God’s Word for You
Acts 10:23b-26 Venerating the saints
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 6, 2020
When Peter rose the next day he went with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa traveled with him. 24 The day after that they arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was waiting for them, and he had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was going into the house, Cornelius met him. Falling down at his feet he paid homage to him, 26 but Peter raised him up and said, “Stand up. I am only a man myself.”
Peter took some fellow Christians (“brothers”) with him from Joppa. Later on, Peter would report that there were six of these men (Acts 11:12). It was a good idea to bring them along, considering the unusual circumstances. These men would serve as eyewitnesses of what would take place. Together with the two slaves, the soldier, and Peter himself, the traveling companions numbered ten in all.
Cornelius knew when to expect them. He gathered his family and close friends to be there for the meeting: He wanted them to share in what was going to take place. A textual variant involves a servant running to announce Peter’s arrival, but it doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the events. There is also a grammatical question at the beginning of verse 25, but this relates to our understanding of Biblical (Koine) Greek and how different it was from Classical Greek. Modern translations handle the syntax with equal grace.
The Roman soldier Cornelius fell down at Peter’s feet and “did obeisance” to him (my translation, “paid homage,” is given in hopes of meaning more to modern readers). It was not quite an act of worship, but it was certainly the first time anyone had actually bowed down before the apostle. His reply is honest and spontaneous: “Stand up. I’m only a man myself.”
This raises the question about people who venerate Peter and other saints to this day. The argument is often stated in a very reasonable way: “If we pray to Jesus, then asking others to pray for us is just adding voices to our prayers. If we ask Peter or Mary to add their prayers to ours, we are not failing to pray to Christ.” But the Holy Scripture says that there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). And we should never ask that the merits of this or that saint be added to our own, not even to supply what is lacking in us. This is folly and blasphemous (1) because “each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8) and (2) because no one can be helped by the merits of another, because each must buy oil for his own lamp (Matthew 25:8-9). And our confession explains: “Even supposing that the invocation of the saints could be taught with great moderation, the precedent would still be dangerous. Why should it be defended if it has no command or proof in the Word of God? In fact, there is no proof for it either in the Fathers of the church. As [we] have said earlier, our whole knowledge of Christ disappears if we seek out other mediators before Christ and put our trust in them” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI, par. 33-34).
And in simple, clear terms:
“Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints may be commended to us so that we imitate their faith and good works according to our calling. Thus the emperor may follow the example of David in waging war to drive the Turk (i.e., invading Muslim armies) out of his country, for like David the emperor is a king. However, the Scriptures do not teach us to pray to the saints or seek their help, for the only mediator, propitiation, high priest, and intercessor whom the Scriptures set before us is Christ. He is to be prayed to, and he has promised to hear our prayers. Such worship Christ especially approved, namely, that in all afflictions he be called upon. ‘If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father’” (Augsburg Confession, Article XXI, par. 1-4).
If we look back to verse 26 above, we have the simple words of Peter himself. I have said before regarding another such question, namely the apocrypha, that if the apocryphal books themselves tell us that they are outside the canon of the Holy Scriptures (4 Esdras 1:39-40), who are we to question that judgment? And in the same way, if St. Peter himself commands us not to worship him, give him obeisance, or even to pay homage to him, who are we to question his judgment? As the angel told the amazed St. John when he fell down to worship it: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10).
Give your whole worship to God. He is the Creator, and he will deliver us from all our enemies (2 Kings 17:39). His is the power over death and the grave, and his is the power over all temptations. Focus all of your prayers to God through Christ and in the name of Jesus. This is our true worship.
Pastor Timothy Smith