well, as I started to talk to the group, the Holy Spirit came and entered everyone in the house. It reminded me of the first time the Spirit came to us.
- 11:16 Then I remembered something the Lord said: ‘John baptizes people with water. But you’re going to get baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
- 11:17 So here’s the question. If God gave those non-Jewish people the same gift he gave us when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”
- 11:18 When Peter’s critics heard that, they shut up. When they finally spoke again, it was to praise God for what Peter reported. They said, “My goodness. God is inviting even the non-Jews to reject their sinful way of living.5 He’s giving them eternal life, too.”
First Church of Non-Jews Welcome
- 11:19 When tradition-minded Jews, because of Stephen, started persecuting Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, many believers left the city. Some went to Phoenicia.6 Others went to the island of Cyprus. Some went to the city of Antioch in Syria.7 They took the story of Jesus with them. But they told it to no one but Jews.8
- 11:20 There were exceptions: Jewish followers of Jesus from Cyrene in northern Africa and from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. When they arrived in Antioch, they started telling the Jesus story to non-Jews.9
- 11:21 Clearly, God was helping them because many non-Jews believed the stories about Jesus. So these non-Jews put their faith in Jesus and decided to follow him as their Lord.
- 11:22 News about this reached the church leaders in Jerusalem. They send Barnabas there to investigate.
- 11:23 When he arrived, he realized God was at work there. Barnabas right away started to encourage the believers. He told them to hang onto their new faith in the Lord.
- 11:24 Barnabas was one of the good guys—a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Many people started believing the story of Jesus and joined the group.
- 11:25 Barnabas traveled to the city of Tarsus10 to recruit Saul.
- 11:26 When Barnabas found him, he convinced him to come and help in Antioch. They worked together for a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching lots of people. It was here, in Antioch, that people started calling the believers Christians.11
- 11:27 During that time, prophets came down from the Jerusalem hilltop and traveled to Antioch.
- 11:28 One of them, a prophet name Agabus, told everyone that the Spirit had warned him that there would be a huge drought all over the world. This drought came when Claudius was emperor of Rome.12
- 11:29 Believers there decided to collect a drought-relief offering for their fellow believers in Judea. Everyone sent whatever they could.
- 11:30 Barnabas and Saul delivered this offering to the leaders of the Jerusalem church.
It means “messengers.” It was a title that originally referred to the 12 disciples of Jesus. Later it became the title for top leaders in the early Christian movement—leaders who personally had seen the resurrected Jesus.
Judea was a stretch of territory in the central part of what is now Israel and the West Bank. Jerusalem was the main city in this region. Caesarea was there, too, along the northern border, near Jesus’ homeland region of Galilee.
“Everyone in your home” would likely include family as well as slaves—everyone under the authority of Cornelius, the head of the household.
“Saved” to live again after dying—eternal life (11:18; Luke 21:19).
The Greek word refers to “repentance.”
Antioch in Syria (Antakya today) was one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire, possibly number three or four. Population estimate: half a million. The city is roughly 500 miles (800 km) north of Jerusalem. That’s about a month-long walk. It was a 10-day sea voyage from the port town of Caesarea, which is about 70 miles (110 km) north of Jerusalem.
They may have figured that non-Jews wouldn’t care that the Jewish Messiah had come.
Literally “Hellenists.” These were people who followed Greek customs. Some were Jews by race, though not necessarily observant Jews who followed Jewish traditions and religion.
Tarsus, in what is now southern Turkey, was the hometown of Saul (Paul). It would have been about a 100-mile (160-km) trip by land and sea northwest of Antioch.
The writer doesn’t explain why people called believers “Christians.” Earlier, folks called them followers of “the Way,” (see the note for 9:2). One popular guess is that “Christians” came partly from the Greek title of Jesus: Christ. That word is Messiah in Hebrew, the ancient language of the Jews. In English, it means Anointed, as in appointed by God himself. The second half of the word for Christians, “ians,” comes from the Roman Empire’s native language of Latin: ianus. It means “group.” Christians were the “Christ group.”
Claudius reigned for 13 years, from AD 41-54. Scholars estimate that Saul and Barnabas ministered in Antioch during the early or middle AD 40s. Roman historians report that droughts struck in years 1, 2, 4, 9, and 11 of Claudius’ reign. One inscription from what is now Turkey says a famine gripped the whole world, perhaps a reference to many regions inside Roman Empire and perhaps beyond. The Jewish historian Josephus said a famine struck what is now Israel and Palestinian Territories from AD 44-48.
Do you think the Jews who criticized Peter for eating with “uncircumcised men” (11:3) overreacted? There’s nothing in the Jewish Bible, which Christians usually call the Old Testament, that forbids Jews from eating with non-Jews. Apparently, Jews feared that Gentiles were unclean because they didn’t obey the kosher diet prescribed in Leviticus 11. Jews who didn’t obey the kosher diet became “ceremonially unclean” (Leviticus 11:43) and had to undergo cleansing rituals to restore their holiness.
Peter said he went to Cornelius’ house because “The Spirit told me to go” (11:12). He didn’t say how the Spirit told him that. Any ideas?
Cornelius said he expected Peter to come and tell him how to get “saved” (11:14), apparently meaning he would get God’s approval to live forever. What do you think about that way of talking about becoming a follower of Jesus: “You need to get saved”? Is there a better way to say it today?
When Peter finished telling his story about the Holy Spirit filling Cornelius and other non-Jews in the house, Peter’s critics “shut up” (11:18). When they eventually spoke again, it was to praise God. What does that say about his critics?
Barnabas recruited Saul (better known by his Greek name of Paul) as an associate pastor at the church in Antioch, Syria. This was more than a decade after Paul’s conversion in the early AD 30’s. What does that suggest Paul was doing during that time, while he lived in his hometown of Tarsus, in what is now Turkey?
It was in Antioch that people started calling followers of Jesus “Christians.” Earlier, they had been called followers of the Way (see footnote for Acts 11:26, and discussion question two in Acts 9). Would you guess that “Christian” was a term of endearment or a term of mockery, maybe a bit like “Moonies” for members of the Unification Church started in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon?
LIFE APPLICATION. Many Jews in Peter’s day didn’t associate with non-Jews. It wasn’t because there was a clear-cut law about that in their Bible. It was because it was a common practice. Rabbis taught that it was the wise thing to do, to make sure the Jews didn’t become spiritually contaminated. Do Christians do the same kind of thing—not associate with some people for fear of spiritual pollution or perhaps for fear of what other Christians would think of them?
LIFE APPLICATION. Peter said “the Holy Spirit came and entered everyone in the house” (11:15). He doesn’t say how. He just said it was obvious to everyone there. Does anything like that happen today when Christians get together and talk about spiritual things? If so, what does it look like or feel like?
LIFE APPLICATION. In the New Testament, there’s no reference to Christians ever observing the Jewish law about tithing to the Temple—giving 10 percent of their income. Instead, whenever Christian leaders took up an offering, “Everyone sent whatever they could” (Acts 11:29). Yet today, tithing is the main way churches raise the money they need to operate. Do you think a church could survive by asking for an offering instead of asking for a tithe?