Peter at Cornelius’s House
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Observations and Reflections
As previously discussed, the journey from Joppa to Caesarea was about a day’s journey which is why Cornelius was “expecting” them on that day. However, I find it interesting that he was so confident Peter would personally come that he invited his whole extended family over.
The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. (Acts 10:24)
Based on Cornelius’ interactions with the Lord, perhaps his expectation was warranted. After all, when God tells you to bring a man over from Joppa, one would expect that the Lord has ordained the matter.
“Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” (Acts 10:4-6)
It is also important to remember that Cornelius’ family, not just himself, was described as devout and God-fearing (Acts 10:2). Therefore, they would have been excited to witness one of the followers of Jesus in the home of a family member. Perhaps as a testimony to Cornelius’ character and reputation among the people, his house was not only filled with family but with friends. Let us not forget that Cornelius was a Roman centurion and Rome was not inclined to tolerate this spread of Christianity. Therefore, the fact that a Roman man of high regard is having such a seemingly clandestine meeting with Peter, his family, and closest friends, is a sign that Cornelius is a serious inquisitor and is willing to put his life on the line. Not just his life but also the lives of his family and friends.
Upon Peter’s arrival Cornelius fell to pay homage to the disciple but Peter rebuked him.
As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” (Acts 10:25-26)
The modern Bible reader might find Cornelius’ behavior as strange, however, this type of veneration and flattery was normal in ancient Rome. It was not so much as act of deity worship as it was a system in which to communicate to a superior that you are recognizing their authority and generosity. Herod Agrippa addressed Emperor Caligula in a similar manner when he wrote to him concerning a previous meeting.
“O master, fear and shame have taken from me all courage to come into your presence to address you; since fear teaches me to dread your threats; and shame, out of respect for the greatness of your power and dignity, keeps me silent. (Philo, On The EmbassyTo Gaius, XXXVI)
The difference, however, between Agripp and Cornelius, is that Emperor Caligula did actually want to be worshiped, whereas Peter did not. Nevertheless, such flattery was to gain favor for one’s self, not necessarily to venerate the worshiped as a deity.
Peter, having now entered the home, beings to seek out the purpose of his trip as well as make it known that something new is happening.
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
Are the gentiles aware of the Jewish customs concerning the gentiles? It’s safe to say that most of them were aware. However, the more astute Bible readers might ponder at the source of this law. Was it port of the Torah or another law outside the Torah? According to the Talmud, the law is not in Torah but it is based on a passage from Exodus 34.
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same. (Exodus 34:15-16)
The Talmud records this teaching about Exodus 34:15,
It has been taught: R. Ishmael says, Israelites who reside outside Palestine serve idols though in pure innocence. If, for example, an idolater gives a banquet for his son and invites all the Jews i n his town, then, even though they eat of their own and drink of their own and their own attendant waits on them, Scripture regards them as if they had eaten of the sacrifices to dead idols, as it is said, And he will call thee and thou wilt eat of his sacrifice. But does not this apply to actual eating? — Said Raba: If that were so, the verse would have only said, And thou shalt eat of his sacrifice; why then say, And he will call thee? That extends the prohibition to the time of the participation. (Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah, Gemara 22-23)
It should be mentioned that this teaching in the Talmud was probably only oral in Peter’s time. However, it was probably quite widely known and practiced or else Peter would not have been rebuked by Paul for not eating with the gentiles while certain people were present.
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:11-13)
Peter’s behavior towards Cornelius was commendable. He heard the call of God and he responded. Had he not done so the church today might have looked very different. However, unlike Peter in Antioch, we must follows God’s guidance even when we don’t want to and even when it might make us looked down upon by our peers. moreover, we must be able to understand the purpose of the Christian traditions and instruction handed down to us, not just blindly observe them for obedience sake.
The passage in Exodus 15 was clearly just a provision to ensure that the Israelites would not become as the Canaanites were and worship other gods. It was not a blanket statement that requires zero interactions with the gentiles. Rather, it was telling the Israelites to have caution and wisdom when interacting with the Canaanites. Likewise, we must understand that some Christian instructions have a deeper meaning to them and we must understand the purpose. That was the essence of Jesus’ sermon on the mount and also His insistence that we must be more righteous than the Pharisees.
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
Bernardo Cavallino – St Peter and Cornelius the Centurion
This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.