The Conversion of Cornelius

By Donnie V. Rader

The story of the conversation of Cornelius and his household is found in Acts 10:1-48. Peter recounted the events when he went to Jerusalem, Peter related the story of this conversion there (Acts 15:7-9). Lets look at Cornelius, the miracles surrounding his con-version and the gospel message he heard.


1. A Gentile (Acts 15:7). Cornelius was the first Gentile convert. At the time of his conversion the church was made up largely of Jews. This family was the first of the Gentiles to become Christians. Today it has been reversed. Now the church primarily consists of Gentiles with only a few Jews obeying the gospel.

This conversion proved that the Gentiles can be saved just like the Jews (Acts 11:18; 15:7,9).

2. A military man (Acts 10:1). Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Regiment. He was a man of power and authority. He had a lot of men under his command. Yet, with all of this power, he had the same needs as the lowest private or a civilian  he was in need of salvation from his sins.

3. A moral man (Acts 10:2,22). The text tells us that he was “devout” man which means he was a sincere and devoted individual. He was also good to others for he gave alms to people. He was a “just” or honorable, honest man. He had a good name and reputation. What better neighbor could be found? If you were to list his good traits and contrast them with his bad ones, the good would no doubt out-weigh the bad. However, in spite of his good moral character, he still needed to hear the gospel and be saved (Acts 11:14). I learn from this that sincerity and honesty within themselves are not enough.

4. A religious man (Acts 10:2). He was devout. He was devoted to his religious service and activities. He had an active religion. He feared God. He stood in awe of Gods majesty and greatness. He was afraid of doing that which displeased God. He prayed to God. This tells us that his faith in God was real.

Again, in spite of being religious, he still was not a child of God. Being religious and being devoted are not enough. One still needs to be obedient to God like Cornelius had to be.

Desired to know the word of God (Acts 10:33). Cornelius was open and receptive to the truth. He wanted to know what God has said  including what God would command to be done. When Peter had come, he said to Peter, “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all things commanded you by God.”

Miracles Surrounding His Conversion

There were three miracles connected with this conversion. The reason for these is obvious from reading the text: this is the first conversion of a Gentile.

1. An angel appeared to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-8). The angel told Cornelius that his prayers had been heard (v. 4). The fact that God hears the aliens prayer all will agree. God may even respond somehow. It seems here that he did. However, that is not the same as the assurance that God answers our prayers (1 Pet. 3:12). Otherwise, passages like 1 Peter 3:12 would be meaningless.

Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter (vv. 5-6) for he would tell him what he “must do” (v. 6). This appearance had nothing directly to do with his salvation. If it did, why do we not read of such in other cases of conversion? The angel didnt save Cornelius. There is no evidence that he believes in Christ at this point.

2. Peters vision (Acts 10:9-18). While Peter was on the housetop waiting for a meal to be prepared, he fell into a trance and saw a object like a great sheet coming out of heaven with all kinds of animals and beasts in it. He heard a voice that told him to rise and eat. He refused saying that he would not eat that which was common or unclean. The voice rebuked him saying, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (v. 15). The point was that the Gen-tiles (who had been considered common and unclean) can now be accepted into the kingdom of God. This is the explanation that Peter later gave saying, “I shall not call any man common or unclean” (vv. 28-29).

3. Reception of the Holy Spirit (vv. 44-47). As Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his family. What did they receive? They received Holy Spirit baptism. What fell on the Gentiles here was like that that the apostles received (vv. 45,47). What Peter saw on that day reminded him of Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 11:16). It was called the same gift (Acts 11:17). Peter said God gave them (Cornelius and his house) the Holy Spirit “just as he did to us” (Acts 15:8).

What did this prove? It proved to all present that the Gentiles are now gospel subjects (Acts 11:18). It did not prove that Holy Spirit baptism is for all believers in all ages. It did not prove that Cornelius was saved before baptism. If it did, it proved he was saved before faith.

The Sermon (Acts 10:34.48)
Peter made three fundamental points in his sermon.

1. There is no partiality with God (vv. 34-35). Peter preached that God is not a respecter of persons  he shows no partiality. Rather, he accepts everyone who (a) fears God and (b) works righteousness.

2. Salvation through Christ (vv. 36-43). Jesus Christ was: (a) anointed with the Holy Spirit and power (v. 38), (b) killed by crucifixion (v. 39), (c) raised from the dead the third day (vv. 40-41), (d) ordained to be the judge of the living and the dead (v. 42), (e) a fulfillment of the prophets (v. 43) and (f) the one through whom men can have the remission of sins (v. 43).

3. What man must do. Cornelius was told to hear words whereby he could be saved (Acts 10:6; 11:14), believe in Christ (Acts 14:43), repent of his sins (Acts 11:15) and be baptized (Acts 10:48).

Peter stated that Cornelius did what he was told to do to be a child of God (Acts 15:7-9). You can be saved the same way that he was.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14 p. 14-15
July 15, 1993