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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Acts 11



Verse 1

1. ἤκουσαν δέ, now they heard. The report of what had happened at Cæsarea reached Jerusalem before Peter’s return. Hence it seems that he accepted the hospitality of the new converts.

ὅτι καὶ τὰ ἔθνη ἐδέξαντο τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

Where animate objects and especially persons are spoken of it is common in both classical and N.T. Greek for nouns in the neuter plural to be joined with a plural verb. Cf. Matthew 27:52 πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων ἠγέρθησαν. For an instance of this usage about things inanimate see below Acts 11:13, note. At the news of the acceptance of the word of God by the Gentiles, had there been no additional information about Peter’s eating with Cornelius, the disciples would have rejoiced, and would have welcomed this further spread of the word, as they did (Acts 8:14) the conversion of the Samaritans, but to some, who were not only Christians, but strict observers of Jewish ritual, it was a cause of offence that Peter had consented to become the guest of a Gentile.

Verses 1-18


Verse 2

2. διεκρίνοντο πρὸς αὐτόν, they contended with him. The verb is the same which is used (Acts 10:20), with a negative, μηδὲν διακρινόμενος, nothing doubting, and presently in this chapter (Acts 11:12) μηδὲν διακρίναντα making no difference. The contention of these opponents of Peter’s conduct was that the difference between Jew and Gentile should still be maintained, and that any close fellowship (such as was involved in living at the same board) with those who accepted Christianity otherwise than through the gate of submission to the Mosaic Law should be avoided. As the Jews felt it their duty (Acts 10:28) to behave towards Cornelius and such as he before they became Christians, so would the Judaizing feeling have prompted the Jewish Christians to deal with him still. And when we think on the prejudice which, by generations of ceremonial observance, had grown up among the Jews, we cannot wonder greatly at what they did. A whole nation is not brought to a change of feeling in a day.

οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς, they that were of the circumcision. This must have been the whole Church, at the time when the event occurred, for there were no Christians as yet except Jews and proselytes. But St Luke’s narrative was compiled at a time when ‘they that were of the circumcision’ had become a distinct party, and when their influence had begun to work division in the Christian societies. He therefore employs a name which when he wrote was full of significance, although it had its origin only in the circumstances to which he here applies it. Those who had been born Jews and knew of Jesus as conforming to the Law, and who had not heard of Peter’s vision nor seen the gift of the Holy Ghost to Cornelius and his friends, as those who had been with Peter had done, were to be pardoned, if their scruples caused them to question the conduct of the Apostle at this time; yet when they heard his story they were satisfied (see Acts 11:18), but many Jewish Christians elsewhere continued to make this subject a cause of contention. See Acts 15:1.

Verse 3

3. πρὸς ἄνδρας ἀκροβυστίαν ἔχοντας, to men uncircumcised. The expression here employed testifies to the strength of feeling against what Peter had done. The men with whom he had mixed are not called Gentiles only, but the uncircumcised, the word of greatest reproach on the lips of a Jew.

καὶ συνέφαγες αὐτοῖς, and didst eat with them. Among whom there would be no ceremonial observance about either the character of the food or the way of its preparation.

Verse 4

4. ἀρξάμενος δὲ Πέτρος ἐξετίθετο αὐτοῖς καθεξῆς, but Peter began and rehearsed the matter in order to them.

Verse 5

5. καθιεμένην. The participle is here in agreement with ὀθόνην. In the parallel passage in the previous chapter, it was made to agree with σκεῦος. The one construction is as correct as the other.

Verse 6

6. κατενόουν, I beheld. So LXX. (Exodus 33:8) καὶ κατενοοῦσαν ἀπιόντος ΄ωνσῆ, of the people watching Moses as he went up the mountain. Cf. also Psalms 90:8, Psa 93:9.

Verse 8

8. ὅτι κοινόν. The omission of πᾶν agrees with א ABDE and has the support of Vulg.

Verse 9

9. μοι omitted after ἀπεκρίθη δὲ with א AB. Vulg. ‘Respondit autem vox.’

Verse 11

11. καὶ ἰδοὺἐν ᾗ ἦμεν, and behold immediately there stood three men before the house in which we were. The Apostle is speaking to the congregation at Jerusalem, who would know of any companions who might have gone with him to Lydda and Joppa. Therefore he includes them in his words. It is most in harmony with what was done in other cases that he should not have gone forth unaccompanied.

Verse 12

12. μηδὲν διακρίναντα, making no difference. On this change of the verb from the middle to the active voice, and for a reason why Peter, after having been at Cæsarea and having heard the statement of Cornelius and seen the gift of the Spirit, adopted this form in his address at Jerusalem, see Acts 10:20 note.

ἦλθον δὲ σὺν ἐμοὶ καὶ οἱ ἓξ ἀδελφοὶ οὗτοι, and these six brethren accompanied me. Those who had been his companions to Cæsarea were brought on by Peter to Jerusalem, that their testimony might support his statement, and that they might declare to the rest of Judæo-Christians what they had witnessed. It may be that these men, or some of them, had been his companions in his journey described (Acts 9:32) as made ‘throughout all quarters.’

Verse 13

13. ἀπήγγειλεν δὲ ἡμῖν πῶς εἶδεν τὸν ἄγγελον, and he related to us how he had seen the angel. Before St Peter made this defence, and long before St Luke put it down in the Acts, the story of Cornelius and his vision would be well known, and so the definite article would be used in speaking of it, i.e. ‘the angel’ of whom all men had heard.

In N.T. Greek the general usage is to put the forms used for direct interrogation (as πῶς, πότε) where the classical writers would usually write the corresponding relative forms, ὅπως, ὁπότε. So Matthew 6:28 καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγρου πῶς αὐξάνουσιν.

ἀπόστειλον εἰς Ἰόππην, send to Joppa. The insertion of ἄνδρας here is one of the numerous instances where in the repetition of a narrative an attempt has been made to bring the different passages into exact verbal agreement. There have been times when devout men thought much of this verbal accord. It is therefore worth notice that the writers of the N.T. disregarded it utterly. The words in such a solemn inscription as that above the Cross differ in all the four Gospels, and St Peter, when in the Second Epistle (Acts 1:17) he speaks of the heavenly voice heard at the Transfiguration, varies verbally from each of the accounts of the Evangelists.

Verse 15

15. ἐν δὲ τῷ ἄρξασθαί με λαλεῖν, and as I began to speak. A somewhat more precise statement than that of the previous chapter, which was (Acts 10:44) ἔτι λαλοῦντος τοῦ Πέτρου. It would appear from these words of Peter that he had hardly begun his address before the gift of the Spirit descended.

ἐν ἀρχῇ, at the beginning, i.e. at the feast of Pentecost.

Verse 16

16. τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ κυρίου, the word of the Lord; recorded above Acts 1:5. The ὡς ἔλεγεν which follows is inserted to introduce the exact words of Christ.

Verse 17

17. πιστεύσασιν, who believed. The participle refers alike to the preceding αὐτοῖς and ἡμῖν, and thus the two cases are made parallel exactly as in the narrative of Acts 11:15. For just as in the case of Peter and the Apostles, their faith was existing before the gift of the Spirit, so in Cornelius and in his companions there existed a degree of faith, or there could have been no sincere prayer offered by them.

ἐγὼ τίς ἤμην δυνατὸς κωλῦσαι τὸν θεόν; who was I that I could withstand God? There are in reality two questions here merged into one. Who was I? Was I able to withstand …? So also Luke 19:15 τίς τί διεπραγματεύσατο = who had traded, and what he had made thereby.

Verse 18

18. ἡσύχασαν, they held their peace. But though those who listened to St Peter’s narrative were satisfied that God had now called Gentiles as well as Jews to be of His Kingdom, there were others who, some perhaps with a real but misguided zeal for the Law, some, as St Paul says (Galatians 6:13), from vain-glory, maintained the necessity for the observance of the older covenant, and hence arose dissensions in the Church from a very early time.

Verse 19

19. ἐπὶ Στεφάνῳ, about Stephen. See above Acts 8:1.

ἕως Φοινίκης, as far as Phœnicia. A still wider circuit for the Gospel messengers. Phœnicia contained the important seaports of Tyre and Sidon. For its history see Dict. of the Bible.

Κύπρου. Cyprus. See Acts 4:36.

Ἀντιοχείας. Antioch. The capital city of Syria, about 16 miles from the sea-coast, on the river Orontes. It was the residence of the Roman pro-consul of Syria. St Paul made this his starting point in all his three missionary journeys. For its history see Dictionary of the Bible.

εἰ μὴ μόνον Ἰουδαίοις, but unto the Jews only. For they had not been warned, as Peter was, that the time was come to carry out Christ’s prophetic command (Acts 1:8) to its fullest extent.

Verses 19-26


Verse 20

20. ἦσαν δέ τινεςΚύπριοι καὶ Κυρηναῖοι, but some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. In whose minds, from their more cosmopolitan education, there was less scruple about mixing with Gentiles than existed among the Jews of Palestine, the home of the nation, and by consequence the stronghold of their prejudices.

ἐλάλουν πρός τοὺς Ἕλληνας, spake unto the Greeks. The N.T. uses Ἑλληνισταί to mean those Jews who had been born in some foreign land and spoke the Greek language, or else for proselytes; but Ἕλληνες, when the heathen population is spoken of. Now it is clear that it would have been no matter of remark had these men preached to Ἑλληνισταί, Greek-Jews, for of them there was a large number in the Church of Jerusalem, as we see from the events related in chap. Acts 6:1, and most probably these Grecian and Cyprian teachers were themselves Greek-Jews; but what calls for special mention by St Luke is that they, moved perhaps by some spiritual impulse, addressed their preaching in Antioch to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. The time was ripe for such a work, and God who had prompted Peter by a vision, moved these men by His Spirit.

Verse 21

21. καὶ ἦν χεὶρ κυρίου μετ' αὐτῶν, and the hand of the Lord was with them. The expression is a common one in the O.T. to express the direct interposition of God in the affairs of the world. Cf. 1 Samuel 5:3, καὶ ἐβαρύνθη χεὶρ κυρίου ἐπὶ τοὺς Ἀζωτίους. So too 1 Samuel 7:13 : and of His interposition for good, see Isaiah 41:20. Cf. also Exodus 8:19; Exodus 14:31.

πολύς τε ἀριθμὸς ὁ πιστεύσας ἐπέστρεψεν κ.τ.λ., and a great multitude that believed turned unto the Lord. These probably, like Cornelius had been prepared, by their knowledge of Jehovah through Judaism, to accept the teaching of the Christian missionaries.

Verse 22

22. ἠκούσθη δὲ ὁ λόγος κ.τ.λ., and the report concerning them, &c. i.e. concerning these Gentile converts. These events took place, and were known to the Church in Jerusalem, before they heard of the visit of Peter to Cornelius. But what had happened at Antioch caused the Church no disturbance, because we read of no such breaking through the restrictions of the ceremonial Law as was made in Cæsarea when Peter took up his abode with Cornelius. The Jewish preachers mingled no further with the Gentiles to whom they preached at Antioch than the intercourse of everyday life forced them to do constantly.

καὶ ἐξαπέστειλαν Βαρνάβαν, and they sent forth Barnabas. He was sent forth, as Peter and John before had been sent into Samaria (Acts 8:14), to confirm and give the sanction and direction of the mother Church to the work which had begun at a new centre. Barnabas being a native of Cyprus would most likely be well known to the Cyprians who were preaching at Antioch, and so he was a most fit person to be selected for this errand.

Verse 23

23. καὶ ἰδὼν τὴν χάριν τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ, and having seen the grace of God, i.e. as it was exhibited in the faith, and consequent turning to Christ, of these Gentiles.

ἐχάρη, was glad. Seeing nothing in the new movement which could call for disapproval, while the addition of new members to the Church was a source of joy.

καὶ παρεκάλει, and exhorted. He is called υἱὸς παρακλήσεως in Acts 4:36.

τῇ προθέσει τῆς καρδίας, with purpose of heart. Lit. ‘in the purpose of their heart.’ Their determination was at present formed, and they had turned to the Lord; the purport of Barnabas’ exhortation was that continuing in the same determination they should hold fast their faith, and allow nothing to shake their attachment to Christ. The heathen converts to Christianity had much to endure for Christ’s sake, and to the weak there were many temptations to relapse.

Verse 24

24. πλήρης πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ πίστεως, full of the Holy Ghost and faith. The same description is given of Stephen (Acts 6:5), and a man of like character with that most eminent among the Greek-Jews would exert much influence in Antioch, where Greeks and Greek-Jews were the chief part of the population. It was in consequence of the persecution after Stephen’s death that these preachers had come to Antioch, and some of them were probably of those Grecians who had been forward in the work for which Stephen was martyred.

καὶ προσετέθη ὄχλος ἱκανός, and much people was added. No doubt the joyful approval of Barnabas, representing the Mother-Church of Jerusalem, would help forward the zeal of the preachers at Antioch.

Verse 25

25. ἀναζητῆσαι Σαῦλον, for to seek Saul. That he, to whom the Lord had appeared, and who had been marked as a ‘chosen vessel’ (Acts 9:15) to bear the name of Christ before the Gentiles, might come with him to share in this new work of preaching to the Gentiles at Antioch.

Verse 26

26. ἐνιαυτὸν ὅλον, a whole year. This long period, spent with success in the first field where the preaching to the Gentiles had begun, will account for the constant return of the Apostle of the Gentiles to Antioch after each of his three missionary journeys. He had preached at Damascus and at Jerusalem, but it was always with his life in his hand. At Antioch he first found a quiet Church with a wide scope for all his earnestness.

χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως κ.τ.λ., and the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. It is most probable that this name was given them by the heathen in ridicule. The disciples of Jesus never give it to themselves, and as the use of it would imply that those who bore it were the followers of the Messiah, the Christ, it is certain it would not be given to them by the Jews. The reason for a new distinctive term is apparent. When these new Gentile converts were joined to the Church of Antioch, none of the former distinctive appellations would embrace the whole body. They were no longer all Nazarenes or Galilæans or Greek-Jews, and as to the people of Antioch they probably seemed a strange medley, they would not be unlikely to apply to them such a hybrid form as ‘Christian,’ a Greek word with a Latin termination. The name is probably used in mockery by Agrippa (Acts 26:28) ‘With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian,’ but in the only other and later instance of the use of the name in the N.T. (1 Peter 4:16) we can see that what had been at first a taunt had soon come to be a name in which to glory, ‘If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.’

χρηματίζω, having, as a first meaning, ‘to do some business,’ came afterwards, because persons of certain callings are named from what they do, to have the sense of ‘to be named’ as here.

Verse 27

27. ἐν ταύταις δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις, and in those days, i.e. during the year when Barnabas and Saul were labouring in Antioch, and the Church increasing there rapidly in consequence.

προφῆται, prophets. That there should be prophets in the Church was but the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel which Peter had quoted in his Pentecostal sermon (Acts 2:17). We cannot gather from the N.T. records any clear description of what office is to be understood by the word ‘prophet.’ The men to whom it is applied are sometimes occupied in preaching and explaining the word of God, and sometimes have the power of foretelling future events, as Agabus did here. See Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Acts 19:6; Acts 21:9-10; Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:29-37; Ephesians 2:20.

Verses 27-30


Verse 28

28. εἶς ἐξ αὐτῶν ὀνόματι Ἄγαβος, one of them, named Agabus. He is mentioned again in Acts 21:10, where, after the fashion of some of the prophets of the O.T., he by a significant action, as well as by his words, foretells the imprisonment of St Paul at Jerusalem.

διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος. So too Acts 21:11 the words of Agabus are prefaced by τάδε λέγει τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον.

λιμὸν μεγάλην, great dearth. This noun is usually masculine, but the grammarians notice that, as St Luke makes it here, it is sometimes feminine. The Megarean in Aristoph. Acharn. 743 uses it as feminine.

This famine is mentioned by Josephus (Ant. XX. 2. 5) who tells how Helena, queen of Adiabene, being at Jerusalem, succoured the people by procuring for them corn from Alexandria and a cargo of figs from Cyprus. The date of this severe famine was A.D. 45.

ἐφ' ὅλην τὴν οἰκουμένην, throughout all the world, ἡ οἰκουμένη is the phrase used for the whole Roman empire, as in Luke 2:1, but here perhaps it has a wider signification. Though one region might be specially afflicted by the failure of its crops, all the rest of the Roman empire would be sure to suffer in some degree at the same time, and especially when famines were, as at this time, of frequent recurrence.

ἐπὶ Κλαυδίου, in the days of Claudius. The reign of Claudius (A.D. 41–54) was remarkable for the famines with which various parts of the empire were afflicted. The first, second, fourth, ninth and eleventh years of this emperor’s reign are recorded as years of famine in some district or other. See Suetonius, Claudius, 28; Tacitus, Ann. XII. 43; Josephus, Ant. XX. 2. 5; Dio Cassius, IX. p. 949; Euseb. H. E. II. 8.

Verse 29

29. τῶν δὲ μαθητῶν καθὼς εὐπορεῖτό τις, and the disciples each man according to his ability, i.e. the disciples of the Church at Antioch.

εἰς διακονίαν, for relief. Lit. ‘for ministry’: a phrase which recalls the ἡ διακονία ἡ καθημερινή of Acts 6:1. The relief from Antioch was to be distributed in that way, for no doubt the Christian Church in Judæa would be much impoverished. At first the poorer converts had been sustained by the common fund, but persecution had driven away great numbers of the Christians, and those would be most likely to depart who possessed means to support themselves in other places. Thus the Mother-Church would be deprived of those members who were best able to give relief in such a severe time of distress.

Verse 30

30. πρὸς τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους, to the elders. This is the first time we come upon the πρεσβύτεροι in the Christian history. In Acts 20:17 they are again mentioned, and shortly afterwards (Acts 11:28) in the same narrative they are named ἐπίσκοποι = overseers, bishops. No doubt at first the office of elder or presbyter comprised, beside the work of teaching, the general oversight of one, or it may be more Churches. Cf. Philippians 1:1 where the two orders of the ministry are described as ‘bishops (= presbyters) and deacons.’ As the Church increased in numbers these duties were separated, and the general superintendence and control assigned to one who was called overseer or bishop.

διὰ χειρὸς Βαρνάβα καὶ Σαύλου, by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. The character and labours of these two had marked them out as the most fit men to be bearers of this help, and it was from Jerusalem that Barnabas had been sent at first to Antioch.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Acts 11:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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