At this time, Caesarea, situated about 30 miles (roughly 50 kilometers) north of Joppa, served as the official residence for the Roman procurators. Here lived Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Band or Cohort. A cohort commonly consisted of 600 men, and so it may be that Cornelius was on duty in Caesarea, although the cohort itself served elsewhere. (10:1; see http://bibleplaces.com/caesarea.htm for pictures of and comments about Caesarea.)
Another possibility is that Cornelius may have been retired at the time. Thus he would be identified as formerly having served as a centurion in this particular cohort. A footnote in the German Neue Genfer Übersetzung conveys this significance in an alternate rendering, “In Caesarea lived a former Roman officer named Cornelius, a captain who had belonged to the so-called Italian Regiment.” (In Cäsarea lebte ein ´ehemaliger römischer` Offizier namens Kornelius, ein Hauptmann, der zum so genannten Italischen Regiment gehört hatte.) His being retired from active duty and an established resident in Caesarea appears to fit the narrative. Besides his own household that included servants, Cornelius had close friends and relatives in the city. (10:1)
Although not a proselyte, Cornelius did not engage in idolatrous practices. Not only was he a devout or godly man, but he and his entire household had a wholesome fear of or reverential regard for God. Cornelius rendered compassionate aid to many Jews who were in need and he prayed to God on a regular basis (literally, “through all,” which could signify “daily” and at those times when the Jews observed their hours of prayer). (10:2; see the Notes section.)
“About the ninth hour of the day” (about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, a Jewish hour of prayer), Cornelius prayed. Then, in a vision, he clearly saw an “angel of God come in to him” and address him by name, “Cornelius.” (10:3, 30) As he continued looking at the angel, he became fearful and asked, “What is it, lord?” His referring to the personage he saw in vision as “lord” was a respectful manner of address. (10:4)
The angel reassured Cornelius that his prayers and compassionate help to the needy had “ascended as a memorial before God.” These words revealed to him that God had given favorable attention to his prayers and looked approvingly upon what he had done to relieve the distress of needy Jewish people. (10:4)
The angel directed him to send men to Joppa and to have a “certain Simon who is called Peter” accompany them back to Caesarea. (10:5; see the Notes section and see http://bibleplaces.com/joppa.htm for pictures of and comments about Joppa.) They would find Peter as the guest in the home of a certain Simon, a tanner, whose house was situated by the sea (on the Mediterranean coast). (10:6; see the last paragraph in the Notes section on chapter 9.)
As soon as the angel disappeared from sight, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was continually at his service (proskarteréo). The Greek term proskarteréo can refer to being in continual attendance upon or to doing something constantly or without letup. If Cornelius was retired, this could mean that the devout soldier was one who had previously served under his command and was someone whom he trusted fully. (10:7) After relating everything he had seen and heard to his two servants and the godly soldier, Cornelius sent them to Joppa. (10:8)
About the sixth hour (or noon) the next day, the men neared their destination. Probably seeking privacy, Peter had gone up to the flat roof of the house to pray. (10:9; see the Notes section.) It was then about the time for eating the midday meal, and he became hungry and wanted to eat. “While [food] was being prepared, he fell into a trance.” (10:10) A “trance” is a state of intense absorption or a sleep-like state during which the mind would have been very susceptible to audible and visual impressions. While in a trace, Peter saw the sky above him open up and an object that looked like a large sheet descending earthward as it was being lowered by its four corners. (10:11) On this sheet-like object, he saw all kinds of quadrupeds, reptiles, and birds. Based on the objection that Peter afterward raised, none of these creatures appear to have been acceptable food according to the terms of the Mosaic law. (10:12; see the Notes section.)
He heard a voice, telling him, “Rise, Peter, slaughter and eat.” (10:13; see the Notes section.) Peter protested, “By no means, lord, I have never eaten anything common [‘profane’ or ‘defiled’] or unclean.” At this point in the vision, he would not have been able to identify the source of the voice and so his use of the designation “lord” seems to have been as the usual respectful manner of address. The Greek word for “common” koinós here would apply to meat non-Jews might commonly eat but which would be ceremonially unclean according to the terms of the Mosaic law. (10:14)
Peter heard the voice again, telling him, “Do not [call] common [‘profane’ or ‘defiled’] what God has cleansed.” (10:15) After this happened three times, the sheet-like object “was suddenly [euthýs] taken up into heaven.” The fact that this occurred three times served to emphasize the importance of what had been revealed to Peter. (10:16; see the Notes section.)
Within himself, he came to be in a state of great puzzlement, trying to understand what the vision might signify. Just then the men whom Cornelius had sent made inquiries about Simon’s house and were standing at the gate. (10:17) They called out, asking whether Simon, surnamed Peter, lodged there. (10:18) While he still thought about the significance of the vision, the holy spirit revealed to him what God wanted him to do. He was directed to meet the three men who were looking for him. (10:19; see the Notes section.) “Rise, descend, and go with them, not doubting, because I have sent them.” (10:20) In response to divine direction, “Peter went down to the men,” telling them, “Look! I am the one you are seeking. What is the reason for your being here?” (10:21)
They explained that the centurion Cornelius, an upright man who feared God and had a good reputation among the “whole nation of the Jews,” had received instruction from a holy angel. The fact that he had extensive favorable testimony from the Jews who had observed him indicates that he conducted himself in a manner that did not offend their sensibilities. (10:22)
Cornelius had been directed to send for Peter, asking him to come to his house so that he could hear what Peter had to say. (10:22) Peter then invited the men into the home, welcoming them as guests. This proved to be the initial response to the vision, for the men would have been given food and lodging for the night. Considering the way in which those who pursued the occupation of tanners were viewed among the Jews, the household of Simon the tanner would have been less likely than other Jews to have had serious reservations about entertaining non-Jews. The next day, Peter and six “brothers” (fellow believers) from Joppa left with the men whom Cornelius had sent. (10:23; 11:12)
The next day the entire group that had left Joppa arrived in Caesarea. A usual day’s journey amounted to about 20 miles or over 30 kilometers. The men would have spent the greater part of the daylight hours of the first day in traveling, taken time to eat, slept at night, and then covered the remainder of the distance on the next day. Cornelius likely would have known the amount of time it would take to travel from Caesarea to Joppa and so was expecting them. He had called his relatives and close friends to be on hand for Peter’s arrival. According to the expanded text of fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis), one of the servants ran ahead of the group to inform Cornelius of Peter’s arrival. It was then that Cornelius jumped up to meet Peter. (10:24)
On meeting Peter, Cornelius apparently dropped to his knees before Peter’s feet and prostrated himself before him. (10:25) Peter responded to this act of obeisance with the words, “Rise, I also am [just] a man.” (10:26) As they conversed, Peter walked with Cornelius into the house and found that many had assembled to hear what he had to say. (10:27)
With his first words to them, Peter revealed that he had understood the import of the vision he had seen. “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to join himself with or approach [someone] of another people, but God has shown me that I should not call [any] man profane or unclean. Therefore, having been sent for, I also came without objection.” It was common knowledge among non-Jews that Jews did not freely associate with them. Although the vision he had seen related to food, Peter discerned that he had been taught thereby not to view non-Jews as he had formerly. They were not defiled or unclean from God’s standpoint and so could gain his acceptance. Continuing, Peter asked why he had been requested to come. (10:28, 29)
Cornelius answered the question that Peter had directed to those assembled, saying, “Four days ago at this hour, the ninth [the Jewish hour of prayer at about three o’clock in the afternoon], I was praying in my house. And, see, a man in bright [lamprós] attire stood before me.” The brightness of the heavenly messenger’s or angel’s clothing, doubtless a brilliant white robe, made a strong impression on Cornelius. He is quoted as describing the angel’s attire as being lamprós, meaning “glowing,” “radiant,” or “bright.” (10:30; see the Notes section.)
Cornelius continued, quoting the angel’s words to him, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your compassionate acts of giving [to the needy] have been remembered before God.” In being “remembered before God,” his generous and compassionate giving had been divinely favored and so would not be forgotten but would result in blessing for him. (10:31)
As Cornelius went on to say, the angel directed him to send to Joppa and to summon Simon, surnamed Peter, who was then staying with a tanner named Simon and whose home was located by the sea (the Mediterranean). Once Peter arrived from Joppa, he would then speak to Cornelius. (10:32)
In keeping with the angel’s words, Cornelius immediately sent for Peter. Directing his words to Peter, Cornelius continued, “You have done well in coming.” These words constituted an expression of appreciation for Peter’s visit and signified that it was good or kind on his part to come. “Now, therefore,” Cornelius continued, “all of us are present before God to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord [‘God,’ according to many other manuscripts].” All those who were then in the house had assembled to hear what God wanted Peter to say, and so it proved to be a gathering of sincere listeners in the presence of God. (10:33)
Peter then began to speak (literally, “opened [his] mouth”). “In truth, I recognize that God is not partial [10:34], but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is upright is acceptable to him.” (10:35)
Thus Peter acknowledged that he truly (“in truth”) had come to understand that God was not showing favoritism to any specific people. The Greek word that denotes being partial is prosopolémptes and literally identifies one who “accepts faces,” one who judges by outward appearances or on the basis of an individual’s specific standing. (10:34)
Through the vision he had seen while in a trance, Peter came to understand fully that God’s favorable attention and acceptance were not exclusively reserved for the Israelites. What determined God’s acceptance of individuals did not depend on being the member of a particular nation or people. Anyone who had a wholesome fear of or reverential regard for God and lived uprightly would be acceptable to him. (10:35)
Initially, God “sent the word to the sons of Israel,” having the evangel or good news of “peace through Jesus Christ” declared to them. This “word” or message revealed how, through Jesus Christ, individuals could come to be at peace with God, being reconciled to him by having their sins forgiven. As his approved children, they would enjoy a state of security and well-being, continuing to be recipients of his aid, care, and love. Emphasizing the greatness of Jesus Christ and his significant role in effecting peace with his Father, Peter added, “This one is Lord of all.” Jesus Christ has been granted all authority in heaven and on earth, making him the Lord of all the living, the dead, and angels. (10:36; Matthew 28:18)
Peter spoke with confidence that those gathered in the home of Cornelius knew what (rhéma, the “word” or “thing” that) had taken place in connection with Jesus Christ throughout the “whole of Judea, starting from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed.” For the most part, Jesus’ activity centered in Galilee after John baptized him. He also taught and performed miracles in Judea, especially at the time of the festivals in Jerusalem when large crowds from Judea, Galilee, and distant places gathered at the temple. As a result, talk about him spread extensively throughout Judea and elsewhere. (10:37; see the Notes section.)
Peter then specifically linked the baptism of John to Jesus from the city of Nazareth in Galilee. It was at Jesus’ baptism that “God anointed him with holy spirit and power.” His having been granted “holy spirit and power” became evident in his going from place to place, “doing good and healing all” whom the devil had oppressed. Jesus Christ freed people from the powers of darkness, liberating those perceived to be afflicted by evil spirits. The cures that were effected through Jesus Christ brought relief from the burden of sin to those who had suffered, and thus broke the devil’s power of oppression. What Jesus Christ did for the sick and infirm had been made possible “because God was with him.” (10:38)
Although referring to himself but apparently speaking for all who had accompanied Jesus Christ, Peter continued, “And we are witnesses of all that he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem,” but they killed him, “hanging him on the timber [xýlon, ‘wood’ or ‘tree’].” Whereas the Roman soldiers carried out the actual crucifixion, this occurred at the instigation of the Jewish high court that handed Jesus over to Pilate as a condemned criminal, providing the basis for attributing his death to the Jews. (10:39)
God, however, resurrected Jesus on the third day. The first evidence of the resurrection was the discovery of the empty tomb on the first day of the week, which would have been the third day since Jesus’ death. During the course of 40 days, Jesus Christ, in numerous ways, proved to his disciples that he had been resurrected. (1:3) His doing so would have been in keeping with his Father’s will. Accordingly, Peter is quoted as saying that God “granted [Jesus] to become manifest.” (10:40)
As God had purposed, however, his Son did not appear to “all the people” after his resurrection. Only those whom God had previously appointed or chosen as witnesses saw him. Peter included himself as one of these witnesses, saying that Jesus Christ became manifest “to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (10:41; see the Notes section.) After his resurrection, Jesus reclined at a meal with Cleopas and another disciple. (Luke 24:18, 30) In the presence of the apostles and other disciples, Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish. (Luke 24:42, 43) On another occasion, he prepared a breakfast of bread and fish for Peter and six other apostles. (John 21:2, 9)
Whereas Jesus Christ had commissioned his disciples to impart to others everything that he had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20), he did so in keeping with his Father’s will. Accordingly, their proclaiming of the message about Jesus Christ signified obedience to God. (5:27-29) As Peter acknowledged on this occasion, God commanded those to whom his resurrected Son appeared “to preach to the people” (initially to the Israelites or Jews). They were to “testify” that Jesus Christ is the one whom God appointed to be the “judge of the living and the dead.” As the highly exalted one since his resurrection and ascension to heaven, Jesus Christ is in possession of “all authority in heaven and on earth.” To judge the dead, he will first restore them to life. The outcome of his judgment can either be favorable or unfavorable. This judgment will be completely just, for Jesus Christ will not be influenced by outward appearances when rendering his decisions respecting the attitudes, words, and deeds of each individual. (10:42; Isaiah 11:3, 4; Matthew 12:36, 37; John 5:21-24; Romans 2:5-16; 2 Corinthians 5:10)
“All the prophets” bore witness to Jesus Christ that, “through his name,” all who believe or put faith in him would receive “forgiveness of sins.” The Hebrew prophets proclaimed what God required from his people. Their meeting the requirements the prophets called to their attention would prepare them to heed the words of the coming prophet like Moses, the promised Messiah or Christ, and become recipients of the blessings that would come through him. A number of prophets spoke specifically about him, and how through him forgiveness of sins would be possible “through his name,” that is, through him (the person represented by the name). Isaiah, for example, foretold Christ’s suffering and that his “soul” or life would prove to be an offering for sin. (10:43; Isaiah 53:3-12; see also Ezekiel 34:23-31; Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Malachi 3:1-4; 4:4-6 [3:22-24].)
While Peter continued to speak, “the holy spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” or message he proclaimed. (10:44) The “circumcised believers who had come with Peter” were amazed, “for even upon the nations [non-Jews] the gift of the holy spirit had been poured out.” (10:45) The six Jewish brothers (fellow believers) who had accompanied Peter from Joppa (11:12) witnessed the tangible evidence that the non-Jews had received the spirit. As had occurred on the day of Pentecost subsequent to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, those who received the spirit began to speak in tongues, glorifying or praising God. Observing this, Peter raised the question whether anyone could rightly withhold the water needed for them to be baptized, considering that they had received the holy spirit just as the Jewish believers had. (10:46, 47)
“He then ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Upon being immersed in his name or in recognition of him, they entered into a relationship with him as their Lord who died for them and as their “brother” in the family of his Father’s beloved children. After their baptism, they asked that Peter remain with them “some days” or a while longer. Doubtless they wanted to learn more. The account does not say specifically whether Peter accepted their invitation, but the later reference to his having entered the house of non-Jews and eaten with them definitely suggests that he did. (10:48; 11:3)
Individuals like Cornelius who were referred to as fearing God (verse 2) went to the synagogue to listen to the reading and exposition of the holy writings, believed in the one true God (YHWH), observed the customary Jewish hours for prayer, and lived exemplary lives. Men who were God-fearers differed from proselytes in that they remained uncircumcised and appear not to have considered themselves bound to the commands pertaining to ritual or ceremonial purity, which would have included dietary restrictions. (13:16; 17:1-4, 18:4, 7)
In verse 5, the reading a “certain Simon” (Símoná tina) has good manuscript support and agrees with the fact that Cornelius would not have known Simon (Peter). Many other manuscripts do not include the Greek word that is rendered “certain” (tina).
In verse 9, the reading “ninth hour” (instead of “sixth hour”) has very limited manuscript support.
Numerous manuscripts (in verse 12) also include “beasts” (thería) among the creatures listed.
In verse 13, a third-century papyrus manuscript (P45) omits the proper name “Peter.”
The Greek word euthýs, meaning “immediately” or “suddenly,” is missing in verse 16 from a number of manuscripts, including third-century P45.
Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus says “two men” (in verse 19). If the number “two” is original, this could mean that the two servants were the messengers, whereas the soldier functioned as their guard on the trip. The reading “three,” however, has far greater manuscript support.
In verse 30, numerous manuscripts contain an expanded text which is rendered as follows in the New King James Version, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house.” According to what appears to be the best-attested Greek text, a literal rendering of the words would be, “From the fourth day until this hour, I was [at] the ninth [hour] praying in my house.” The words “from the fourth day” are not to be understood as applying to four 24-hour days, but the reckoning includes the day on which Cornelius met Peter, two 24-hour days, and the day Cornelius prayed at the ninth hour. Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) says, “the third day” (not “the fourth day”).
Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) omits the word rhéma (“word” or “thing”) in verse 37.
A number of manuscripts expand the text of verse 41, mentioning that, besides eating and drinking with Jesus, the witnesses “accompanied” him and that this occurred “for 40 days.”