text size

Commentary on Acts 10:34-43

Top comments

{{ annotation.praises_count }} Likes
{{ annotation.creator_alias }}
{{ annotation.creator_score }}

There are no comments yet. Be the first to start comment or request an explanation.

The first Easter drastically changed how Christians understand God’s activity in the world. Today’s first reading features a similar paradigm shift in Christians’ understanding, regarding how wide-reaching God’s favor truly is. I. The literary context: Acts 10:1-11:18 Our reading occurs within the larger narrative episode surrounding Cornelius (10:1-11:18), which Beverly Gaventa calls “the climactic moment of the first half of Acts.”1 The extensive length of the story and its surprising number of repetitions (e.g., 10:28-29, 30-32, 11:4-17) both imply the profound significance of the episode. The central discovery of the episode is stated at its close: “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (11:18). Despite the particular issues of table fellowship (10:28; 11:3), baptism (10:47-48), and circumcision (11:3), the Spirit’s manifestation confirms the overall point: God has accepted Gentiles alongside Jewish believers (10:45-47; 11:18). II. The text at hand: Acts 10:34-43 Today’s reading features Peter’s message to the gathered household of Cornelius. After opening exchanges (10:24-33), Peter addresses directly the context at hand: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34b-35). The Greek is bolder about God’s lack of partiality: “God is not a partiality- shower (lit. ‘face-taker,’_prosopolemptes_).” The concept appears elsewhere in Scripture regarding God’s lack of favoritism toward the rich and powerful (Deuteronomy 10:17; Lev 19:15; 2 Chronicles 9:17; Psalm 82:2; Sirach 35:15-16; Colossians 3:25; Ephesians 6:9; James 2:1, 9), but applying this same language to Jew-Gentile distinctions is quite new (also in Romans 2:11). The next verse only accentuates this meaning: “in every nation anyone who fears ... is acceptable to him” (v. 35). The language of “acceptable” (_dektos_) is rare in Luke-Acts, and first occurs to describe the nature of Jesus’ ministry as “the year of the Lord’s acceptance (_dektos_),” (Luke 4:19, my translation; cf. 4:24). As these factors show, Peter’s message opens with one of the boldest declarations in Luke-Acts about the nature of God’s favor toward non-Jews. Due to convoluted phrasing, translations render verses 36-37 in various ways. But two focal points in the text clearly emerge: God’s message entails “preaching peace by Jesus Christ,” and this Jesus “is Lord of all” (v. 36). Both points would have sound spoken loudly to hearers within the Roman Empire. The phrase “preaching peace” (_euangelizomenos eirenen_, lit. “proclaiming the good news of peace”) uses language employed elsewhere in association with Roman emperors (“good news” and “peace” regarding Augustus’s birth, _OGIS _2:458; cf. Luke 2:14). Even more, the phrase “Lord of all” implies the inferiority of all rival lords, both human and divine (Epictetus calls Caesar “lord of all” in _Discourses _4.1.12; Pindar calls Zeus the same in _Isthmian_ 5.53). These parallels would be striking to a centurion of a leading cohort in the Roman army (Acts 10:1). However, Roman rulers are not the only rivals on the horizon: Peter’s speech later recalls how Jesus’ ministry confronted the oppressive power of the devil (Acts 10:38), a cosmic foe still at large in Acts (13:8-13; 26:18; cf. 19:11-20).2 The rest of Peter’s message (Acts 10:37-43) summarizes Jesus’ ministry, passion, and resurrection (vv. 37-38, 39b-41). Peter also emphasizes how Jesus’ followers are now witnesses (vv. 39, 41) called to testify -- with ancient prophets -- that he is both judge of all and source of forgiveness for believers (vv. 42-43). In fact, verses 37-43 spotlight major themes from Luke- Acts: John’s baptism, the Spirit’s presence, the devil’s oppression, the apostles’ testimony, Jesus’ resurrection, and the fulfillment of scripture. These verses summarize the highlights of Luke’s story about Jesus so that the audience in Cornelius’s home may hear the story authentically. III. Significance In the lectionary, Acts 10:34-43 appears most notably on Resurrection Sunday, and on that day is hardly the focal text.3 But this story’s contributions are not only independently profound, they are complementary to the message of Easter. First, more directly than anywhere else in Luke-Acts (and arguably the New Testament), Acts 10:34-35 declares that “in every nation” God shows no favoritism to particular peoples. For a church now overwhelmingly Gentile that holds dear an Easter story entirely about Jewish characters, this is no small detail. For our benefit Peter’s message proclaims: God does not play favorites. Second, the passage declares “he is Lord of all,” using politically- and religiously-charged language (_kyrios, _“lord”) to claim Jesus’ lordship over earthly and supernatural forces. In this way Acts 10:34-43 makes explicit what the resurrection story only implies: Jesus is Lord over _all things_ \-- death, the devil, and all the forces that defy God. Third, the message of Jesus is powerful. Just outside the bounds of our first reading, Peter’s message is interrupted by an unexpected guest: the Holy Spirit (vv. 44-45). Although the narrative of Acts complicates a formulaic relationship between the proclaimed message and the Spirit’s presence, the Spirit’s advent at several occasions (e.g., 2:37; 10:44) implies there is a mysterious power about the message of Jesus. Whereas today’s Gospel reading states “he is risen,” our first reading declares boldly a message no less profound: “he is Lord of all.” #### Notes: 1 Beverly Roberts Gaventa, _Acts _(Abingdon New Testament Commentaries; Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), p. 162. 2 On this topic, see Susan Garrett, _The Demise of the Devil: Magic and the Demonic in Luke’s Writings_(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989). 3 It also occurs as the second (epistle) reading on the Baptism of our Lord during Year A.

read all comments

1 Sarah R = "The resurrection changed everything. If Jesus had not resurrected from the dead, it is doubtful we would still be talking about Him. If we did, what would we say? A nice man, maybe, with some good teachings, but a little crazy, since He claimed to be God. If Jesus had not resurrected from the dead, Christianity would never have been born. If Jesus had not resurrected from the dead, the world today would be a much different place."
2 Sarah R = "God did distinguish the Israelites by setting them apart as his own nation (Lev 20:24-26), yet his reason for doing so was not to play favorites, but to benefit everyone (Gen 18:1822:18). The Israelites were intended to be an example to others, so that everyone would hear about God and be saved. When other nations witnessed or heard about Israel's history - that is, their relationship with God and God's actions on their behalf - those nations would hear about God and have reason to believe in him. God performed the miracles in Egypt and during the Exodus for this reason (Ex 9:16Josh 4:23-24), and they did cause people in other nations to revere God (Josh 2:8-11).Throughout the Old Testament there are pointers to God's global vision. The Psalms often refer to God as the God of all nations (Ps 47:8-999:2) They prophesy that all nations will worship God (Ps 86:9) and call on them to worship him in the present (Ps 47:1117:1). Other Psalms speak of God revealing himself to all nations (Ps 98:2Ps 67), through his deeds and through the Israelites praising him to other nations (Ps 9:1196:3, 10105:1). Several passages in Isaiah also talk about God's plans to include the Gentiles (42:656:766:19), especially 49:6:"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."The Apostle Paul used similar verses to illustrate this in Romans 15:8-12.The laws given to the Israelites were also meant to get the world's attention (Dt 4:6) and included several provisions for Gentiles. God loved the Gentiles and provided for them (Dt 10:18), and instructed the Israelites to love foreigners as themselves (Lev 19:33-34Dt 10:19), particularly because they had been foreigners in Egypt. This included providing for needy immigrants (Lev 23:22Dt 24:19-22) and not mistreating or oppressing them (Ex 23:9Dt 24:14-15, 17-18,Dt 27:19) but treating them equally under the law (Num 15:15-16Lev 24:22). Those who became followers of God would be Israelites in God's view (Jer 12:16) and could participate in Passover (Ex 12:48-49).- Taken from: http://www.rationalchristianity.net/gentiles.html"
3 Sarah R = "Thank God He is Lord of all!!! It is because of the disciples' work and the work of Paul reaching out beyond their own Jewish community that we today hear the good news of the gospel and can accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. "