God revealed to Peter in 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 the gospel being preached to the Gentiles. The Lord’s work continued to move forward despite persecution.
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 respond to the question of changing Church practice rather than speculating on possible reasons for the priesthood restriction. Also, 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 10–11 to look for doctrines and principles 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, the Savior also told His disciples that after the Holy Ghost came upon them they would preach the gospel “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Acts 10 we read about a significant change in the way the Church operated that would facilitate this.
Invite a student to read Acts 10:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for details about a Gentile named Cornelius. (You may want to point out that Cornelius “feared God” (verse 2). God-fearers were Gentiles who worshipped the Lord but were not proselytes, or converts to the Jewish faith, and therefore did not live the entire law of Moses.)
What was Cornelius’s profession? (He was a centurion in the Roman army, responsible for one hundred soldiers.)
Remind students that prior to this time, a Gentile could not join Christ’s Church without first converting to Judaism, since the gospel was only taken to the Jews.
Even though Cornelius could not join the Church as a Gentile, how did he show his faith in God?
Invite two students to take turns reading aloud from Acts 10:3–6. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened to Cornelius. (Explain that “the ninth hour of the day” [verse 3] was about 3:00 p.m.)
According to verse 4, what did the angel tell Cornelius about his prayers and alms?
What did the angel instruct Cornelius to do?
Summarize Acts 10:7–8 by explaining that Cornelius sent three men to Joppa to find Peter. (To help students understand where Caesarea is in relationship to Joppa, you may want to refer students to the map “The Holy Land in New Testament Times” [Bible Maps, no. 11].)
Explain that as these men traveled to Joppa, Peter had a remarkable vision while staying at the house of a man named Simon. Give each student a piece of paper. 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 this activity, 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 verse 15, what did the Lord say about the unclean animals He had commanded Peter to eat?
Invite a student to read Acts 10:17–20 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened while Peter was pondering the meaning of his vision.
What phrase in verse 17 indicates that Peter did not initially understand the meaning of his vision?
Who arrived as Peter was pondering his vision?
What did the Spirit tell Peter to do?
Summarize Acts 10:21–24 by explaining that the three men told Peter about Cornelius’s vision. The next day, Peter and other disciples accompanied them to see Cornelius.
Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Acts 10:25–28. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Peter did when he arrived at Cornelius’s house.
According to verse 28, what did Peter say about interactions between Jews and Gentiles?
What did Peter now understand?
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?
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” (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?
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? (The gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, and they could be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ.)
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 in the bolded list 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 respond to their friend’s question. 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.
How do you think some of the Jewish members of the Church felt when they heard about Peter’s interaction with a Gentile? (Peter’s interaction with a Gentile was a major change from past practice, and some members had difficulty accepting this change.)
Invite a student to read Acts 11:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the disciples responded to what Peter had done.
How did the disciples respond to what Peter had done?
Summarize Acts 11:4–15 by explaining that Peter described to the disciples the visions he and Cornelius had received. He told them Cornelius and his household had received the teachings of Jesus Christ and then had experienced the power of the Holy Ghost in the same way in which Peter and other disciples had.
Invite a student to read Acts 11:16–17 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for Peter’s concluding remarks to the disciples.
What do you think Peter meant when he said, “What was I, that I could withstand God?” (verse 17)? (Peter would not oppose God’s will of giving the Gentiles the opportunity to receive the gospel, repent, and be baptized.)
Invite students to read Acts 11:18 silently, looking for how the disciples responded to Peter’s explanation.
How did the disciples respond once they learned that Peter had been led by God?
What principle does this account teach about how we can sustain and follow those who preside over the Church? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure they understand that when we know that those who preside over the Church are led by God, we can confidently sustain and follow them. This principle has been confirmed in modern scripture, which records that God has revealed His will to those who hold the presiding priesthood keys [see D&C 28:2, 7; 42:11; 107:65–66].)
How have you come to know that those who preside over the Church are led by God?
What counsel from the prophets have you chosen to follow because you know the prophets are led by God?
Invite students to set a goal to gain a stronger testimony that those who preside over the Church are led by God.
Summarize Acts 11:19–30 by explaining that because of persecution, several disciples were scattered throughout the region but faithfully preached the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they went.