Acts 11:1-18 - The Issue of Circumcision

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Welcome to our Bible Study.  We are studying Spiritual Applications from Acts.  In our current series we are studying the breakthrough of the Gospel among the Gentiles at Caesarea.  Today, we will discuss what happened when Peter returned to Jerusalem.

The issue of circumcision arose, and Peter had to deal with it.  Our title, therefore, is "The Issue of Circumcision".  Our text is Acts 11:1-18.

One, the issue of circumcision was raised by the Jewish believers.

The news of the Gentile breakthrough spread throughout all Judea. The brethren heard that the Gentiles "had received the word of God." This is an expression that Luke used earlier in in Samaria (Acts 8:14) and later in Acts 17:11. Not only did the word of God come, but there was openness to it.

When Peter arrived back in Jerusalem "those who were circumcised" took issue with him. This expression does not refer to the six circumcised brethren who went with Peter (Acts 10:46 and 11:12) to Caesarea. They would not have raised the issue. Instead, Luke is referring to the Jewish believers who wanted to require circumcision.  This group wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised before they were accepted.

The objection of the circumcised group was, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." They objected to his having fellowship, including eating, with Gentiles. Eating together and fellowship are closely related. Undoubtedly, they were unhappy with the fact that Peter baptized the Gentiles, but they raised eating together as a prior issue.

Two, Peter defended his actions in meeting with the Gentiles.

Upon hearing their objection, Peter responded by recounting how he had received his vision. The vision dealt with how God had showed him not to call things unclean that He had cleansed. God was helping the Jews overcome the views that held them back from including the Gentiles.

Peter explained all of this in an "orderly sequence."  In other words he took time to thoroughly explain what had happened.   He treated their objections seriously and gave a serious and thoughtful reply.  After all, this was an historic and society changing event.  In the religious world of the Jewish believers, it was almost a spiritual earthquake.  So Peter carefully laid out what God had done.  We will do well to follow his example when objections sometimes arise as we lead the people of God.  The Spirit will guide us, as we now will see, in our role as leaders.

Three, Peter obeyed the voice of the Spirit.

Peter continues his defense by telling the Jewish believers that three men appeared to call him to Caesarea.  Then, Peter said (Acts 11:12): "The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings." What an awesome statement! With all of Peter's past history and convictions, he is now being told to go without hesitation or doubt. Because it was the Spirit commanding him, he would go without further consideration of the consequences. Knowing the source of the command, He simply obeyed!

Then, Peter strengthened his case by telling the Jewish group what had happened to Cornelius.  In Peter's words Cornelius: " reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, 'Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.'"  All these events supported Peter's actions.

It is always prudent to count the cost, but as believers we must be ready to obey the voice of the Spirit no matter what the cost.  The voice of the Spirit was so clear to Peter that he readily obeyed.  The vice of the Spirit may not always be this clear to us, but we do learn to hear Him as He speaks.  When He does, we must act without regard to the cost.

Four, the Spirit fell upon the Gentiles.

Next, Peter tells the Jewish believers how God had interrupted his sermon at the house of Cornelius.  While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit  "fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning." The comparison between the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and Caesarea was so important that Peter repeated it four times: Acts 10:47; 11:15, 17; and 15:8. Peter was establishing the fact that the Gentiles were saved, just as the Jewish believers were. The outpouring of the Spirit provided the needed evidence.

It was important to Peter that the Gentiles had the same gift as the believing disciples were given at Pentecost.  Today, it is important that we receive this same gift.  The gift has been promised to all of us. Let us receive what has been promised! 


As we conclude, we note that the Jewish believers who raised the opening issue accepted what God had done. Luke writes (verse 18), "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God," NASU The Jewish believers, including "those who were circumcised," had the good sense to accept the obvious work of God. They openly glorified him.


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