While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Peter was not done speaking. But God interrupted him. Peter understood God included the Gentiles in the new covenant, But those with him did not. God giving the Holy Spirit to Gentile dogs astonished them. How could God give such a gift to Gentiles? What was God doing?
This went against everything they learned in Sabbath School. It went against everything they believed. This went beyond the forgiveness of sin. This went beyond regeneration. This was giving the gift of the Holy Spirit!
By this gift, God sealed Peter’s new doctrinal understanding. At the same time, God sealed the faith of Cornelius and his household. Both Peter and his companions needed this sign to seal this new doctrine.
The believers with Peter heard these Gentiles speak in tongues. This is what happened on the day of Pentecost. Men started speaking in tongues. Why were tongues used as the sign of the Holy Spirit? Scripture does not say. But we can make an educated guess. How would Peter and those with him understood it? First, they would have recognized the similarity to Pentecost. Second, it served as a sign the gospel was to go to the whole world. It was to go to all nations.
The tongues or language spoken was not a “heavenly” language. It was a normal human language. Thayer’s Greek dictionary tells us this was an ordinary language. The word used here is, “a language or dialect used by a particular people.” If it had been a “heavenly” language, those with Peter could not have understood the sign.
The gift of the tongues ceased with the apostolic age. God still regenerates men. God still gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. God still uses ordinary means. He still uses the preaching of the Gospel and scripture. God couples the Holy Spirit with the preaching of the gospel. Since the Apostles laid the foundation, the sign is no longer needed.
Scripture calls those with Peter, believers. We should find this comforting. Their doctrine about Gentiles was wrong. Scripture does not condemn them for their erroneous doctrine. Rather God shows them their error. We should always be open to God teaching us. I know for certain that somewhere in my doctrine I am in error. I just don’t know where. I am pretty certain somewhere in your doctrine you are in error. We both need to allow God to teach and correct us. Praise God, He saves us by Christ and not our theology.
Peter recognized God’s handiwork. So he says, I know they are Gentiles. But God has given them the Holy Spirit. Who are we to deny them the baptism we received? So Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Many have used this to claim baptism is for those who have received the Holy Spirit. This is correct. We are not to baptize anyone outside the church. They then go on to conclude we are not to baptize infants or children. Infants cannot make a profession of faith. There is no explicit mention of infants baptism anywhere in scripture.
There is no explicit mention of infants in Cornelius’ household. They argue that infant baptism is an argument from silence. To argue from silence a logical fallacy.
I believe infant baptism is the correct view. I respect and understand those hold the opposite opinion. I use to be in that camp. My understanding of infant baptism goes much farther than this. I will give a short defense from this passage.
First, there are many in the believer’s baptism camp I respect. For example, John MacArthur. So I am not questioning anyone’s Christianity. But at least one of us is wrong. And for that reason, a brief discussion is in order.
The three rules for biblical interruption is are 1. Context. 2. Context. 3 Context. One of those contexts is the cultural context. It is difficult for us to understand the culture of the time. We are so individualistic.
As Americans, we hold it is unjust to hold someone responsible for someone else’s actions. That was not the case in antiquity. People found their identity in the family, the group. The religion of the head of the household was the religion of the household. If the head of the household was baptized everyone (including infants) was baptized.
From the earliest day in the church, the church baptized infants. Even those who hold to believers baptism acknowledge this.
This is an incomplete outline of the positions. I encourage you to study it more.
Now back to the text.
Cornelius and his household received baptism. They then asked Peter and his party to stay with them. They showed the gift of hospitality. While we do not all have the same spiritual gifts we are all to display the fruit of the Spirit.