New Testament Lesson 30 (Acts 10–15)
THE EARLY CHURCH RAPIDLY EXPANDS
● Following Stephen’s stoning, the disciples “were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria.” They “went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4).
● The gospel word had spread: “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only” (Acts 11:19).
● At this point, the word of God was taken into Samaria by Philip, who later preached in cities west of Judea along the Mediterranean seacoast (Acts 8:5, 14–15).
● By the time of Paul’s conversion, the word of the Lord had spread as far as Damascus, a city of Syria, some 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem (Acts 9).
● We assume that the other Apostles, though we have no precise record of their labors, also helped to fulfill the Lord’s instructions to be His “witnesses . . . unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS
The Gentile Cornelius Receives a Vision
● Cornelius, a Roman Gentile, received a vision from God (Acts 10:1–8).
— Cornelius was a Roman centurion, or leader of one hundred men.
— He was devout, as was his entire household
— He gave alms to the poor and prayed consistently to God
— He was given a vision in answer to prayer and was instructed to seek out Peter.
— He was the first Gentile to receive the gospel without converting to Judaism first.
— His conversion took place sometime between AD 35 and 44
— Caesarea is the Roman capital of Judaea.
— It had a temple of Zeus and a temple of Augustus, both built by Herod the Great.
— It would have been repulsive for Peter to go there
— He resided instead in Jewish Joppa, 34 miles south (eleven hours walking distance).
● He was instructed by an angel to contact Peter (Acts 10:30–33). Peter held the keys of the Kingdom as President of the Church.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “No wonder the angel told good old Cornelius that he must send for Peter to learn how to be saved. Peter could baptize and angels could not, so long as there were legal officers in the flesh holding the keys of the kingdom, or the authority of the priesthood.”1
Peter Also Receives a Vision
● Peter received a vision concerning the Gentiles and the gospel (Acts 10:9–16).
— The sixth hour is about noon by our clock (v. 9).
— Peter was overcome by the Spirit and transfigured (v. 10).
— The “great sheet knit at the four corners” probably resembled a large prayer shawl of the kind worn by Jewish men during their religious devotions (v. 11). Nonkosher animals wrapped in a holy prayer shawl would have made a doubly significant impression on Peter.
— The vision and the message were repeated three times (vv. 15–16).
● As he met with Cornelius, Peter understood the vision (Acts 10:28, 34–35).
● Peter explained the dream and taught Cornelius and his friends (Acts 10:36–43). President David O. McKay said, “It [was] Peter’s duty and privilege to preach the gospel first to the Gentiles. Please note that when the Lord desired the Gentiles to hear His word, He instructed the chief of the Twelve to turn the key that opened the gospel door to them. This is one of the special duties of the Apostleship.”2
● The difference between the Holy Ghost and the Gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44–48). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [that is, the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead] until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.”3
● How the members of the Church reacted in Peter’s day (Acts 11:1–3). Do we had similar problems in our own day?
● Peter’s response and testimony (Acts 11:4–18).
A Pattern for Continuous Revelation in Our Own Day
● Notice the pattern established in the case of Cornelius and Peter:
— A group of people desire the gospel and begin to live it.
— They receive encouragement and instructions through visions.
— The President of the Church then receives revelation to go forward.
● Article of Faith 9 “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
● The pattern of Cornelius and Peter was repeated in our own day with regard to the priesthood being extended to all worthy males:
— A group of people in Africa desired the gospel and begin to live it.
— They received encouragement and instructions through visions.
— The President of the Church then receives revelation to extend the priesthood.
THE CHALLENGES OF A GROWING CHRISTIAN CHURCH
● The disciples began to be known as “Christians” (Acts 11:19–26).
● The prophet Agabus foretold a famine during the reign of the emperor Claudius (Acts 11:27–30).
— Little is known of Agabus except he had the gift of prophecy and was a noble Christian.
— This same prophet Agabus later predicted Paul’s imprisonment (Acts 21:10–11).
— Claudius Caesar ruled from AD 41–54, and a famine hit the Judean area in 46 AD
— Sources other than the Bible corroborate this famine in the eastern Mediterranean.
— One purpose of the journey of Barnabas and Paul to Jerusalem was to deliver supplies other Saints had contributed for the relief of Church members in Judaea during this famine.
● Paul and Barnabus were later called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1–4).
● Discrimination arose among the members as the Church expanded (Acts 6:1–7).
● A dispute arose concerning new Gentile converts and the law of Moses (Acts 15:1–11).
Imprisonment, Martyrdom and Miracles
● James (the brother of John) was martyred (Acts 12:1–2).
— The Herod mentioned here is Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great.
— Unlike his father and grandfather, he was a great observer of the law of Moses.
— To curry favor with the Jews he beheaded James at the Passover in 44 AD
— James was a counselor in the First Presidency and the brother of John.
— It demonstrated the increasing unpopularity of the Christians among the Jews.
— It seems to have resulted from the Church’s extending fellowship to the Gentiles.
● This was Passover, not Easter (Acts 12:3–4). The use of the word Easter here is an anachronism; the Greek is pascha from the Hebrew pesach, which means “Passover.” Christians made Passover into a commemoration of the resurrection.
● Prayer works (Acts 12:5–19). The Saints’ righteous petitions to heaven were answered in the miraculous release of their prophet-leader from prison.
— The first and second “ward” means the first and second guard at the prison (v. 10).
— John Mark is probably the same person who wrote the second Gospel (v. 12).
— His mother, Mary, was a leading member of the Church in Jerusalem.
— He accompanied Paul and Barnabas briefly on their 1st missionary journey (v. 25).
— Mark later was a scribe and helper to Peter “at Babylon” (Rome) (1 Peter 5:13).
— Peter speaks of Mark as his “son.”
— An ancient tradition states that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome, taking his material directly from Peter.
● Herod Agrippa suddenly fell ill and died at age 54 while presiding over the second day of the victory games honoring Rome’s conquest of Britain (Acts 12:21–23). Luke viewed Agrippa’s death as justice administered by an angel of God.
The Nature and Extent of Paul’s Ministry
● Paul had been prepared for his mission as a young boy by studying the Mosaic law under Gamaliel, as well as multiple languages—Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic (Acts 22:3).
● He was also a Roman citizen, which helped him serve the kingdom of God (Acts 22:25–28).
● Preparation for his Mission Call:
— Paul had already been involved in considerable missionary work for 10 years before he began what we call his “first missionary journey.”
— After his conversion, he taught the gospel in Damascus and its environs for three years.
— He then “went up to Jerusalem” to receive his formal mission call (Galatians 1:18).
— He was introduced to the Church authorities by Barnabas, who was well known to them. (Acts 19:26–27)
— He was called by the Apostles to serve for several years in his home city of Tarsus.
— He and Barnabas then journeyed to Antioch, teaching there “a whole year” (Acts 11:26).
● In Antioch, Paul was set apart by fasting, prayer, revelation, and priesthood authority to serve a mission among the Gentiles (Acts 13:1–3).
PAUL’S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
● It lasted 1 year, from 47–48 AD.
— 1400 miles by sailboat and foot.
— They visited Antioch (Syria), Seleucia, Paphos, Perga, Antioch (Pisidia), Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Samaria, and Jerusalem.
● Activities During His First Missionary Journey:
— They baptized, confirmed, ordained, and healed.
— They had to flee for their lives at times.
— They found themselves troubled with doctrinal questions.
● The Significance of Paul’s First Missionary Journey: (Acts 13:1–14, 26)
— They established branches of the Church in areas far removed from Jerusalem.
— Paul demonstrated his capacity as a leader and an organizer:
• He entered towns with no members and where few had heard of Christ.
• When he left, there was usually a small but thriving branch of the Church.
— Paul also demonstrated his eagerness to preach the gospel to all men:
• Whenever the Jews rejected the word of God, Paul turned to the Gentiles.
— Many heard and received the gospel message.
Correcting False Teachings and Traditions
● The Journey to Paphos on Cyprus: The missionaries sailed 130 miles from Antioch’s port, Seleucia, to Cyprus, probably at the opening of the sailing season, about March. They then journeyed overland from Salamis to Paphos on the western end of the island—a distance of 100 miles— teaching as they went.
● Saul’s name was changed to Paul while he was in Cyprus (Acts 13:9).
● At Paphos they met Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul for Cyprus, a prudent man who requested that Paul and Barnabas preach to him (Acts 13:4–9).
● Paul confronted the false prophet Elymas, and cursed him with blindness when he attempted to prevent their preaching of the gospel (Acts 13:10–11). Compare this incident with Alma’s cursing of Korihor in the Book of Mormon. (Alma 30:47–56)
● Many others also believed and a branch of the Church was organized in Paphos.
● The Journey to Perga: From Paphos they sailed another 180 miles to the port of Attalia, in Pamphylia on the southern coast of modern Turkey. After arriving in the port of Attalia, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark walked to the city of Perga, about 12 miles to the northeast.
PAUL’S MISSIONARY METHODS
Preaching to the Jews
● Paul was able to adapt himself to whatever circumstances in which he found himself (1 Cor. 9:19–23).
● He put his Jewish background to excellent use in preaching first to the Jews, then to the gentiles (Acts 13:5, 15; 14:1; 17:1, 17).
● Even though the Church had received the revelation that all worthy Gentiles could be admitted into the Church, still missionaries were most successful when they began in areas with established Jewish communities.
● Christian missionaries would often preach first in Jewish synagogues, similar to what many early Mormon missionaries did when they spread the message abroad. They went first to their family, friends and religious associates, meeting in their churches to share the Restored Gospel.
● The Journey to Antioch of Pisidia: This journey would have taken the missionaries 5 or 6 days to climb nearly 100 miles from the coast up into the mountains of Pisidia. This Antioch should not be confused with the Antioch in Syria.
● The rulers of the synagogue in Antioch invited Paul to speak in the Sabbath service (Acts 13:14–15). Paul’s discourse there is one of the most completely recorded in the book of Acts.
● Paul’s message follows the same pattern as Stephen’s did:
— Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David (Acts 13:23–31,38–41).
— Jesus fulfilled prophecy.
— Jesus was resurrected.
— Jesus is the only source of salvation.
Preaching to the Gentiles
● Nearly the whole city came together to hear them, and many believed (Acts 13:42–44, 48).
● The Jews grew jealous over the popularity of Paul’s message and sought to stop their preaching (Acts 13:45–47). Paul and Barnabas, having first proclaimed the gospel to these rebellious Jews, said: “seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (v. 46). The Jews then persuaded the influential and wealthy individuals of the city to expel the Christian missionaries.
● The Journey to Iconium: The missionaries moved on to Iconium, 80 miles to the southeast, immediately entering the synagogue to teach the Jews of the city.
● As in every city they visited, Paul and Barnabus found people in Iconium who accepted the gospel (Acts 14:1–4). But again “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren” (v. 2).
● This is the first mention of Barnabas and Paul as Apostles (Acts 14:4, 19). Although Paul’s relationship to the Twelve has been debated by modern Christian historians,
● The Journey to Lystra: Lystra lies 25 miles south of Iconium in the region called Lycaonia. The Taurus Mountains border this region on the south. Phrygia borders it on the west, Cappadocia on the east, and Galatia on the north.
● In Lystra they healed a cripple—a man lame from the womb—who immediately leaped and walked (Acts 14:8–12).
● Seeing this miracle, the people in Lystra believed the missionaries were gods and sought to worship them with sacrifices (Acts 14:13–18).
● There were also sober and spiritual people at Lystra and at Derbe, who proved to be “some of the choicest members of the early Church. Among these were Timothy, whom Paul afterwards called his son; Eunice, Timothy’s mother, and Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, whose ‘unfeigned faith’ Paul commended in later years. Undoubtedly, the friendship alone of these noble people more than paid Paul for all the persecution he suffered during this first mission.”4
● Agitators from Antioch and Iconium had followed them to Lystra and stirred up a mob to stone Paul (Acts 14:19–20).
● The Journey to Derbe: Though he had been thrown out of Lystra and left for dead, the next day Paul was up again and heading toward Derbe to preach the gospel—a journey of about 20 miles.
Returning to the Branches to Strengthen Church Members
● The Apostles returned to each of their newly established branches to strengthen the faith of members and set up leadership (Acts 14:21–26 ).
— They visited the Saints in Lystra and the regions round about.
— They then returned 40 miles to Iconium and 60 more miles back to Antioch in Pisidia.
— From there, they went to Perga in Pamphylia, and sailed from Attalia to Antioch in Syria.
— All of this was done to retain the members and strengthen them.
Returning to Antioch of Syria
● The Apostles returned south to Attalia, then sailed back to Antioch of Syria, from whence they had originally departed on their missions (Acts 14:27–28). They reported to the Church at Antioch the many faith-building experiences they had on their mission.
THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
A Council to Discuss Circumcision
● It was held in 49–50 AD
— It had been 10 years since Peter converted Cornelius.
— It had been 14 years since Paul was converted.
● Circumcision was symbolic of the entire law of Moses.
— A circumcised man was one who kept the law.
— Circumcision was instituted by Jehovah himself with Abraham and his descendants as a token of the covenant which promised eternal blessings to all who served the Lord in righteousness (Abraham 2:8–11; Genesis 17:9–14).
— According to the law of Moses, every male child was to be circumcised when he was eight days old (Leviticus 12:3).
— In the days of Jesus and the Apostles it was popular to refer to people as “of the circumcision” and “of the un-circumcision,” as synonyms for Jews and gentiles. (Gal. 2:7).
— Following the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the need for circumcision was removed.
— Nevertheless, some Jewish Christians still practiced it and wanted Gentile converts to practice it as well.
— The issue caused serious division in the early Church.
● The Jerusalem council was called because of the dispute over circumcision (Acts 15:1–5). Some Jewish Christians (called “Judaizers”) still practiced it and wanted Gentile converts to practice it as well. Paul still found it necessary to combat the problem wherever he went.
● Nevertheless, Paul himself had differing responses to it under differing circumstances:
— For Titus, Paul opposed it (Galatians 2:1–3).
— For Timothy, Paul required it, to appease the Jews (Acts 16:1–3).
The Results of the Jerusalem Council
● Peter, who was presiding and conducting, stood, bore his testimony, and reminded the Church that the revelation opening the gospel dispensation to the Gentiles did not mean that the old system must be thrust upon them (Acts 15:6–11).
● Barnabas and Paul gave a missionary report, and then James, the Lord’s brother (now possibly of the Twelve), confirmed the declaration of Peter (Acts 15:12–18).
● “My sentence is”—James’ advice was to allow Gentiles to abstain from Judaic practices but require all Church members to abstain from pagan practices (Acts 15:19–20).
● This was an Official Declaration from the Jerusalem leadership to the Church (Acts 15:23–29). However. . .
— The issues of circumcision and the old law were not definitively resolved.
— It allowed Gentiles into membership without adopting Judaic practices.
— But it failed to sever Jewish Christians from their Mosaic heritage.
— Upon Paul’s return to Jerusalem years later (Acts 21), he found Jewish Christians still holding to the traditions of Judaism.
— The Gentiles in the Church rejoiced when they heard the word of the Lord (Acts 15:30–31).
● These events demonstrate the pattern by which decisions about Church policy and practices are made:
— Church leaders meet to consider the matter (v (Acts 15:6–31). 6).
— They discuss the matter thoroughly (vv. 7–21).
— They make a decision in accordance with the Lord’s will (vv. 19–21).
— The Holy Ghost confirms that the decision is correct (v. 28).
— The decision is announced to the Saints for sustaining (vv. 22–31).
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 265.
2. Ancient Apostles , 87.
3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 199.
4. Ancient Apostles , Lesson 27, First Missionary Journey (Cont’d)—at Lystra and Derbe.