Acts 11: Peter Explains His Actions, The Church in Antioch
When a number of Gentiles believed in the previous chapter, and even received the Holy Spirit, it was a big deal. The idea that God was expanding His reach beyond the group that had been, up until this point, His exclusively chosen people, was huge. I tried to call out in the previous post how big it was, though I’m guessing it’s not something that’s going to resonate with the modern reader.
It’s so big, in fact, that Peter faces some criticism in this chapter. Why would he be going to uncircumcised Gentiles?!? He even ate with them—that would make him unclean1! Peter doesn’t really try to debate the point with them based on Scripture, however, he simply relates what happened. In fact, a big section of Chapter 11 amounts to Peter retelling the events of his vision and then his visit to the Gentiles from Chapter 10.
And pretty much every time I read Acts 11, I get pleasantly surprised by verse 18:
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
It’s almost anticlimactic (though in a good way). No more fighting on the matter? No more debate? They just accept that this is God’s will, and move on? Why don’t we act like this more often?!?
But the Gentiles that Peter met with in Chapter 10 are not the only Gentiles receiving the Word of God. We’re also told that some of the Christians who were scattered during the dispersion have ended up in a place called Antioch. They’re mostly just spreading the word to other Jews but some are going to the Greeks as well and a number of those Greeks are accepting the Word and turning to the Lord.
At this point Saul enters the picture again because Barnabas goes to get him from Tarsus so they can both go to Antioch and preach. They spend a year there teaching the people, and we’re told that Antioch is where the believers are first called “Christians.”
Almost as a side note, we’re also told of some Christian prophets who predict an impending famine, so the believers in Antioch, via Saul and Barnabas, send gifts to the believers in Jerusalem to help out. We’re told that the famine will be across the entire Roman empire but the way the text is worded it seems to me that it’s specifically the Gentile believers in Antioch who are raising funds for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem; I might not have that right, though.
In a way, it almost feels like overkill for Acts 11 to recount the events that originally occurred in Chapter 10 to such a level of detail as is given. As we read Acts we get the story in one chapter and then get it again, almost word-for-word, in the very next chapter! Couldn’t Luke have simply written, “so Peter told them the story of his vision,” and been done with it?
I think Luke is making a point of telling the story twice because this is such a big deal. For as long as the Israelites/Jews have been God’s people they’ve been His only people; now that His Grace is being extended beyond His original chosen people it’s a fundamental change to their entire understanding of God’s relationship with His people—including the very definition of who “God’s people” are.
I’m not 100% sure if this is true—I’m not sure if the Old Testament Laws would really have made a Jew unclean for eating with Gentiles, or if this was something the Jews of Peter’s day were pushing beyond what the Scriptures actually said—but whether it was strictly scriptural or not, it’s definitely how people would have viewed it at the time. ↩︎