WHAT IS STRIKING ABOUT Acts 11: 1-18 is the amount of space devoted to retelling the narrative already laid out in some detail in Acts 10, often in the very same words. Isn’t this a rather extravagant use of the space on a scroll?
But Luke sees this as a turning point. Peter is called on the carpet by the churches in Judea for going into the house of an uncircumcised person and eating with him (Acts 11:3). Peter retells his experience. The vision of the sheet with the unclean animals, its repetition three times, the instruction from the Spirit to go with the Gentile messengers, the fact that six of the (Jewish) brothers accompanied him and therefore could corroborate his story, the descent of the Spirit in the manner that tied this even to Pentecost, the linking of this with the words of the Lord Jesus — all lead to Peter’s careful conclusion: “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11:17).
Now some observations:
(1) Although Peter’s argument proves convincing (Acts 11:18), this does not mean that all of the theological implications have been worked out. This might be well and good for the Gentiles, and a matter for rejoicing. But many questions have not yet been thought through: Will the Gentiles have to be circumcised? Will they come under the kosher food laws after believing in Jesus? If not, are Jews permitted to abandon such laws, or was Peter a one-time exception? Should there be two quite different churches, one Jewish and one Gentile? What should the Gentiles obey? What is the relationship between this new covenant and the old one? Many of these questions are precipitated in the following chapters.
(2) The primary significance of this baptism in the Spirit is a little different than in Acts 2. Here, the dramatic expressions serve to authenticate this group of new converts to the mother church in Jerusalem — an irrelevant function at Pentecost.
(3) Next we hear of widespread, if unplanned, promulgation of the Gospel among Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 11:19ff.), generating a further crisis. Now the Jerusalem leaders must deal not with an individual or a household that is Gentile, but with an entire church that is predominantly Gentile. They show great wisdom. The envoy they send, Barnabas, displays no evidence of having great theological acuity. But he can see that this is the work of the Spirit, and promptly encourages the new converts to pursue God faithfully — and soon sends off for the best Bible teacher he knows for a mixed race church like this one (Acts 11:25-26). That is how Saul of Tarsus comes to be associated with this great church.