Acts 10:1-48 – Peter and Cornelius


Acts 10:1-48


Peter is called to go to the house of a Gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius, to tell him about God’s grace revealed in Jesus. To go to Cornelius’ house and stay there, Peter must change his strict views concerning “clean” and “unclean foods and persons. This change is sparked by Peter’s visionary encounter with the Lord.


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 household. 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 Luke 1:1-4), it has been clear that the ordering of events in both Luke and Acts is crucial to understanding their meaning. Up to this point in Acts, Peter has been the primary leader among the believers, as certified  by his healing Aeneas and raising Dorcas/Tabitha from death in the preceding scenes (9:32-41). Now, in Acts 10, Peter and Cornelius are both granted visions (“double vision” strategy in Acts) designed to bring the two men, Jew and Gentile, together. First, the Gentile Cornelius who prays to God and gives alms (a form of repentance as well as charity among Jews) sees a vision that will answer his prayers. Then, the Jewish apostle Peter receives a puzzling vision that requires him to modify his interpretation of his people’s long-held tradition concerning “clean” and “unclean” things (see, for example, Leviticus 20:22-26).

Both Cornelius and Peter follow the promptings of their visions. Peter is led by the Spirit to enter Cornelius’ home and not to regard him and his household as “unclean” because they are Gentiles. The touchstones of Peter’s message to Cornelius are the impartiality of God’s grace and the universality of Jesus’ peacemaking Lordship: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all” (10:34‒36). While Peter is preaching, the Holy Spirit breaks in and pours out on Cornelius and his household, prompting Peter to offer them baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” (10:44‒48). Peter and his fellow Jewish companions from Joppa stay with Cornelius for some days, reinforcing the principle of fellowship, friendship, and neighbor-love between Jews and Gentiles in Christ.

Later, the believers in Peter’s “home church” ask him to explain his outreach to Cornelius in Caesarea (11:1‒18). After recounting the basic events, Peter justifies his actions by appealing to God’s embrace of all people: “If then God gave them [the Gentiles] the same gift [of the Holy Spirit] that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (11:17). Although Peter’s encounter with Cornelius is a watershed moment in Jewish-Gentile relations, the issue of the oneness of God’s people will continue to challenge the early Christ communities, not least with respect to table-fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers.