Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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ACTS - Chapter 11

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Acts 11

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE CHURCH IN PALESTINE AND SYRIA  2, 1 -- 12, 25 (continued)

3.  Spread of the Church to the Gentiles  10, 1 -- 11, 30 (continued)

11, 1-18:  Explanation at Jerusalem.  The objectors "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel"; the great innovation was the baptism of the uncircumcised.  Perhaps they tried to accept that fact as something exceptional or they expected the Gentile converts to be relegated to a position of inferiority like that of the devout pagans who were allowed to attend services in the synagogues.  But in 18 they acknowledge that they are members of the Church in the full sense.

11, 19-30:  The Converts at Antioch.  Having disposed of this first series of events, St. Luke returns to pick up the story of other bands of evangelists who, like Philip, had left  Jerusalem shortly after the martyrdom of St. Stephen.  They preached throughout Phoenicia along the west coast and in the island of Cyprus, finally coming to Antioch, the capital of Syria.  So far their preaching had been addressed to Jews only, but on entering Antioch some of them announced the gospel to the Gentiles also.  This remarkable change of method can be explained only by the arrival of the news about St. Peter's action in receiving Cornelius into the Church.  This set up a new rule for the preaching of the gospel; the Jews were still the privileged class and so the gospel was to be presented to them first, but the Gentiles were also to be converted.  The first group of missionaries to reach Antioch had not heard of the conversion of Cornelius and preached to Jews only.  They hesitated to change their method without more definite instructions from Jerusalem.  But these later arrivals had heard the news and accepted it as practical guidance.

That the conversion at Antioch came after those at Caesarea, and that the evangelists there were not acting on their own initiative, is strikingly confirmed by the attitude taken at Jerusalem.  St. Peter had been called upon to give his reasons for admitting Gentiles, but when the news from Antioch reached the mother church in Jerusalem, no astonishment was expressed.  They had learned God's will regarding the Gentiles, and the normal consequence could only be that the Gentiles would eagerly into eternal life through the door now thrown open to them.  The next step would be to see that the new community was properly organized, and so the authorities at Jerusalem immediately sent Barnabas to Antioch for that purpose.

The church at Antioch stands out as the first Christian community made up chiefly of Gentiles.  The blessing of God was upon the work among the pagans, while here as throughout the Diaspora the converts from Judaism seem to have been few.  The community immediately showed its ardent spirit of charity by voting to send help to the churches in Palestine which were threatened by the famine foretold by the prophet Agabus, and it soon became a center for missions to other countries.  Yet it was always in close association with Jerusalem, from which came its first evangelists, and Barnabas who gave it its regular organization and further instructions in the faith.  As a consequence this city was well prepared to serve both as a starting point and as a support to St. Paul and his companions when they set out on their great missionary journeys.  As a final distinction it was here that the faithful were first called Christians; the name was probably bestowed in derision by the city rabble, noted for its wit, but 1 Pet. 4, 16 shows that it was soon commonly accepted as a title of honor.


Confraternity Bible:

Explanation at Jerusalem  1 Now the apostles and the brethren all over Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  2 But when Peter went up to Jerusalem, they of the circumcision found fault with him, 3 saying, "Why didst thou visit men uncircumcised and eat with them?"

4 Then Peter began to explain the matter to them in order, saying, 5 "I was praying in the city of Joppa and while in ecstasy I had a vision, a certain vessel coming down something like a great sheet, let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came right down to me.  6 And gazing upon it, I began to observe, and I saw the four-footed creatures of the earth, and the wild beasts and the creeping things, and the birds of the air.  7 And I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Arise, Peter, kill and eat.'  8 And I said, 'By no means, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'  9 But the voice answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, do not thou call common.'  10 This happened three times, and then it was all drawn up back into heaven.  11 And behold, immediately three men came to the house where I was, having been sent from Caesarea to me; 12 and the Spirit bade me not to hesitate to go with them.  And these six brethren also went with me, and we entered the man's house.  13 And he told us how he had seen the angel in his house stand and say to him, 'Send to Joppa and fetch Simon, surnamed Peter; 14 he will speak to thee words by which thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy household.'  15 But when I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as it did upon us at the beginning.  16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'  17 Therefore, if God gave to them the same grace as he gave to us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should be able to interfere with God?"  18 On hearing this they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, "Therefore to the Gentiles also God has given repentance unto life."

The Converts at Antioch  19 Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution that had broken out over Stephen, went all the way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except to Jews only.  20 But some of them were Cyprians and Cyreneans, who on reaching Antioch began to speak to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.  22 And news concerning them came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas as far as Antioch.  23 Now when he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and exhorted them all to continue in the Lord with steadfast heart; 24 for he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great multitude was added to the Lord.  25 And he went forth to Tarsus to look for Saul, and on finding him he brought him to Antioch.  26 And for a whole year they took part in the meetings of the church and taught a great multitude.  And it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians."

27 Now in those days some prophets from Jerusalem came down to Antioch, 28* and one of them named Agabus got up and revealed through the Spirit that there would be a great famine all over the world.  The famine occurred in the reign of Claudius.  29 So the disciples, each according to his means, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.  30* And this they did, sending it to the presbyters by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
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*

28: Claudius: Roman emperor 41-54 A.D.

30: Presbyters: literally, "elders."  This is the term from which our "priest" is derived.  But here and in the rest of Acts, and in many of the Epistles, it designates the priests who held office as rulers of the early Church.  "Presbyter" also distinguishes these priests from the Jewish "elders."