Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a Roman army officer in what was called the Italian Regiment.
2. He was a devout man, a “God-fearer,” as was his whole household; he gave generously to help the Jewish poor and prayed regularly to God.
A "God-fearer." Greek phoboumenos ton theon, "one who fears God," is regarded by most scholars as a technical term describing a Gentile who attached himself to Judaism but chose not to undergo formal conversion, which included circumcision and public immersion (proselyte baptism). This class of Gentiles*, known in Judaism as "proselytes of the gate," was quite large at this time. They were attracted to the nobility of Jewish worship and to the truth of the one God who had revealed himself in the Bible, but for various reasons did not become Jews. See 13:16N.
He gave generously to help the Jewish poor. The text does not say "the Jewish poor" but "the people." Greek laos. However "laos" is frequently a technical term referring to the Jewish people, the people of God, not people in general; hence this rendering.
And prayed regularly to God. Like Ruth in the Tanakh (Ruth 1:16) this Godfearing Gentile had accepted the two essentials of true worship (see above, 2:1N):
(1) "Your people shall be my people." Although Cornelius did not officially join the Jewish people, he cared for them as his own.
(2) "And your God shall be my God." He prayed to the God of Israel. Or, looking at it another way, he had works stemming from faith (Ro 1:5, 16:26; Ga 5:6; Ep 2:10; Ya 2:14) — which is how the New Testament defines true religion (Ya 1:27), as does the Tanakh (Micah 6:8, Ecclesiastes 12:13).
3. One afternoon around three o’clock he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4. Cornelius stared at the angel, terrified. “What is it, sir?” he asked. “Your prayers,” replied the angel, “and your acts of charity have gone up into God’s presence, so that he has you on his mind.
5. Now send some men to Yafo to bring back a man named Shim‘on, also called Kefa.
A man named Shim'on, also called Kefa. See Mt 4:18N. Early printings of the JNT are missing the important words, "named Shim'on."
6. He’s staying with Shim‘on the leather-tanner, who has a house by the sea.”
7. As the angel that had spoken to him went away, Cornelius called two of his household slaves and one of his military aides, who was a godly man;
8. he explained everything to them and sent them to Yafo.
9. The next day about noon, while they were still on their way and approaching the city, Kefa went up onto the roof of the house to pray.
10. He began to feel hungry and wanted something to eat; but while they were preparing the meal, he fell into a trance
11. in which he saw heaven opened, and something that looked like a large sheet being lowered to the ground by its four corners.
12. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, crawling creatures and wild birds.
13. Then a voice came to him, “Get up, Kefa, slaughter and eat!”
14. But Kefa said, “No, sir! Absolutely not! I have never eaten food that was unclean or treif.”
Leviticus 11 specifies that only those four-footed animals that chew the cud and have split hoofs are kosher ("fit") for Jewish people to eat. No reptiles are allowed, and permitted birds are listed by name. In Kefa's vision all kinds of creatures appeared, including those that are non-kosher or treif. The word "ireif" means "torn" and actually refers to animals slain by predators and not slaughtered in accordance with Jewish practice; modern "Jewish English" (see Section IV of the Introduction to the JNT) extends its meaning to include food that for any reason is not kosher.
15. The voice spoke to him a second time: “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.”
16. This happened three times, and then the sheet was immediately taken back up into heaven.
17. Kefa was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen, when the men Cornelius had sent, having inquired for Shim‘on’s house, stood at the gate
18. and called out to ask if the Shim‘on known as Kefa was staying there.
19. While Kefa’s mind was still on the vision, the Spirit said, “Three men are looking for you.
Kefa was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen.... Kefa's mind was still on the vision. What could it possibly mean? Would God, who established his covenant with the Jewish people and gave them an eternal Torah at Mount Sinai, and who is himself unchangeable (Malachi 3:6), change his Torah to make unclean animals kosher? This is the apparent meaning, and many Christian commentators assert thai this is in fact the meaning. But they ignore the plain statement a few verses later which at last resolves Kefa's puzzlement, "God has shown me not to call any person unclean or impure" (v. 28&N). So the vision is about persons and not about food.
God has not abrogated the Jewish dietary laws. Yeshua said, "Don't think that I have come to do away with the Torah" (Mt 5:17-20&NN). The specific issue of whether Yeshua abolished kashrut has already arisen at Mk 7:19&N; the conclusion there is that he did not. In Kefa's vision the sheet lowered from heaven contained all kinds of animals, wild beasts, reptiles and birds: yet 1 know of no Bible interpreters who insist that eagles, vultures, owls, bats, weasels, mice, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, spiders and bugs must now be considered edible. God specifies in Leviticus 11 what Jews are to regard as "food." Later, the way in which the laws of kashrul fit into the New Covenant is clarified for Kefa and for us (Ga 2:12b&N, 14b&N).
20. Get up, go downstairs, and have no misgivings about going with them, because I myself have sent them.”
Have no misgivings about going with a group of Gentiles. See v. 28N.
21. So Kefa went down and said to the men, “You were looking for me? Here I am. What brings you here?”
Неге I am. See 9:10N.
22. They answered, “Cornelius. He’s a Roman army officer, an upright man and a God-fearer, a man highly regarded by the whole Jewish nation; and he was told by a holy angel to have you come to his house and listen to what you have to say.”
23. So Kefa invited them to be his guests. The next day, he got up and went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Yafo;
24. and he arrived at Caesarea the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them — he had already called together his relatives and close friends.
25. As Kefa entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell prostrate at his feet.
26. But Kefa pulled him to his feet and said, “Stand up! I myself am just a man.”
Fell prostrate at his feet to welcome him. also to honor him as God's messenger, but not to "worship" him (as some English versions have it). As a "God-fearer" Cornelius would have known better — like Rabbi Akiva's wife, who prostrated herself and kissed his feet when he returned after twelve years' yeshivah study but certainly did not worship him (Talmud. Ketubot 63a). However, Kefa's response, "'Stand up! I myself am just a man," shows that he misread what Cornelius did as an act of idolatry to be expected from a pagan: the fisherman from the Galil had probably never had such a thing happen to him before.
27. As he talked with him, Kefa went inside and found many people gathered.
28. He said to them, “You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn’t done. But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean;
29. so when I was summoned, I came without raising any questions. Tell me, then, why did you send for me?”
You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn't done. Before examining whether Jews did in fact keep themselves aloof from Gentiles, take note of Kefa's careful word choices. He does not use "ethne," lhc usual New Testament word for "Gentiles" and equivalent to Hebrew Goyim; for it could be interpreted as having a deprecatory nuance (Mt 5:47N). The word here is "allnphuhs," "someone who belongs to another tribe," used only here in the New Testament. Also the word "athemitos" used only twice in the New Testament, does not mean "unlawful, forbidden, against Jewish law," as found in other English versions, but rather "taboo, out of the question, not considered right, against standard practice, contrary to cultural norms."
It is not difficult to find evidence in Jewish sources for what these Gentiles were "well aware" of. that although nothing in Jewish law says that Gentiles themselves are common or unclean, many of their products and practices were regarded as conveying ritual impurity or were for other reasons forbidden to Jews. At one point the Mishna says, straightforwardly.
"The dwelling-places of Gentiles [literally, "Canaanites," meaning Gentiles in the Land of Israel] are ritually unclean." (Ohalot 18:7)
Most of Mishna tractate 'Avodah Zarah ("Idol Worship") is devoted to limiting the contacts Jews may have with Gentiles (literally, "idol-worshippers"). For example, according to Chapter 2, Jews may not remain alone with Gentiles, leave cattle at their inns, assist them in childbirth, suckle their children, do business with them when they are travelling to idolatrous festivals, drink their milk or vinegar or wine (which is why there is such a thing as "kosher wine"; the Tanakh says nothing about it), or eat their bread or oil or pickled vegetables or (in the Gemara on this section) their cooked food. The Bible itself limits Jews to kosher food (Leviticus 11), slaughtered according to Jewish law (Deuteronomy 12:21), on which the tithe has been paid (Leviticus 22:15). In the Gemara, Sanhedrin 104a says that King Hezekiah, by inviting heathens into his house to eat at his table, caused his children to go into exile. However, the Mishna regards table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles as not unheard of, since one section commences with the phrase, "If an Israelite was eating with a Gentile at table," before stating a law about which wine may be drunk on such an occasion ('Avodah Zarah 5:5).
Two points should be noted. First, throughout most of the period covered by the Tanakh the main way in which the Jewish people rebelled against God was by going after idols. Although the Tanakh requires Jews to treat well the Gentiles in their midst, Jews who go after Gentile ways risk being cut off from their people and God's promises. This is why Nechemyah insisted that Jewish men divorce their Gentile wives (Nehemiah 13:23-31). By the Second Temple period, when the majority of Jews lived in Gentile environments (that is, in the Diaspora), and Israel itself was ruled by Gentiles, the threat from assimilation to Jewish identity, in both its national and its religious aspects, had become even stronger. Thus, while obedience to the details of the ritual impurity laws was not widespread, the overall tone of life in Jewish society vis-a-vis Gentile society did indeed produce the kind of self-imposed separation from Gentiles of which Kefa speaks.
Second, while I had no difficulty finding passages in Jewish writings supporting the assertion that Jews kept themselves separate from Gentiles, I have quoted selectively from the Talmud in order to make the point. During the Middle Ages such selective quoting was abused by Christian authorities, with dire results for the Jewish communities of that time. People were not taught that the Talmud, like the ocean, contains a little of everything, but that it teaches xenophobia and downgrades non-Jews. Passages teaching the equality of all persons before God were overlooked, as were those upholding high and impartial ethical standards. This biased portrait of Judaism inflamed professed Christians to carry out acts of violence against Jews; for the same reason thousands of copies of the Talmud were burned.
But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean. If Jewish law made Gentile products and practices unclean, it would have been only human, all too human, for people to have extended the description, "unclean." to Gentiles themselves. Such attitudes would have been not so much taught as caught, absorbed from the total milieu; and the influence of these attitudes would have quickly become pervasive. This is why it took direct intervention from God to shake Kefa loose from them.
Also, as explained in vv. 17-19N, this verse proves that the meaning of Kefa's vision had nothing to do with abrogating the laws of kashrut. With this statement and it expansion in vv. 34-35 Kefa puts his dealings with Cornelius and his friends on a new footing: a barrier that both sides might have thought insuperable, that would have made true spiritual communion impossible, is removed altogether.
30. Cornelius answered, “Three days ago around this time, I was at minchah prayers in my house, when suddenly a man in shining clothes stood in front of me
I was at minchah prayers in my house. Literally, "I was at the ninth hour praying in my house." See 3:1N.
31. and said, ‘God has heard your prayer and remembered your acts of charity.
32. Now send to Yafo and ask for Shim‘on, known as Kefa; he is staying in the house of Shim‘on, a leather-tanner, by the sea.’
33. So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now all of us are here in the presence of God to hear everything the Lord has ordered you to say.”
34. Then Kefa addressed them: “I now understand that God does not play favorites,
35. but that whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to.
God does not play favorites, but... whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what people — or, as we might say today, no matter what ethnic group — he belongs to. The Judaism of the rabbis has a comparable teaching that among the nations there are righteous people "who have a share in the world to come" (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13:2), where righteousness for Gentiles is often defined as keeping the seven Noachide laws (see 15:20&N).
36. “Here is the message that he sent to the sons of Isra’el announcing shalom through Yeshua the Messiah, who is Lord of everything.
37. You know what has been going on throughout Y’hudah, starting from the Galil after the immersion that Yochanan proclaimed;
38. how God anointed Yeshua from Natzeret with the Ruach HaKodesh and with power; how Yeshua went about doing good and healing all the people oppressed by the Adversary, because God was with him.
God anointed Yeshua... with the Ruach HaKodesh: The verse mentions Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
39. “As for us, we are witnesses of everything he did, both in the Judean countryside and in Yerushalayim. They did away with him by hanging him on a stake (Deuteronomy 21:23);
40. but God raised him up on the third day and let him be seen,
41. not by all the people, but by witnesses God had previously chosen, that is, by us, who ate and drank with him after he had risen again from the dead.
Pinchas Lapide is unique among Orthodox Jewish scholars in that he believes Yeshua's resurrection was an historical event, that it actually took place. Why, then, is he not a believer? Because, he says, the resurrection was seen, not by all the Jewish people, but by relatively few witnesses. In contrast, he points out, the entire Jewish people saw God descend on Mount Sinai and consequently said, "We will do and we will hear" (Exodus 24:7). Joseph Shulam's comment: Even though they did all see God at Sinai, they didn't follow him but slipped right back into idolatry; in other words, their profession of loyalty did not produce it. My comment: God's choice to reveal the risen Yeshua to only a few does not excuse disbelief, because the evidence is sufficiently weighty to convince a reasonable and open-minded person (see 1С 15:5-8&NN).
42. “Then he commanded us to proclaim and attest to the Jewish people that this man has been appointed by God to judge the living and the dead.
Jewish people renders Greek laos; the word "Jewish" is not in the text but is implied (see v. 2N).
43. All the prophets bear witness to him, that everyone who puts his trust in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The points of Kefa's sermon to these God-fearing Gentiles: Yeshua is sent by God and is still alive. He will be the final judge of all human beings. The Tanakh points to him. Those who trust in his mercy will be forgiven their sins through his name, that is, because of who he is and what he has done.
44. Kefa was still saying these things when the Ruach HaKodesh fell on all who were hearing the message.
45. All the believers from the Circumcision faction who had accompanied Kefa were amazed that the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh was also being poured out
The believers from the Circumcision faction. Or, more literally, "the believers from the Circumcision," which could mean not a faction but all Jewish believers. Which is it?
At 15:5, 21:20; Ga 2:12; and Ti 1:10 "the Circumcision" refers to a subgroup of Messianic Jews, namely, those who insisted that Gentiles could not join the Messianic Community merely by trusting in God and his Messiah Yeshua; they had to become Jewish proselytes. This faction would have consisted of saved Jews who, in their former life as non-Messianic Jews, considered "God-fearers" (10:2) fence-straddlers that ought to convert to Judaism. Faith in Yeshua would not have made them change their opinion, because the possibility that Gentiles could be members of the Messianic Community without becoming Jews had never arisen.
But at Ro 4:9,4:12, 15:8; Ga 2:7-9 and Ep 2:11 "the Circumcision" is used merely to distinguish Jews from Gentiles. While this sense works well in the present verse, at 11:2 the same expression appears where that meaning does not fit — there were no Gentile believers in Jerusalem, so it would be superfluous to speak of the believers there as Jewish. In two passages so close to each other the same phrase should mean the same thing.
Whether it means all Messianic Jews or the faction that wanted Gentile believers to convert to Judaism is elucidated by what it was that bothered them. It is not reasonable to suppose that all Messianic Jews, or even a significant majority of them, would have both experienced amazement at God's giving the Holy Spirit to Gentiles (this verse) and criticized Kefa for entering Gentiles' homes and eating with them (11:2-3). Only Jews (Messianic or non-Messianic) concerned with Gentiles would have had such reactions. Therefore my rendering, "of the Circumcision faction." For more on them see 15: l&N, Ga2:12cN,Ti
46. on the Goyim, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Kefa’s response was,
47. “Is anyone prepared to prohibit these people from being immersed in water? After all, they have received the Ruach HaKodesh, just as we did.”
48. And he ordered that they be immersed in the name of Yeshua the Messiah. Then they asked Kefa to stay on with them for a few days.
Had Kefa and company not seen for themselves that the Holy Spirit came on these non-Jews exactly as on themselves, with the manifestation of speaking in other languages (2:4), they would not have immersed them. As with Kefa (vv. 9-29), it took a supernatural act of God to dislodge their resistance to bringing Gentiles into the Body of the Messiah, accomplished and symbolized by immersion. Cornelius and his friends were the first full Gentiles to enter the Messianic Community without becoming Jews first.
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