God’s Word for You
Acts 10:17-20 The Holy Spirit speaks
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, March 4, 2020
17 Peter was greatly and inwardly perplexed about what the vision he had seen might mean. Just then, the men who were sent by Cornelius arrived. They had asked for directions to Simon’s house and were standing at the gate. 18 They called out, trying to learn whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there as a guest.
Peter’s confusion was over the meaning of what the Lord had said. We can understand his dilemma: Would God Almighty, who does not change (Malachi 3:6), allow part of his law to change? The answer, of course, is not that the law changed, but that it was fulfilled. Recently, in the city where I live, a street was closed while a bridge was being reconstructed. The signs—the law of our community—clearly said that the street was closed. But when the bridge was completed, the street opened up, and the law was no longer in place. It was fulfilled. So it is with the ceremonial law of Moses which stood in place until the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. The ceremonial law pointed ahead to Christ, but when Christ came it no longer needed to be in place.
While Peter was working all this out, the three men sent from Cornelius arrived. The Lord had called out to Peter, and now the messengers from Cornelius were calling out for him as well.
19 Meanwhile, Peter was still deep in thought about the vision. Then the Spirit said to him, “Listen! Three men are looking for you!
There are a few textual questions in this verse, but they are of no importance. Some of the Byzantine and western witnesses do not have the number “three,” and one Egyptian manuscript (Codex B) has “two” instead of “three.” These discrepancies can be explained in three ways:
1, The Greek phrase ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες τρεῖς “Behold three men” could easily be misread by a scribe who saw ιδου ανδρες “behold men…” as δυo ανδρες “Two men…,” and who then simply omitted the τρεις. The τρεις “three” in this case could also have been absent altogether, since many witnesses from two regions (out of six) omit the numeral.
2, The two regions that omit the numeral (Byzantium, Gaul) might be following a version of Acts which sometimes omits details of this kind. We discussed the so-called “Shorter Version” of Acts in the footnote of Acts 1:10-11. A longer version of Acts (the one found in most Bible translations today) existed from the very beginning, but a slightly shorter version existed in the early church as well. The “shorter version” (no one manuscript is a complete example) seems to have omitted some geographic details and some of the ways in which individuals were identified, such as the patronymic “son of…,” the word “Jews” in 2:5, etc. I am planning to include a chart or list of the differences between the two versions, both written by Luke and both inspired by the Holy Spirit, at the end of these devotions on Acts.
3, The reading “three men” is both ancient and widespread, with examples in each of the six ancient regions of manuscript evidence. Beginning from Gaul and working clockwise around the Mediterranean: Gaul (Vulgate), Byzantium (Byzantine family, lectionaries), Syria (Syriac, lectionaries), Palestine (Georgian), Egypt (P74, Aleph, A, C, Coptic, Ethiopic), and North Africa (Old Latin e). To quote Bruce Metzger, this is “the least unsatisfactory solution” to judge the text as we have it.
This textual question should not distract us from noticing that this is one of the rare moments in the Bible in which the Holy Spirit speaks out loud. This is a powerful reminder that the Spirit is a person of the Holy Trinity, with a distinct personality yet the identical essence of God as the Father and the Son. As we confess in the Athanasian Creed: “All three persons are coequal and coeternal, so that in every way… all three persons are to be worshiped as one God and one God worshiped as three persons.”
20 Now then, get up, go downstairs, and don’t hesitate to go with them, for I am the one who sent them.”
Peter was not just told to go see his guests, but to go with them. The Holy Spirit commanded Peter to receive these men and to know that he was the one who sent them in the first place. When God clearly expresses his authority man should not hesitate to obey. The inverse (when God does not express his authority or command a thing) should always give us pause: Should I do what I am doing? But when God has clearly told us to do a thing, then we should do it with all the energy of Abraham, Noah, John the Baptist, and in this case, Peter. As we so often pray: “May God give us strength to live according to his will.”
Pastor Timothy Smith