Acts 11 – Peter and the Art of Self-Defense

Acts 11 Bible with Strauss Parra White Chocolate with Almonds
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Today’s ChocolateParra White Chocolate with Almonds

Today’s PassageActs 11

In today’s chapter, Peter deals with the fallout from his acceptance of Cornelius as a fellow follower of Christ, and the obvious place to go with it is that racism and religious bigotry have no place in the church. But as true as that is, I don’t want to co-opt the passage or use it as a soapbox to make my own points. Furthermore, there are some peculiarities in Peter’s interactions with the other Jewish Christians here, so let’s trade our broad brush for the detail one as we dig in.

To begin with, what’s the consequence of Peter’s taking a stand for racial inclusivism? Mild inconvenience. When his Jewish Christian brethren accuse him of the unthinkable–”You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:3)–he merely has to explain his vision and meeting with Cornelius to them. When Peter notes that Cornelius and his Gentile entourage also received the Holy Spirit, that seals it for them; they conclude, “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. This is not especially one of those times.

I was a little disappointed to note that Peter summarizes his vision and meeting with Cornelius. Honestly, some of the most hilarious passages in the Bible to me are those that narrate a series of events, and then someone asks one of the people involved what happened, and the person gives an account that’s identical verbatim to the narration that preceded. (I’ve just spent some fifteen minutes searching for an example, but the closest I can find is Exodus 7:17-18 and 20-21, where God’s description of the Nile turning to blood precedes the actual event, but matches the unfolding event word-for-word.) But when Peter retells the story of meeting Cornelius, he even puts a little variation on the words he previously spoke. As he experiences the vision of the sheet, he originally tells God, “I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14), but in his summary to the Jewish Christians, he reports his words as “nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth” (11:7). Presumably Luke got the account of Peter’s vision from Peter, the only one who saw the vision. Why would Luke’s account of Peter’s vision vary from Luke’s account of Peter’s account of Peter’s vision? Was this the way Peter recounted the story to Luke? Luke aims for accuracy, so I’m inclined to think that Peter must have used summary and variation in his speech to the other Jewish Christians.

In this chapter, we also see the gospel spreading to the city of Antioch, and Luke notes that some men from Cyprus and Cyrene make a concentrated effort to branch out beyond Jewish communities and synagogues in spreading the gospel (11:20). But the chapter ends with a prophet named Agabus coming to Antioch and predicting through the Spirit that there’ll be a widespread famine coming. The disciples begin preparing for the famine, but I can’t remember if Luke comes back to it later. It’ll be interesting to see whether he notes when the famine actually strikes.

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