Your Bible question was:
> Struggling with the idea that Cornelius and his house received the
> Spirit before baptism. Can you help?
The members of Cornelius' household were not saved from their sins any
differently than the people on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37-41), the
Ethiopian (Acts 8:35-39), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:16) or anybody else in the
NT. The issue to remember in considering Cornelius' house receiving the
Holy Spirit is _why_ did it occur?
Clearly, it was not to save them from their sins, for Peter commanded water
baptism of them just as he had of the people on the day of Pentecost (Acts
Also, the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit on that occasion was not a
fulfillment of the promise given in Acts 2:38, for the "gift of the Holy
Spirit" in that passage comes _after_ water baptism (cf. Acts 3:19). The
presence of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 occurred _before_ water baptism
In addition, Acts 15:9 tells us that their hearts were purified by faith,
not by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit.
The answer to our basic question, "Why did the Holy Spirit fall upon the
household of Cornelius?" is answered for us in Acts 11:14-18 and 15:7-9.
Let's start with Acts 11.
After the events of Acts 10 (at a gentile's house), Peter is questioned
about his contact with Gentiles by his brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-3).
In order, Peter examples what happened which caused him to be there,
preaching the gospel to them (Acts 11:4-14).
Peter's assessment of why the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius et al. is stated
in Acts 11:17: "If therefore God gave them the same gift (the Holy Spirit,
JRP) as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that
I could withstand God?" So, the presence of the Holy Spirit was assessed by
Peter as divine evidence (in a series of evidences, cf. 11:5-14; 10:1-35,
esp. v. 34-35) that God accepted Gentiles as worthy to hear and be saved by
This is also the reason his Jewish brethren gathered from the event
according to Acts 11:18: "When they heard these things they became silent;
and they glorified God, saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles
repentance to life.'"
So, Acts 11:14-18 teaches the reason for the Holy Spirit falling upon
Cornelius was to convince the Jews (cf. 10:45 and the astonishment of the
Jews who were present) that the gospel was to go to Gentiles, too.
Now, Acts 15:7-9: Again, Peter defends his presence and preaching among
Gentiles (v. 7). Peter's assessment of the Holy Spirit event on that
occasion is unambiguous: "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by
giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction
between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (v. 8-9). God bore
witness or provided testimony that He is no respecter of persons by sending
the Holy Spirit upon those Gentiles on that one occasion (Acts 10:34-35).
The miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit did not save Cornelius. His
faith in Christ and obedience to the word of Christ did that (Acts 10:34-35,
47-48; 11:14; 15:7-9).
This event did not repent itself. One such event was (and continues to be)
sufficient proof that God approved of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. No
other similar event is subsequently recorded in the New Testament.
Our faith is assured and comforted to know that God, is this astonishing
event, bore powerful witness that the gospel is for all mankind (Acts 10:45;
I hope this is of help to you as you study God's word on this matter. Feel
free to respond if I can clarify anything I've written.
Joe R Price
Mt. Baker church of Christ