PeterThe disciple who denied Jesus during his trial but later became a leader in proclaiming Jesus More is called to go to the house of a GentileA gentile is anyone who is not Jewish. The term, which is derived from words that the Bible uses to denote the "nations" of the world, reflects beliefs that God had designated Israel as a nation that would be distinct from others, and a blessing... More, a Roman centurionA centurion was a Roman officer who commanded a military unit made up of one hundred men. Jesus healed a centurion's servant, and a centurion, at Jesus' crucifixion, acclaimed him to be God's Son. More named CorneliusAn early Gentile convert to the Christian faith. More, to tell him about God’s graceGrace is the unmerited gift of God's love and acceptance. In Martin Luther's favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. More revealed in JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More. To go to Cornelius’s house and stay there, Peter must leave behind the scriptural commands of God that require separation of foods and persons into the categories of clean and uncleanIn Hebrew law many regulations warned against impurity. Unclean things were numerous and included leprosy, menstruating women, dead bodies, shell fish, and pigs. More.
In the story of Cornelius, a Roman centurion stationed in Caesarea, Peter is the first of the apostles (who were all Jews) to stay in the house of a Gentile and eat with him and his householdA household is a living unit comprised of all the persons who live in one house. A household would embrace all the members of a family, including servants and slaves. In the book of Acts, stories are told of various persons and their households, like... More. This is a major step in Acts, requiring the full length of Acts 10 to bring it to fruition and two repetitions of the story (11:1-18; 15:6-11) to explain it.
From the beginning of Luke’s story (see LukeThe "beloved physician" and companion of Paul More 1:1-4), it has been clear that the ordering of events in both Luke and Acts is crucial to understanding their meaning. This is again true in the story of Peter and Cornelius. Peter, who up to this point in Acts has been the primary leader among the believers, is given great credibility for healing Aeneas and raising DorcasChristian woman who lived at Joppa. More/Tabitha from death in the preceding scenes (9:32-41). Now, in Acts 10, through a series of experiences, Cornelius, a Gentile who prays to God and gives almsGiving alms is generally regarded as freely giving money or food to those in need. While not discouraging people from giving alms, Jesus cautions against the practice if it is done in a hypocritical manner. More (a form of repentance among Jews), sees a vision that will answer his prayers. Peter receives a vision that is puzzling precisely because it requires him to ignore Scripture itself, as well as the long-held tradition of his people concerning clean and unclean things (see, for example, Leviticus 20:22-26).
Both Cornelius and Peter follow the promptings of their visions, Peter at the additional prompting of the Spirit. Peter knows that for a Jew to enter and remain in the home of a Gentile and risk eating unclean foods is unacceptable, even unfaithful to God’s commands. Yet he is called upon to reinterpret his own Scripture in order to follow the paths that God continues to put before him. He must enter Cornelius’s home. The two men come together and Peter understands that God has decided to end the separation of clean and unclean. The coming of the HolyHoly is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine More Spirit on Cornelius and his household confirms Peter’s interpretation and leads to baptismJesus was baptized (literally, "dipped") in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer, at which time he was acclaimed from heaven as God's Son, the Beloved. Much later baptism became one of the sacraments of the Church, the action by which a person is incorporated... More and to Peter’s decision (along with his fellow Jewish believers) to stay with Cornelius for some days. Peter and Cornelius express the idea of friendship and neighbor-love, reflecting the conviction that God has made them equals in a new way.
Later, in Acts 11:3, the believers back in Jerusalem query Peter, not about baptizing Gentiles, but about eating with them. It is clear that what is at stake in this passage is how the church will be a church of Scripture, honoring the word of God from so long ago, and yet be in mission among Gentiles without insisting on keeping the law as Scripture presents it.