18 May 2017

Acts 10:34-43

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (vv. 34-35)

Psalm: Psalm 7:1-11


This is the speech which Peter gave following the extraordinary events which have taken place at the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Peter has been staying at the home of Simon the tanner, a fact of some significance since his occupation could be considered 'unclean' under Jewish law. While staying there, he was invited to Cornelius' home in Caesarea, following visions which had been experienced by both men (Acts 10:1-8, 9-16); in Peter's case of a sheet of unclean animals being lowered in front of him with the divine command to "kill and eat" (Acts 10:13), and in Cornelius' case of an angel telling him of the Peter's arrival in Joppa.

Their encounter at Cornelius' house brings home to each the truth which had been revealed in the visions; in Cornelius' case that his prayers had been answered and that there was a place for him as a Gentile in the household of God; and in Peter's case that from now on he was not to call "profane or unclean" those things which God has made "clean" (Acts 10:14-15), and that this insight refers not simply to the food he eats but to the people with whom he is to share it.

Peter's speech here brings home the truth which had been revealed to him, that God "shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him". This is the first step in Peter's coming to understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ is intended for Gentiles as well as Jews, and indeed there are echoes of the same language which Paul used in his letter to the Romans, of God showing "no partiality" (Romans 2:11).

In the rest of this passage, Peter affirms the heart of the gospel message; how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, how he went about doing good and healing the sick, how he was put to death "on a tree" (v. 39), and how God raised him on the third day; how Jesus then appeared to witnesses who were commanded to testify that he is "judge of the living and the dead" (v. 42).

What has changed now was Peter's recognition that the "all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (v. 43). This is the good news originally sent to the people of Israel - but which is now to be shared with "everyone who believes in him" - as we shall explore further in tomorrow's passage.

To Ponder

  • Are there things which we still consider 'unclean' in the life of the Church today? Why? And if so, how do you justify it?
  • How comfortable are we in sharing with Christians of other cultures or traditions - particularly when it comes to sharing food and fellowship?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.