Cornelius Biography

Cornelius was a Roman soldier who lived in Caesarea.  He had worked his way up the Roman ranks to the position of centurion—a commander of 100 Roman soldiers and backbone of the Roman military.  Cornelius lived among Jews, and most Romans had little use for Jews.  At worst they abhorred them, at best, they merely tolerated them.

Cornelius

Cornelius

Cornelius was a rare exception.  He had grown to love the Jewish people and they, him.  The centurion was a God-fearer.  That is, he devoutly obeyed what he knew of God’s Law and taught his family the same.  He also gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly.  So it was that one day a messenger of Yahweh appeared saying that Cornelius’ prayers and charities now stood as a memorial of devotion to God.  Before he left, the messenger added that a sea coast dweller named Simon Peter must be summoned immediately to Cornelius’ home.

Meanwhile, miles away Peter was praying on a rooftop just before lunch.  As he prayed he fell into a sort of trance and saw a vision of many animals forbidden by Jewish dietary laws.  A voice said, “Kill and eat.”  Being an orthodox Jew, Peter refused.  The voice said, “Do not call something unclean or unacceptable if God calls it acceptable.”  Three times Peter saw this same dream.   Then he awoke, very anxious and confused about what it could mean.

Just then messengers from Cornelius appeared at the gate asking for Simon Peter.  Mystified, Peter followed them to Cornelius’ home in Caesarea.  When Peter entered the home, a large crowd was waiting.  The centurion had invited all his close friends and relatives to hear the apostle.

Peter's vision

Cornelius’ vision

Peter opened his address to them by stating what most Jews would consider unthinkable:  “I understand now that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  Realizing that, as yet, these Gentiles had no clear knowledge or understanding of the gospel of Christ, Peter then explained it very simply.  Upon hearing it, the group immediately believed and received the Holy Spirit.

The Jews who had accompanied Peter were amazed that the Holy Spirit had even been poured out on the Gentiles.  But they didn’t object when Peter baptized these new believers in the name of Christ.

It is difficult for us to comprehend how upsetting, even despicable, this event would have seemed to Christian Jews.  How could the Gentile dogs with whom Jews would typically never associate be now included by God in the church of Christ?  Yet very slowly many Jewish believers came to accept and finally love their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ.  And it all began with an unlikely, God-seeking Roman commander named Cornelius.

What can we learn from Cornelius?

Cornelius reverenced the creator God. He was a God-seeker.  He was anxious to find out the truth about God.  Though at first his knowledge was limited, he responded wholeheartedly to each new grain of truth he discovered.  When he heard the gospel of Christ, he believed it without question.  We, too, should develop this sort of hunger for spiritual truth, and humbly receive it as God reveals himself to us in different ways.

Bible Verses about Cornelius

Acts chap. 10

What questions does this help to answer?

  • Who was Cornelius in the Bible?
  • How did Cornelius become a Christian?
  • What was Peter’s vision?
  • What did Peter’s vision mean?

Author Info

Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes.  Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education.  Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally.  He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.

Steve Fortosis