Acts 11:1-18 (JB Phillips Translation)

The Church’s Disquiet at Peter’s Action

11:1-3 – Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”

Peter’s Explanation

11:4 – But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen.

11:5-17 – “I was in the city of Joppa praying,” he said, “and while completely unconscious of my surroundings I saw a vision – something like a great sheet coming down towards me, let down from heaven by its four corners. It came right down to me and when I looked at it closely I saw animals and wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Never, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever passed my lips.’ But the voice from Heaven spoke a second time and said, ‘You must not call what God has cleansed common.’ This happened three times, and then the whole thing was drawn up again into heaven. The extraordinary thing is that at that very moment three men arrived at the house where we were staying, sent to me personally from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with these men without any misgiving. And these six of our brothers accompanied me and we went into the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, surnamed Peter. He will give you a message which will save both you and your whole household.’ While I was beginning to tell them this message the Holy spirit fell upon them just as on us at the beginning. There came into my mind the words of our Lord when he said, ‘John indeed baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them exactly the same gift as he gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could hinder the working of God?”

The Flexibility of the Young Church

11:18 – When they heard this they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.”

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9 responses

  1. Two matters present themselves to me in this passage. First, this is essentially a repetition of the events (vision, and consequences) already narrated. My tendency is to take repetition seriously as a form of emphasis. Luke (and possibly the Holy Spirit working through Luke) considers this very important and worth repeating.Secondly, the initial unease on the part of the church was the violation of purity laws harkening back to Moses. Their conscience is relieved when they hear Peter’s actions are in reponse to a vision and to seeing the Holy Spirit had already filled the gentiles — even before they were baptised.These people locate authority in personal experiences/revelations. They also accept that having “the Holy spirit fell upon them” is an objectively observatable event that can be witnessed by other Christians. This church in Acts belongs to a very different world than the one I know. Even from the Quakerism I know — that insists on talking (sometimes ad nauseum) about “ongoing revelation”.

  2. Kwake,Could you clarify your last comment for me? I thought that something like “ongoing revelation” was consistent with what your were pointing to in the early church.Thanks,Dave

  3. I think the Quakerism I know does not hold to objectivity in matters of religion and tends to see “ongoing revelation” as a justification for holding personal opinions. When we look for inspiration we tend to look to emotions.Can you see a modern Quaker saying, I saw the Holy Spirit fall on a group of people? Can you see a modern Pentecostal Church accepting a vision/dream of a member as authoritative when it stood in contradiction to established interpretations of biblical warrant?

  4. David wrote: “This church in Acts belongs to a very different world than the one I know.” Certainly true!! A mountain of difference. But most of the differences are superficial. I believe we’re actually a lot closer to one another (in every age and culture) than we realize. It would be electrifying to hear a Quaker say the Holy Spirit had fallen on someone, (much less so for a pentecostal). A Quaker might have a very similar experience, but he would use modern forms of speech and thought.After many years in fairly conventional religious circles I found it refreshing to meet Quakers, who seemed to me every bit as ‘Christian’ as the others, but without what seminarians used to call the ‘holy tone’ or the ‘language of Zion’.How much more refreshing it would be to hear a ‘conservative’ say of ‘non-conservatives’ “Then obviously God has given to [them] as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.”

  5. In a way, the established religious beliefs of the past (like the purity laws) are just those people’s religious experiences, codified. Maybe they so easily believed in the experience of Peter in part because he was who he was?In some catholic blogs there’s been a question raised about whether God can change his mind … this seems like a good example of that happening, if we believe Peter (and also believe Moses).

  6. Now that’s an interesting point, Crystal. IMO God, the maker of minds, does not ‘change his mind’; people’s visions of God change.

  7. The God of the Philosophers (as Pascal called him) — is unchanging from age to age — this is the nature of eternity as mathematicians conceived of it. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus — he is surprised, moved, changed by his relationship to us — terrifying possibility.

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  9. Thank you for your comments. I am preparing a sermon on this passage and this is thought provoking. In exchange I would like to ask you a question: Is it possible that one set of responses to the world, as God’s people, appropriate and vital at one point in history, may become detrimental to living in accordance with God’s will at another point in history? Does changing what we do, change who we are?

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