Vol. 4, No. 9
Since You Asked
~ Page 20 ~
Bro. Rushmore, I have heard many of our brethren speak of Cornelius living under the Patriarchal dispensation at the time of Peter's visit. This is the reason most give for his prayers being heard according to Acts 10:4. My question is could there be the possibility that Cornelius was a proselyte Jew? My reason for wondering this is the fact that Acts 10:3 tells us that he was praying about the ninth hour, which according to Acts 3:1 was one of the common hours of prayer in the temple. Acts 10:30 also states that Cornelius was fasting. Was fasting and prayer at the ninth hour common practice for a Gentile still living under the Patriarchal law or could there be the possibility that Cornelius was a proselyte Jew, who still being of the Gentile race despised just as much by true Jews, being the reason for Peter's vision? In Christ, Rayford Henderson
Inescapably, Cornelius was a Gentile originally from Italy (Acts 10:1), revered the true God and influenced his household to do the same (Acts 10:2), fasted as the Jews did (Acts 10:30), prayed as did the Jews at the ninth hour (Acts 10:30) and acted upon his confidence in the God of Judaism by giving to the poor Jews whose land he and other Roman soldiers occupied (Acts 10:2). Obviously, Cornelius was favorably inclined toward Judaism. However, had Cornelius proselyted to Judaism or was Cornelius still a Gentile when Scripture introduces him in Acts Ten? Overwhelming evidence confirms that though inclined toward Judaism, Cornelius had not become a proselyte to Judaism by the time he met the apostle Peter.
First, note that several Gentiles over time who had not become proselytes nevertheless were favorably inclined toward Judaism, or at least toward the Israelites. Scripture predicted as much.
"Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake; (For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray toward this house; Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name" (1 Kings 8:41-43).
Ruth who hid the spies cast her lot with the Israelites though she was not then an inductee to Judaism (Joshua 6:25). After healed of leprosy, Naaman embraced the true God of Israel without becoming a proselyte (2 Kings 5:15-18). A centurion, during the ministry of Christ, had built a synagogue for the Jews of Capernaum and petitioned the Jews to seek a cure of Jesus for his ill servant (Luke 7:1-5).
In Acts 10:1ff. a Roman centurion of Caesarea in Palestine, one of the class of Gentiles known as 'God-fearers' because of their attachment to Jewish religious practices, such as almsgiving and prayer, for which Cornelius receives special mention. ... The Cornelius of Acts is specially notable as the first Gentile convert to Christianity. As he and his household and friends listened to Peter's preaching, they believed and received the Holy Spirit, whereupon they were baptized at Peter's command. The importance of this occasion in Luke's eyes is emphasized by repetition (cf. Acts 11:1-18; 15:7, 14).1
Second, the Gospel of Christ had been preached to Jewish proselytes already ten years before the occasion of the preaching of the Gospel to the household of Cornelius (Acts 2:10). The singular event to which two chapters are devoted respecting the conversion of Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends is irreconcilable with the fact that Gentile proselytes to Judaism had been converted up to ten years before (Acts 6:5) -- completely without any recorded complaint by Judaizing teachers. Acts 10 and 11 portray the breaking of new ground regarding the fulfillment of the Great Commission to evangelize the world (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8) -- namely the conversion to Christianity of Gentiles who did not first proselyte to Judaism -- about which the Judaizing teachers never ceased to complain.
Third, the Judaizing teachers did not dispute that Gentiles could become Christians (Mark 16:15-16), as long as they became proselytes to Judaism first (Acts 15:24). Peter also was surprised and needed miraculous proof that he ought to take the Gospel to Gentiles (Acts 10:9-20). Likewise, the six Jewish brethren who accompanied Peter were dumbfounded that Cornelius and other Gentiles assembled that day were visited by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45). Neither Peter nor those six Jews would have been amazed regarding going to Cornelius or the Holy Spirit visiting those Gentiles had those Gentiles been Jewish proselytes, such as those in Acts 2 to whom the promises were alike to the Jews and proselytes.
The importance of the whole transaction to the development of the church seems to depend on the circumstance that Cornelius was probably not a proselyte at all. Thus we regard Cornelius as literally the first-fruits of the Gentiles. The step here taken by Peter was therefore one of tremendous importance to the whole development of the church. The significance of the incident consists exactly in this, that under Divine direction, the first Gentile, not at all belonging to the old theocracy, becomes a Spirit-filled Christian, entering through the front door of the Christian church without first going through the narrow gate of Judaism. The incident settled forever the great, fundamental question as to the relations of Jew and Gentile in the church.2
Fourth, Gentiles who proselyted to Judaism, though they faced restrictions placed upon them by the Jews, did intermingle with the Jews. The apostle Paul addressed Jews as well as Gentile proselytes in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14-16). The phrases "... Men of Israel, and ye that fear God ..." (Acts 13:16) refer to the Jews and Gentile proselytes, respectively. Acts 13:42 makes clear that the two ethnicities present when Paul addressed them were Jews and Gentiles (proselytes).
"And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God" (Acts 13:42-43).
Hence, the apostle Peter would not have declared regarding Cornelius that it was not permissible for a Jew to have contact with a Gentile, if Cornelius were a proselyte (Acts 10:28).
Fifth, the apostle Peter and James, the half brother of Jesus, categorized the conversion of Cornelius as from the Gentiles to Christianity (Acts 15:7, 14). Add the testimony of the Judaizing teachers who challenged Peter specifically because he took the Gospel to uncircumcised Gentiles.
"And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them" (Acts 11:2-3).
Judaism called for male proselytes to be circumcised (Exodus 12:48); the fact that Cornelius and those with him were not circumcised indicates that they were not proselytes when they encountered Peter. Acts 11 represents Peter's defense of his conduct in taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, which complaint the Judaizing teachers would not have tendered if Cornelius and those with him were proselytes; circumcision was a cardinal badge of a proselyte, hence the phraseology "uncircumcised" and "Gentiles" were synonyms.
In conclusion, some commentators and religious reference works suppose Cornelius to have been a Gentile proselyte to Judaism before his acquaintance with the apostle Peter. "...his devotion, alms, prayers, and visions (10:2-3) merely signifying that he was a Jewish proselyte."3 However, the foregoing observations are sufficient to discern that Cornelius and the others with him of Acts 10 and 11 were uncircumcised Gentiles and not proselytes when Peter brought the Gospel to them. The prophecy of Jesus respecting the progress of evangelism on the world included the Jews, the Samaritans and the balance of humanity or Gentiles; "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Further, the apostle Peter portrayed the same allotment of the Gospel to the world; "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). The "afar off," Paul identified as Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). The conversion of Cornelius and other Gentiles with him represents the final episode in the proclamation of the Gospel to all classes of humanity, effectively fully activating the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16).
1 The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
2 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database. (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1996.
3 The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press) 1988.
Brother Rushmore, ... eating in the church building ... If you have any information on this issue that you could send me or a good source of information available, I would appreciate the help. Thanks, Bruce Stulting
If eating in the church building were prohibited in the New Testament, then it would be a sin to eat in the church building. If the New Testament does not prohibit eating in the church building, then it is neither sinful to eat in nor to refrain from eating in the church building. However, if the New Testament does not prohibit eating in the church building, then making a religious law prohibiting eating in the church building where God made no such law is sinful (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Apparently, some sincere persons believe that it is sinful to eat in the church building, basing their conviction on an avowed respect for the Word of God. A high regard for God's Word is praiseworthy. However, if the New Testament does not prohibit eating in the church building, then these sincere persons, who have a high regard for God's Word and who have believed and affirmed that it is sinful to eat in the church building, must renounce that teaching. They do not have to eat in the church building, but they cannot justifiably teach such a doctrine if the New Testament does not prescribe it upon its pages.
Doubtless a surface reading of 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34 is the source of confusion as to whether it is biblically permissible to eat in a church building:
"What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. ... And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation"
The context in which this verse appears treats the abuse of the Lord's Supper in the assembly of the Lord's church (vss. 17-34). Additional to any observance of the Lord's Supper or in combination with its observance, the Corinthian Christians were eating a meal for the nourishment of their bodies. In a sense, they had intermingled a common meal with the spiritual Supper or communion that Jesus had instituted. These first century Christians failed in two areas: (1) They perverted the Lord's Supper by turning it into a common meal. (2) They perverted what we may refer to as a fellowship or potluck meal by not sharing, by which the more affluent had plenty and the less affluent had little or nothing. This latter circumstance demonstrated the division for which the apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian church in earlier chapters (1:10-13; 3:1-4). Ponder this information as we review other pertinent considerations before we draw any conclusions.
The term "church" means "assembly," as Strong's indicates: "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly."1 The word "church" is used in three senses relative to the Lord's church in the New Testament: a universal sense (Ephesians 1:22), a congregational sense (1 Corinthians 1:2) and referring to the worship assembly of a congregation (1 Corinthians 11:18). The context determines the sense in which the word "church" is used. The context, regarding whether one can eat in the church building without sinning, pertains to the worship assembly. "For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it" (vs. 18). The act of coming together for worship (here the Lord's Supper) is described as "the church," which is the assembly. The act of assembling for worship is described also in verse 20 and 14:23. Ponder this, too, as we address other information before drawing any conclusions.
There is no evidence that the first century church owned any church buildings, by which any allusion to such would have been intelligible to the original recipients of the Book of First Corinthians. All available evidence indicates that the first church buildings came into being long after First Corinthians Chapter Eleven was penned.
'Church' in the NT, however, renders Gk. ekklesia, which mostly designates a local congregation of Christians and never a building. (emphasis added, ler)2
In the New Testament it is the translation of the Greek word ecclesia ... meaning simply an assembly, the character of which can only be known from the connection in which the word is found. There is no clear instance of its being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.3
CHURCH EDIFICES Until the second century Christians were not permitted to erect churches, but were compelled to worship in private houses, in the open fields, or, to escape persecution, in the Catacombs (q. v.) and other concealed places. On the suspension of persecution, we find, from A.D. 202 and forwards, notices of Church edifices in Nicomedia, Edessa (Odessa), and other cities. Diocletian issued an edict (A.D. 305) ordering all Christian churches to be razed to the ground. Under Constantine these were rebuilt, and great numbers of new ones erected over the whole Roman empire.4
Ekkleesia in the New Testament never means the building or house of assembly, because church buildings were built long AFTER the apostolic age.5
In the next place, the first century church sometimes met in private homes (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Imagine the ramifications of not being able to eat in the place where the church assembles to worship if that place were your private dwelling also. Further, it would be untenable for the apostle Paul, in the same epistle no less, to condemn eating in a place or a location (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and commend a Christian couple who permitted the church to worship in their home, in which home they lived and naturally would ordinarily eat their meals.
Last, the apostle Paul himself worshipped and ate a meal in the same building (Acts 20:7-11). The apostle preached at the Troas assembly of the church, in which they observed the Lord's Supper. Paul preached until midnight. A young man fell from the third story out the window and died. The apostle Paul resurrected him to life and they all returned to the building, where they ate a meal together.
Summarized, we note these observations from the foregoing:
The term "church" in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 refers to the worship assembly in which the Lord's Supper is observed and does not refer to a building or the place in which worship occurs.
First century congregations did not own church buildings and therefore, the apostle Paul was not addressing whether one may eat or ought not to eat in a church building when he wrote 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
Sometimes Christians worshipped in private homes in the first century, in which homes they also naturally ate meals, with the implicit approval of an inspired apostle.
The same apostle who some think prohibited eating in a church building worshipped and ate in the same building, but not at the same time.
One can only conclude from an honest evaluation of the available biblical and historical evidence that the apostle Paul did not prohibit eating in a church building. To believe, teach and make a test of fellowship an issue of eating in the church building results from a sincere but misguided shallow reading of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Neither biblical nor historical evidence warrants coming to the conclusion that it is inherently sinful to eat in a church building.
(Yet, a congregation may opt to refrain from eating in its church building for any number of pragmatic reasons, none of which in any way affects other congregations. For instance, the arrangement or size of the facility may not lend itself to a fellowship meal and a congregation may decide not to eat in the church building, lest the auditorium carpet is soiled or the pews are marred, if the auditorium were the only room in the building large enough to accommodate the potluck meal.)
It is not inherently sinful to eat in the church building. It is not necessary to have fellowship meals in the church building. It is sinful to make any law where God has not, make it a test of fellowship and attempt to enforce it upon other congregations.
1 Enhanced Strong's Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.
2 The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
3 Easton, M. G., M. A. D. D., Easton's Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996.
4 McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database, (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 2000.
5 Fausset's Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database, (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1998.
Bro RUSHMORE, some brothers at the church where i serve as associate minister are accusing me of teaching false doctrine. 1) I believe that the Bible teaches that christians sin by walking contrary to God's law. Some are teaching that christians cannot sin-1jn 3:9. 2) I believe that the Bible teaches that man is a free moral agent. He may choose life or death, heaven or hell, right or wrong- joshua 24:15. Some are teaching that man has no choice in his salvation or perdition. ~ robert Johnson
The apostle Peter wrote about Christians who, perhaps in all sincerity, distort the Word of God, by which they harm themselves and those that they influence. In the Word of God there "...are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (1 Peter 3:16). Assuming that you have correctly represented them, your antagonists are ill prepared to assign heresy to you respecting the two items above. In fact, what you attribute to them are very serious departures from New Testament Christianity.
Your opponents need to harmonize other passages in 1 John with 1 John 3:9, which they cannot possibly do while holding to their concept of the inability of a Christian to commit sin. Notice what the apostle John wrote earlier in his epistle that contradicts what some, where you worship, claim. Remember that First John was addressed to Christians.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 1:7-2:1).
First, the cleansing from sin by the blood of Christ is conditional -- "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light." In other words, when and as long as a Christian practices New Testament Christianity, his sins are forgiven. Whenever a Christian does not practice Christianity faithfully, his sins are not forgiven (1 John 1:6). Verses Eight and Ten clearly declare that if we (Christians) say we have no sins, we are liars. A doctrine that Christians cannot sin, according to these two verses, is outside the truth! Chapter Two, Verse One expresses John's desire that Christians do not sin, but the apostle acknowledges that Christians might sin. Further, when Christians do sin, they have an "advocate" or lawyer -- Jesus Christ -- who represents them before God.
Second, the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language and has been translated into English, among other languages. Sometimes it is important to look beyond the English words to the Greek behind them. The verse under consideration, 1 John 3:9, is such a case: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." The literal translation from an interlinear New Testament reads: "All the one having been born from the God sin not does because seed of him in him stays and not he is able to sin because from the God he has been born." The present tense in the Greek language conveys continuing action. The present tense verbs translated "does," "stays" and "he is able" mean, then, that the Christian does not continue sinning (i.e., as a way of life), for as long as the "seed" (which is the Word of God, Luke 8:11) by which he was converted continues to be his guide. Whenever a Christian no longer allows the Word of God to be his guide, he consequently commits sins.
Noting that present tense verbs in the Greek convey continuing action, look again at 1 John 1:7. The verse essentially says, "If we continue to walk in the light (of God's Word), as Jesus continues to be in the light, we continue to have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son continues to cleanse us from all sin." The clear implication is that if Christians do not continue to walk in the light, they will not continue to have fellowship and they will not continue to be cleansed by the blood of Christ.
There are said to be about 1,500 warnings in the New Testament urging Christians to be careful not to sin. Warnings not to sin are nonsensical if it is not possible for Christians to sin. No more colorful description of the possibility of a Christian sinning (and the ugliness of such) can be found in the Bible than 2 Peter 2:20-22, which refers to the washed sow wallowing again in the mire and a dog eating his vomit. Christians can commit sin!
The belief that we are not free moral agents and that mankind cannot choose salvation or perdition did not originate with God and his Word. That denominational doctrine is commonly recognized as a part of Calvinism. The denominational doctrine of predestination teaches that God selected certain souls, the number and names of which cannot be changed, to be saved and without consideration of what any of those souls believe or do, good or bad. Implicitly, by that doctrine, God also chose certain souls, the number and names of which cannot be changed, to be eternally lost and without consideration of what any of those souls believe or do, good or bad. The denominational doctrine of predestination reflects unfavorably upon Almighty God, especially since God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).
The biblical doctrine of predestination pertains to two classes of people -- the lost and the saved. The individual souls who comprise either class can and do change in both directions, based on disobedience and obedience of God's Word. Referring to Christ, the Hebrews writer wrote:
"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:8-9).
Obedience requires the ability and willingness to make a choice. When mankind obeys, though falling far short of perfection, God extends his mercy (Titus 3:5) and grace (Ephesians 2:8) to make up the difference. Disobedience receives an opposite response from God.
"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Yes, man must make choices regarding his eternity and redemption. To make no conscious choice, though, is to make the poorest of all choices. Essentially, Satan votes against us; God votes for us; and, we each cast the deciding vote respecting our salvation and where we will spend eternity.