Peter Defends Himself Before the Jerusalem Church Part 1 of 3

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

May 6, 2014

Acts of the Apostles


Scripture (Acts 11:1-18; KJV)

1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
4 But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:
6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.



Introduction

Acts 11 describes how the church in Jerusalem reacted to the Gentiles in Caesarea and Antioch who had trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Having fellowship with Gentiles was a new experience for these Jewish Christians, who all their life had looked on the Gentiles as pagans and outsiders. Tradition said that a Gentile had to “become a Jew” in order to be accepted; but now Jews and Gentiles were united in the church through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26-28{1]).

It is surprising that in a short book Luke would devote so much space to the second recital of the conversion of Cornelius. This indicates that Luke considered this event one of the most important in the life of the early church.

Outline of Chapter 11
Lesson III:D:7: Peter Defends Himself Before the Jerusalem Church (11:1-18)
Lesson III:E:1: The Church established (11:19-21)
Lesson III:E:2: The Church Sanctioned by Jerusalem (11:22-24)
Lesson III:E:3: Barnabas Brings Paul Back to Antioch (11:25, 26)
Lesson III:E:4: The Unity in the Church: Antioch to Help Jerusalem (11:27-30)


Commentary

1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

It appears that when the church leaders in Jerusalem had heard of Peter’s experience in Joppa at the home of Cornelius, they challenged his action and recalled him to Jerusalem for the purpose of justifying it. Although there was joy in heaven over the conversion of Cornelius, there was little joy in Jerusalem,

for Peter had fellowshipped with uncircumcised Gentiles.

Peter no sooner returned to Jerusalem when he was met by members of the strong legalistic party in the church of Judea (they that were “of the circumcision,” Jewish Christians who still held to the Law of Moses, v. 2) who rebuked him not for preaching Christ to them, but for fellowshipping with Gentiles and eating with them. Keep in mind that these Jewish believers did not yet understand the relationship between Law and grace, Jews and Gentiles, and Israel and the church. Most Christians today understand these truths; but after all, we have Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Hebrews! There were many converted priests in the church who would be zealous for the Law (6:7{2]), and even the ordinary Jewish believer would have had trouble making the transition—“After hearing this, they praised God. But then they said, "You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all take the Law of Moses very seriously” (Acts 21:20)” It was not only a matter of religion, but also of culture; and cultural habits are hard to break.


2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

Those who protested Peter’s familiarity with the Gentiles in Caesarea, particularly His eating with them, were not from the whole Christian group, but from the “circumcision party.” Apparently, this was a small, ultraconservative group within the larger group. They were the “Tea Party” of early Christianity, the meticulously orthodox, the right-wing of the movement{10]. Their platform rested upon the assumption that Christianity was a movement within Judaism, and therefore must conform to the life and practice of Judaism as they knew it. A man could not be a Christian unless he was a Jew first; he could not be baptized until he had been circumcised. Needless to say, if this line had been adopted, there never would have been a successful Gentile mission. Most Gentiles had real problems with some of the more “external” aspects of the Jewish Law, such as circumcision and the food laws. Such factors doubtless had kept many Gentiles like Cornelius, who believed in the God of the Jews from becoming full Proselytes.

The phrase “contended with him” comes from the same word translated “doubting nothing” in Acts 10:20 and 11:12. It means “to make a difference.” These legalists were making a difference between the Gentiles and the Jews after Peter had demonstrated that “there is no difference!” God had declared the Gentiles “clean,” that is, accepted before God on the same basis as the Jews—through faith in Jesus Christ.


3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.

It is quite evident that these men in Jerusalem were passing through the same mental experience through which Peter had passed. It is quite natural that he should waver, that he should discriminate between Gentiles and Hebrews; but the Spirit had charged him to make no such distinction, to go without wavering or contention. These men were doing what the Spirit had charged Peter not to do.

The accusation lodged against Peter was that he “went into the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.” The primary problem was not his preaching to Gentiles but his eating with them. Jesus did the same thing and received the same criticism—“But when some of the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with people like that, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with such scum?” (Mk. 2:16). This gives even greater significance to Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-16). Eating with someone is a mark of acceptance and fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11{6]). This problem could have caused a serious break in the church.

It is important to bear in mind that Peter did not want to go to Caesarea and witness to Cornelius; God had arraigned for it to happen and He ordered Peter to go.

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