Referenced in the Bible:

• Acts 10:1 • Acts 10:3 • Acts 10:4 • Acts 10:7 • Acts 10:17 • Acts 10:22 • Acts 10:24 • Acts 10:25 • Acts 10:30 • Acts 10:31

Key Verse: 

10:1 “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,” .

Acts 10:10–16

Introduction:[1]G. H. Trever

CORNELIUS kor-ne’-li-us (Kornelios, “of a horn”):

The story of Cornelius is given in Acts 10:1-11:18.

1. His Family and Station:

The name is Roman and belonged to distinguished families in the imperial city, such as the Scipios and Sulla. Thus he was probably an Italian of Roman blood. Julian the Apostate reckons him as one of the few persons of distinction who became a Christian. He was evidently a man of importance in Caesarea and well known to the Jews (Acts 10:22). He was a centurion in the Italian cohort. To understand this we must note that the Roman army was divided into two broad divisions, the legions and the auxiliary forces.[2]See ARMY, ROMAN.

Legions were never permanently quartered in Palestine until the great war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD. From the year 6 AD, when Palestine was made into province of the second rank, until 66 AD, it was garrisoned by auxiliary troops recruited amongst the Samaritans and Syrian Greeks. The headquarters were naturally at Caesarea, the residence of the procurator. But it would not have been prudent for a garrison in Palestine to be composed wholly of troops locally recruited. Therefore the Roman government mingled with the garrison 600 soldiers, free Italian volunteers. With this cohort Cornelius was connected as centurion.

2. His Character:

He is described as devout and God-fearing, i.e. at least, one of those men so numerous in that effete age of decadent heathenism who, discontented with polytheism, yearned for a better faith, embraced, therefore, the monotheism of the Jews, read the Scriptures, and practiced more or less of the Jewish rites. He was well reported of by the Jews, and his religion showed itself in prayer at the regular hours, and in alms to the people (of Israel). Even Jewish bigotry was dumb in presence of so noble a man. Moreover, he seems to have made his house a sort of church, for his kinsfolk and friends were in sympathy with him, and among the soldiers who closely attended him were some devout ones (Acts 10:1,27).

3. His Admission into the Christian Church:

The story of his conversion and admission into the Christian church is told with some minuteness in Acts 10. Nothing further is known of Cornelius, though one tradition asserts that he founded the church in Caesarea, and another legend that he became the bishop of Scamandros.

4. Significance of the Incident:

The exact importance of the incident depends upon the position of Cornelius before it occurred. Certainly he was not a proselyte of the sanctuary, circumcised, under the law, a member of the Jewish communion. This is abundantly evident from Acts 10:28,34,45; Acts 11:3,18; Acts 15:7,14. But was he not an inferior form of proselyte, later called “proselytes of the gate”?

This question has been much debated and is still under discussion. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, 43) says that the expression, “God-fearing,” applied to him, is always used in Ac with reference to this kind of proselytes. Such were bound to observe certain regulations of purity, probably those, this author thinks, mentioned in Acts 15:29, and which stand in close relation to the principles laid down in Le 17-18 for the conduct of strangers dwelling among Israel.

Renan, on the other hand, denies that Cornelius was a proselyte at all, but simply a devout Gentile who adopted some of the Jewish ideas and religious customs which did not involve a special profession. The importance of the whole transaction to the development of the church seems to depend on the circumstance that Cornelius was probably not a proselyte at all. Thus we regard Cornelius as literally the first-fruits of the Gentiles.

The step here taken by Peter was therefore one of tremendous importance to the whole development of the church. The significance of the incident consists exactly in this, that under Divine direction, the first Gentile, not at all belonging to the old theocracy, becomes a Spirit-filled Christian, entering through the front door of the Christian church without first going through the narrow gate of Judaism.

The incident settled forever the great, fundamental question as to the relations of Jew and Gentile in the church. The difficulties in the way of the complete triumph of Peter’s view of the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the Kingdom of Christ were enormous. It would have been indeed little short of miraculous if the multitude of Christian Pharisees had not raised the question again and again. Did they not dog Paul’s steps after the Council? Certainly Ramsay is wrong in saying that the case of Cornelius was passed over or condoned as exceptional, for it was used as a precedent by both Peter and James (Acts 15:7,14).

As for Peter’s subsequent conduct at Antioch, no one who knows Peter need be surprised at it. The very accusation that Paul hurled at him was that for the moment he was carried into inconsistency with his principles (hupokrisis). Of course, this incident of Cornelius was only the first step in a long development; but the principle was forever settled. The rest in due time and proper order was sure to follow.

By this tremendous innovation it was settled that Christianity was to be freed from the swaddling bands of Judaism and that the Christian church was not to be an appendix to the synagogue. The noble character of Cornelius was just fitted to abate, as far as possible, the prejudices of the Jewish Christians against what must have seemed to them a dangerous, if not awful, innovation.

1.0 Cornelius was the first Gentile converted to Christianity[3]

Cornelius (Greek: Κορνήλιος) was a Roman centurion who is considered by Christians to be the first Gentile to convert to the faith, as related in Acts of the Apostles and, perhaps the Gospel according to John.


Cornelius was a centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, mentioned as Cohors Italica in the Vulgate.[4]Bromiley, Geoffrey W., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979, p. 297 He was stationed in Caesarea, the capital of Roman Iudaea province.[5]Bechtel, Florentine. “Cornelius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Apr. 2013 He is depicted in the New Testament as a God-fearing man who always prayed and was full of good works and deeds of alms. Cornelius receives a vision in which an angel of God tells him that his prayers have been heard, he understands that he’s chosen for a higher alternative. The angel then instructs Cornelius to send the men of his household to Joppa, where they will find Simon Peter, who is residing with a tanner by the name of Simon.

The conversion of Cornelius comes after a separate vision given to Simon Peter (Acts 10:10–16) himself. In the vision, Simon Peter sees all manner of beasts and fowl being lowered from Heaven in a sheet. A voice commands Simon Peter to eat. When he objects to eating those animals that are unclean according to Mosaic Law, the voice tells him not to call unclean that which God has cleansed.[6]Hieromartyr Cornelius the Centurion”, Orthodox Church in America

When Cornelius’ men arrive, Simon Peter understands that through this vision the Lord commanded the Apostle to preach the Word of God to the Gentiles. Peter accompanies Cornelius’ men back to Caesarea.[7]Hieromartyr Cornelius the Centurion”, Orthodox Church in America When Cornelius meets Simon Peter, he falls at Peter’s feet. Simon Peter raises the centurion and the two men share their visions. Simon Peter tells of Jesus’ ministry and the Resurrection; the Holy Spirit descends on everyone at the gathering. The Jews among the group (presumably they were all Jews if Cornelius was the first gentile convert, see Jewish Christians) are amazed that Cornelius and other uncircumcised should begin speaking in tongues, praising God. Thereupon Simon Peter commands that Cornelius and his followers be baptized.[8]The Departure of St. Cornelius the Centurion”, Coptic Orthodox Church Network The controversial aspect of Gentile conversion is taken up later at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), but has its roots in the concept of “proselytes” in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and Jewish Noahide Law.

Peter later chose not to eat with Gentiles in Antioch after some Jews criticized him. The apostle Paul publicly confronted Peter for being hypocritical as related in Galatians 2.


Cornelius was the first Gentile converted to Christianity.[9]Kiefer, James E., “Cornelius the Centurion”, Biographical sketches of memorable Christians of the past, Society of Archbishop Justus Florentine Bechtel summarizes the importance of Cornelius’ baptism:

The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the Early Church. The gates of the Church, within which thus far only those who were circumcised and observed the Law of Moses had been admitted, were now thrown open to the uncircumcised Gentiles without the obligation of submitting to the Jewish ceremonial laws.[10]Bechtel, Florentine. “Cornelius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Apr. 2013

Certain traditions hold Cornelius as becoming either the first bishop of Caesarea or the bishop of Scepsis in Mysia.[11]Bechtel, Florentine. “Cornelius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Apr. 2013, [12]The Departure of St. Cornelius the Centurion”, Coptic Orthodox Church Network

2.0 Easton Bible Dictionary[13]

a centurion whose history is narrated in Acts 10 . He was a “devout man,” and like the centurion of Capernaum, believed in the God of Israel. His residence at Caesrea probably brought him into contact with Jews who communicated to him their expectations regarding the Messiah; and thus he was prepared to welcome the message Peter brought him. He became the first fruit of the Gentile world to Christ. He and his family were baptized and admitted into the Christian church (Acts 10:1 Acts 10:44-48 ). (See CENTURION .)

3.0 Who was Cornelius in the Bible?[14]

Cornelius in the Bible was a centurion, a commander in the Italian Regiment of the Roman military. He lived in Caesarea. His story in Acts 10 is important because it was in Cornelius’s household that God publicly opened the doors of the church to the Gentile world. The apostle Peter was present to see it happen, just as he had been a witness to the opening of the doors to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and the Jews (Acts 2).

Despite being a Roman, Cornelius was a worshipper of God, a Jewish proselyte known and respected by the Jewish community (Acts 10:22). Cornelius was a devout man who regularly prayed and gave to charity (verse 2). One afternoon, while Cornelius was praying, he saw a vision of an angel of God, who told him that God had heard his prayers (Acts 10:30–31). The angel told Cornelius to find Peter, who was staying in Joppa at the house of Simon, a tanner (verse 32). Cornelius immediately sent two of his servants and a devout soldier to Joppa to find Peter and bring him back.

Meanwhile, God was preparing Peter’s heart to minister to his coming Gentile visitors. God gave Peter a vision of an assortment of animals, both clean and unclean (Acts 10:11–12). Peter heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat” (verse 13). Peter resisted this command, having never eaten non-kosher food before (verse 14), but the voice replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verse 15). This vision was repeated three times, and then Peter heard the Spirit saying that three men were looking for him and that he should go with them without hesitation (verses 19–20). Peter found Cornelius’s two servants and the soldier, and they told Peter of Cornelius’s visitation by an angel and asked him to come and speak to Cornelius (verse 22). Peter invited the men to stay the night, and the next day Peter followed them back to Caesarea (verse 23).

When Peter entered Cornelius’s home, the centurion fell at Peter’s feet in reverence, but Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up . . . I am only a man myself” (Acts 10:25–26). Peter then reminded Cornelius that it was against Jewish law for Peter to be associating with Gentiles. However, Peter explained, God had shown him in a vision not to call any person common or unclean. Peter understood that the animals in his vision were symbolic of the Gentiles, to whom God was preparing to give the gospel (Acts 10:28–29). Cornelius then told Peter about the angel who had told him to seek out Peter. Both Peter and Cornelius saw that God had acted to bring them together.

Peter then said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34–35), and then he preached the gospel to everyone gathered in Cornelius’s house. As Peter was speaking, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by speaking in tongues, and were baptized with water (Acts 10:44–48). Peter and the Jews who were with him saw the beginning of something new God was doing: “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (verse 47). The “mini-Pentecost” in Cornelius’s house was proof positive that the gospel was for all people, not just Jews (see Luke 2:10; Matthew 28:19)

In considering the story of Cornelius in the Bible, it is important to note that being religious is not enough to save a person. Cornelius was as devout as they come, and he worshiped the one true God. Yet he still needed to hear the gospel and respond to it positively. That’s why God sent Peter, so that Cornelius could hear of the death and resurrection of Christ, which Peter clearly preached (Acts 10:39–40, 43). It was only after Cornelius and his household received the message about Jesus that they received the Holy Spirit and were born again. The story of Cornelius not only shows the necessity of the gospel but it indicates that God will move heaven and earth to bring the gospel to those who are ready to receive it.


Not Stated



1.0) Source:

2.0) Source:

3.0) Source:

4.0) Source: | Tittle: “A Guide to Key Events, Characters and Themes of the Bible”

Related: Biblical Overviews List of Key Old Testament Characters


1 G. H. Trever
4 Bromiley, Geoffrey W., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1979, p. 297
5, 10, 11 Bechtel, Florentine. “Cornelius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 24 Apr. 2013
6, 7 Hieromartyr Cornelius the Centurion”, Orthodox Church in America
8, 12 The Departure of St. Cornelius the Centurion”, Coptic Orthodox Church Network
9 Kiefer, James E., “Cornelius the Centurion”, Biographical sketches of memorable Christians of the past, Society of Archbishop Justus

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