Acts 11:1-26 Traditions and the Expanding Gospel



We completed our last study in Acts with Peter staying at the house of Cornelius for a few days. In the meantime word gets back to the church in Jerusalem that Peter has transgressed the traditions of the elders by entering the house of a Gentile, and by eating with Gentiles. It is causing quite a stir.

The case in view is that the early Jewish church had to work through traditions that did not belong to the new covenant. In fact many of these traditions weren't even part of the covenant of Moses. (More in this in a moment.)

Are you following the studies well? Keep in mind that the best way to study Acts, is to become a participant in the happenings. Try to set aside 21st Century theological thinking, and see yourself as a close observer of the happenings. Ready?

This is Acts025 - Acts 11:1-26 Traditions and the Expanding Gospel.

Vss1-3: "Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, 'You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.'"

.... "The apostles and the brethren throughout Judea heard..." Keep in view that Peter is the only apostle involved in the matter of Cornelius. But the word spreads rapidly. The act of the eating with Gentiles was a grave offense in the Jewish religion of that time. Emotions are running high. Could it be true? Of course this is the norm for Acts.

.... "Those who were circumcised took issue with him..." This phrase may seem odd since all Jewish men were circumcised, but it is a reference to the party of the Pharisees. The ESV version reads, "The circumcision party criticized him."

.... "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." This accusation made by the party of Pharisees is quite similar to what the Pharisees had accused Jesus of doing. It says, "Both the Pharisees and of the scribes began to grumble, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'" (Luke 15:2)

Note: There were many God-fearing Pharisees who came into the true knowledge of salvation by grace through faith. The danger area zone had to do with 'traditions' that had undermined the writings of Moses. These traditions often set aside what had been taught by Moses. Jesus referred to them as 'leaven.' (The Talmud was written by descendants of the Pharisees.)

Listen to the Lord's warning to the disciples -- "'How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' Then they understood that He [Jesus] did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matt16:11,12)

Vss4-14: Peter recounts the story of Cornelius.

Vs15: "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning."

.... "Just as He did upon us." Peter equates what happened at the house of Cornelius as exactly what happened with the Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost. Therefore the speaking in other languages with Cornelius was not some esoteric speech. It was identifiable languages.

.... "At the beginning." Peter indicates that this is the second time this experience of speaking in other languages has taken place. From this we can see that speaking in other languages was the exception and not the rule for those experiencing the new covenant. Had it been the rule, Peter would not have gone back to the day of Pentecost as a reference point.

We may wonder why speaking in other languages was made part of the Cornelius experience, but we will see why in a moment.

Vs16: "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"

.... Peter is recalling what Jesus said just before His ascension. It was at the the house of Cornelius, that Peter began to realize that all believers, regardless of race or culture, were to have their hearts baptized in the Holy Spirit, or what can be termed, the Spirit of the covenant. The speaking in other languages served a different purpose.

Vs17: "Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?"

.... Peter silences all arguments. The issue is that God made no distinction between the Jewish and the Gentile believers entrance into the Church. It was as if the Lord reached forward in time, and then brought the Gentiles back to the day of Pentecost, thus making them full participants.

As for the speaking in other languages, the Spirit of the Lord gives whatever gift He wills, to whoever He wills, whenever He wills, and for whatever purpose He wills. No where in the Scriptures are we told to look for speaking in other languages as a sign that a person has entered the covenant of Christ.

Vs18: "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'"

.... It appears everything is settled at this point, but what to do with Gentile believers is going to surface many times in the future. The Pharisee party may have thought that all Cornelius needed now was to be circumcised. The problem with this view is that the Lord had already accepted Cornelius fully without benefit of circumcision.

Vs19-21: "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord."

.... The scattered disciples did not know about the events with Cornelius, so they shared the gospel with Jews only. At some point in time certain disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to begin speaking to the Greeks. Perhaps the word had gotten to them concerning Cornelius. The 'Greeks' in this case would be both Greek speaking Jews as well as Gentiles. In any event the door was wide open for the Gentiles.

.... "The hand of the Lord was with them." The Lord was directing their work, and bearing witness with large numbers of conversions.

Vss22-24: "The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord."

.... "They sent Barnabas off to Antioch." Barnabas was a Hellenist Jew from the country of Cyprus. He was an obvious choice to serve as an emissary from the apostles to Antioch.

.... "When he witnessed the grace of God he rejoiced." What was happening at Antioch was amazing. Barnabas simply rejoiced, and then encouraged them in the Lord.

.... "Considerable numbers were brought to the Lord." In addition to the great number of those who now believed in Jesus, Barnabas himself was responsible to bringing in many more. The Arabic translation says, "And he drew a large multitude to the Lord."

Vss25,26: "And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

.... "To look for Saul." The Holy Spirit no doubt placed on the heart of Barnabas to bring Saul to Antioch. Barnabas was well aware of Saul's calling in that he was to be a minister to both Jews and Gentiles. The time had come for Saul's next assignment.

.... "For an entire year they ... taught considerable numbers." The church at Antioch grew by leaps and bounds. Over time it became the major center for evangelism to the world. The Antiochene Church became Saul's home church, and its members early on consisted of both Jews and Gentiles.

.... "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." This statement has received mixed reviews over the years. Some say it was a term of derision or mockery given to the believers by outsiders. But according to the prophets, God's people of the new covenant were to be given a new name "which the mouth of the Lord will designate." (Isaiah 62:2)

On the name Christian --- The book of Isaiah is often referred to as the fifth gospel. The reason is because it so clearly sets forth God's Messiah, the new covenant, and the Church, and Israel's history. Here is the portion that speaks of a new name to be given to God's people:

"For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate." (Isaiah 62:1,2)

(1) Early believers were called by various names. Sometimes they were called Galileans, or, Nazarenes. The early church historian, Epiphanius says that the disciples were actually called 'Jessaeans' before they took the name of Christians. This name had regard to David's father. The prophecy goes; "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit." (Isa11:1 - A Messianic prophecy.) But the name that became the identifying name for new covenant believers, was Christian.

(2) The term "mouth of the Lord" is a prophetic expression. It speaks of a prophet speaking from the Spirit of the Lord. That believers were first "called" Christians at Antioch, suggests that this name came by way of the prophet, or prophets. In any event it became the historical name for peoples of the new covenant. Peter himself says that we are to glorify God in this name. (1Pet4:16)

(3) The name Christian comes from Christ. It signifies 'anointed ones.' What more appropriate name would there be for new covenant believers. Christians belong to Christ and share in His anointing. Jesus Himself described a new covenant believer in the terms of a prophet. And John says that all believers have the anointing dwelling in them. (Cf. John 7:38; 1 John 2:20,27)

In the new covenant the prophetic anointing has passed into all believers. This is why you don't find the same stress on prophets as you do in the Old Testament. Its not that there are no new covenant prophets, it is simply that their role differs considerable from the prophet of the former testament. In the new covenant no believer has to depend on a prophet in order to hear from the Lord.

Let's stop the study at this point.


This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.


Page added October 22, 2004

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