Galatians: A Lesson from Acts, Part 3 (Acts 11)

Chapter 11 — Peter defends his actions

(Act 11:1-3 ESV) Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying,  3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Notice that immediately the church forms a circumcision party! God acted powerfully, was transforming the world through this Spirit, and a party arose in church to oppose God’s mission — immediately. This is just so much like, you know, church.

And the complaint wasn’t that Peter had preached the gospel to Gentiles or that he’s baptized them. No, it was that he ate with the Gentiles! And proper Jews just didn’t do this. Gentiles were unclean.

(Act 11:4-15 ESV)  4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order:  5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me.  6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air.  7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’  8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’  10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.  11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea.  12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.  13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter;  14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’  15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.

Luke then reports Peter’s reply. He didn’t get mad. He didn’t argue theology. He just told his story: This is what I saw God do. (Peter omits the fact that “the man” was Cornelius, a Roman centurion.)

(Act 11:16-17 ESV) 16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

Jesus had earlier reminded the apostles –

(Act 1:4-5 ESV) 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;  5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Notice the emphasis. The apostles certainly baptized with water, but the promise from God that drives Acts is baptism with the Spirit.

Some want to limit this to the apostles and Cornelius, but Peter says “the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was speaking to an audience of Jewish converts, and so “us” refers not to the apostles but to the Jews. After all, Peter believed in Jesus long before Pentecost, but the Jews in his audience received the Spirit when they believed.

Peter’s point repeats his point from Acts 10:47: “[Cornelius has] received the Holy Spirit just as we have,” speaking to the Jewish believers who accompanied him.

In short, all Christians receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit when they are saved. It’s a gift, a promise, an outpouring, and it falls from heaven. And normally, it occurs when we are water baptized, which symbolizes many things, including the receipt of the Spirit. But God sometimes gives the Spirit separate from water baptism — which is his perogative, and I’m not inclined to argue with him about it.

(Act 11:18 ESV)  18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

The circumcision party celebrated the result. Such is the power of story! It’s not a mere theory. It really happened. Witnesses to God’s working testified, and hearts were changed.

You know, we really need more testimonies in our churches — unless we believe that, as the New York Times reported, God is dead.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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15 Responses to Galatians: A Lesson from Acts, Part 3 (Acts 11)

  1. John says:

    How many times has a preacher, an elder, or a member been called on the carpet for reaching out to minorities, the divorced and remarried, or the ones whose morals have not been “fixed yet”? O course, it is always done in a very sly way so that it does not sound like, “We don’t want to associate with these people”. It is usually done sprinkled with enough Bible to say “They don’t understand New Testement Christianity and the pattern of the Lord’s Church”.

    In my own spiritual journey I have come to believe that to see the church as simply the one reaching out is to narrow. I am convinced that the spirit of God has fallen on many outside the church walls whom God is using to save the church. An encounter with a stranger that we may see as a chance for evangelism just may be God sending his Son’s heart to save us.

    But, it takes a bit of growing to see and accept this humbling part of our spiritual life, growth that usually comes from broken and contrite hearts; not because of some mistake we made last week, but from the way we have looked at others most of our lives.

  2. Doug Mendenhall says:

    Small correction: it was Time magazine that had a 1966 cover story headlined “Is God Dead?” not The New York Times.

  3. Price says:

    Jay, so the “us” as in fell on “us” in the beginning was actually not limiting to just the Apostles but to all who had received the Spirit from Pentecost forward? If that is so, then it refutes a big argument about the Spirit falling on the Apostles in some different sort of way than everybody else… (As if falling on Cornelius and his household didn’t do that already). Is there something in the dissection of the language that convincingly makes that clear? thanks.

  4. laymond says:

    Doug, is this the old redhead from Texas who writes “soulfood”

    Churches of Christ
    When we meet and our voices are heard,
    You can bet one of two things occurred:
    We either sang a cappella

    by Doug Mendenhall
    I used to read you often, must start again.
    Or we yelled at a fella’
    Who wouldn’t give us the last word.

  5. laymond says:

    Sorry Doug, don’t know how your poem got butchered.

    Churches of Christ
    When we meet and our voices are heard,
    You can bet one of two things occurred:
    We either sang a cappella
    Or we yelled at a fella’
    Who wouldn’t give us the last word.

    I hope this copies correctly if not I am going to quit

  6. Jerry says:

    John,
    Thank you for your astute – and deeply spiritual – comment!

  7. John says:

    Jerry,

    I have stopped counting the times I have asked God to forgive me for the way I thought and spoke of people different from me when I was a teenager. I know God forgave me the first time I asked; the rest were to remind me of what I was and that I never want to be that person again. I believe God’s grace gives us HEALTHY memories.

  8. John says:

    …and what do I mean by HEALTHY MEMORY? One in which I could not lie to myself. I had to be broken to be mended; that I will never forget.

  9. Skip says:

    Interesting that many churches may reluctantly acknowledge the indwelling Holy Spirit but rarely teach on it or talk about it as if it is some sort of vestigial organ. If our lifestyle would remain exactly the same whether or not we thought about the Holy Spirit then I dare say we have quenched it and denied the incredible power that God wants to give us.

  10. Royce Ogle says:

    Getting back to Jay’s post. I remember Jesus saying the Holy Spirit would not come until he was glorified (John 7:39) . And on the very day he was glorified (resurrection day) he breathed on them and said “Receice the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Is there some reason I should believe they did not receive the Spirit then? Of course they did. It was only after they saw the resurrected Jesus that they truly believed. Take Peter for example. Up to the day of the resurrection he was not trustworthy, afraid, and sometimes faithless. After the resurrection he was never again less than a fearless preacher whose bold faith was a model for others.

    When making his defense of baptizing Gentiles his testimony was that they had received the gift of the Spirit like he and the others had “when we believed” (Acts 10:17). Surely no one believes that happened at Pentecost unless you believe Peter and the others did not believe until Pentecost, a foolish idea! No, for Peter Pentecost was about receiving exactly what Jesus had promised. They were to receive Holy Spirit power for witness. (See Acts 1:5, 1:8)

    Finally, it is worth noting that the church DID NOT begin at Pentecost. Those who repented and were baptized were “added” to a church that was already alive and well. Those people who waited in the upper room were saved and indwelt by the Spirit as they waited for the promise of a baptism of the Spirit for soul winning power.

  11. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Royce,

    Peter said,

    (Act 11:17 ESV) 17 “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

    You asked about the meaning of the pronoun “us.” Usually, in this discourse, Peter speaks in the first person singular: I, me, etc. But early in the speech, he uses the first person plural — we, us — when he is speaking of his entourage, that is, those who traveled from Joppa to Caesarea.

    (Act 11:11 ESV) 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea.
    (Act 11:12 ESV) 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.
    (Act 11:13 ESV) 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter;
    (Act 11:15 ESV) 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
    (Act 11:17 ESV) 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

    Clearly, the early uses of “we” and “us” refer to Peter and his companions. However, by v. 15, he seems to shift so that “us” refers to his audience –

    (Act 11:2-4 ESV) 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order:

    – that is, his audience was a group of Jews, which included the circumcision party. Hence, I take 11:15 to use “them” for Gentiles — which is confirmed by v 18 –

    (Act 11:18 ESV) 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

    – and so I take “us” to refer to Jews.

    Read closely. In 11:17, he speaks of the Holy Spirit falling on “them”, just as on “us.” Well, the Spirit was not outpoured until Pentecost.

    Just so, “beginning” does not refer to an event recorded in John but in Luke — assuming Luke meant to be understood. If Peter had reference to Jesus’ breathing on the apostles, Luke had ample opportunity to record that event in Luke/Acts — and yet he didn’t. It seems unlikely that Luke expected Theophilus to wait until John’s Gospel was written much later to understand the reference.

    Hence, “us” and “we” in this speech is not about the apostles, who simply don’t appear in the context.

    And compare –

    (Act 15:8-9 ESV) 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

    “Them” means Gentiles. Therefore, “us” means “us Jews.”

    Am I therefore contending that the apostles didn’t believe until Pentecost? No. In fact, Peter made his Great Confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah long before Pentecost and long before Jesus breathed on the disciples near the end of John. Rather, Peter is speaking in terms of general truths. It’s generally true that the Spirit is received proximately with faith.

  12. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug,

    He was born a pauper to a pawn on Christmas Day,
    When the New York Times said “God is dead.”

    I get all my history from Elton John songs.

    How can you argue with that??

    There’s also this:

    The actual New York Times page 1 headline that included the phrase “God Is Dead” is dated March 24, 1968. The phrase also appeared in a major (page 3) article on January 7, 1970. Smaller pieces dated January and April 1966 that feature the phrase in their headings can also be found.

    http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1199

    However, not a single one of these events occurred on a Christmas day. Oh, well …

    Of course, you really can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, I suppose. And the consensus appears to be that it was Time magazine that had the huge headline.

    But to be truly precise, it all goes back to Nietzsche. And I don’t think he said it on a Christmas day either.

    All of which demonstrates the folly of listening to the lyrics of popular music.

  13. Royce Ogle says:

    Jay,

    Two questions just for clarification please.

    1. When in your view was “when we believed”? Whenever it was it’s when Peter received the gift of the Spirit

    2. Did the disciples or did they not receive the Spirit when when Jesus breathed on them and told them to?

    Thanks for the kind interaction. We will not likely ever agree on some matters but certainly that should never cause hurt or ill feelings between us. I only wish some of our friends would disagree as calmly.

  14. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Royce asked,

    When in your view was “when we believed”? Whenever it was it’s when Peter received the gift of the Spirit

    As previously explained, I take “we” to mean “we Jews,” not “we apostles.” Peter plainly believed in Jesus by the time he gave his Great Confession — which was genuine faith because it was to become the rock on which the church is built!

    Peter thus uses “we” to refer to the Jewish community of Christians. He is not making a statement about himself but the Jews in general. He is speaking a general truth.

    Were there exceptions? Well, I find it awfully hard to accept that the 120 disciples didn’t come to faith in Jesus until Pentecost! Therefore, he is speaking as a representative of his race, not in terms of his personal religious experience.

    For example, I might speak to a British friend about how “we” won the Revolutionary War, even though I was not born at the time, and obviously so.

    2. Did the disciples or did they not receive the Spirit when when Jesus breathed on them and told them to?

    If you read Acts 2 in light of the prophets, the “outpouring” of the Spirit is the moment the Kingdom arrived. Indeed, Jesus is quite explicit that the Spirit had not yet arrived in –

    (Act 1:6-8 ESV) 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

    Notice how Jesus connects the coming of the Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit.

    (Joh 7:39 ESV) 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

    I take “glorified” to refer to Jesus’ ascension, because God dwells in glory in heaven. There are those who disagree.

    But confirming my conclusion is –

    (Joh 14:25-26 ESV) 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

    Jesus’ plainly implies that the Spirit won’t come “while I am still with you.”

    – and –

    (Joh 15:26 ESV) 26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

    Jesus says he will send the Spirit “from the Father” — again suggesting that this happens after the Ascension.

    – and –

    (Joh 16:7 ESV) 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

    Jesus did not send the Spirit until he went away — again, surely a reference to the Ascension.

    Hence, I take –

    (Joh 20:22 ESV) 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

    – to be proleptic (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/prolepsis), that is, speaking of the future as though it were present, a figure of speech quite often found on Jesus’ lips in John.

    (Regarding prolepsis in John, see D.A. Carson, at http://books.google.com/books?id=zBRuo3LHyS4C&pg=PA557&lpg=PA557&dq=prolepsis+gospel+john&source=bl&ots=lb9fho9RTU&sig=JwtzKfUcZV25RoLM-q7pW0H_5XI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JObbT8nMLIug8gS6ufTKCg&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=prolepsis%20gospel%20john&f=false.)

  15. Royce Ogle says:

    Jay you said ” I take “we” to mean “we Jews,” not “we apostles.”
    You might be right about this but I fail to see how that substantially answers the question. The fact remains that Peter is saying that he and whomever “we” is received the gift of the Spirit “when we believed”. As you stated, the 120 didn’t wait until Pentecost to believe. Assuming you are correct that Peter is speaking of all believing Jews, the question still looms when was “when we believed”? It’s a legitimate question because because of Peter’s statement concerning receiving the gift of the Spirit.

    As for when Jesus was glorified you certainly represent the majority view. I still doubt that view is correct. Jesus’ resurrection body was perfectly fit for earth and and for the heavens. He possessed supernatural abilities such as materializing in a locked room, suddenly making himself recognizable at will etc.. He also left earth in that body and we are told “this same Jesus” will be the one who will return.

    I don’t think it was an act of faith for Peter to be an unfaithful, swearing, lying coward just hours before the resurrection. Ah, but after the resurrection he was never again fearful or faithless. The resurrection of Jesus was the objective truth that filled out the apostles’ faith. It was preaching the resurrection that got them into so much trouble.

    Pentecost was not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell believers but rather to come upon them to give them power. Jesus clearly said as much. They were “to be baptized with the Spirit…” (Acts 1:5). “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (not in you)” (Acts 1:8). Then Peter preaches after receiving that Holy Spirit power and explained saying in Acts 2:16-21 again the purpose of this outpouring of the Spirit. It was about empowered witness by both males and females resulting in whoever calls upon the Lord would be saved.. Being filled with the Spirit, receiving His outpouring for power is not the same as being indwelt by the Spirit. Again and again the apostles were filled with the Spirit.

    The promise of Jesus was fulfilled and what a powerful witness it was with an explosion of new believers responding to the message about Jesus in repentance and faith and declaring it in the waters of baptism. Then we read in Ephesians where Paul tells them to be filled with the Spirit, and by extension we are to be as well. We focus on singing methods and ignore the truth about the Spirit. Shame on us..

    I love you my brother/s I suppose we will not agree on many things but we agree on the most important things. Christ alone saves by grace alone and we are to baptize everyone who declares his faith in Jesus. We can depend on God to sort them out.

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