God revealed to Peter through a vision that the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles. Peter taught the gospel to Cornelius and his household and later settled contention among Jewish Saints about preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.
Invite students to imagine that a friend asks: “I heard that in 1978 your church changed its position to allow all men to receive the priesthood regardless of race. If you believe your church is directed by God, and God is an unchangeable being, how is that possible?”
Ask students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals how they would respond to this friend. (Note: Make sure students answer the question of changing Church practice rather than speculating on possible reasons for the priesthood restriction. Also, during your discussion, do not speculate on why the priesthood restriction was in place, since these reasons have not been revealed [see Official Declaration 2].)
Invite students as they study Acts 10 to look for truths that can help them answer questions about how the Lord leads, guides, changes, and directs His Church.
Explain that up to this point in New Testament times, the gospel had been preached, with a few exceptions, exclusively to Jews as directed by the Savior (see Matthew 10:5–6). However, in Acts 10 we read about a significant change in the way the Church operated.
Invite students to summarize what they learned from their studies about a Gentile named Cornelius. (He was an officer in the Roman army. He and his household were believers and God-fearing people. As a Gentile, he could not join Christ’s Church without first converting to Judaism.)
Summarize Acts 10:3–8 by explaining that as a result of Cornelius’s faithfulness, an angel appeared to him and instructed him to send people to Joppa to find Peter. As Cornelius’s servants traveled to Joppa, Peter had a remarkable vision while staying at the house of a man named Simon.
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Acts 10:9–16. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Peter saw in the vision. (For variety, you may want to give each student a piece of paper for a drawing activity. Invite students to read Acts 10:9–16 silently and to draw a picture of Peter’s vision as it is described in these verses. After sufficient time, ask students to use their pictures to explain to a classmate what happened in Peter’s vision.) Following either of these activities, ask:
In the vision, what was Peter commanded to eat?
According to verse 14, what was Peter’s initial reaction to this commandment? (Explain that under the law of Moses, Jews were forbidden to eat animals that were designated as common or unclean [see Leviticus 11].)
According to Acts 10:15, what did the Lord say about the unclean animals He had commanded Peter to eat?
Summarize Acts 10:17–28 by explaining that Peter did not initially understand the meaning of his vision. As he was pondering it, Cornelius’s servants arrived and told Peter about Cornelius’s vision. The next day, Peter and other disciples accompanied them to see Cornelius. Despite the fact that most Jews considered it unlawful to associate with or visit a Gentile, Peter entered Cornelius’s house.
Invite a student to read Acts 10:28 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the reason Peter gave for associating with or visiting a Gentile.
What reason did Peter give for associating with or visiting a Gentile?
Invite a student to read Acts 10:34–35 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Peter learned.
How would you summarize what Peter learned? (You may need to explain that while God does not favor people based on such distinctions as nationality or social position, He does judge all people by their works and blesses those who obey Him. You may also find the article “Race and the Church: All Are Alike unto God” [mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church] helpful.)
Summarize Acts 10:36–43 by explaining that Peter taught Cornelius and his household about Jesus Christ and His good works, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Peter testified that those who believe in Jesus Christ will receive a remission of their sins.
Invite a student to read Acts 10:44–48 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the effect Peter’s teachings had on these Gentiles. Explain that the phrase “they of the circumcision” in verse 45 refers to the Jewish disciples who had come with Peter from Joppa.
According to verses 44–46, what effect did Peter’s teachings have on Cornelius’s household? (You may need to explain that the phrase “the gift of the Holy Ghost” in verse 45 refers to the power of the Holy Ghost, which had come upon these Gentiles. This is different from the gift of the Holy Ghost, which we receive through the ordinance of confirmation after baptism [see Acts 8:14–17; Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 97].)
Why were the Jews who were present for this occasion astonished?
Through Peter’s experiences recorded in Acts 10, what did the Lord reveal to him about the Gentiles?
To help students identify doctrines we can learn from Acts 10, divide them into groups of two or three. Provide each group with a copy of the following handout, or write these questions on the board. Invite students to work with their groups to answer the questions.
After sufficient time, invite several students to come to the board to write the truths their groups identified. Make sure the following truths are reflected in what they write:
God directs His Church by revelation to His prophet, the senior Apostle.
We may receive revelation and understanding gradually as we obey the Lord.
God may change or add to instructions He has given in the past, according to His wisdom and the needs of His children.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how the third truth they identified is reflected in Elder Christofferson’s statement:
“By this experience and revelation to Peter, the Lord modified the practice of the Church and revealed a more complete doctrinal understanding to His disciples. And so the preaching of the gospel expanded to encompass all mankind” (“The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 88).
Give students time to review what they wrote about how they would answer their friend’s question about changing a Church practice. Encourage them to write additional insights they gained while studying Acts 10, and allow them to share these insights with the class.
You may need to point out that although God may modify practices of the Church and add to our doctrinal understanding through ongoing revelation (see Articles of Faith 1:9), His divine nature, attributes, covenants, doctrines, and plan never change. Knowing this can help us have faith in God and confidence that He will lead His Church according to His will and the needs of His children.
Conclude by inviting students to share their testimonies of the truths they learned.
Invite students to look for answers to and consider the following questions during their study of Acts 13–19: What did Paul do to Elymas the sorcerer? How do you think you would react if you were believed to be a god? Why were Paul and Barnabas hailed as gods? How did they respond? What was the issue among Church members concerning circumcision, and why did the matter need to go before the Apostles? What was their decision? When Paul visited Athens he preached from Mars’ Hill about the unknown god. What did he teach the people?