The Events at the House of Cornelius
The church of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
Many people are confused about the phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 10:45 because the household of Cornelius (Gentiles) “received the Holy Spirit” (v. 44-47) BEFORE they were immersed in water (vs. 48). Others are confused because they think Cornelius and those in his house received Holy Spirit Baptism just as did the apostles (Acts 2:1-4). It is true that “all” flesh did not receive the outpouring from the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (only Jews). Therefore it is obvious that Peter’s use of Joel’s prophecy (Acts -21) included more than what occurred on that day. Gentiles were to be included, so the “outpouring from the Spirit” in Acts 10 was also a part of Joel’s prophecy being fulfilled.
In a previous lesson we taught that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts refers to the personal indwelling of Deity in the heart of every penitent baptized believer (Gal. 4:6; Eph. ). Thus, Cornelius and his household received the indwelling Spirit when they were immersed in water (Acts -48). This also means they received a different “gift of the Holy Spirit” BEFORE they were immersed in water (Acts ). What was it? Why did they receive it? With the Lord’s help through His word, we will now plainly reveal the correct meaning of the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 10:45.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts )
The New Testament teaches that there is only ONE recorded instance of Holy Spirit Baptism and the implication of one. The RECORDED instance is Acts 2:1-4. The one IMPLIED is Paul. We often hear, "Did not Peter say the house of Cornelius received the like gift?" Indeed he did. In Acts 11:17, we read "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?" Did Peter mean by the use of this word what man normally attributes to it? Man generally says that the "like gift" means the "same gift." However, this does not necessarily follow.
Without doubt the apostles received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. If Cornelius also received Holy Spirit Baptism, then he necessarily received the EXACT same thing the apostles received. If he DID NOT receive the exact same thing the apostles did, then he did not receive Holy Spirit Baptism. On the other hand, if Cornelius did receive Holy Spirit Baptism, but did not receive the exact same thing the apostles received, then we can conclude one of two things: (1) There were varying degrees of Holy Spirit Baptism. (2) Holy Spirit Baptism is not defined by the power received but merely by the manner in which it came upon the recipients.
If Cornelius received the SAME thing the apostles received (as falsely taught in the NIV and ESV – Acts ), he could make the same claims they made. Paul argued, "For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles" (2 Cor. 11:5). Certainly Paul was affirming he had the same power and authority as any of the other apostles. Any claims the other apostles made, Paul could also make. Was Cornelius able to make the same claim? Could Cornelius affirm, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (2 Cor. 12:12) like Paul did?
Did this Roman centurion feel he could write something to someone and say, "If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37)? Paul did. Can we assume Cornelius felt the "care of all the churches" was on him daily (2 Cor. 11:28) as Paul did? Regardless of what kind of man he was, Cornelius did not have this authority in the first century church.
If Cornelius received Holy Spirit Baptism, there are some implications we need to consider. Notice the following thoughts. (1) If he received it, he did so as one who was NOT included in the promise (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:2-5). (2) This means that one who did not meet the qualifications of being an apostle (Acts 1:21‑24) received something that was promised to the apostles only. (3) There would necessarily be different results from Holy Spirit Baptism. Does the Bible teach these thoughts?
In what way were the events of Acts 10 LIKE that which Peter remembered? Look closely at the following verses, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came upon all those people who were listening to his speech. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed. They were shocked because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on people who were not Jewish. These Jewish believers heard them speaking different inspired languages and praising God” (Acts 10:44-46). It is this miraculous reception of POWER to speak in unknown languages to which Peter referred to as the "like gift."
Something similar to this event is recorded in Acts 4:31. Here Luke writes, “After the believers prayed, the place where they were meeting shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak God’s message without fear.” Now, why did Peter not refer to this occasion? What was the difference between Acts 2 and Acts 4? One thing is conspicuous. The apostles’ spoke in tongues in Acts 2. Those of the house of Cornelius spoke in tongues and magnified God in Acts 10. However, those of Acts 4 did not speak in tongues.
This event at Cornelius' house had happened WITHOUT the imposition of apostolic hands. It was directly from heaven, not from man! The ability to speak in tongues, up until this occasion, was given only by the laying on of an apostle’s hands. But on these two occasions (Acts 2:1-4 and Acts 10:44-46), tongues were received directly from heaven. This, in our judgment, is the "like gift."
The Reason for the Events at Cornelius’ House
We must look briefly at the reason for this miracle. A few years after the events of Acts 10, a problem arose in the early church concerning whether the Gentiles had to "be circumcised after the manner of Moses" (Acts 15:1). In the subsequent "Jerusalem Conference," as it is sometimes called, Peter referred to his visit to the house of Cornelius. Consider carefully the following:
"And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us, And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:7‑9).
Notice in verse eight Peter said, "And God, which knoweth the hearts." This is generally understood to refer to the Gentile heart; that God knew the receptive heart Cornelius had. However, we are convinced it is NOT the heart of the Gentile Cornelius that was under consideration, but the obstinate, adamant, implacable, stubborn heart of the Jews in their feelings toward the Gentiles.
God intended for the Gospel to go to the Gentiles (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Mark -16). However, He had to allow a great persecution to come upon the church to get the Jews to take the Gospel to the whole world (Acts 8:1-4). Why? Because the Jews had no dealings with the Gentiles, other than what was absolutely necessary. Peter told Cornelius, “You people understand that it is forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit any non-Jewish person…” (Acts 10:28).
Just two days before, Peter had seen the vision of heaven opened: “He saw something coming down through the open sky. It looked like a big sheet coming down to the ground. It was being lowered to the ground by its four corners. Every kind of animal was in it – animals which walk on four feet, animals which crawl on the ground, and birds which fly in the air” (Acts 10:11‑12). Based upon this, when Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius, he understood he “should not call any person unholy or unclean” (Acts ).
As we have already
above, in answering objections raised by the church in
But the Jewish Christians as a whole seemed unaware of God's plan to accept the Gentiles. They needed something “extra special.” The events at the house of Cornelius were that “extra special" something. When Peter related to those in Jerusalem the events of that day, “…they stopped arguing. They gave glory to God and said, Then God is allowing non-Jewish people to change their hearts and have life, too” (Acts ).
In Acts 10 and 11 we find the complete fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts -21) during the conversion of these Gentiles. It could be said that their conversion was an exception to the rule. Exceptions are important in order to prove a point. This was true with the miracles of Jesus. If He had done only those things that the average ordinary person was able to do, He could not have proved that He is the Son of God. By doing those things that man cannot do by his natural abilities, things that are exceptions to natural processes, He proved Himself to be the Son of God (John 20:30-31; Acts 2:22).
By using an exception, God proved He would accept Gentiles for salvation and place them on the same level as the descendants of Abraham, a reality that would be difficult for the Jews to accept. Consider this question for a moment: What do you think would have been the reaction of the Jews had Peter gone to the Gentiles, preached to them, baptized them, and laid his hands upon them without the miraculous events that surround this occasion? Would the Jewish Christians have accepted the Gentiles? We think not.
The normal pattern ‑ the empowering of the Holy Spirit given after baptism through the laying on of the apostles' hands ‑ may not have been adequate proof to the Jewish Christians that Gentiles, even though forgiven of their sins, should have the same status in the Christian community as the Jewish converts. Without God's exception, the acceptance of Gentile converts would have seemed to have only the sanction of the apostles. By giving the power of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, in like manner as to the apostles (Jews) in the beginning, directly and without human agency, God proved for all times that the Gentiles are to be offered salvation and that all children of God are equal. God was proving that the choice was His, not Peter's.
Without hesitation we affirm that the events at the house of Cornelius were to fulfill Joel’s prophesy and convince the Jews of God's intention to accept the Gentiles into covenant relationship with Him. This Acts 10:45 “gift of the Holy Spirit” received directly from God by these Gentiles was not for the purpose of forgiveness of sins or to give them the Acts 2:38 “gift of the Holy Spirit.” They received those two spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) in the same way as all believers who have repented of their sins and confessed their faith in Christ – through their humble obedience to God by submitting their bodies to be immersed in water (Acts 10:48; 22:16; 5:32).