Was Cornelius a saved man before he met Peter? I conclude that Cornelius was a saved man before he met Peter because:
(1) He is described as fearing God (Acts 10:2,22).
(2) His prayers and alms went up for a memorial before God (Acts 10:3).
(3) He is descried as a just man (Acts 10:22)
(4) Peter spoke peace to him, saying that he sees that God is not a respecter of faces, that the one fearing God and working righteousness is acceptable to Him, and that Cornelius knew what had happened throughout Judea concerning Jesus (Acts 10: 34-43).
Chris: A brother in Christ, in reply to this conclusion, put forward this statement:
I see that you have concluded that Cornelius was a saved man before he met Peter. Brothers please help me understand this in light of Acts the eleventh chapter verses 13 & 14. Thank you!
Chris: In contemplating this issue, I thought about how an unsaved Cornelius conclusion could be deduced in an orthodox manner. At this point in time, I cannot think of any orthodox way to say for example, that the prayers of the unsaved (wicked) are a memorial to God.
“And he told us how he saw an angel in his house, standing and saying to him, Send men to Joppa, and send for Simon who is surnamed Peter, who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:13-14).
Chris: Of course, the above could be spoken about the unsaved. For the gospel brings the unsaved elect to Christ. But the purpose of the words of the gospel is also to edify the saved elect. And so the above could also be for the saved, since it is by this message that they will be saved. And thus, it is correct, true, and meaningful to say regarding the unsaved elect and the saved elect that it is this gospel word by which they all will be saved.
“But I do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, that often I purposed to come to you, and was kept back until the present, that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among the other nations. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise, and to foolish, so as far as lies in me, I am eager to preach the gospel to you in Rome also” (Romans 1:13-15).
Chris: Paul desires to preach the gospel to Roman believers in order to edify them. The gospel words that Paul will speak to believers are words by which they will be saved. They are already saved just as Cornelius was. But that simply refers to salvation in the past tense. “They will be saved” is future tense. “They will be saved” could be said of either the unsaved or the already saved. If “will be saved” is referring to the unsaved, then this is their salvation commenced. If “will be saved” is referring to the already saved, then this is their salvation consummated.
I think one thing to ask yourself regarding Acts 11:14 is this: Does it make any sense to say that people who are already saved, “will be saved” by the preached word? “Will be saved” is not limited to a past initial conversion; it also can have reference to the future:
“…the ones in the power of God being guarded through faith to a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).
“…so Christ having been once offered ‘to bear the sins of many,’ Christ shall appear a second time without sin to those expecting Him for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
Chris: John Piper comments on Acts 11:14:
“In other words, the message was not simply the informing of Cornelius that he already was saved—which is what some people say world evangelization is for. If he sends for Peter and hears the message and believes on the Christ of that message, then he WILL be saved. And if he does not, he won’t be.”
Chris: Piper is objecting to the pernicious doctrine of inclusivism, in which Peter would be telling the non-Christian Cornelius that he already was saved. So when men like John Piper and Robert Reymond put forth their objections to saying that Cornelius is saved, they are not arguing against what I’m saying, but what the inclusivists are saying.
The inclusivist and I are saying that Cornelius was a saved man. But the inclusivist is saying that Cornelius is saved apart from knowledge and faith in Christ, while I am saying that Cornelius already believed in Christ prior to Peter’s visit.
Men like John Piper and Robert Reymond make much of the “shall be [or will be] saved,” in Acts 11:14. They say the Greek word for “saved” is sothese (future indicative passive). I don’t know a whole lot about Greek tenses there, but I do know that the Greek word for “saved” in Romans 5:9-10 is ALSO in the “future indicative passive” tense:
“Much more then, being justified now by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through Him. For if while being enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:9-10, bold emphasis mine–CD).
Chris: We SHALL BE saved from the wrath? Aren’t we ALREADY saved from the wrath?
We SHALL BE saved by His life? Aren’t we ALREADY saved by His resurrection life, as evidenced by regeneration?
This is where we get into the various tenses (past, present, future) and various ways salvation can be described. For instance, we might say that we have already been saved:
“For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Are being saved:
“For the Word of the cross is foolishness to those being lost, but to us being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
And will be (shall be) saved:
“Much more then, being justified now by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through Him. For if while being enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:9-10).
I’ll try to explain this from Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:18:
“But a certain man, Cornelius by name, was in Caesarea, a centurion of a cohort being called Italian, one devout and fearing God, with all his house, both doing many alms to the people and praying continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day, he saw plainly in a vision an angel of God coming to him, and saying to him, Cornelius! And he was staring at him, and becoming terrified he said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Your prayers and your alms went up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:1-4).
Chris: At the outset, I want to say that one reason why most reformed (or Calvinist) persons do not believe Cornelius was saved is because the case of Cornelius is used (abused) by inclusivists to say that a person does not necessarily need to have faith in Christ as evidence of salvation. The Calvinist agrees with the inclusivist that Cornelius knew nothing of Christ, let alone believed in Him.
The inclusivist says that Cornelius was a saved pagan whose prayers and person was acceptable to God apart from faith in Christ. The Reformed (specifically the WCF) will make exceptions to the Mark 16:16 rule by saying that infants and imbeciles are regenerated and saved apart from faith in Christ, and that’s okay for them; yet somehow it is not okay for the inclusivist to make their own particular exceptions–and thus the WCF/Reformed adherents are hypocrites.
The Reformed, while vehemently denying that Cornelius was a “saved pagan,” will nevertheless affirm that in some sense or other, the prayers and person of Cornelius was acceptable to God despite alleged ignorance of the Person and Work of Christ.
Calvinist, Robert Reymond said that inclusivist Clark Pinnock described Corneilus as “the pagan saint par excellence of the New Testament” (Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy, p. 165). Reymond, on page 1090 of his Systematic Theology quotes John Sanders in a footnote:
“Cornelius was already a saved believer before Peter arrived but he was not a Christian believer” (Sanders, No Other Name, p. 254).
Chris: And so the inclusivist and most (if not all) Reformed agree that Cornelius did not believe in Christ and did not even know about Christ.
Some might say that in others’ (or the blind false relgionist himself’s) estimation one may be said to be “devout” and “God-fearing,” when in reality their fear and devotion to “god” is really fear and devotion to an idol–and so in reality, they would be God-haters rather than God-fearers. But this is not the case with Cornelius since his prayers and alms went up for a memorial before God. The Greek word for memorial is also used here:
“Truly I say to you, Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in all the world, what she did will be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Matthew 26:13).
Chris: Now if Cornelius was unsaved as many contend, then why are his prayers and works not spoken of like all the other devout and religious unsaved persons (cf. Romans 10:1-3) as shown here:
“I hate, I despise your feast days; and I will not delight in your solemn assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not be pleased; nor will I regard the peace offerings of your fat animals. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; and I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:21-23).
“Hear the Word of Jehovah, rulers of Sodom. Listen to the Law of our God, people of Gomorrah. What good to Me are your many sacrifices, says Jehovah? I am sated with burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fattened cattle, and the blood of bulls; nor do I delight in the blood of lambs and he goats. When you come to see My face, who has required this at your hand, to trample My courts. Do not add to bringing vain sacrifice; its incense is an abomination to Me. I cannot endure the new moon and sabbath, the going to meeting, and the evil assembly. My soul hates your new moons and your appointed feasts. They are a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them. And when you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you. Yea, when you multiply prayer, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:10-15).
“The sacrifice of the wicked is a hateful thing to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8).
“Jehovah is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29).
“Whoever turns aside his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).
Chris: The prayer of the unregenerate (unsaved) is hateful and an abomination, as these verses above clearly bear out. But the prayers and alms-giving of Cornelius did not go up as a hateful or an abominable stench in the nostrils of God, but rather went up as a memorial to Him.
“‘For the one desiring to love life, and to see good days, let him restrain his tongue from evil, even his lips not to speak guile. Let him turn aside from evil, and let him do good. Let him seek peace, and pursue it; because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against any doing evil things‘” (1 Peter 3:10-12, bold emphasis mine–CD).
Chris: If Cornelius was an unsaved, unregenerate God-hater, then one would think that his prayer would be an abomination. But obviously, God did not despise his prayer, but had His ears open to it.
“And they said, Cornelius, a centurion, a just man and one fearing God, and being testified to by all the nation of the Jews, was divinely warned by a holy angel to call you to his house and to hear words from you” (Acts 10:22).
Chris: One could say that this description of being “just” and “God-fearing” was just these men judging by each their own standard. But then when one goes back to what the angel of God said about Cornelius and what Peter himself says later about Cornelius, then the testimony of those whom Cornelius sent is not even needed to prove the point.
“And talking with him, he went in and found many having come together. And he said to them, You know how unlawful it is for a man, a Jew, to unite with or to come near to one of another race. Yet God showed to me not to call a man common or unclean. Therefore, I also came without complaint, being summoned. Then I ask for what reason did you send for me?” (Acts 10:27-29).
Chris: It appears that Peter understands that since Gentiles like Cornelius are not common or unclean, then it is okay to step foot inside this centurian’s house. But just as apparent, Peter is still clueless about the gospel implications of not being common or unclean:
“And as Peter was doubting within himself what the vision which he saw might be…And as Peter pondered concerning the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men are seeking you” (Acts 10:17, 19).
Chris: For even after all of this, Peter is still wondering what he is doing there exactly. Many falsely think that Peter is there to preach the gospel to the unsaved Cornelius. Those who think this also think that Cornelius knows nothing about Christ, which is false as we will see shortly, the Lord willing.
“And Cornelius said, From the fourth day until this hour I have been fasting, and the ninth hour I was praying in my house. And, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing. And he said, Cornelius, your prayer was heard and your alms were remembered before God. Therefore, send to Joppa and call for Simon who is surnamed Peter; this one is lodged in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. Having come, he will speak to you. Then at once I sent to you, and you did well to come. Now then, we are all present before God to hear all the things having been commanded you by God. And opening his mouth, Peter said, Truly I see that God is not a respecter of faces, but in every nation the one fearing Him and working righteousness is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:30-35).
Chris: Peter was told in Acts 10:22 that Cornelius was a just man who feared God. Here, he hears from Cornelius that his prayer and alms were remembered before God. And lastly, Peter hears through an angel of God that Cornelius was told to summon Peter. And from all of this Peter draws the conclusion that God is not a respecter of faces and that the one fearing Him and working righteousness is acceptable to Him.
The conclusion that the Bible draws for an unsaved person is that they are free “as to righteousness” (Romans 6:20). The fruit that the unsaved (whether religious or irreligious) produces is fruit unto death (Romans 6:21, 7:5). This “fruit unto death” includes the prayer and plowing of the wicked being sin, etc.
Now, if Cornelius’ face has not been respected then certainly this implies God’s unconditional choice and salvation conditioned on Christ alone in his case. Also, what kind of righteousness worked out of a person’s character and conduct is acceptable to God? Is it the unsaved person’s fruit unto death; or is it rather the saved person’s “fruit to God” (Romans 7:4)? Romans 7:4 describes the “acceptedness” of Cornelius’ working of righteousness, since it results from being made dead to the demands of God’s law and being united to Christ. But what do some Reformed men say this “acceptedness” entails. Here is Robert Reymond:
“It is also true that God had “accepted” (dektos) Cornelius before Peter spoke to him. But what does this mean? This “acceptance” by God is not the same thing as the earlier “clean” for the “clean” are all men everywhere whereas the “accepted” are said to be in every nation. The “accepted” in every nation, then, are they, in God’s providence, who seek God sincerely and genuinely, as did Cornelius the “God-fearer” as he listened to the reading of the Old Testament in the Jewish synagogues, and for whom God arranges, as he did for Cornelius, that the Gospel should be brought to them. Which is just to say, the “accepted” in every nation are simply God’s elect.”
Chris: Reymond makes an exception to the Romans 3:10-18 rule in the case of Cornelius. But he is quick to shore up this concessional crack (cavern, rather) by saying that it is the unsaved elect “who by the Spirit’s promptings are drawn” to “seek God sincerely and genuinely, as did Cornelius.” According to Reymond then, there are some unsaved, unregenerate people who sincerely and genuinely seek God. Reymond comments further:
“Cornelius is representative, then, not of people who can and are saved apart from faith in Christ (there is none!), but of the unsaved elect in every nation throughout the world who by the Spirit’s promptings are drawn, by God’s electing love and by whatever bit of special revelation they might have received, to realize (1) that they as needy sinners must meet the one living and true God someday; (2) that they are unable to answer him once in a thousand times satisfactorily; and (3) who pray day and night that God in his mercy will somehow make it possible for them to be acceptable in his sight. These, the Cornelius incident teaches us, God will save through the mission enterprise by getting the good news of the Gospel to them just as he arranged for Peter to take the Gospel to Cornelius.”
Chris: Maybe Professor Reymond would say that Romans 3:10-18 does not apply to those unsaved elect persons who have undergone even greater “Holy Spirit convictions” and “Holy Spirit promptings,” than those unsaved reprobate persons in the WCF who are described as having “some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved” (Of Effectual Calling, Chapter 10, Section 4).
So, according to Reymond, Cornelius’ case went further than “common operations,” and yet still fell short of regeneration. Somewhere between regeneration (new birth) and common operations of the Spirit, certain unsaved elect persons are supposedly seeking the true God sincerely and genuinely, contrary to Romans 3:10-18.
“The Word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, this One is Lord of all. You know the thing that happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed” (Acts 10:36-37, bold emphasis mine–CD).
Chris: Peter had already judged Cornelius to be a saved (regenerate) person by saying that God was not a respecter of faces in his case, and was accepted by Him. This implies that Cornelius was already a saved man. But here Peter makes it explicit and says that Cornelius knew about Jesus and all the events that surrounded Jesus. A huge assumption on the part of those who think that Cornelius was unsaved, is that he was completely ignorant of Christ and the events that transpired throughout all Judea. But on the contrary, the Scripture teaches that Cornelius was NOT ignorant at all, but KNEW about these things:
“Jesus the One from Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all those having been oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did, both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem. They did away with Him, hanging Him on a tree. God raised up this One the third day and gave to Him to become visible; not to all the people, but to witnesses, the ones having been before hand-picked by God, to us who ate and drank with Him after His rising again from the dead. And He commanded us to proclaim to the people and to witness solemnly that it is He who has been marked out by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To this One all the Prophets witness, so that through His name everyone believing into Him will receive remission of sins. As Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those hearing the Word. And the faithful of the circumcision were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the nations also. For they heard them speaking in languages and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, Can anyone forbid the water that these not be baptized, who the Holy Spirit received, even as we also? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to remain some days” (Acts 10:38-48).
Chris: It should be noted well that “speaking in languages [tongues]” was always a special manifestation. For today, those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God don’t speak in tongues. Many say that Cornelius had not repented from dead works and fruit unto death until the Holy Spirit was poured out on him. But Peter already indicates that Cornelius has already truly repented. For how could it be that an unsaved person–who brings forth nothing but dead works and fruit unto death–could be one who is accepted by God and works righteousness? Peter’s conclusions regarding Cornelius demonstrate that Peter believed Cornelius to be a saved man. So why did Peter preach to Cornelius? For the same reason Paul preached to the believers in Rome. One purpose of the gospel is to edify the saints.
But I think the main reason that Peter preached to Cornelius in the presence of “the faithful of the circumcision,” is so that these “amazed” circumcised faithful could see and hear that God has ALSO poured His Spirit on Gentiles, and not just on the believing Jews. If some Gentiles had come up to these faithful of the circumcision and said that they have repented and believed the gospel of Christ, then these faithful would probably not believe them. And thus, the special manifestation of the Spirit causing the Gentiles to glorify Him and to speak in tongues, so that not only can believing Jews be amazed, but that they can also exclaim, “then God also has granted to the nations repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
The nations could have repented some time before this, but God willed to show that both Jews and Gentiles (nations), partake of the same Spirit. Cornelius was already granted repentance unto life, as evinced by the angel of God and Peter’s words. The out pouring of God’s Spirit on the Gentiles was the final piece of evidence to convince the faithful among the Jews:
“And the faithful of the circumcision were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the nations also” (Acts 10:45).
“And the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the nations also received the Word of God. And when Peter went up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them. But beginning, Peter set out to them in order, saying, I was being in the city of Joppa, praying. And in an ecstasy, I saw a vision: a certain vessel was coming down, like a huge sheet, being let down by four corners out of the heaven; and it came as far as me. Looking intently on this, I observed. And I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, and the wild beasts, and the creeping things, and the birds of the heaven. And I heard a voice saying to me, Peter, rise up, slay and eat. But I said, Not at all, Lord, because never has anything common or unclean entered into my mouth. But a voice answered me the second time out of the heaven, What God has cleansed, you do not make common. And this took place three times, and all things were pulled up into the heaven again. And, behold, at once three men stood at the house in which I was, having been sent from Caesarea to me. And the Spirit said to me to go with them, not discriminating. And these six brothers also were with me, and we went into the man’s house” (Acts 11:1-12).
Chris: Those of the circumcision contended with Peter for eating with Gentiles. If these Gentiles had truly repented and believed in Christ, the circumcision would not believe it since they received the Spirit and spoke in tongues while in this hypothetical case, the Gentiles hadn’t. But of course, the Gentiles DID receive the Spirit and spoke in tongues, which is why that fact shut the mouths of these believing Jews. So, in this initial case, it took more than a profession of faith in Christ and repentance toward God to convince these Jews that God is looking to save some Gentiles as well as Jews.
“And he [Cornelius] told us how he saw an angel in his house, standing and saying to him, Send men to Joppa, and send for Simon who is surnamed Peter, who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved. And in my beginning to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as also on us in the beginning. And I recalled the Word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Then if God gave the same gift to them as also to us, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and I, who was I to be able to prevent God? And hearing these things, they kept silent and glorified God, saying, Then God also has granted to the nations repentance unto life” (Acts 11:13-18).
Chris: Every time a Christian hears and/or reads the words of the gospel, he hears and/or reads words by which he will be saved.
After all these comments by me I received the following:
Thank you! Chris Duncan for a wealth of through information on Cornelius. Your post is spot on! I now understand Acts 11:13,14 in relation to Acts chapter 10 and clearly see that Cornelius was saved before he met Peter. Your answer helped me to understand your discussion on this subject matter.
I have more questions to ask;
1) Cornelius was saved before he met Peter thus he was regenerated, converted, and sanctified. It seems to me that the only thing that Cornelius had not done after being regenerated was to be baptized in water. What are your thoughts?
Chris: You’re welcome Chris F! I was very happy to attempt a coherent response. I spent a bit of time on it, so I’m very glad it helped. Now on to your questions.
Regarding question 1).
“For they heard them speaking in languages and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, Can anyone forbid the water that these not be baptized, who the Holy Spirit received, even as we also? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to remain some days” (Acts 10:46-48).
Chris: Peter, in the presence of the faithful among the circumcision (i.e., believing Jews) puts the finishing touch on all that has transpired by the rhetorical, “Can anyone forbid these people water?” He then commands their baptism. And so, yes Chris, it appears that water baptism is what Cornelius had yet to do. I wonder what other believers Cornelius knew and I wonder what he was praying here in the following verse:
“About the ninth hour of the day, he saw plainly in a vision an angel of God coming to him, and saying to him, Cornelius! And he was staring at him, and becoming terrified he said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Your prayers and your alms went up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and call for Simon who is surnamed Peter” (Acts 10:3-5).
Chris: The angel tells him that his prayers went up for a memorial before God. And then immediately following that is “…now send men to Joppa and call for Simon who is surnamed Peter.” This appears to be an answer to at least some of Cornelius’ prayers. John Piper presumes:
“Cornelius says that the angel said to him, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter.” Notice: Your prayers have been heard . . . therefore send for Peter. This implies that the prayers were for God to send him what he needed in order to be saved.”
Chris: I’m not sure what exactly Cornelius was praying for, but given the answer he got, the prayer had something to do with water baptism and convincing the Jewish Christians that he was a Christian just like them. But even if not, it is clear that Cornelius was not praying that God would send him a preacher so that he could be saved.