Friday, October 8, 2010

Challenging Cornelius: As I Began to Speak

In "Saving Cornelius" we learned that the Word of God teaches that Cornelius' household was saved, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, sealing them as children of God, promising them redemption and resurrection, all before their baptism in water. I have spoken since with a friend and with a visitor to this blog, both of whom have insisted Cornelius' household was not saved before their baptism in water, and I've sincerely sought an explanation for that insistence. I am still awaiting an exegetical answer, but in the meantime, I want to share one argument I've witnessed put forth in support of the view that Cornelius was not, in fact, saved before being baptized in water (not put forward by the friend and visitor of whom I speak).

I heard one teacher within the International Churches of Christ point to Acts 11:15 in which Peter says, "as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning," arguing that the words "as I began to speak" show that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before Peter even began his message. Therefore, since salvation requires faith, and faith requires hearing the Word of God, Cornelius could not have been saved at this point.

This argument simply doesn't work, for a couple of reasons. First, Acts 10 makes it very clear that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit well into Peter's message. He received Him immediately, in fact, after Peter says, "everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." So Acts 11:15 cannot mean that Peter had yet to speak a single word when Cornelius received the Holy Spirit.

Second, the word "began" is used elsewhere by Luke (the author of Acts) not to refer to the precise point in time at which a message begins, but the whole period of time during which a message is delivered. In Luke 4:21 we read, "And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" In Luke 20:9 we read, "And He began to tell the people this parable: 'A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time...'" and the parable goes on for another 9 verses. And Acts 1:1 reads, "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach." Clearly the gospel of Luke contains not just what Jesus began to teach and do, but what He did, in fact, teach and do.

So when Peter says in Acts 11 that "as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them," he's not saying they received the Holy Spirit at the precise moment Peter opened his mouth; he's saying they received the Holy Spirit during that which he spoke, which is in fact what happens in Acts 10 when they receive the Holy Spirit well into Peter's gospel message, but immediately upon being told that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved.

Therefore, we're left with the breathed-out Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) which says in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 1 and Ephesians 1 that Cornelius' household was, in fact, saved before their baptism in water.


  1. Chris, while I agree that the argument this person used is a poor argument, I maintain my disagreement with you that Cornelius and his household were saved prior to their baptism (immersion) in water. Just so you are clear, I do not believe that the water does anything in relation to saving power, God saves us. I also agree that 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 1 & 5, and Ephesians 1, are all referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You cannot prove that this is what Cornelius and his household received, and the following is why.

    Cornelius and his household received the gift of the Holy Spirit as an example to Peter and the Apostles (Acts 10:17 & 18). God poured out His Spirit on them in order to make the Jews (which would include the Apostles) see that God’s grace is for all people, not only Jews (Romans 11:11). Under the Law, only Jews from the line of Levi could be priests and Gentiles (non-Jews) were completely excluded.

    Peter explains what he saw to the other Apostles in Acts 11 and before the Holy Spirit came on them, Luke writes about the vision Peter had just before going to Cornelius, which explained what was about to happen. Peter’s vision was repeatedly shown to him 3 times in the same vision. God wanted Peter to go to Cornelius and teach him the Gospel, and when Peter went to the house, though he was (as far as I can tell) unaware that there would be a large group. During his ‘sermon’ per se, he saw the Holy Spirit being poured out on them. This event had never happened before, and therefore, Peter knew that his vision was the prelude to this event. How can we know this has not happened before? Two ways.
    1) Up to this point in time, there had been no association with the Gentiles by the Apostles to teach them the Gospel.
    2) No other place in Scripture does this kind of event happen this way.

    Therefore, we cannot assume that this is the same thing that happens to us today. That is not to say that there could not be the receiving of miraculous power from the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but as far as I know, all the claims in this age have been proven to be hoaxes. That is a matter for a separate study though.

    This is the reason I cannot agree with what you believe.

  2. "You cannot prove that this is what Cornelius and his household received"

    The Bible proves this. Their speaking in tongues is explicitly said in 1 Corinthians 12 to be one of many gifts manifested by the indwelling Holy Spirit Who distributes gifts individually to members of the one body of Christ. Combined with Romans 8 which uses the exact same language of receiving the Holy Spirit, and combined with 2 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 1 and Ephesians 1 which use the opposite of "receive" ("give"), the Bible--not I--proves Cornelius' household was saved before their baptism in water.

    You are right about why the Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius' household, that is, to demonstrate to Peter and the Church that Gentiles were being welcomed into the New Covenant community. But that doesn't change What they were given.

    I've said several times now that my point is not that Cornelius' experience is the same thing we experience today; that's another debate to have. But the Bible in plain language tells us that Cornelius' household was saved before their baptism in water, regardless of what implications that might have to us today. I know that your theological presuppositions motivate you to deny the salvation of Cornelius' household before their baptism in water, but since I've acknowledged that their experience isn't proof that we today are saved in the same way, I hope you'll repent and allow your understanding of Cornelius to be shaped by what the Bible plainly says.

  3. Chris, I'm with you here - and I think on;y a poerful theological interest could drive someone to deny this. Cornelius was saved, and so he was baptised as an outward sign of an inward change.

  4. Well I'm in good company, then :)