Chapter 30: “God Is No Respecter of Persons”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 250–55


Map Chp. 30

The Acts of the Apostles—Events Occurred ca. A.D. 40–44 (10–13:1–5)

 

Acts

Caesarea, Judea

The Vision of Cornelius

10:1–8

Peter: A Vision of the Unclean

10:9–20

The Gospel Is Sent to the Gentiles

10:21–35

Teachings of Witnesses

10:36–43

The Holy Ghost Poured Out on the Gentiles

10:44–48

Jerusalem, Judea

Peter’s Report

11:1–18

Antioch, Syria

Disciples are Called Christians

11:19–26

Agabus Prophecies of Famine

11:27–30

Jerusalem, Judea

Peter is Freed from Prison

12:1–19

Caesarea:

Herod Dies of Disease

12:20–23

Antioch, Syria

Saul and Barnabas Called to the Ministry

12:24, 25; 13:1–5

Interpretive Commentary

(30-1) Acts 10:1. Who Was Cornelius?

A Roman centurion, or leader of one hundred men, Cornelius is described by Luke as “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.” (Acts 10:1, 2.) He must have also been a seeking, praying man, for he was given a vision in answer to prayer and was instructed to seek out Peter, who would tell Cornelius what he ought to do to perfect his life before God (Acts 10:3–6). He is the first gentile known to have received the gospel in the meridian of time without first fully converting to Judaism. (Acts 10:47, 48).

Map of Caesarea Chp. 30

Where Was Caesarea in Relation to Joppa?

(30-2) Acts 10:1–6. Why Did Cornelius Seek Out Peter After Having Seen an Angel?

Seeing an angel or receiving a visitation from heaven does not bring salvation; keeping the commandments does. Cornelius wished for salvation, and in order to obtain it he had to obey its precepts. The angel who appeared and gave Cornelius initial instructions could have told him what to do, but he sent him to Peter, who held the earthly authority. This is the pattern in the kingdom of God. It is, then, as Joseph Smith observed: “No wonder the angel told good old Cornelius that he must send for Peter to learn how to be saved: Peter could baptize and angels could not, so long as there were legal officers in the flesh holding the keys of the kingdom, or the authority of the priesthood.” (Teachings, p. 265. Italics added.)

Cornelius sees Angel

(30-3) Acts 10:9–33. Why Was Peter Chosen to Introduce the Gospel to the Gentiles?

“It [was] Peter’s duty and privilege to preach the gospel first to the Gentiles. Please note that when the Lord desired the Gentiles to hear His word, He instructed the chief of the Twelve to turn the key that opened the gospel door to them. This is one of the special duties of the apostleship.” (McKay, Ancient Apostles, p. 87.)

“In other words, Peter, holding the keys of the kingdom, was as much the president of the High Priesthood in his day as Joseph Smith and his successors, to whom also these ‘keys’ were given in our day, are the presidents of the High Priesthood and the earthly heads of the Church and kingdom of God on earth.” (Harold B. Lee in CR, Oct. 1953, 25.)

(30-4) Acts 10:10. What Is the Meaning of the Phrase “Fell into a Trance”?

“Sometimes prophets go into trances in connection with the receipt of visions. That is, they are so completely overshadowed by the Spirit that to all outward appearances normal bodily functions are suspended.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 802.)

(30-5) Acts 10:44–48. What Is the Difference between the Holy Ghost and the Gift of the Holy Ghost?

“There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. Until he obeyed these ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, according to the order of God, he could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man and it obey him. …” (Smith, Teachings, p. 199. Italics added.)

(30-6) Acts 11:26. When Were the Early Saints Called Christians, and Why?

“Christians is an obvious name for the followers of Christ, for those who believe he is the Son of God and that salvation of all degrees comes because of him and his atoning sacrifice. Since there have been followers of Christ in successive gospel dispensations from Adam to the present, these all would have been known as Christians or some equivalent, synonymous term. By saying the saints were called Christians first in Antioch means that for the first time in the meridian dispensation there was a sufficient church membership so that nonmembers recognized the saints as a separate and distinct organization, one severed and apart from the Jewish synagogue and community.” (McConkie, DNTC, 2:112.)

It is interesting to note that as early as 73 B.C., all Nephites who belonged to the church of Jesus Christ in the land of Zarahemla were known as Christians (Alma 46:14, 15). In fact, the name of Jesus Christ had been revealed to Jacob and Nephi some five hundred years before his birth, thus leaving the Nephites, at least, in little doubt as to the identity of the Messiah who should save them from their sins. (See 2 Nephi 10:3 and 25:19.)

(30-7) Acts 11:28. Who Was Agabus?

Little is known of Agabus other than that he possessed the gift of prophecy and was a noble Christian. By means of divine inspiration, he foretold a famine during the reign of the emperor Claudius, a fact which both the New Testament and Josephus confirm (Acts 11:28; Josephus, The Life and Works of Flavius Joseph, Antiquities of the Jews 20. 2. 5). Following Paul’s return from his third mission, Agabus also predicted Paul’s future imprisonment and bonds (Acts 21:10, 11).

(30-8) Acts 12:1. Who Was the James Whom Herod Killed?

At least three men are mentioned in the New Testament as bearing the name of James: (1) James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John the beloved apostle, was a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He suffered martyrdom at the hands of Herod in the early days of the apostolic ministry. With Peter and John, James served in the First Presidency until his death about A.D. 44. (2) James, the son of Alphaeus and Mary (Acts 1:13; Mark 16:1), sometimes known as James the less, was also a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve. Where he ministered following the resurrection of Jesus is not known. (3) James, the half-brother of Jesus, like his other brothers, did not accept the calling of Jesus while the Savior lived (John 7:1–7). Afterwards he became an apostle. (See Acts 15:13–34; Galatians 1:18, 19; 2:9; and further biographical information on page 404.)

(30-9) Acts 12:1. Who Were Herod and Bernice?

Two of the Herods, father and son, were called Herod Agrippa. They ruled the Jews during the time of Jesus and the apostles. Herod Agrippa I was a grandson of Herod the Great and, unlike those who reigned before him, was a great observer of the law of Moses. In order to keep the favor of the Jews, he put to death James, who was the son of Zebedee, brother of John the Beloved, and an apostle of Jesus Christ (Acts 12). Following his father’s death, Herod Agrippa II was given the tetrarchies formerly held by Philip his brother, and Lysonias, a Roman appointee, and received the title of king (Acts 25:13). Our best picture of him is that provided in the New Testament during his encounter with Paul in the court of Festus (Acts 25:13 through 26:32). His incestuous marriage with his sister Bernice rendered him detestable to the Jews.

Bernice was the oldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I. Her first marriage at a very young age was to her uncle, Herod, king of Chalsis. Following his death about A.D. 48, she married her own brother, Herod Agrippa II. She was present on the occasion when her husband-brother and Festus listened to Paul’s case prior to the latter’s departure for Rome (Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30).

(30-10) Acts 12:4. The Use of the Word Easter

The term Easter as used here by King James translators is an anachronism, for there was no Easter celebration as such for many, many years following the Savior’s death and resurrection. The Greek word pascha, equivalent to the Hebrew payach, translates itself as Passover. Early Christians changed the Hebrew custom of celebrating Passover into their own commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus, whom they regarded as the true Paschal Lamb of God and the first fruits of the resurrection.

(30-11) Acts 12:12. Who Was John Mark?

John Mark, commonly known as Mark, is the author of the Gospel of that name. He was the son of one of the leading women in the early church in Jerusalem. Believers assembled at her home, and Peter returned there after being freed from prison (Acts 12:12–17). John Mark was chosen as a companion of Paul and Barnabas as they left on the first missionary journey (Acts 12:25, 13:5) but for an unnamed reason he left the two brethren about half way into the journey (Acts 13:13). This later became a point of contention between Paul and Barnabas when departing on the second journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark again, but Paul refused; so they split company and went their separate ways (Acts 15:37–41). Evidently Paul was later reconciled to Mark, for he speaks of him with commendation in his epistles. (See, for example, Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24.) Peter speaks of Mark as his son and as being with him in Babylon—probably Rome. An ancient tradition states that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome, taking his material directly from Peter.

Points to Ponder

God Is No Respecter of Persons

While Jesus had taught that his disciples were to love their enemies, a deep distrust of all who were not Jewish must have remained in the hearts of many disciples. The allegiance to the requirements of the Mosaic law burned fiercely on even after conversion. Even Peter was appalled when he was commanded in the vision to eat of animals declared unclean by the Torah. And his tone was one of amazement as he realized the implications of the revelation for the gentiles.

But while the events of those four days in Joppa and Caesarea drastically altered the direction of the missionary effort of the church, it did not automatically remove the problems of Jewish exclusiveness. Nor does this imply that the saints of those early days were lacking in devotion to the Master. Attitudes and prejudices that are cemented through generations of indoctrination are not removed in a day’s time. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some members of the church were waiting for him, critical and challenging of his association with the unclean heathen. His rehearsal of the events that had led him to Caesarea and those that had occurred once he reached there silenced his critics. They had to admit that the evidence was irrefutable; the gentiles were to be granted repentance unto life. (See Acts 11:18.)

But even in the face of such direct revelation, the problem was not completely eliminated. The Jewish members of the church overcame the first hurdle—the gentiles were to be granted the new covenant of the gospel; it was no longer reserved just for the children of Abraham. But this did not imply, in many of their minds, that the law of Moses had been fulfilled. It was not long before members were demanding that the gentile converts be circumcised, and the Jerusalem council was held to deal with that problem (Acts 15). And for the next several decades the church would be plagued with the attacks of Judaizers (the name given to Jewish Christians who demanded that all members of the Christian church keep the Mosaic ordinances as well).

The feelings of Jewish exclusiveness in the church and their tenacious loyalty to codes of the past were not automatically solved by the events of Caesarea. The conversions and adjustments would reverberate for years to come. But that was the turning point. The coming of the angel to a Roman soldier in central Palestine would profoundly alter Christianity forever afterward.

Question

Why does Peter say that God is no respecter of persons? Isn’t respect for a person a positive trait?

Answer

Yes, respect is a positive trait. The problem is that the language has changed in meaning since the days of the King James Version. The word person was derived from the Latin persona, which meant “mask,” and referred to the masks worn by the actors in a drama. Thus, the original connotation of person was the outward appearance or circumstances of the individual, including such things as status, wealth, position, dress, or physical appearance. The Greek phrase Luke used means literally “accepter of the face.”

Question

So it really means that God is impartial?

Answer

Right. God is not like most men. He does not favor one man or group of men over another on the basis of social rank, ancestry, or other such surface qualities.

Question

But is God really totally impartial? Doesn’t he bless some of his children more than others?

Answer

God’s impartiality refers to his basic treatment of his children. Whenever someone is obedient to his laws, he is blessed. Nephi taught that the land of Palestine was taken from its possessors by the Israelites because of this principle. He explained: Read 1 Nephi 17:32–38.

Some men receive more blessings from God because they are more obedient to him. The impartiality exists because the laws form the basis for blessings and not some outward, meaningless criteria.

Question

That doesn’t seem very clear. What would be meaningless criteria?

Answer

Suppose God said, “Well, you’ve been obedient but you are a slave; so I can’t give you the blessings.” That was one mistake of the Jews in the time of Christ. They felt that ancestry gave them some inherent advantage with God. John the Baptist spoke against that notion when he suggested that God could raise up children of Abraham from the stones (Matthew 3:9). Joseph Smith said this was a figurative expression meaning the gentiles. (See Teachings, p. 319.)

Question

But don’t some people have an inherent advantage by virtue of their birth, their wealth, or their talents? It seems that a person born today in a land of freedom and in a family active in the Church has a tremendous advantage over someone born in less favorable circumstances. Doesn’t that affect one’s ability to be obedient to God?

Answer

The time, place, and circumstances in which a person is born certainly influence his behavior in profound ways. If that placement at birth was simply a factor of chance, then it could be said that God is partial. But we know that placement in mortality is based on more than chance.

Question

Then what determines where and when you are born?

Answer

We don’t know in detail all the factors that influence the circumstances into which we are born, but the prophets have clearly taught that the basic rule of obedience to law as the prerequisite for blessings holds true in this matter as well.

Question

Meaning that the kind of life we lived in the premortal existence influenced where we are now?

Answer

Yes. In this connection, President Lee made the following statement:

“You are all the sons and daughters of God. Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was. You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here.” (In CR, Oct. 1973, p. 7.)

Question

But it seems as if some who are born into very favorable circumstances are not very obedient.

Answer

True, but each person has his agency. If he does not continue to be faithful and obedient, he will lose the Lord’s favor and blessings. Again note what President Lee said about this:

“… there are many who were foreordained before the world was, to a greater state than they have prepared themselves for here. Even though they might have been among the noble and great, from among whom the Father declared he would make his chosen leaders, they may fail of that calling here in mortality.” (In CR, Oct. 1973, p. 7.)

So the law is still the same. God blesses the faithful regardless of their status, race, ancestry, or any other outward qualities. He is no respecter of persons.

Question

What are the implications of this for my own behavior?

Answer

There are two important lessons to be learned. First, if we wish to be godlike in our lives, we cannot base our acceptance of a person on invalid criteria.

Question

Give me an example of invalid criteria.

Answer

It would mean not choosing friends on the basis of worldly affluence. It would mean that all men would be judged on the same basis, that girls would not date on the basis of the boy’s car, that dress and fashions would never be the only basis for rejection. If we really wished to emulate this quality of godliness, it would revolutionize our interactions with our fellowmen.

Question

I can see that. What is the second implication?

Answer

It has to do with our own attitudes about ourselves. A girl who was quite unattractive by the standards of the culture in which she lived once asked, “Why did God do this to me? Why couldn’t my spirit have been sent to a more attractive body?” If she understood God’s love and his impartiality, she would know that outward appearance is irrelevant to him. Furthermore, she would see that if her eternal progression were really prevented by the physical appearances she was given, a loving Father would never have allowed that to happen. If she keeps his laws, she will receive every blessing the Lord has to give.

Question

So really, our position or specific situation in life is not as critical as what we do with it?

Answer

Exactly right. The leper who believed in Christ was better off than the Pharisee who rejected him; the repentant harlot who followed him was more favored than the apostle who betrayed him. Men may be tested by status or lack of it, by wealth or by poverty. In some ways beauty may be a greater challenge than ugliness. Life is sufficiently complex to test and try every man. It matters little whether the test is met in the gilded halls of the palace or the sweltering mud hut in the desert. God is no respecter of persons. What a person is rather than who he is will be the determining factor in the judgment. President Lee explains further: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ was not intended just for a continent or a segment of the earth. The gospel is intended for every soul that walks the earth, they are all the children of God. …

“Our responsibility is to bring to the world the message of truth to show the world that within the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are to be found the solutions to every problem that afflicts mankind. …

“No matter where they live, whether they are rich or poor, no matter what their station in life, their color or their background, they are loved by us and we desire to help them to achieve their highest expectations. …” (Church News, 15 July 1972, p. 4.)