Acts 10:19-26 – Cornelius Attempts to Worship Peter

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POSTED 04 NOVEMBER, 2017

“While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.’ Peter went down to the men and said, ‘Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?’ They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.’ So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.’”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Many Messianic people review the Apostle Peter’s vision of Acts 10 and the animals on the sheet, often coming to the conclusion that instead of the common Christian interpretation of God rescinding the Torah’s dietary laws, that the vision instead regards the cleansing of all people, per Peter’s own conclusion, “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Indeed, within the details of Peter’s vision of the sheet with the animals (Acts 10:9-16) and subsequent activities (Acts 10:17-18ff), one does not see Peter go into the marketplace and acquire meats which would be considered unclean by the food lists of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Instead, Peter is bidden to go and declare the good news of Israel’s Messiah to the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:19-23), who was a God-fearer (Acts 10:2, 22), but because of not being Jewish, he may have been treated with extreme suspicion (Acts 10:28a). While there are many details to be evaluated in the scene of Acts 10 as they concern the continued validity of the Torah’s dietary laws,[1] there are also other factors which need to be catalogued as they involve the nature of the Messiah.

Luke’s record indicates how there were supernatural intermediaries present, sent by God, to bring Peter and Cornelius together. Cornelius, as a God-fearer, apparently observed traditional Jewish times of prayer throughout the day, as it is stated, “About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, ‘Cornelius!’” (Acts 10:3). Here, Cornelius saw angelon tou Theou eiselthonta pros auton, “a messenger of God coming in unto him” (YLT). It is then narrated, “And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God’” (Acts 10:4). When Cornelius says ti estin? Kurie, he is not fully coherent of the entire situation, and so his question to the Supreme Power of “What is it, Lord?” is understandable. Some do take Cornelius’ question as being issued to the angel or messenger directly, witnessed in the renderings “What is it, lord?” (NKJV, CSB) or “What is it, sir?” (CJB/CJSB).

The angel or messenger is the entity which speaks to Cornelius, and not the Lord proper, even though the angel or messenger does convey to Cornelius how he has been honoring of God. After he is directed to send a party to collect Peter (Acts 10:5-6), the record states, “When the angel who was speaking to him had left…” (Acts 10:7a), hōs de apēlthen ho angelos ho lalōn autō. Unlike various scenes in the Tanach, where “the angel/messenger of the LORD” is seen to speak in the first person “I” as the LORD or YHWH, this entity only speaks of the Lord or God proper in the third person. This entity, while supernatural in origin, is implied to be a created agent sent from God, later identified by Cornelius as anēr or male: “a man stood before me in shining garments” (Acts 10:30). In contrast to this, it was the Spirit of God which directly communicated to Peter that Cornelius’ men were on the way to fetch him (Acts 10:19), clearly speaking in the first person as God: “But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself [hoti egō apestalka autous]” (Acts 10:20).

After inviting Cornelius’ party to spend the night (Acts 10:21-23a), they leave for Caesarea, where Cornelius had assembled a number of his family members and close friends (Acts 10:23b-24). But then Luke actually records, “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him” (Acts 10:25). This is far more than a sign of mere honor or deference to Peter, on the part of a God-fearing Roman to a Jew. The text incorporates two verbs in the clause pesōn epi tous podas prosekunēsen, “having fallen at the(his) feet worshiped [him]” (Brown and Comfort).[2] The first verb is piptō or “fall down,” followed by the second, and more theologically significant proskuneō.

While technically speaking, the verb proskuneō can involve “prostrating oneself before kings and superiors,” it also notably does mean “to make obeisance to the gods, fall down and worship, to worship, adore” (LS),[3] and is used throughout the Septuagint to describe the worship due to the God of Israel. As is seen by Peter’s response to Cornelius, rendering proskuneō as “fell prostrate” (CJB/CJSB), “fell at his feet in reverence” (NIV), “fell at his feet in order to honor him” (Common English Bible), or “made obeisance to him” (Goodspeed New Testament), does not at all do this scene proper justice. For some reason or another, “As Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him” (Acts 10:25, TLV).

That worship of the Apostle Peter, as though Peter were Divine, was apparently intended, is obvious from Peter’s strong refusal toward the action Cornelius displayed. Peter rebukes Cornelius, “Stand up; I am only a mortal” (Acts 10:26, NRSV) or “Stand up, I am a human being too!” (Phillips New Testament), egō autos anthrōpos eimi. Peter is not God. In the view of Eckhard J. Schnabel, “The homage of the Roman centurion is a pagan element that Luke did not eliminate from his story despite his otherwise positive description of Cornelius,”[4] meaning that even with Cornelius’ apparent condition as a God-fearer, a friend of the Jewish people, and as one who observed God’s Law on some important level—there were still some pagan ideas and concepts needing to be corrected. The Apostle Peter’s response, in refusing worship, is notably the same as the servant in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, where the Apostle John tries to give the angel worship. In the later narrative of Acts, Paul and Barnabas refuse worship as Hermes and Zeus by those at Lystra (Acts 15:11-15). The exact opposite response takes place regarding Herod, though (Acts 12:20-23).


NOTES

[1] Consult the entry for Acts 10:1-48 in the Messianic Kosher Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

[2] Brown and Comfort, 451.

[3] LS, 693.

[4] Schnabel, 496.


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