This study is part of a series that will examine the Jewishness of the original followers of Jesus. Did their belief in Jesus the Messiah and his death and resurrection lead to a subsequent abandoning of various Jewish practices? The approach taken will be to go through each book of Acts, examining relevant texts for insights into this question.
Acts 10:1-2 NRSV “In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.”
The story of Cornelius is the first in a series of stories in Acts where a non-Jewish person already connected to the Jewish community comes to a believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The usual pattern that we see, later, in Paul's journeys is consistent with this story— non-Jewish persons in association with the Jewish community come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. These gentile believers were not pagans when they learned about Jesus— although they may not have gone through the process of formal conversion to Judaism, they were similar to their Jewish neighbors in overall world-view.
Acts 10:3 ESV “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel
See Acts 3:1; 10:30; Daniel 9:21. This was the “hour of prayer”— like his Jewish neighbors, Cornelius was praying.
Acts 10:7 NRSV “... a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him...”
Cornelius was not uniquely pious in his community.
Acts 10:12-13 NASB “... all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!””
Peter explains the meaning of this vision later; the vision is not revoking the Teachings of Moses.
Acts 10:14,17 NRSV “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”... Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision ...”
Peter is still eating kosher. He was a close disciple and had a long exposure to the teachings and example of Jesus. If Jesus had overturned the teachings on “unclean” animals, Peter would undoubtedly have known about it. There was nothing in his prior experience with Jesus that would make an abolished Torah a sensible concept to him— thus he remains puzzled by the vision.
Acts 10:19-20 ESV “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.””
Peter does not have to wait long to learn the meaning of the vision— “the Spirit said” the interpretation. Peter later describes the vision and explains his interpretation.
Acts 10:22 KJV “... Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, ...”
The Jewish people would not have regarded Cornelius as a good man unless he had been conforming to the teachings of the Torah as they applied to the foreigner living among the people of Israel. Most likely Cornelius was living above a minimum standard to have been regarded with such favor. He undoubtedly had shown interest in and had learned some of the teachings of scripture and was participating to some degree in the life of the community. He was familiar with Jewish ways and was living in such a way that he was not offending his Jewish neighbors.
Acts 10:28 NASB “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.””
The HCSB translates the text as “it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a
foreigner.” There are no scriptural commandments prohibiting association between Israel and foreigners. The Greek word translated as “unlawful” in the NASB and “forbidden” in the HCSB is not a common word and probably is better understood not as a violation of law but of convention or custom. Perhaps “disreputable”, “objectionable”, “offensive”, “discouraged”, “improper”, or “taboo” better convey the tone of the text. The Greek word translated as “foreigner” is not the word translated elsewhere as “gentile”; it is better understood as “outsider”. Peter is not saying that scriptural law has been changed, but rather that “God has shown” him a better understanding.
Acts 10:30 NASB “... I was praying in my house during the ninth hour...”
See comments on 10:3. His prayer time is very Jewish.
Acts 10:36 NRSV “... the message he sent to the people of Israel, ...”
Israel is the focal point of the story according to Peter; he doesn't seem to envision a new religion that is separate from the people of Israel.
Acts 10:45 NKJV “And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.”
Those of the circumcision— meaning Jews— did not expect non-Jews to be participants in their movement. Clearly, nothing had happened during the ministry of Jesus or afterwards to create separation from Judaism.
Acts 10:47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Water immersion— baptism— was a final step in the Jewish conversion process. The idea that is new to Peter and the other believers is that one could “convert” without circumcision— that is, without becoming Jewish. However, it would never have occurred to Peter or the other disciples that they should stop being Jewish.