Acts, Lesson 11: Peter and Cornelius

Centurion (610x351)Peter had raised Tabitha from the dead and stayed near where Tabitha lived. While in Joppa, Peter stayed with a tanner. It’s now that we hear the Church spreading to full-blown Gentiles (as opposed to Samaritans, which were a Semitic people with some Jewish ancestry). 

In this chapter of Acts, we see a new period of Church history begins. The New-Covenant Church initially was composed of Jews and then Samaritans (Acts 8:5-25). Now, with the conversion of Cornelius, the Church begins her dramatic growth among the Gentiles.  

Luke’s narrative will show us that God began, orchestrated, and approved this expansion of the Church. Through an angel, God instructed Cornelius (Acts 10:3), directed Peter by a vision (10:10-16), and poured out the Spirit as a tangible sign of acceptance (10:44).


The Gentile Cornelius

Read Acts 10:1-4

Caesarea was a port city about 30 miles up the coast from Joppa, where Peter was staying.

  • Was Cornelius fully Gentile?


  • Although fully Gentile, what did He think of Judaism? (vs.2)


Cornelius was a Roman army officer and devout Gentile who admired Judaism (Acts 13:16, 26). He and his family were Gentiles by birth and upbringing, but they were also proselytes (converts) of the gate, called “God-fearers.” That meant they believed in the Lord, the God of Israel, worshiped Him, and their moral outlook was that of the Ten Commandments, not the prevailing pagan culture. But they had not become full members of Israel’s covenant community as they had not submitted to circumcision. Because Cornelius stopped short of receiving circumcision, he was not considered Jewish a convert in the strictest sense. 

  • How did God view Cornelius’ prayers and almsgiving? (vs. 4)


Excursus: Why would God consider prayer and almsgiving as an acceptable substitute for His mandated “memorial offering?”

In Acts 10:4, Luke used the same Greek word for “a memorial” that the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) used for the Hebrew words zikron and azekarah. Both of those Hebrews words were for the grain offerings made to God.

Leviticus 2:1-2: When someone brings a grain offering to the LORD, his offering is to be of the finest flour. He is to pour olive oil mixed with frankincense over it and bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. Then the priest is to offer a memorial offering by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.

Through a memorial offering, using human senses to describe what took place, God smelled the aroma of the offering and remembered the person bringing the offering. This remembering by God was viewing someone with favor.

Leviticus 6:15: The priest is to take a handful of the finest flour for a grain offering and the olive oil for the grain offering, and all of the frankincense that is on the grain offering, and burn the memorial portion on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

Sirach 45:16: God chose Aaron from all the living to offer sacrifices to the Lord, incense and sweet-smelling offerings as a memorial portion, to make atonement for the people.

After Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and the Israelites were deported to Babylon, they no longer could make sacrifices to God as He commanded them. What developed then, and survived within Judaism, was that prayer and almsgiving became acceptable substitutes for sacrifices, as “spiritual sacrifices.” This was a further development of Psalm 141, where the prayer of God’s people was acceptable to God, just as the incense burned in the memorial offering was acceptable to God.

Psalm 141:2: Let my prayer be accepted before you as incense; let the lifting up of my hands in prayer be accepted as the evening sacrifice.

We see the Old-Testament Apocrypha book of Tobit simply reflect, and show the further development of, this thinking.

Tobit 4:11: For all who practice it, charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.

Tobit 12:12: And so, when you [Tobit] and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I [the Angel Raphael] brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One.

In the same way that Raphael interceded for Tobit and Sarah, an angel does so for Cornelius. The angel tells Cornelius that God has accepted his prayers and almsgiving the same as He would for a “memorial offering.” Although prayer and almsgiving were not memorial sacrifices at the Temple, prayer and almsgiving became acceptable substitutes, primarily for those who could not make such an offering at the Temple.

Cornelius was a “God-fearer.” He was all but officially converted to Judaism, lacking circumcision. Because of that, he could not bring any sacrifices to the Temple. But as a “God-fearer,” “he gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2). And so, the angel told Cornelius that God had accepted his prayers (Psalm 141:2) and almsgiving (Tobit 4:11) the same as if He made a memorial offering to God at the Temple.

It is from there, where Cornelius will be brought from His Old-Covenant understanding of God into the New Covenant.


Read Acts 10:5-8

  • What does the angel tell Cornelius to do?


Peter’s Vision

Read Acts 10:9-16

  • What was Peter struggling with when it came to the dietary laws of the Old Covenant (Leviticus 11)?


  • Discuss: What was the purpose of the dietary laws in the Old Covenant?


Mark 7:18-19: Jesus said to them [His disciples], “Don’t you understand? Don’t you realize that nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean? That’s because it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then into the sewer.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

  • If the dietary laws had served their purpose, were they still binding in some way?


  • Remembering Peter’s experience with threes (Luke 22:34, John 21:15-17), why do you think God repeated his message to Peter three times?


  • How do you think God was using the distinction of food to help prepare Peter for his next mission? (Imagine a Jew dining with a Gentile at his house and being able to follow the Jewish dietary laws.)


Read Acts 10:17-23a

  • At the beginning of these verses, does Peter “get” what God was trying to tell him?


  • How is Peter prepared to meet Cornelius?


Peter and Cornelius Meet

Read Acts 10:23b-29

  • What does Cornelius do when he meets Peter?


  • How does Peter respond to this?


  • Does Peter now “get” what God was trying to tell him in his vision? (vs. 28)


Read Acts 10:30-33

Cornelius tells Peter why he sent for him.

  • What does Cornelius recognize about what God has given Peter to do?


Peter Preaches to Cornelius and His Household

Read Acts 10:34-43

  • Peter says that God accepts those who fear God and do what is right. Discuss: What does “fearing God” and “doing what is right” mean?


Romans 2:9-11: There will be affliction and distress for those who do evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. But there will be glory, honor, and peace for those who do good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. God does not play favorites.

  • Discuss: Make sense from what Paul said in the entire book of Romans and what Peter preached to Cornelius that those who fear God and so what is right are acceptable to God.


  • How does what Peter said about doing good and doing what was right relate to Cornelius?


  • What role did Jesus began publicly to do and fulfil at his baptism? (vs. 38)


  • What does Peter then do to fill in Cornelius’ incomplete understanding of God’s work for mankind?


  • According to verse 42, who is Jesus?


  • Who are “all the prophets” to whom Peter refers?


  • What does someone have if he “believes in him”? (vs. 43)


The Holy Spirit Descends on the Gentiles

  • Who “interrupted” Peter’s sermon?


  • What caused the Jewish Christians, the believers from among the circumcised, to be amazed?


  • What does this mean, up to that time, about the Holy Spirit coming to Gentiles?


  • The Gentiles in Cornelius’ house spoke in tongues. Through that, they were extolling God. What does say about the understandability of what was said?


  • After the Holy Spirit had descended on the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house, what does Peter do?


  • What does this say about the Word and the water being closely connected?


  • If needed, discuss being baptized “in the name of Jesus.”



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