Acts - Lesson 13

Acts Chapters 10 and 11

In this lesson, you will learn about the events in Acts chapters 10 and 11. Specifically, you will learn about Cornelius, the first gentile convert, and how he and his household came to believe in Jesus. You will also learn about Peter's vision and his journey to Cornelius' house, as well as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles. Additionally, you will learn about the response of the apostles to the Gentiles and the spread of the gospel in Antioch.

You will gain an understanding of the events that led to the inclusion of Gentiles in the early Christian church and the spread of the gospel to non-Jewish people.

Lesson 13
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Acts Chapters 10 and 11

NT619: Acts Chapters 10 and 11

I. Introduction to Acts Chapter 10

A. Cornelius and his household

B. The vision of Peter

II. Peter's arrival in Cornelius' house

A. The reception of Peter

B. Peter's message

III. Conclusion of Acts Chapter 10

A. The outpouring of the Spirit

B. The response of the Jewish believers

IV. Introduction to Acts Chapter 11

A. The response of the apostles to the Gentiles

B. The explanation of Peter

V. The spread of the gospel in Antioch

A. The church in Antioch

B. The sending of Barnabas

  • Acts is often referred to as "Luke: Part 2" suggesting that Luke was the author. Internal and external evidence confirms this authorship. It is believed that Acts was written in the 70's or 80's of the first century as a historical monograph with a biographic focus.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight about the authorship, date, and genre of the Book of Acts. The lesson will present evidence that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts and provide historical context to help determine the date of its writing. The genre of the Book of Acts will also be discussed, giving you a better understanding of its composition and purpose.

  • Acts is not a novel because it doesn't fit the style that novels of that time period were written in. It has elements of both common folk literature and elite literature. One motive that Luke had in writing Acts is as an apologetic to support a Jewish perspective. Acts is an apologetic, ethnographic history in a monograph form. 

  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the genre, historiography, purpose, and historical reliability of the book of Acts and its implications for interpretation.
  • This lesson teaches you about the themes of theology, history, culture, and miracles in the book of Acts, including Christology, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and the historical and cultural context of the first-century Roman Empire and Jewish culture. You'll learn the role of miracles in establishing the credibility of the gospel message and its relationship with faith. By the end, you will have a complete understanding of the main themes in the book of Acts.

  • In this lesson, you will learn about the role of miracles in the early church and how they were used to support and advance the gospel message in the book of Acts. The purpose of miracles, such as healings and other supernatural events, were seen as signs of the Holy Spirit's power and evidence of the truth of the gospel, which helped attract people to the message. Through exploring specific examples from the book of Acts, you will see how miracles played a crucial role in the growth of the early church and the spread of the gospel.

  • This lesson covers the historical context of Acts, including the Jewish World, Roman Empire, political/social structures, and Mediterranean Geography. The purpose and authorship of the book, including Luke as the author, the purpose of the book, and its theology, will be discussed. The narrative structure, major sections, and events will be overviewed.
  • The lesson is about the historical and theological context of the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the early Church as described in the first two chapters of the Book of Acts.
  • In this lesson you will learn about Peter's healing and sermon, the persecution and expansion of the church, and Stephen's martyrdom. You will gain insight into the early church's growth and the challenges they faced, as well as the impact of Stephen's death on the spread of Christianity.

  • The lesson teaches about the events in Acts 5-7, including the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the growth of the church, the appointment of the seven, Stephen's defense, and his martyrdom, providing insight into the early Christian community and its challenges.
  • The lesson is about the early events of the Church of Jerusalem and the role of the seven men chosen to serve the community, the first major persecution of the Christian Church, the spread of the gospel, and the conversion of Saul to Paul.
  • The lesson covers the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem and beyond following Stephen's death, including Philip's preaching in Samaria, conversion of Simon and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the challenges faced by early Christians.
  • This lesson provides an overview of Saul's conversion and the events that took place on the Damascus road, including his baptism and ministry, and the implications for our lives today.
  • This lesson provides an understanding of the events leading to the inclusion of Gentiles in the early Christian church and the spread of the gospel to non-Jewish people.
  • This lesson explores the early Christian church's growth and challenges through the events of Acts 12 and 13, including the arrest and deliverance of Peter, Herod's death, the mission of Barnabas and Saul, and the first missionary journey.
  • The First Missionary Journey in Acts 13-15 provides insight into the early Christian church through covering the team sent out, their ministry, and the results of their ministry.
  • In this lesson, you will learn about the major issue that arose in the early Christian church regarding the relationship between Gentile converts and Jewish customs, the decision of the Jerusalem Council, and the implementation and response of the Gentile churches.
  • In this lesson, you'll learn about the spread of the gospel in Philippi through Paul and Silas and the conversions of Lydia and the jailer, showcasing the gospel's power.
  • In this lesson, you will learn about Paul's encounter with the philosophers of Athens and his message to them about the one true God, the judgment of humanity, and the resurrection of Jesus.
  • This lesson provides a comprehensive overview of Paul's ministry in the city of Corinth, including the challenges he faced, the Lord's encouragement, and the significance of this episode in the book of Acts.
  • This lesson provides insight into Paul's second missionary journey and his preaching, as well as the importance of the Holy Spirit's work and the ministry of the Word.
  • The lesson provides an overview of Paul's journey to Jerusalem and the events that took place during his arrival in Jerusalem, the incident at the temple, his arrest, and his appearance before the Sanhedrin and its significance in the early Christian church.
  • The lesson covers Paul's defenses in the final four chapters of Acts and his navigation of political and religious tensions while remaining faithful to his beliefs and mission.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into Paul's journey from Caesarea to Rome, including details about the voyage and shipwreck, the aftermath of the shipwreck, and the significance of Paul's ministry.

The book of Acts portrays, in a narrative way, the life of the early church. The theme of the book is, "the mission of the early church." It tells how Jesus continued to carry out his mission that he started as recorded in the book of Luke, by working through the people of the early church. Dr. Keeener discusses the growth of the church from its Jewish roots through reaching the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission. 

Dr. Craig Keener



Acts Chapters 10 and 11

Lesson Transcript


1. Chapter 10

a. Cornelius

In Acts 10, we come to the narrative about Cornelius. In the previous session, we introduced some introductory material about Acts 10:1 about Caesarea and about the Roman military service and about some of the centurions as the background for Cornelius. So now we are at Acts 10:2 where we see that Cornelius was appreciated by others for his gifts to the poor. You remember in Luke 7, you have a centurion who had supported the local synagogue and Jewish people came and spoke on his behalf. In this case, it expresses devotion to God and humbling himself culturally because following Jewish customs was looked down on by other people groups. We also see God’s interest in seekers and there is a sense where God has moved our hearts to seek after him. When I was an atheist, I actually began thinking, ‘what if I am wrong? What if there is a God?’ One of the things that prompted me in that direction was when I was thirteen I was already reading Plato and thinking about what he was saying about the immortality of the soul. His arguments especially having to do with an innate knowledge due to the preexistence of the soul; I didn’t agree with this, but the questions he asked about immortality really disturbed me. I had to recognize that I was finite and mortal and I was going to die. The only way that I could have life that would last forever was if there was somebody who was infinite who would choose to give that to me. But if there was such a being, why would that being care about me? Only if that being was a perfectly loving person, that would be the best of all possible things. But if that being was a perfectly loving person, why would that being love me? I was not a loving person. I knew that I was very selfish and the only reason I wanted to know that being was that I wanted to live forever. And so, when I heard the Gospel, the Holy Spirit touched me and I had an encounter with Christ. And I am grateful to God who reached out to a seeker like me, who had no claims on him. I didn’t come from a Christian home or anything like that. So this man was a God-fearer. He was much further along than I was. He was probably attending the synagogue and very interested in the one true God. He recognized that this was the one true God. He was not circumcised and not in the category of a proselyte but instead, he was a righteous gentile; a person who recognized the Jewish God and didn’t follow idols and didn’t practice sexual immorality. But he hadn’t become part of the covenant people.

This group, the God fearers; whether by that title or other titles was attested to by Josephus and Philo and in inscriptions, particularly in Afrodesia and Asia Minor. Cornelius wasn’t a full convert to Judaism as of yet and we know that many soldiers were interested in religion along with Cornelius. They were interested in various religions; Cornelius was interested in the Jewish religion. It also talks about his household in Acts 10:2. You could unofficially marry and the woman would be considered a concubine, but during your twenty years of military service, you could not officially marry. Often, after you retired they would grant that your concubine would count as a wife, provided you had only one. So soldiers that got moved around a lot had to marry the most recent concubine because they couldn’t take their concubines with them. However, in Caesarea the troops begged not to be moved. They were very attached to their local area where there wasn’t a war going on, many did become attached to their area. We don’t know whether he was married or not or had a concubine or not. Some people think that he was a retired centurion and that’s why he had an official Roman name even though it was an auxiliary unit. But then again he may have been a Roman citizen already. He was able to send a soldier as well as a servant; so he probably still has some influence. Then again, we also know that the discipline was lax around Caesarea; so perhaps as a former centurion, he could hire an off duty soldier. We just don’t know a lot of the details. But in any case, he did seem to have some relatives there. It could have been that he was recruited locally or maybe he had a concubine or a wife with relatives. 10:24 speaks of relatives and close friends.

The term household included those who were related to him genetically; not simply servants who were also considered part of the household. Wives were supposed to share their husband’s religion. It didn’t always happen but often when the husband would convert, the wife and the household would convert also. We don’t really know here what the household meant; it could have meant servants or even freed persons. We see in Acts 10:7 that he had summoned two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of those who served him regularly. Once a servant was freed, the former slave holder owed social obligations to the freed person to help them advance, etc. And the freed person owed certain obligations to the former slave holder as part of the slave holder’s extended family. Well, the most inexpensive slave cost about one third of a soldier’s annual pay, but centurions made fifteen times the pay of a rank and file soldier. The highest paid centurion in a legion could make sixty times as much. As a regular centurion, he may make fifteen times the pay of a rank and file soldier.

b. The Two Visions

So, this happened around three pm which was the time of Jewish evening prayer. So he was actually praying during the regular hours of prayer. He had a vision and interestingly Peter also had a vision. This is later, apparently the next day. It is not simultaneous nor is it dependent on the vision of Cornelius, but it is divinely coordinated. So they traveled in order to get Peter; Caesarea was about thirty miles north of Joppa. Even if they left immediately after 3 pm, they would have to travel all night on foot or on horses to get to Joppa by noon. They view this as an urgent mission; imagine what would have happened if Peter took time to consider what to do or if Peter had just sent them away? Peter went up on the rooftop to pray; they had flat rooftops which were often used in growing vegetables. If there was a canapé, it would have been cooler even in the middle of the day. But this isn’t a regular hour of prayer; Peter just felt like praying and during this time he became very hungry. We see that Noon was a normal time for a meal, at least in Rome. Acts 10:13; While they were preparing food for him, he fell into a trance and saw heaven open and something like a large linen sheet coming down, being lowered by it four corners to the ground. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds of the air. For Peter, culturally there were certain things that he would never eat. These animals included clean animals, those that they were allowed to eat (Leviticus 11) and unclean animals. The problem was, if they were mixed together, it made them all unclean. So these are unclean animals and Peter protests. This is seen like what you have in Ezekiel 4:13-15 where God tells Ezekiel to prepare the meal over human dung. Ezekiel says, but that is unclean. God hears him and changes it to cow dung. For Peter in this case tells God that he has never eaten anything unclean. Interestingly, the Maccabees were prepared to die rather than eat unclean food. So this was one of the boundary markers as scholars often say of Jewish ethnicity. There were certain things that became crucial distinctives of Judaism in part because their ancestors have had to die to resist. But God is the one who declared what things were unclean and clean, this includes gentiles as well. So, Peter gets this vision and meanwhile the messengers of Cornelius are on the way to him.

In Acts 10:17-23a Peter and Simon’s household received gentiles. How did they find Peter in Acts 10:17? Joppa was a large town, but they had been told to find him with Simon the Tanner and tanners were usually near water and would be in the tanning district. This was one of the district’s that stank, the most. Once you got there, you just ask directions. So, they came to the outer gate of Simon’s place which seems to indicate that Simon was somewhat wealthy. Then in, Acts 10:18-22, they called out, why? Being gentiles, they weren’t allowed to enter a Jewish home. Simon may be a tanner, but he was also Jewish. So, we see Peter’s vision, but secondary in Acts 10:19 the Holy Spirit spoke telling him of the three people and that Peter was to go with them. This was similar to Philip witnessing to the Ethiopian Official in how the Spirit directed Philip. So the Spirit directed Peter. We can trust the Spirit to lead us in our lives, but there are some things that the Spirit especially likes to speak about and things that Luke especially likes to emphasize in crossing barriers and how the Spirit leads us to reach other people groups. Sometimes the Spirit will do dramatic things; I remember one time I was walking and there was a young man in front of me. The Spirit urged me to call out his name which came into my mind; is that really his name I wondered? I should have called out to him but instead I ran up to him and introduced myself as Crag. But Peter and Philip obeyed, unlike me in calling out this person’s name; I did share Christ with him. So Peter went down the staircase from the roof. In Acts 10:23a, they let the gentiles stay with them overnight. Now it was the Pharisees who were concerned about impure table fellowship. They show proper hospitality, they feed the gentiles and lodged them overnight. The tanner may have been less concerned with strict rules as Joppa was a mixed town. And there weren’t just Jewish tanners in the tanning district either. But some of the Pharisees who had become believers still adhered to their strict policies and this eventually becomes an issue.

So Peter and some of the brothers from Joppa left Joppa. Altogether there were seven people that travelled to Caesarea. Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15 says that you have to have two or three witnesses but Peter is going to have twice that many. So, they left around sunrise and it was thirty miles to Caesarea; the text saying that they had arrived the following day. Apparently this means that they stayed overnight along the way. They probably stayed in a mixed town, perhaps Apolonia which was just under half the way there. We see that Cornelius met him and bowed down at his feet; he may be a God-fearer but he gives homage to Peter as if he were divine. Pagans often did this; we that people from Lystra tried to do that to Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 28:6 we see that some of residents in Malta think that Paul is a god. Cornelius may not mean it as divine but just as a way to greet a representative of someone important. In the east, people would often bow before kings; it depended on what people group you were from. In Acts 10:27-29, Peter first discourages Cornelius bowing down to him. He refuses divine homage which was considered the appropriate behavior. Peter further explains that devout Jews would not enter into gentile homes. It was unclean to eat their food or drink their wine. This prevented dining together in banquets and for this reason gentiles thought that Jewish people were anti-social. It wasn’t the Jewish people’s fault as God had set up those rules in Leviticus 11; it was to keep them separate from the nations. But now God is transcending that as he was sending them to the nations as witnessing.

c. The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

We read about Peter’s message in Acts 10:34-43. If we want to be as sensitive to the Holy Spirit as Peter was, we need to get over our own prejudices. In Acts 10:38, it talks about Jesus doing good; being a benefactor of which we talked about earlier. That language was often used for rulers and deities; it talks about how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth. In Luke 4, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 with reference to him being anointed with the Holy Spirit to fulfill this mission. Today, we are empowered by the Spirit to do the work of Jesus in sharing him with others. In Acts 10:42, in most of Judaism, God, himself, is the judge, but here Jesus is the supreme judge and Lord of All. That was certainly divine terminology, almost like that used with the emperor, but now Peter is witnessing to someone in the service of the emperor. Peter tells Cornelius that all the prophets have testified that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name. He is probably referring to the prophets talking about the messianic restoration in saying this. Peter reads the prophets the same way that Stephen did in Acts 7; Jesus said the same thing, all the prophets spoke about him. The principles point to him; they are ultimately fulfilled in him. We encounter saved gentiles; this is going to surprise the church in Jerusalem. Are we ready to learn from the example of Peter and others from God’s own activities? Peter had to learn from that. Peter’s sermon is interrupted in Acts 10:44; this was a common literary device. If the person had finished saying everything that needed saying, they could be interrupted. However, it was also a common feature of real life; people regularly interrupted speakers. In this case, it wasn’t a person that interrupted Peter, it was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fell on all those listening to Peter and we see in Acts 10:45-47 about the response of Peter and those who were with him. Note that the outpouring of the Spirit was for Israel only. For the Samaritans, Peter and the others had less trouble accepting that since there was a link between them and the Jews. Well, the eschatological promise of the outpouring of the Spirit for Israel was mentioned in Ezekiel 36 and Isaiah 44. Peter had quoted Joel about the Spirit being poured out on all flesh, but Peter undoubtedly assumed that it was all Jewish flesh. The context of the passage is about the restoration of God’s people.

So they are shocked, God is pouring out the Spirit on these gentiles, treating them as if they are God’s people. Most Jewish teachers in this period thought that if the Spirit was available at all, it would only be available to the very pious and usually not even to them. It was said that Hillel’s generation and that Hillel was worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Obviously the Christians were experiencing something very different for they didn’t expect this to happen to the gentiles. They saw that it was the same gift that was given to them; for they heard them speaking in other tongues. Does that mean that tongues always happen when people receive the Spirit? Well, it is not mentioned in Acts 8:15 and that is why people have argued both ways on this. But in this case, it does confirm that these people received the Spirit the same way as those during the day of Pentecost. This is what happened to us when we received the Spirit, the same thing has happened to them. It also would signify the same as it did on the day of Pentecost, that these people are now empowered to cross cultural barriers as witnesses for Christ. This means that these gentiles would also carry forth the Word of the Lord. This is proper missions; we share the Good News with people, and once they hear, we don’t minister to them in a paternalistic way; we minister together as God’s servants. Tongues is mentioned in Acts 19:6 plus prophecy which make sense. Both praise and prophecy together in the Old Testament often reflects the Spirit’s inspiration. As is often, starting with Luke 1 and 2, with Simeon, with Zechariah, with a prophecy from John the Baptist; the Spirit often inspires prophetic speech. That is how Peter speaks of it in Acts 2:17-18; it is not always expressed in the same way. Most often it is expressed in some sort of inspired speech which makes sense because the particular emphasis Luke is giving to the Spirit in Luke and Acts. It is especially the outpouring of the Spirit to enable us to speak for God. If that is going to be the ultimate expression of it, we may expect it to happen when we initially experience this empowerment. But sooner or later, obviously we will, because that is the point of this empowerment of the Spirit. So, in Acts 10:48, baptism in their culture was a public declaration of conversion. But they don’t circumcise them first because if God has already accepted these people as members of the covenant community which was promised in the Old Testament. If they have already received the greater baptism in the Spirit, how much more are they to receive the water baptism that pointed to the Baptism of the Spirit? So they end up lodging with these gentiles; this would compound the offence but yet reinforce the lesson that God had declared them clean.

2. Chapter 11

a. Disagreement with Peter from Those of the Circumcision

In Acts 11, when Peter reports to the church in Jerusalem, those who emphasized circumcision disagreed with him. Yes, he was the chief apostle but he was also part of the leadership team. He wasn’t the only one. News obviously spread through Caesarea and Jerusalem as people were often travelling. God’s way is different from our way; for God, people have a priority and sometimes that may offend church traditions, just like it offended the Pharisees. Here, it offended the religious sensibilities of the Christians. So, in Acts 11:2-3, Circumcision was necessary to fully convert to Judaism; not everybody thought you needed it to be saved except for the most conservative people. But virtually all Jewish people thought that it was necessary if you wanted to convert to Judaism. For Peter to lodge with these gentiles and to eat with them, offended the religious sensibilities of the more conservative members of the community; this was a natural inference from Genesis 17 where you had to circumcise your household and the servants. Everybody had to be circumcised if they were to be part of these people. Anyone who wasn’t would be cut off. But what if circumcision is a mark of the covenant but it was only a mark pointing to the real meaning of the covenant. And if God had spiritually circumcised people in such a way that the marker became superfluous because God had shown that he had accepted these as members of his covenant people by giving them his own Spirit. Eschatologically, the promise of the Spirit had now been fulfilled. So they were charging people with eating with unclean gentiles and Peter, himself, had a problem with that back in Acts 10:28. Later on, so as not to offend the more conservative community in Galatians 2:12, we read that Peter didn’t eat with uncircumcised gentiles. Some other Christians who were sent by James came and were concerned with being a witness in their more conservative Jewish community. He didn’t want to offend them but for Paul, this was a matter of the Gospel, showing that we receive these people as full brothers and sisters.

In Acts 11:16-17 Peter told them that he then remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Now if God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, who was I to try to stop God? So, this was the eschatological covenant reality to which outward circumcision merely pointed. So that is why we did baptism as an act of conversion, because God had already accepted their conversion. One of the convincing rhetorical arguments that orators sometimes used in antiquity was the argument of necessity. One of the strongest arguments of necessity, I had to do this, I had no other choice. This was divine necessity, God told me to do it and that is what Peter is saying here. Of course many of us have seen that abused where it wasn’t true. But in this case, Peter has the evidence, he has the witnesses and God accepted their conversion by pouring out his Spirit. The same Spirit that moved them to cross cultural barriers is the same Spirit who confirmed that this was his mission and that he was in it and that he was welcoming gentiles without requiring them to be circumcised, without them becoming ethnically Jewish. Many believed that righteous gentiles kept the basic laws given to all the gentiles: no idolatry, no sexual immorality, etc; many believed that they were saved, but nobody believed that this made gentiles members of the covenant people. Yet, we can see how conservative the church in Jerusalem was because they respond in Acts 11:18. Wow! God is giving even the gentiles eternal life! Even the gentiles, God is allowing them to be saved.

b. Antioch

At this point, Luke transitioned to the ministry in Antioch and he introduces this fairly briefly. We see that there are a lot of people actually involved in reaching the gentiles and Luke focuses on the major figures. So, he doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the individuals here. We see the church has now moved from rural Galilee to urban Jerusalem and now to cosmopolitan Antioch. So, very quickly the church is transitioning, culturally and socially in a wide variety of ways. Partly the reason for this was the scattering that happened because of the persecution; partly I believe that the Holy Spirit was enabling them to do this. It is when God often moves us into unexpected situations; situations that we weren’t actually culturally prepared for to begin with, but he gives us the preparation. You can think of the many people who have served God all over the world in difficult places identifying with the local culture. Well, rapid transition was rare in terms of cultural transition; so this shows great flexibility. But Judaism had already adapted to these various settings over the centuries. You had Jewish culture amongst gentile citizens that had their own communities but they had adapted and learned how to speak the cultural language that surrounded them. That provided a conduit for the Christians. There were already some ways to help them to learn the new culture. When God wants us to move, we need to be ready to move into these new settings even if we don’t feel comfortable moving into them. We also need to exercise cultural flexibility and learn from the people with whom we minister to so that we can best ministry among and with them.

There were large Jewish communities in Phoenicia, Cyprus and in Antioch. And as the diaspora, Jewish believers scattered through Saul’s persecution. They went to different places and this may have included Barnabas initially, although he returned to Jerusalem after the persecution died down. We know that Barnabas was there to introduce Saul to the apostles. So, these were natural places for them to settle after being spread abroad in Acts 8. In Acts 11:20-21, you have some of these Jewish believers who are already from the diaspora; they begin to make a new kind of transition. Luke says believers from Cyprus and Cyrene; this would include people like Barnabas, Lucius and probably Simon of Cyrene being one of them. His sons are known to the church in Rome where in Mark 15 Simon of Cyrene is introduced as the father of Alexander and Rufus. So, Mark’s audience already knows his children. Rufus might be the same Rufus listed in Romans 16. In any case, these believers are spread abroad. And particularly the ones from Cyprus and Cyrene began to speak to the Hellenists. We read earlier about the Hellenists; these Jewish believers, themselves, were Hellenists. This is contrasted with Jews. In this case, it doesn’t mean Hellenistic Jews, but it means Greeks or Hellenized Syrians who had adopted Greek culture. They shared a larger language and culture through Hellenism and that provided a bridge point through which they could reach them. Hellenistic Judaism formed a natural bridge for reaching these people. And so, they begin reaching gentiles; this may have been before Peter, we don’t know. The narrative was already following Peter at that point. But certainly the Gospel was being spread more widely than what Peter had done. In Peter’s case, it was viewed as an exception but in the case of Antioch, it was pretty far away from Jerusalem.

Antioch was sometimes referred to as Antioch of the Orontes, but there were a lot of Antioch’s; we will read about another Antioch later on in Acts 13. This was probably the third largest center of antiquity after Rome and Alexander. The number of residents was estimated to between one hundred to six hundred thousand people. It was probably more like three or four hundred thousand people. It was the headquarters of Rome’s Syrian legions. So, you had six thousand troops quartered there. It was a brief river journey from there to Seleucia, a Mediterranean port city and sailing from there to Cyprus was the closest place you could go. Religiously, Antioch was within walking distance of the famous cult center of Apollo. Even though there were a lot of Jews there, it was predominately a pagan city. It had many mystery cults also. It was known for its pagan religious diversity and was very pluralistic, many upwardly mobile people who were usually accepted. There was some prejudice against Jews in Antioch, especially after the Judean-Roman war, but the Jewish community didn’t get mascaraed like in some of the other places closer to Judea. There were a lot of people who feared God there; a lot of proselytes there. It was far less segregated than Alexandra where you had Egyptians, Greeks and Jews living in separate parts of the city with Greeks considering themselves as the only citizens of the city. Antioch was more cosmopolitan and thus had a more acceptance of different cultures. Some more liberal diaspora Jews used the best of pagan philosophy to witness to others. They had already been making those cultural adaptations.

Circumcision was a lessor issue in some of these places, including Antioch. We read about another location where the King of Adiabene and the person who lead him to Judaism didn’t think that he needed to be circumcised as that would have been too offensive to his people. So, not everybody insisted on others being circumcised. But traditional Jewish people would insist on circumcision in order to be part of the people of God.

c. Barnabas

In Acts 11:22-24, we have Barnabas who was actually introduced back in Acts 4. Luke likes to introduce these people in advance when he has the opportunity. Barnabas trusted God’s work in people; he did that with Saul in Acts 9:27 when Barnabas introduced Saul to the apostles. As in Acts 15:37-39 when he and Paul split up because Barnabas wanted to take Mark with him to give him a second chance. So, Barnabas trusted God’s work in people and that was something that Judaism had a sense of valuing people as well. They talked about Hillel, one of the major sages. Hillel and Shemaiah were leaders of the two schools of Pharisaic schools. Those that learned under Hillel looked back to Hillel as being very gentle and helped gentiles to follow Jewish ways. Paul was more critical; God used Paul and his personality in dramatic ways also. We have different personalities and God can use our different personalities. That is not an excuse to be too hard edged with the wrong parts of our personalities. God used Martin Luther greatly, but sometimes he spoke very harshly, especially in his later years in ways that most Protestants wouldn’t agree with today and even Lutherans wouldn’t agree with. Luther said that God made him a weapon, God made me this way. That may be true, he needed to be somebody who could stand firm, but sometimes he went too far like saying to burn down the synagogues and things like that. That was a bit extreme. Most of us have those weaknesses and we need to watch out for them. But in any case, one of Barnabas’ strengths was that he trusted God’s work in people and he welcomed people. In Acts 11:25, Barnabas realizes that he needs somebody to help him. They are winning so many people to Christ in Antioch, they are winning gentiles to Christ now and so Barnabas goes to look for Saul in Tarsus. He knows that Saul was in Tarsus because he was sent there back in Acts 9. He also knows what God did for Paul, he knows Paul’s calling. He was to be an agent to reach the gentiles. Who better to get than somebody who had this calling? Barnabas is good at connecting people; he connected Paul up with Peter and James.

In Acts 11:26, we see that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. This wasn’t a common name in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 4:16 we have, ‘if you suffer for being a Christian, do not feel ashamed, but glorify God with that name.’ They obtained this name seemingly through an analogy of the way people described political parties. Partisans of Caesar were called Cesareans, the same goes for Herod as they were called Herodians. The people of Antioch were known for making fun of people. Christians in the 2nd century however adopted this label with pride. But it originally started as a nick name but they soon began to own that title as they belonged to Jesus. In Acts 11:27 while Paul and Barnabas were ministering in Antioch, prophets came from Jerusalem. Early Christianity was very distinctive in this regard. You had Greek orators at cultic centers but there were no other prophetic movements like what we find in the New Testament. What we see in the New Testament is like what we see in 1 Samuel 19 where you have a number of prophets prophesizing with Samuel presiding over them. Or in 2 Kings 2 and 4 you have the sons of the prophets and Elisha is helping to disciple them. We have entire prophetic movements and here in the case of Acts, we read about these prophets who travel together to Antioch from Jerusalem. What is really distinctive about is the obvious outpouring of the Holy Spirit on people’s lives. Nobody expected this in their own time to this degree. In Acts 11:28 we see that there is to be a famine and this came to pass in the time of Claudius. Actually it was a series of famines that devastated agriculture during the reign of Claudius. There were high grain prices attested to in the year 46 AD and by AD 51 you have a grain shortage in Rome which caused Claudius to be mobbed in the streets. During this period, some sympathizers of Judaism wanted to help the poor in Jerusalem. This famine was very severe in Judea, especially around the years 45 and 46 AD. So, Queen Helena of Adiabene, an Assyrian queen of Adiabene and Edessa who became a convert to Judaism about 30 AD, bought Egyptian grain for large sums of money to help the people in Judea. The believers in Antioch hear that this famine will be happening around the world and they realize that many of the believers in Judea are poor.

d. The Famine

Now, the prophecy said that this would be a famine throughout the world. So the famine was going to also affect Antioch. Even though they had more resources, this was an act of sacrifice and this tells us that the believers didn’t just respect and care for their fellow believers locally as in Acts 2:44-45. This can also be cross-cultural famine relief. Today, we often have situations like that where famine strikes particular areas. God has given enough resources in the church worldwide; the church somewhere can help the church somewhere else and vice-versa. We are one body in Christ and we must work together. Paul brings these things out in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul was also raising funds particularly for the church in Judea. Part of the reason, as he says, they were poor. Another reason, the gentiles owe it to them, they gave them the Gospel. He was working for ethnic reconciliation as there was a bit of tension between the Judean churches and the churches of the diaspora over certain issues, particularly over the circumcision of the gentiles. Most Jewish relief efforts were local except for what Queen Helena did. This was an exceptional idea and we find this elsewhere in the New Testament. Multi-provincial organizations were suspect in the empire. So it didn’t go over very well in the empire with people sharing things with one place to another, but that is what the church did. They were prepared in advance for this famine through prophecy. You may remember Genesis 41 that God warned in advance of the coming famine on the world of that day, Egypt and Canaan and surrounding areas. God used Joseph to prepare them in the same way God used the prophets and we see the church in Antioch responded with wisdom to that. In Acts 12, we will look at Peter’s deliverance.