What Does The Spirit Have To Do With Foreigners

What Does The Spirit Have To Do With Foreigners

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What Does the Spirit Have to Do with Foreigners? Reading Acts 10:28–48 with Diodorus of Sicily and Tacitus

Rodolfo Galvan Estradaiii Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia



This article examines how Greco-Roman ethnoracial views inform our understanding of Peter and Cornelius’s encounter in Acts 10:28–48. By drawing from the Gentile perception of Jewish misanthropy mentioned by Diodorus of Sicily and Tacitus, we find that Peter was harboring a resistance to preach the gospel to the Caesareans. By rereading the narrative from this perspective, visions and Spirit baptism within Acts 10 become divine events that challenge the reluctance to preach the gospel and associate with foreigners.


race – ethnicity – Peter – Cornelius – visions – Spirit baptism – misanthropy

What does Peter’s encounter with Cornelius teach us about our relationship with foreigners? Or more specifically, how do divine activities and experiences, such as Spirit baptism, help us navigate race relations? Peter’s speech to Cor- nelius and his household in Acts 10:28–48 is regarded as the first missional proclamation to Gentiles. It is a God-directed event that followed Cornelius’s vision in Caesarea and Peter’s vision in Joppa. For this reason, scholars notice the universal and ethnic implications and credit Peter’s speech as the moment the Joppan dream was understood.1 Many notice that this encounter is a sig-

1 I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), 189–

192; Mark Plunkett, “Ethnocentricity and Salvation History in the Cornelius Episode: Acts

10:1–11:18,” sblsp 24 (1985): 465–479; F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2017 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03903016



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nificant event for Jewish and Gentile relations. Ben Witherington remarks that the issue of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius seems to be on overcoming eth- nocentric Jewish purity laws.2But when we turn to those who focus on the role of Spirit baptism, the emphasis is placed upon its relationship with soteriology. Thus, we find James Dunn and Max Turner interpreting Spirit baptism as the moment in which God cleansed Gentile hearts.3 Pentecostal scholars such as Roger Stronstad interpret the account not as a conversion-initiation, but as a Christian vocation or a subsequent experience.4In addition, Craig Keener rec- ognizes that the signs within this encounter reflect a confirmation of the Spirit that the present uncircumcised seekers had now entered into the covenant.5 Nonetheless, these readings agree that this encounter is the beginning of God’s universal mission. They often present Peter as a champion of Gentile outreach and Cornelius as the proselyte or pagan who needs further enlightenment and salvation. We find minimal discussions, however, on how Jews and Romans viewed one another and how the divine experiences narrated in the encounter relate to this issue.

So what does the Spirit have to do with foreigners? This article contends that in Acts 10:28–48 divine experiences are events that primarily transform ethno-

B. Eerdmans, 1988), 210–211; Julius Scott, “The Cornelius Incident in the Light of Its Jewish

Setting,” jets 34, no. 4 (1991): 481–484; Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts:

The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 131; Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the

Apostles (New Haven: Doubleday, 1998), 461; Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A

Social Rhetorical Commentary(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 354; Chris Miller, “Did

Peter’s Vision Pertain to Men or the Menu?” BSac 159 (2002): 302–307; Vanthanh Nguyen,

“Dismantling Cultural Boundaries: Missiological Implications of Acts 10:1–11:18,” Missiology

4 (2012): 459; Samuel Perez Millos, Hechos(Barcelona: Clie, 2013), 733.

2 Witherington, Acts, 354.

3 James Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament on the Gift of

the Spirit(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1939), 82; Max Turner,The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts:

In the New Testament and the Church Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 55; Power from on

High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015),


4 Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke: Trajectories from the Old Testament

to Luke-Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 77; See also William Atkinson, who champions a

modified pentecostal view of Spirit baptism in Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn

Debate (Eugene: Pickwick, 2011); French Arrington, “The Indwelling, Baptism, and Infilling

with the Holy Spirit: A Differentiation of Terms,”Pneuma3, no. 2 (1981): 6; Tak-Ming Cheung,

“Understandings of Spirit Baptism,”jpt8 (1996): 124–128; Mark Lee, “An Evangelical Dialogue

on Luke, Salvation and Spirit Baptism,”Pneuma26 (2004): 91–92.

5 Craig Keener, Acts:An ExegeticalCommentary3:1–14:28(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 1727–1730.

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racialattitudes.Thisisapointoftenplacedontheperipherybyinterpreters.But when we read the text in light of Greek and Roman views of Jews, as found in the writings of Diodorus of Sicily and Tacitus, we find a new understanding on how the encounter between Peter and Cornelius could have been interpreted. It is thus my aim to interpret Peter’s dialogue in the narrative, the role of visions and Spirit baptism, and Cornelius’s divine experience in light of the prevailing ethnoracial views of the Greco-Roman world. At the end of our inquiry, we will find how the divine experiences were a vital aspect in radically transforming Jewish-Gentile relations in Acts 10. But first, what do I mean by “ethnoracial” and why should we have such a concern for Jewish and Gentile perceptions of ethnicity within this text?

Ethnoracial, Ethnicity, and Race Defined

When we speak of “foreigners,” “race,” or “ethnicity,” we do so in relation to perceived differences in others. Fredrik Barth considers the term ethnicity to refer to people who are biologically self-perpetuating, share basic cultural val- ues, have a bounded social field of communication and interaction, and have members who identify themselves and are identified as belonging to that eth- nic group.6 The term race, on the other hand, differs from ethnicity, but the two terms are often used synonymously and interchangeably. Ivan Hannaford notes that our English wordraceis a recent invention that entered the Spanish, Italian, French, English, and Scottish languages during the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. In fact, he notes that it was not until after the French and Ameri- can Revolutions that the idea of race was fully conceptualized and became embedded in our understanding and explanation of the world.7 Critical race theorists, however, have also led us to recognize that the notion of race does not exist. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic insist that it is not objective, inher- ent, or fixed, but the product of social thought and relation. That is, races are categories that society invents. It is a modern way of defining groups and distin- guishing them from one another based upon cultural, physical, and linguistic

6 Fredrik Barth,Ethnic Groups and Boundaries(Long Grove,il: Waveland, 1969), 10–11; Andreas

Wimmer, in Ethnic Boundary Making (New York: Oxford, 2013), 7, defines “ethnicity” as a

subjectivity felt belonging to a group that is distinguished by a shared culture and common


7 Ivan Hannaford,Race:The History of an Idea in theWest(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University

Press, 1996), 6.

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differences.8 Denis McCoskey also adds that race allows the division of peo- ple into broad categories that demarcate according to differences such as skin color.9

Thus, in order to avoid confusion in the use of the terms race or ethnicity, I prefer to use the wordethnoracialin order to center our focus on the common- alities that these terms signify when they refer to differences among people groups that are cultural, physical, territorial, and linguistic.These perceived dif- ferences that we identify in ethnoracial groups are not new ways of thinking about people; they are a way of viewing people groups since antiquity.10When studying the relationships among ethnoracial groups, classicists trace the his- tory of perceived differences to the Greek civilization. They note that it was the Greeks who were the first to make rational arguments for their own sense of superiority against those whom they deemed inferior. Their prejudicial atti- tudes were systematically analyzed, given a firm basis for them in nature, and justified on a rational level.11

The approach taken in this study thus assumes that in order to understand the encounter between Peter and Cornelius, one must also have an aware- ness of the ethnoracial dynamics of the Greco-Roman world. In fact, social- scientific critics remind us that a text is a product of its social context and is controlled by the context in which it was produced.12 In other words, in order to interpret texts, we need more than historical facts.13This does not mean that the historical-critical method or others are superfluous; but we recognize that they have limitations when the environmental context of the narrative, which includes an ethnoracial reality, is examined. We need, therefore, to have a more acute focus on the ethnoracial views, prejudices, and perspectives as revealed through Greco-Roman literature. This approach is akin to what literary critics







Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic,Critical Race Theory(New York: New York University Press, 2012), 8.

Denise Eileen McCoskey,RaceAntiquityandItsLegacy(NewYork: Oxford University Press, 2012), 2.

See Jonathan Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 34–35; In Homer’s Iliad the term race is applied to young men (2.91; 3.32; 7.115; 11.724), birds (2.459), and flies (2.87, 469).

Benjamin Isaac, Joseph Ziegler, and Miriam Eliav-Feldon, “Introduction,” inThe Origins of Racism in the West (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 9.

John Elliott, What is Social–Scientific Criticism? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 7–9; Bruce Malina,ChristianOriginsandCulturalAnthropology(Eugene:Wipf & Stock, 2010), 1–9;The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels(New York: Routledge, 1996), 7.

Elliott,What is Social–Scientific Criticism?13; Malina,Christian Origins, 1–9; Malina,Social World, 7.

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describe as “ethnocriticism,” given that the emphasis on the exegesis centers upon the intersection of ethnic attitudes, perspectives, identity markers, indi- viduals,andgroupswithinthesocial-culturalcontextof atext.14Thusquestions about ethnoracial relations in Acts 10 would include:15





How does the text challenge, affirm, or reject the ethnoracial views— prejudicial or stereotypical—within the social world of Jews and Ro- mans?

What ethnoracial codes, behavior patterns, or values are necessary to incorporate in our understanding of the encounter between Peter and Cornelius?

What is the writer’s strategy in articulating the text for a Jewish and Roman context that held ethnoracial views and perspectives? How do these ethnoracial dynamics shape our understanding of visions and Spirit baptism?

As the questions above reveal, our aim is to examine how the ethnoracial real- ities of the ancient world shape our understanding of divine experiences and the encounter between Peter and Cornelius. These questions aim to facilitate and yield new insights about the nature of Spirit baptism within the narrative. I also must admit, however, that the focus on these dynamics emerges from an ethnoracial identity and pentecostal experience of a Latino.16I believe that by exploring the text with these aspects, we can arrive at a more vibrant reading on how divine experiences such as Spirit baptism challenge ethnoracial per- ceptions.

14 15 16

Arnold Krupat, Ethnocriticism(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 3–5, 37. Questions adapted from Elliott’sWhat is Social–Scientific Criticism?70–73.

See Virgilio Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican American Promise (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1983), 21; Justo Gonzalez, Santa Biblia: The Bible through Spanish Eyes (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 20–21; Nestor Medina, “Transgressing Theological Shibboleths: Culture as Locus of Divine (Pneumatological) Activity,” Pneuma 36, no. 3 (2014): 441; Mestizaje: (Re)Mapping Race, Culture, and faith in Latina/o Catholicism (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2009), 1; Luis Rivera-Rodriguez, “Reading in Spanish from the Diaspora through Hispanic Eyes,” ThTo 54 (1998): 481; Rodolfo Estrada, “Is a Contextualized Hermeneutic the Future of Pentecostal Readings?”Pneuma37, no. 3 (2015): 341–355.

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Rereading the Narrative: Ethnoracial Resistance

Before we begin our examination of the ethnoracial dynamics in Acts 10, a minor note on how speeches were viewed in the ancient world is in order. According to Polybius, there is a difference between attempting to record the spoken words and fabricating a speech that was never spoken.17 He finds it necessary for the historian at least to record the “real drift” of what was said by a given speaker. These remarks on the historian’s responsibility in recording speeches echo the aim of Thucydides to write “what was nearest to the sum of the truth of all that had been uttered” (1.22.1). In fact, Marion Soards suggests that we should take the speeches in Acts as a précis of actual apostolic preaching.18 Yet Soards does not find the speeches in Acts to be only summaries, literary devices, conventions of historiography, or theological vehicles. He believes that the speeches also reflect a cohesion throughout the Acts narrative.19 Soards argues that since many speeches have repeated elements, motifs, and vocabulary, this should suggest that they actually aim to unify the Acts narrative.20 As such, Soards claims that Luke uses speeches to advance the theme of a divinely commissioned unified witness to the ends of the earth.21 But with Soards’s focus on interpreting the speeches in relation to one another, including their role in the overall narrative of Acts, this may lead us to neglect the setting’s peculiarities, tensions, and issues that prompt the speech. Our focus instead is to view the speech in light of its contextual setting and development, especially as it relates to the visions and Spirit baptism account of Cornelius.

We thus notice that Luke structures Peter’s speech to Cornelius and his household by surrounding it with divine experiences with God (vv. 3–8; 9– 15; 30–33) and the Spirit (vv. 44–46a). When Peter first encounters Cornelius in v. 24 we do not hear the opening part of his speech until vv. 28–29, when he addresses the Gentiles about the reason for his request. After Cornelius’s



19 20 21

In Polybius’s critique of the historian Timaeus, he finds that “he has not written down the words actually used, nor the real drift of these speeches, but imagining how they ought to have been expressed … not to give a report of what was in reality said” (12.25). Diodorus of Sicily also criticizes those who disrupt the continuity of the narrative by inserting speeches where they do not belong (Bibliotheca historica20.1.1).

Marion Soards, The Speeches in Acts (Louisville: Westminster, 1994), 1; Keener finds the speeches to be no more than summaries (Acts, 1:261).

Soards,Speeches, 9–10.

Ibid., 12–15; Keener, Acts1:262–267.

Soards,Speeches, 15.

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response in vv. 30–33, Peter resumes the second part of his speech in vv. 34– 43 until the Spirit in vv. 44–46a interrupts the discourse. Peter’s speech then turns to his colleagues in vv. 46a–47 and concludes with a question about the inappropriateness of denying baptismal waters. The scene concludes in v. 48 with Peter and his Jewish companions sharing fellowship for a few days. The outline of the speech can be viewed in the following manner:

Part 1 10:28–29 Peter addresses Cornelius’s household

10:30–33 Cornelius describes his vision

Part 2 10:34–43 Peter proclaims the gospel

10:44–46a Gentiles are Spirit baptized

Part 3 10:46b–47 Peter addresses his companions

10:48 Peter and his companions remain in Caesarea

As Luke records Peter’s speech in v. 28, there is evidence of resistance to asso- ciating with Cornelius and his household.22Peter’s opening words to Cornelius state that it is “unlawful for a Jewish man to associate or to come to a foreigner” (v. 28). Peter uses a rare word for “foreigners” (ἀλόφυλος), which is only found here in Acts. The term is distinct fromἔθνοςorγένοςbut is used to describe the Gentiles from a Jewish perspective.23But we can notice that after Peter’s state- ment about nonassociation he attempts to clean up his comment by explaining God’s perception of them in vs. 29.24 In fact, Soards notes that Peter’s speech contains judicial rhetoric that aims to shift the responsibility of his unortho- dox behavior to God.25 That is, instead of continuing the conversation with Cornelius, he immediately reminds Cornelius in the presence of the household thathe shouldnot bethere.Wecan detectin Peter’sremarkthathe seemsnotto accept the gracious hospitality of the Gentiles. It is almost as if Peter was more concerned about justifying his presence by reminding them of their “unclean- liness” and Jewish-Gentile segregation.

But why is Peter resistant, and how do we account for this statement to Cor- nelius’s household? Samuel Millos remarks that the Jewish people segregated themselves from Gentiles and considered them “como perros, indignos de ser tenidos en cuenta por [Dios].”26 Bruce adds that of all forms of relationship


23 24 25 26

William Atkinson regards this tension as a “psychological barrier” (Baptism in the Spirit, 135); Fitzmyer believes Peter still “thinks like a Jew” (Acts, 461).

Friedrich Büchsel, “ἀλόφυλος,”tdnt 1:267.

Keener, Acts2:1787.

Soards,Speeches, 72.

Millos, Hechos, 733.

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with Gentiles, to accept their hospitality and sit at table with them was most intolerable.27 Relations with Gentiles were not categorically forbidden, how- ever. Witherington states that there was no formal law that strictly forbade Jews from associating with Gentiles; they just had to accept the repercussions of engaging the ritually unclean.28 Thus Peter’s immediate response, “You all know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to associate or to come to a foreigner” (v. 28) must be read with the resounding awareness of the current ethnoracial attitudes between Jews and foreigners.

Bruce argues, however, that what led Peter to enter Cornelius’s home was his swiftness to grasp from his vision in Joppa the analogy between ceremonial food laws and the conventions affecting Gentiles.29 He reads Peter as having an appropriate understanding of his role at Cornelius’s home. Granted, Peter enters Cornelius’s residence and claims to come without objection, as v. 29 states. But when Peter reminds the Gentiles that they are “unclean,” this lan- guage echoes the divine voice in Peter’s vision of v. 15. When we turn to Peter’s vision in Joppa, we must note that he hears a voice commanding him to eat the animals (vv. 9–16). The vision does not conclude with his obedience to the divine command. Peter never eats the unclean animals. He wakes up resist- ing and puzzled. There is no evidence to confirm that Peter aptly recognized the significance of the vision at Joppa. Thus when Peter remarks that “God has revealed to me not to call any person unclean” (v. 28), we need to keep in mind that the focus is on God’s command, not Peter’s preference. He reminds the Gentile household that they are unclean and that he would not describe them as such, not because he disagreed, but due to God’s command.

Was Peter, then, quick to seize the moment and understand the reason for being at Cornelius’s home? Is Peter revealing in a palpable way the rationale of his unconventional behavior? One may point out that Peter’s acceptance of Cornelius’s emissaries and presence in Cornelius’s home suggest that he was eager to preach the gospel.30But solely being within one’s household does not mean that the law of hospitality was extended or honored.31 Instead, Peter

27 28 29 30


Bruce, Acts, 210; Witherington, Acts, 353; Fitzmyer, Acts, 457.

Witherington, Acts, 353.

Bruce, Acts, 211.

Andrew Arterbury claims that that the reception of Cornelius’s emissaries is simultane- ously a reception of Cornelius himself. See “The Ancient Custom of Hospitality:The Greek Novels, and Acts 10:1–11:18,”PRSt29 (2002): 67;Entertaining Angels(Sheffield,uk: Sheffield Phoenix, 2005).

A serious breach of social conventions was committed when Jesus entered Simon the Pharisee’s home in Luke 7:44–46. See Joel Green,The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm.

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seems to make an excuse for his visit, while casually reminding Cornelius and his household of their foreign status. Even more, we also notice that Peter does not seem eager to preach the gospel. For some reason, Peter fails to recall the purpose of his visit and asks in v. 29, “Why are you requesting me?” At this point of the narrative, Peter admits that he does not know why he has been summoned, even though the narrative has made the purpose of their encounter resoundingly clear (v. 22). Why such a question about his purpose for visiting especially since he had already been informed?

Peter may have been alarmed to see many people at Cornelius’s home, but this should not have generated dissonance. Earlier, when Cornelius’s servants came to Joppa in v. 21, Peter asked, “What is the reason why you all are present?” The servants responded by reporting both Cornelius’s piety and his reputation (v. 22). They explain that Cornelius had been divinely instructed to request his presence and “hear a word” (ἀκοῦσαι ῥήματα) from him. It is important to note that out of the sixty-seven times the term ῥήματα occurs within the New Tes- tament, it is found thirty-two times in the Lukan writings.32The first mention of ῥῆμαin Acts is when Peter preaches to a crowd during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (2:17). The term also occurs when an angel instructs Peter and the apostles to go into the temple and speak theῥήματαof life (5:20). When the Jewish authorities question the apostles, Peter states that they must continue to preach the gospel because they are witnesses of these ῥημάτων (5:32). Hence, we can observe that ῥῆμα has a particular use for the procla- mation of the gospel within the Petrine episodes of Acts. It does not solely carry a general meaning such as “statement” or “discourse.” Rather, as Otto Betz claims, ῥήματα points to the apostolic witness of the Christ event proclaimed in speeches.33

Witherington claims that when Peter asks his question in v. 29, it suggests that he was not entirely clear on why he was summoned. He believes that Peter could have assumed he was being called upon to pray for, lay hands on, or help heal someone.34 What other reason besides preaching should Peter expect, given that he was already informed on his visit? It is difficult to con- clude that Peter was ignorant about the cause for his summons. His sermon at

32 33 34

B. Eerdmans, 2006), 312; Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1–9:50 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 701; itinerant prophets and teachers also abused hospitality customs (Didache 11:4–5; 12:1– 5).

Otto Betz, “ῥῆμα,”tdnt 3:1121.

Ibid., 3:1122.

Witherington, Acts, 353; Millos, Hechos, 773; Bruce, Acts, 210; Keener, Acts2:1792.

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Pentecost already contained the potential for a universal mission.35In fact, the Spirit had already encouraged Peter to meet with Cornelius (vv. 19–20), Cor- nelius’s servants had informed Peter that Cornelius was desiring to hear aῥῆμα (v. 22), and throughout the narrative Peter had been engaged in proclaiming theῥῆμαin different locations and circumstances. Even more, this meeting did not accidentally develop. In a manner reminiscent of Jonah, it was divinely orchestrated by God. However, in this case it was the Spirit who gave Peter the permission to go with Cornelius’s servants.36The only “word” Peter should assume to proclaim is the gospel.

What we can observe within this first initial encounter is that while Peter converses with Cornelius, he gradually becomes more uncomfortable in the presence of many Gentiles (vv. 25–29). We thus notice that the relations with the Gentiles only seem to deteriorate. Peter’s question about the reason for his presence is really a reflection of a harbored resistance to sharing the gospel with foreigners. In fact, this reading should not be alarming given that this resistance is also reminiscent of Jonah’s resistance to God’s command to preach in Nineveh. Despite the fact that God had excused Peter’s behavior through the vision in Joppa, and Peter was made aware of Cornelius’s reputation, the segregationist attitudes still remained. The ethnoracial resistance is evident in Peter’s question, which seeks to know why Cornelius summoned him.

Jewish-Gentile Relations in the Greco-Roman World

Before we explore the text any further, what can explain Peter’s reminder to the Gentiles of ethnoracial segregation and his initial resistance to communi- cate the gospel? A Gentile reader aware of the ethnoracial views between Jews and Gentiles would catch this tension in Peter’s opening statement (vv. 28–29). They would easily identify this deteriorating conversation, which seems to puz- zle commentators. One may suppose, however, that ethnoracial violence and contempt were absent in the early Greco-Roman period, but this is simply not true. The Greco-Roman world knew of ethnoracial differences and developed a rationalization for its views.37The Greeks and Romans did not fail to comment




Hans Bayer, “The Preaching of Peter in Acts,” in Witness to the Gospel, ed. I. Howard Marshall (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998), 268–269.

Robert Wall, “Peter, Son of Jonah: The Conversion of Cornelius in the Context of Canon,” jsnt 29 (1987): 79–90.

Max Radin, The Jews Among the Greeks and Romans (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1915), 49; Adrian Sherwin-White, Racial Prejudice in Imperial Rome

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on the Jewish way of life, belief, and history. In fact, one particular behavior for which the Jews were regularly criticized was the charge of “hatred” against foreigners.

Max Radin remarks that when the Jews were under Greek jurisdiction, it was the special exemptions from participating in cultic activities that created barriers to mutual understanding. As a result, the Greeks were resentful, given that the Jews were immune from prosecution of impiety.38 He even adds that some Greeks maintained direct animosity that was either personal or racial in its character.39 John Balsdon also argues that the Greeks had never liked Jews and where large Jewish communities resided in a single city, such as Alexandria or Antioch, they were always in conflict.40 Sherwin-White also points out that Greek racial prejudice manifested itself at full strength toward the Jews.41 He agrees with Radin’s assessment that pins the Jewish-Greek ethnoracial tension to the Jewish communities’ rejection of Greek life.42In other words, the ethnoracial hostility emerged as a result of Jewish antisocial behavior, which was also intensified by the fact that they flourished under Roman protection.43 Although ethnoracial hatred can never be justified on the practices or customs of the oppressed, the Greeks and Romans nonetheless made excuses for their hatred.

The Greek perception of the Jews can be exemplified in the writing of Diodorus of Sicily, who gives an alternative history of the Jews. Diodorus remarks that when Antiochus Epiphanes was laying siege to Jerusalem, some advisors informed Antiochus that the Jews alone avoid dealings with all nations and view foreigners as enemies.44These advisors also describe the story of the Jews in Egypt, but with the claim that they were driven out for being lepers, impious, and hated by the gods.45 While recounting this alternative view of

38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45

(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 1–12; John Balsdon, Romans and Aliens (London: Duckworth, 1979), 30; Hannaford, Race, 20; Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of RacisminClassicalAntiquity(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 1; Isaac, Ziegler, and Eliav-Feldon,The Origins of Racism in the West, 9; McCoskey, Race, 1.

Radin, Jews among the Greeks and Romans, 165.

Ibid., 209.

Balsdon, Romans and Aliens, 67.

Sherwin-White, Racial Prejudice, 86.

Ibid., 87.

Ibid., 96.

Diodorus, Bibliotheca historica34.1.

Diodorus later recounts the history of the Jews from Hecataeus of Abdera, who interprets the Jewish exile as Egyptian expulsion (Bibliotheca historica40.3.1–2).

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Jewish experience from Egypt, we can notice that Diodorus is explaining why the Jewish people have organized themselves into a nation and made their “hatred of mankind into a tradition.” Diodorus elsewhere states that Moses ordained for the Jews not to break bread with any other race nor show them good will.46 Antiochus is therefore presented from a Greek perspective as one who is shocked that the Jews would maintain “xenophobic laws.”

Diodorus’s understanding of Jewish history is an alternative interpretation. This view is embedded in the wider Greek perspective, which aims to under- stand the Jewish disdain of foreigners. But what does it mean to be a “mis- anthrope” (μισάνθρωπος), and how serious is this charge in the Greco-Roman world? Katell Berthelot remarks that the Jews are the only people or nation ever accused of being misanthropic and inhospitable in Greek literature. She notes that a misanthropic person was a well-known comedy character who runs away from the life of the city and mistrusts their fellow human beings.47 In Plato’s Phaedo the misanthropes are explained as those whose relational problems had eventually led them to hate all people. Plato explains:

For misanthropy arises from trusting someone implicitly without suffi- cient knowledge. You think the man is perfectly true and sound and trust- worthy, and afterwards you find him base and false. Then you have the same experience with another person. By the time this has happened to a man a good many times, especially if it happens among those whom he might regard as his nearest and dearest friends, he ends by being in continual quarrels and by hating everybody and thinking there is noth- ing sound in anyone at all.48

We thus notice that the Jewish rejection of Greek life was not positively received. Aristotle remarks that those who refuse to have fellowship with oth- ers do so because they are either a god or an animal.49As such, Berthelot notes that what makes a misanthropic character strange and reprehensible is that the person is supposed to be involved in the social and political life but refuses to do so.50Thus, when Diodorus credits Moses for inventing the practices that

46 47

48 49 50

Diodorus, Bibliotheca historica34.1.

Katell Berthelot, “Misanthropy,” in hepp 1:467; See also “Hecataeus of Abdera and Jewish Misanthropy,”BCDFrJér 19 (2008): n. p.; See also Peter Schäfer, Judeophobia (Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press, 1998), 23.

Plato, Phaedo, 89d–e; See also Plutarch, Life of Antony, 69.4.

Aristotle, Pol. 1253a; Origen,Contra Celsus, 5.41.

Berthelot, “Hecataeus of Abdera,” n. p.

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were in stark contrast to all other nations, this was not a moot point. These remarks reflect the wider Greek experience with Jews—a negative perception that included the idea that they lacked basic friendliness toward humanity.

When we turn to Roman experiences, one may assume that the relations with the Jews were more amicable than Greek ones, especially since Josephus’s published Roman decrees describe the Jews as friends of Rome.51 Tacitus, however, agrees with Diodorus’s claim that Antiochus aimed to change the Jews into a better people by introducing Greek customs.52Tacitus also continues the same Greek claims that explain Jewish antisocial behavior by attributing it to their origins.53He believes that the Jews are a “race detested by the gods”54who under Moses’ leadership created laws that are opposed to all that is practiced by others.55Tacitus also remarks:

… they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are sin- gularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful.56

One can thus notice that the Jews were viewed as antisocial. Tacitus’s remarks are similar to Diodorus’s charges of misanthropy. Tacitus adds, however, that the Jews demonstrate this animosity of others through their relations with women and meals. This is clear evidence of a mainstream sentiment in both Greek and Roman writers that the Jews were perceived to be very hostile toward foreigners.57 Yet the Roman perception of the Jews must also be included within the wider perspective of the general Roman attitude toward foreigners from the east. Benjamin Isaac comments that the Romans believed the east had a corrupting and degenerating influence that could not be reversed.58 It was the Roman historian Lucius Flores who claimed that

the conquest of Syria first corrupted us, followed by the Asiatic inher- itance bequeathed by the king of Pergamon. The resources and wealth

51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58

Josephus, Ant., 19.284–291. Tacitus, Hist. 5.8. Ibid. 5.2–3.

Ibid. 5.3.

Ibid. 5.4.

Ibid. 5.5.

Schäfer, Judeophobia, 31–33. Isaac, Invention, 306–307.

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thus acquired spoiled the morals of the age and ruined the state, which was engulfed in its own vices as in a common sewer.59

Seneca also expresses a fear of contamination when he claims, “the customs of this accursed people have gained such influence that they are now received throughout the world. The vanquished have given their laws to the victors.”60 These Roman writers reflect the fear that Roman conquest of foreign land would undermine their position of superiority and influence them to adopt their practices. Isaac even remarks that the Romans feared that if the Roman troops came into contact with foreigners they would eventually be like them.61 We can thus notice that from a Roman perspective contact with foreigners, including the Jews, does not have a positive influence on Roman life. There is a critical rejection of foreign wealth and customs.

In sum, we find in the perspectives of Diodorus and Tacitus the notion that the Jews were antisocial. From a Greek and Roman perspective, they interpreted this Jewish practice of segregation as a general hatred against humanity. But we also notice that Roman writers considered contact with foreigners as having a denigrating effect on the overall vitality and success of the Roman empire. These are the ethnoracial challenges embedded in the Acts 10 narrative. And it is within this ethnoracial context that Cornelius and Peter engage each other. Peter and Cornelius needed to navigate these issues and perceptions of each other in their initial meeting. Was Peter going to harbor an ethnoracial resistance and continue the misanthropic behavior toward this household that he has now entered? Even more, why would Cornelius take such a risk in inviting a Jew like Peter, whose people were known to treat foreigners with hatred? One can thus imagine the difficulties and tensions that emerge while reading this encounter with these ethnoracial sensitivities.

Peter and Ethnoracial Dispositions

Turning back to the narrative, when Cornelius responds to Peter’s question, he is given an opportunity to retell his vision. His reply in vv. 30–33 recalls his visionary experience in vv. 1–9 in more detail. Cornelius indicates that what led to his request was an encounter with a “man who appeared in shining

59 60 61

Florus, Epitome of Roman History,i.47, 7–8. Seneca, in Augustinus, De civitate Dei, 6.11. Isaac, Invention, 315.

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garments” while he was praying (v. 30). Strikingly, this is not the only vision in the narrative. Recall that Peter had also received a vision from God in vv. 9– 10. During Peter’s vision, he not only sees unclean animals, he engages in a conversation with the voice from heaven just like Cornelius did with the angel of God. One can immediately recognize the similarities between Peter’s and Cornelius’s divine experiences. Both Cornelius and Peter are described as praying (vv. 9, 30), experiencing a divine vision (vv. 3, 10), and conversing with a divine being during their encounters (vv. 4, 14). Therefore, Cornelius’s retelling of his divine experience does more than explain to Peter why he was being summoned. Rather, the retelling reveals to Peter that he too had a similar encounter with God.62 And most importantly, it is after Peter hears about Cornelius’s experience that he finally concedes by saying, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality” (v. 34).

One thus notices that it was not solely Peter’s vision in Joppa that changed his disposition toward Gentiles. It was when he heard Cornelius’s own encounter with the angelic messenger of God that he finally understood that his resistance toward the ethnoracially other could not be maintained. How, then, does Peter come to an awareness that God has no favorites and that mis- anthropic behaviors should now be abandoned? My contention is that this occurred only after he heard of Cornelius’s divine experience. Prior to hear- ing Cornelius’s visionary experience Peter was reluctant to share the gospel with Cornelius and his household. What indeed prompted Peter’s sermon was this recognition that God had already encountered Cornelius, a pious man, and granted him a similar divine encounter.

Therefore, the role of visions within this narrative does not solely have a revelatory or salvific function. They aim to change the ethnoracial perceptions between Jews and Gentiles that had been causing divisions and creating barri- ers of fellowship. They reveal that Peter’s ethnic attitude toward Gentiles can- not be sustained. Visions within this narrative must be understood primarily as experiences that alter ethnoracial perspectives. Therefore, Peter should not hesitate to proclaim the ῥῆμα that he was already instructed to deliver. The Gentiles before him were already accepted by God, and Cornelius’s visionary experience that was akin to Peter’s was proof of this. But the encounter and divine experiences as proof that ethnoracial relations must be reconciled do


Edith Humphrey points out that the pairing of visions serves to confirm an impression or course of action for both parties involved. See “Collision of Modes? Vision and Determin- ing Argument in Acts 10:1–11:18,” Semeia 71 (1995): 72; double visions are found in Judges 13; Luke 1:5–45; Acts 9:1–19; Jos. Asen. 19:7–8.

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not stop with visions. Peter’s speech in vv. 34–43 opens the possibility for Cor- nelius and his household to experience Spirit baptism, an event that finalizes Peter’s understanding about Gentile relations.

When we explore Peter’s speech, we notice that it draws upon the kerygma. But Peter’s speech is not a missionary one to nonbelievers, it is one that affirms those on the periphery of the Jewish community. Although we do not know how Cornelius, the God-fearer, became acquainted with Judaism, it would not have been uncharacteristic for Romans to be attracted to Judaism.63The gospel, in some manner unknown, made its way to Caesarea and led Gentiles such as Cornelius to develop a faith in God, to gain the respect of local Jewish peo- ple, and to experience a vision from God. In Peter’s speech we find a disclaimer that states that Cornelius and his household “already know” (ὑμεῖς οἴδατε) what happened in Judea (v. 37).64 Contrary to Max Turner and James Dunn, Roger Stronstad argues that this indicates the fact that these Gentiles within Caesarea were a house church.65 It included God-fearers, Cornelius and his household, devout soldiers, more distant relatives, and friends. Stronstad contends that they were all Christians and came to knowledge about Jesus through Philip, who came to Caesarea as Acts 8:40 indicates.66 Stronstad believes that this would not only create a parallel between what happened in Samaria and in Caesarea, but would demonstrate in both cases that Peter follows Philip’s evan- gelistic witness.67Millos agrees that Cornelius was a believer and mentions the probability of Philip’s role in his conversion.68 How much Cornelius and his household knew about the gospel was not fully revealed to Peter. How devoted Cornelius is to the Christian faith is also not too clear. But Peter was aware that




66 67 68

Balsdon claims that the Romans found the Sabbath an attractive feature and Jewish Scripture exposition influenced proselytizing activity given that it had the attraction of a philosophy lecture. But Balsdon also points out that Romans who converted to Judaism also held the Jews in great contempt for the practice of circumcision, which may provide a rationale for the existence of Gentile god-fearers. In the second century doctors were liable to execution if a Roman citizen or a slave was found to have been circumcised. See Romans and Aliens, 67, 231–234; Dig. 48.8.11;Sententiae, 5.22.3–4.

On the possibility of the historicity of this encounter see Keener, “Acts 10: Were Troops Stationed in Caesarea during Agrippa’s Rule?” JGRChJ 7 (2010): 164–176.

Darrell Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 397; Bruce, Acts, 212; Marshall, Acts, 190; Witherington, Acts, 356. Turner, Power From on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 386–387; Dunn, Baptism, 82; Stronstad,Charismatic, 75. Stronstad,Charismatic, 75.

Ibid., 76.

Millos, Hechos, 778, 733.

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it was sufficient to lead Cornelius to acts of piety and prayer, to garner a positive reputation amongst the local Caesarean Jews, and to experience a vision from God.

As Peter delivers his speech in vv. 34–43, this proclamation is immediately interrupted by the Spirit (vv. 44–46a). The Spirit enters the scene by baptizing Cornelius and his household and grants them prophetic utterances. Scholars agree on the salvific implications of Spirit baptism within the narrative.69Bruce and Witherington rightfully point out that the baptism of the Spirit was a Pen- tecost experience akin to the original disciples, given that there was no call to repentance.70 But this view assumes that Cornelius was not a believer prior to this encounter. When we read Peter’s speech with the awareness that Cor- nelius and his household already had faith in God, this baptismal experience with the Spirit becomes an event that does not solely confirm salvific member- ship; it fundamentally transforms ethnoracial attitudes. When Cornelius and his household hear Peter’s speech, they are less uninformed Gentiles who are learning about the gospel’s universal reach for the first time and are, rather, Gentiles who recognize that their place within God’s plan is now being fully affirmed despite the historic ethnoracial hostilities with Jews.

Thus Spirit baptism has this dual function. It not only seals their incorpora- tion into the covenantal community of God but also become a strong signal to the Jewish observers that misanthropic attitudes and behaviors can no longer be maintained. Prior to this experience with the Spirit, Cornelius’s commu- nity was within the boundaries of Jews and Gentiles who maintained antipathy toward one another.The Romans already perceived those in the east as inferior, morally degenerate, and corrupting to those who dwelled in the land. Since the Roman attitude toward Jews was that of extreme dislike, Cornelius may have been one of these Romans who tried to ingratiate himself within a community that was suspicious of him.71 He may have participated within the synagogue and remained on the margins of Jewish society while being pious toward God

69 70


Fitzmyer, Acts, 467; See also Marshall, Acts, 194; Wall, “Peter, Son of Jonah,” 79–90. Bruce, Acts, 216–218; Witherington, Acts, 354; See also Yeu Chuen Lim, “Acts 10: A Gentile Model for Pentecost Experience,”ajps1 (1998): 67–69; Stronstad,Charismatic, 76. David Kennedy suggests that Roman soldiers were viewed as anti-Jewish, especially since they provoked Jewish sensibilities. Roman soldiers were not sympathetic to Jews, had a general insensitivity toward their religion, and even retained an open partiality toward the non-Jew. See “Roman Army,”abd5:794–795; G.L. Thompson, “Roman Military,”dntb993; Hannah Cotton, “The Impact of Roman Military in the Province of Judea/Syria Palestinia,” inTheImpactof theRomanArmy(200bc–ad476):Economic,Social,Political,Religious,and Cultural Aspects(Leiden: Brill, 2007), 395.

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through prayer and giving alms. As a Gentile, it may have been difficult to become fully vested within an observant Jewish community, even though he had faith. In other words, as a centurion who stands neither totally against the Jewish people because of his piety nor against the Gentiles because of his pro- fession, he is a character caught between the boundaries of people who histor- ically despised one another. The challenges and obstacles are present because of hostile perceptions between Jews and Gentiles.

It is within this context that the Spirit interrupts Peter’s speech and plays a dispositive role in Peter’s view of Gentiles. The proof of Spirit baptism brings an awareness of their legitimate place within the family of God to all the Jewish people who are present, especially to Peter. As such, this new awareness also necessitates the reception of baptismal waters from Peter and his Jewish companions.72

Divine Experiences Alter Ethnoracial Perceptions

What now is the relationship between the Spirit and foreigners? When we read this encounter with the ethnoracial concerns, we find Peter, Cornelius, and the Gentile household as characters who are caught between the bound- aries of people who would not associate with one another. The argument within this article has aimed to demonstrate that divine experiences, includ- ing Spirit baptism, cannot be understood for experience’s sake, nor should they solely be viewed within this context as personal empowerment, cleans- ing, vocation, or proof of salvation. The testimony of Cornelius’s vision and the Spirit’s interruption of Peter’s speech plays a dispositive role in changing Peter’s view of Gentiles. Both of these incidents, visions and baptism in the Spirit, compelled Peter to recalibrate his understanding of Jewish-Gentile relations. That is, divine experiences alter the ethnoracial perspectives of the ancient world. They have the potential to fundamentally transform people who were ethnoracially hostile and suspicious toward one another. This is not solely a point that Luke wishes to make with this early Jewish-Gentile interaction; it also becomes a monumental argument that justifies the inclusion of Gentiles within the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.

Within the Acts narrative, the inclusion of Gentiles within the plan of salva- tion has roots in Jesus’s ministry in Luke’s gospel.73 But within the ministry of

72 73

Bock, Acts, 401; Marshall, Acts, 194–195; Lim, “Acts 10: A Gentile Model,” 72. Luke 2:32; 6:17; 7:6–10; 8:26–39; 9:1–6; 10:3–12; 17:11–19; 24:47.

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the apostles in Acts, the implications of Jesus’s exhortation to be a witness to all people (1:8) meet resistance from within. After the Cornelius episode, certain Jewish brethren hear about Peter’s fellowship with Gentiles and take issue (11:1– 18). They demand a response, which provides an opportunity for Peter to retell his meeting with Cornelius. Peter responds by briefly summarizing the divine visions and the Spirit’s interruption of his speech. Peter informs his Jewish brethren that he could not oppose God’s acceptance. The argument provided was based upon his experience of observing the Gentiles’ divine encounter with God and the Spirit. Strikingly, after Peter’s response, Luke narrates that this immediately quelled the Jews who took issue (11:18).

Likewise, in 15:1–4 Paul and Barnabas engaged in a fierce debate with Jewish teachers who were insisting that new Gentile converts needed to adhere to the prescriptions of the Law. This prompted Paul and Barnabas to travel to Jerusalem in order to resolve this issue with others. During this first apostolic council, Peter addresses his brethren about the encounters that Gentiles are experiencing with God and the Holy Spirit. Peter reminds his Jewish colleagues in 15:8 that God had likewise given the Gentiles the Holy Spirit. Since God had not made a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, as Peter argues, then ethnoracial segregation cannot be maintained (15:9–10). The argument Peter presents to his Jewish colleagues emphasizes the fact that similar experiences and similar beliefs are shared by Jews and Gentiles, a lesson learned through his encounter with Cornelius. It is remarkable that Peter does not appeal to Jesus’s commission (1:8) or to his sermon on Pentecost (2:39). He does not mention that it had always been the purpose of the apostolic community to proclaim the gospel to all people, regardless of their ethnoracial identity. Instead, he appeals to divine experiences as proof for the change in his ethnoracial perception of Gentiles. As such, divine experiences such as visions and Spirit baptism are crucial to the argument for racially integrating the Gentiles into the apostolic church.

What this also means is that divine experiences are historically an argument for improving ethnoracial relations. The Cornelius episode not only demon- strates that there is no longer any need for Jews to avoid social contact, it also proves that God is widening his reach to different ethnoracial groups because the Spirit is not xenophobic—namely, that Gentile women and men, once estranged, now had a rightful claim to be viewed as fellow daughters and sons of God. And as we find in the conclusion of Peter’s speech in Acts 10, an aware- ness of similar divine experiences should lead us to a renewed communion among God’s people because God is not ethnocentric. Our divine experiences with God contain the potential for the emergence of genuine relations with one another. Divine encounters are experiences that contain the potential to

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change ethnoracial fear and antipathy toward foreigners. The challenge today is whether we can recognize the common God in one another’s divine experi- ence as Peter and Cornelius did with each other.

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