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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


In this Chapter, is recorded the conversion of Cornelius the centurion, who instructed by an Angel, sent for Peter to Joppe (1–8). Peter’s ecstatic vision (9–17). Explained by the arrival of the messenger sent by Cornelius, who explains the purport of the message sent him (24–34). Peter’s discourse on the Divinity of our Lord and his heavenly mission to earth to redeem mankind (34–43). The miraculous effusion of the Holy Ghost, and numerous conversions followed by the Baptism of the converts (44–48).


1. “Cæsarea,” of Palestine. Cæsarea Philippi was a great way off from Joppe.

“Cornelius.” The name is Roman. Generally supposed to be a Gentile (10:28, 11:1). Allusion is clearly made to him and those who were with him as Gentiles.

“A centurion,” commander of one hundred men.

“Italian band,” as contradistinguished from the divisions in which men from remote quarters and provinces of the empire were enrolled. The men of this band, “Italians,” probably, claimed superiority over others.

2. “A religious man.” A pious worshipper, “fearing God,” according to the lights of the Natural Law, and, consequently, observant of the Divine Commandments through a reverential fear of God. It may be, that his residence among the Jews gave Cornelius a more definite idea of the true God, whom he served according to his lights, following the dictates of the Natural Law.

“Giving much alms to the people,” in which he is contrasted with the Roman officials, who made it a point to fleece and rob the subject people.

“And always praying to God.” Likely, while his mind was constantly raised up to God, he fervently prayed for light to be directed in the paths of salvation, by embracing the form of religion most pleasing to God.

3. “Manifestly,” conveys that it was for certain a real vision, while he was at prayer (v. 30) about the “ninth hour of the day,” or three o’clock.

“An angel,” assuming a visible body, deputed from God, stood before him. His prayers and almsdeeds (v. 4) rendered him pleasing to God, who sent His angel. The occasion was a very important one; the calling of the Gentile world in the person of this devout Centurion.

4. “Seized with fear.” The usual effect supernatural visions and appearances have on men, as we find everywhere recorded in the SS. Scriptures.

“Lord,” here a term of courtesy, equivalent to “Sir,” as it was not likely Cornelius regarded Him as God.

“For a memorial.” These good works have been wafted up before God to serve as a reminder of what you did, and cause Him to remember you in mercy and with complacency.

5. “And now.” Now, then. “One Simon,” &c. It was congruous that the head of the Church should be the first to introduce the Gentiles within its saving fold.

6. “Lodges as a guest with one Simon,” &c. “He will tell thee.” These words are not found in some Greek MSS. They seem, however, to be necessary in order that Cornelius should know why he was to send for Peter to Joppe. St. Peter himself says Cornelius spoke to him in these or similar words (11:14).

7. This God-fearing soldier was, no doubt, influenced by the example of Cornelius on whom he was in constant attendance.

8. He told the servants and the soldier all that occurred and why he sent them to Joppe (v. 22).

9. “Higher parts of the house.” The flat roof, the place usually resorted to for prayer.

“Sixth hour.” 12 o’clock. The more religious among the Jews had recourse to the exercise of prayer, not only when people in general did so, viz., morning and evening, but also at mid-day (Psalm 54:17; Daniel 6:10–19).

10. “Preparing.” Cooking the repast. Probably, it was dinner hour.

“Ecstasy of mind.” This sudden condition of mind would show its supernatural character, as sent from above. “Ecstasy” means that state in which the soul of a man is, as if alienated supernaturally from the body, to the contemplation of intelligible objects presented to the mind.

11, 12. A linen vessel or great sheet tied above at the four extremities thus preventing the contents from falling off, so as to present the form of a vessel, containing all kinds of animals tame and wild, clean and unclean, without distinction, “was let down from heaven.” No doubt, among the others might be counted these animals—swine, &c.—whose flesh the Jews were not allowed to eat. Whether he saw all this in reality or merely in mental contemplation is not determined.

13. “A voice.” Some (among whom Beelen) say, mentally, he seemed to hear it. Others (Patrizzi, &c.) a real voice.

“Arise,” proceed, … “and eat,” without any distinction of food, clean or unclean.

14. “Common and unclean.” Considering the Jewish distinctions of food. They called “unclean,” food commonly used by the Gentiles. But it was only unclean food as such, but not, strictly speaking, common food; that was prohibited. Hence, here “common” and “unclean” food should be joined, viz., common food, that is also unclean.

15. “God has cleansed,” or declared pure, do not regard as common or impure.

16. “Thrice,” to impress the whole occurrence more deeply on Peter’s mind. “And was taken up to heaven.” A symbolical history of God’s dealing with His Church. She was established and came down from Heaven and returned thither.

18. “Called,” to enquire about Peter.

19. “The Spirit” of the Lord by whose influence he was guided and directed, “said to him” by an interior inspiration.

20. “Doubting nothing.” These men were Gentiles, between whom and the Jews there was still a wall of separation debarring almost all intercourse. Hence, the Spirit assures Peter.

“I have sent them.” Though directly sent by Cornelius, it is under my guidance and inspiration he did so.

21. “Going down to the men.” In the Greek it is added “who were sent to him by Cornelius.” But these words are wanting in many MSS. and versions, and are generally rejected as spurious. Bloomfield asserts “They have been with reason cancelled by every editor of note.”

23. “Some of the brethren.” Six converts to Christianity (11:12) as witnesses of the course of events. This would have the effect of them. And the mollifying Jewish prejudices then so rife.

24. “The morrow after;” the day they set out on their journey; the fourth day after the vision of Cornelius (v. 30).

25. “Adored.” Cornelius, as a pious, God-fearing man, could not intend this as an act of supreme worship, which he knew could be paid to God alone. But, knowing Peter to be a friend of God vested with supernatural powers, he paid him great reverence, exhibited in his prostration.

26. Peter’s humility, however, shrunk from such honours. Besides, he knew it was not conformable to Roman custom to pay such save to Divinity, and the Romans present might regard it as an act of supreme worship paid to a God. When St. John prostrated himself before the angel, though from a man so enlightened, it could not mean divine worship, but only an act of civil homage, the angel, out of humility, declined it (Apoc. 19:10).

28. “How abominable.” In Greek, illicit. There was no express enactment in the Pentateuch prohibiting intercourse with the Gentiles. But it was implied and practically acted on by the Jews, who following the Mosaic institutions and customs, kept aloof from the Gentiles, St. Peter mildly and considerately uses the words “of another nation.” It is observed by Salmeron that St. Peter wisely employs this preface, to avoid scandalizing the Jews present, who saw him, a Jew, consort with pagans, and in order that the Gentiles seeing that God was propitious to them would be animated with the desire of embracing the faith. He thus satisfied Jews and Gentiles.

29. “I ask, therefore,” &c. He knew it already, but it was right that the statement should be made before all present by Cornelius himself, whose words carried great weight with all. “For what cause?” intent, or purpose.

33. “Done well in coming,” expressing grateful thanks. “To hear,” ready to carry out whatever thou art instructed by God to communicate to us.

34. “Opening his mouth,” beginning to speak. “In very deed,” undoubtedly. “I perceive,” from all that is occurring around me, and especially in connection with the call of Cornelius, and the various visions accorded to him and me.

“God is not a respecter of persons” (see James 2:1). “Respect or exception of persons” takes place when an unjust preference is shown to one party beyond another, as in the case of a judge who would pronounce sentence on account of the external appearance or circumstance of a person, such as friendship, or rank, or influence, without regard to the merits of the case. The Jews thought God peculiarly favoured them, because they were Jews, and all others excluded from Salvation because they were not. St. Peter now says he perceives how erroneous this is. No one is favoured by God simply because he is a Jew, externally pro-professing Judaism, and carnally descended from Abraham. Nor is anyone excluded from the Divine favour because he is not a Jew (see Romans 9, &c).

35. “But in every nation,” and people, without distinction of Jew or Gentile, or without reference to external advantages of any sort, “he that feareth Him,” who, under the influence of Divine grace from reverential fear of God, repairs from evil, “and worketh Justice,” does good works, aided by God’s grace. This is evidently allusive to Cornelius and his.… “is acceptable to him” and a sharer in the Divine favour, so as to be disposed to be called to the faith and embrace the true religion.

This is a brief epitome of the teaching of St. Paul in his Epistle to Romans, in which he fully explains the doctrine of justification, and God’s gracious and gratuitous deallings with man, without distinction of Jew or Gentile. In all this, the preventing and co-operating grace of God is supposed. Since, without God’s grace, no one can perform any good work conducive to Salvation. This affords no ground for advocating indifference as regards religion. For, if indifferentism were allowable, might not Cornelius remain as he was, and why should St. Peter go to such trouble to preach to him and his the necessity of embracing the Faith of Jesus Christ, as being for all men the only true means of Salvation, and the only means established by God for obtaining the remission of sin?

The indifference put forward here is not indifference of Faith; but indifference of nations and peoples in regard to God’s supernatural favours and gratuitous calls to His Church.

36–38. “God sent the word,” &c. Commentators are perplexed about the construction of this and the following verses, chiefly on account of the Greek Text, wherein, after “the word” λογον, we have (“ον”) “which,” λογον ον απεστειλε, &c. In this constrution “word” is in the accusative case, and would seem to have no verb on which to depend. Some commentators (among them Bloomfield) say τον λογον is governed by οίδατε. “You know” (v. 37) and put it in apposition with its equivalent term, ρἡμα in v. 37, which they say, is repeated thus: “the word, ρἡμα, I say.” The construction in the Greek should run thus: “You know that He (viz., God) proclaiming peace through Jesus Christ (He is the Lord of all) sent (or caused to be announced) to the children of Israel, the word of the Gospel which had been announced through all Judea commencing with Galilee, after the Baptism, which John preached. You know. I say, that the word was sent by God, viz., Jesus of Nazareth anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power (with the power of the Holy Ghost) who went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Steenkiste.)

36. Commening to catechize Cornelius and those present, St. Peter says “God sent the word,” that is, the message of pardon and reconciliation, conveyed in His Gospel. The term, “God” is not in the Greek, but is understood from the context.

“Children of Israel,” in the first instance.

“Preaching peace.” Pointing out the way of reconciliation with God, and union among themselves.

(“For He is Lord of all.”) All men are the work of His hands, Jew and Gentile, and he wishes all without distinction, to be saved.

37. “You know the word,” the whole Gospel economy, the series of events, connected with the preaching of the Gospel.

“Published,” &c. “Galilee” was not far from Cæsarea, so that Cornelius, a religious man, alive to all religious teachings, doubtless had heard of the fame of the Gospel teaching and miracles, which must have spread throughout Palestine and the neighbouring countries. Cornelius and his friends, though not fully instructed in the doctrine of Christ, must have heard of it.

38. “Jesus of Nazareth” depends on “You know.”

“How God,” the entire Trinity, to whom is common every act, ad extra, “anointed,” poured out upon him the fulness of the graces of the Holy Spirit at his incarnation, when he was conceived of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus Christ, the man God, was, according to His human nature anointed by the whole Trinity with the plenitude of the graces of the Holy Ghost, in the Hypostatic union.

St. Cyril, of Alexandria, teaches regarding opera ad extra “Quœ omnia sunt a Patre per Filium in Spiritu Sancto.” St. Peter represents our Lord as “going about doing good,” and also as the conqueror of the devil, who held the Gentiles subject to his power.

“Anointed him.” A ceremony employed in the inauguration of Kings, Prophets, &c. It points to our Lord as the “Christ,” or anointed, the expected Messiah.

The operation, whereby the Son of God assumed to himself human nature, though, in reality, common to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, was, however, by appropriation, attributed to the Holy Ghost, who on account of his procession from the Father and Son, is goodness and love itself.

“Holy Ghost, and with power,” that is, the power of the Holy Ghost, whereby he worked miracles of every degree.

“For God was with him,” which more clearly and emphatically expresses what is conveyed in the words “anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power,” viz., that it was in virtue of the Divine power our Lord performed the great prodigies.

40. “Made manifest,” leaving no grounds for doubting it.

41. “Not to all the people,” which, besides being almost impracticable, was unnecessary to establish the truth of His Resurrection.

“Pre-ordained,” “elected beforehand, such as Peter himself and the other Apostles, “who did eat and drink,” &c., thus showing the reality of his Resurrection. Though our Lord is said (Luke 24:43) to have eaten with the Apostles. Nowhere is it said he drank. However, it is implied in the repast (John 21:13).

42. “To be judge of the living,” &c. The Greeks hold a peculiar opinion on this point. They maintain that such of the just as shall be alive at the approach of the day of judgment shall not die, but shall be changed without death. The common doctrine which is in accordance with the SS. Scriptures and the faith of the church at all times is that, all shall die. Hence the word “living” denotes those who shall be alive, immediately before the coming of the Judge, and shall be destroyed by the fire of conflagration which immediately precedes the judge (2 Peter 3:10). “Dead,” such as have been already in their graves. He refers to the Judicial power of the Judge, to inspire them with salutary fear.

43. “All the Prophets,” very many, such as Jeremiah, (31:14)—or all the Prophets, more or less, testify of Christ, directly or indirectly. Peter’s discourse, likely, intended to be of longer duration (11:15), was interrupted by the descent of the Holy Ghost.

44. “Holy Ghost fell on,” &c. Probably, not in a sensible form as on the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday; but, in visible effects, such as speaking and praising God in strange tongues (v. 46), and other marks of his presence.

It is remarked by commentators, that this is a wonderful and singular instance of the giving of the Holy Ghost. He anticipated the ministry of Peter, in order to show that the vocation of the Gentiles was altogether God’s own work; and the converts from Judaism would see that they owed their call and the gifts of the Holy Ghost not to circumcision or to the Law, but to faith in Jesus Christ. Whereas Cornelius received the gifts of the Holy Ghost without Baptism or circumcision, it was a peremptory proof that the Gentiles, in order to receive Baptism and be incorporated with the Church need not be incorporated with the Jewish Church by circumcision or subjection to the Law of Moses.

47. “Answered,” often in SS. Scriptures signifies, to begin to speak without reference to any question, or it may imply answering some latent question in the mind of the speaker.

“Forbid water.” Though they had received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and all His gifts, still in accordance with the ordinance of our Lord (John 3) they should receive the Baptism of water, in order to be externally incorporated with the Church, and made one with the body of the faithful.

“Forbid water,” clearly shows the necessity of Baptism, when those who were replenished with the gifts of the Holy Ghost should necessarily be subjected to it. “Forbid water,” shows it was carried, and that Baptism was administered by infusion.

“As well as we” Jews, when He descended on us at Pentecost.

48. “He commanded,” &c. Probably, using the ministry of the six who accompanied him. It may be that Peter himself did so. The words may mean, he gave orders to them to prepare at once for Baptism which possibly he himself may have conferred. The words do not necessarily convey that he did not.

It may be asked, what need had Peter of a vision to know that the Gentiles were to be admitted into the Church, after our Lord’s express mandate “docete omnes gentes?” In reply, it is said, the Apostles did not understand our Lord’s injunctions in detail or practice.

“In the name” by the authority, and with the Baptism, in the usual form, “of Jesus Christ.”

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