Cornelius the Centurion


What was the significance of the baptism of Cornelius? And was he really the first Gentile to be baptized?


It’s hard to know for sure whether he was the first gentile. There is the record of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. It’s recorded prior to the record of Peter baptizing Cornelius - but that doesn’t necessarily mean it occurred prior in actual time. Neither do we know whether the Eunuch was Jewish or not. (It’s possible since he was reading the OT book of Isaiah.)

But we can state that with Peter’s revelation from God and his subsequent baptism of Cornelius, it was the first time it was an infallible, if you will, teaching of the Church that gentiles could be baptized into the New Covenant without having to first become members of the Old Covenant. And that is the significance of Cornelius’ baptism.


Do you mean sacramentally baptised?

I would say the criminal on the cross that Jesus saved had a Baptism of Desire.


As a Roman military officer, Cornelius would have made an oath of allegiance to the Roman emperor. The oath acknowledged the emperor as a god and “Father of all men” with absolute authority. Breaking this oath meant death.

Baptism as a Christian is a oath, a public act in which you acknowledge Jesus Christ as King of the Universe and promise that you will obey the Church he established as his authority on earth in matters of faith and morals.

Cornelius’ baptism was a radical choice with the most dire consequences for him and his family. It likely changed his whole life and could have meant confiscation of his property and a death sentence.



Can’t we also use this as proof of infant baptism?


Do you mean because it speaks of Cornelius’ whole household being baptized? (Acts 11:14)?
It is one of the verses used to support infant baptism since it is likely that there would have been young ones present. However, since the text doesn’t give the ages of those baptized it can’t really be called “proof”.

See also a couple incidents where Paul baptized whole households. (Acts 16:15 and 16:32-34)


Corneilius was a centurion in the Italian Cohort was he not? What significance would that entail?



It’s pretty common knowledge. I don’t have a specific source. talks about the Sacramentum.

Some historians believe that the census/enrollment/registration in Luke 2 incorporated an oath of allegiance to the emperor. Scott Hahn has written about this possibility in an essay in the Ignatius Study Bible.



I am suspicious of it.

A lot of people try to paint Imperial Rome as a place where you were forced to worship emperors as gods. Not true. As long as you behaved yourself and paid your taxes, Rome didn’t care what or who you worshiped- as long as it was within civilized boundaries, i.e. no human sacrifice or cannibalism.


As an example, the Jews were allowed to continue their worship of God.


According to some sources, Cornelius’ cohort contained the only ethnic Roman troops in Judea. What significance would this have?


Not so.

The whole point of the Book of Revelation was emperor worship. Asia Minor was a center of pagan emperor worship with many temples to the emperors. Those who refused to worship the emperors were ostracized, banned from commerce, persecuted and martyred. That’s what the whole Book of Revelation is about.

The emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, probably between 48-53 AD. The event is recorded in Acts of the Apostles.

***After this he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aq’uila, a native of Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them; *(Acts 18:1-2)

This was the third expulsion of Jews from Rome. The first two were for aggressive proselytizing.

The fact is that you had to acknowledge the Emperor as king and accepting Jesus as King was not compatible.



You had to show some type of Allegiance to the Emperor, yes, but you could worship whatever God that you wanted to worship. I would like more contemporaneous references to instances where people were punished for not acknowledging an emperor as a god.

What is underreported, and understandably so, about the early Christians is that their communion ceremony was regarded by many as being cannibalistic in nature. That’s why they were persecuted.


I think that Acts 10 is one of the most important passages in the NT. The followers of Jesus were conflicted over who could be an “insider,” i.e. acceptable to God and one of them, and who was to be considered an “outsider.” God’s answer to this question was clear - no one is an outsider. We are still struggling with the implications of that answer to this day.


The whole reason for the Book of Revelation is that Christians were being persecuted for their refusal to participate in the cult of emperor worship.

This is covered at length in the Great Adventure study on the Book of Revelation.



Domitian was an autocratic ruler but never to the point of declaring himself a god. He appointed himself Censor for Life and considered himself the guardian of public morals.

I think here again the Christians downplay the negative impact the communion ceremony had on their public perception. Remember, the ceremony wasn’t a symbolic consumption of Christ’s blood and body, but a REAL consumption.

Very disturbing to the Romans.

By all accounts, the Christians were peace-loving and productive members of the empire. No reason to persecute them unless they threatened the public morals- with what were considered to be dark, occult practices.

Which was saying something for ancient Rome.

I will re-read some of the ancient sources, but Domitian never sought to be worshiped in the Caligula sense, as I remember.


God did use Cornelius to convince Peter that the Gentiles were meant to be brought into the Church.

It was also important because the Apostles were taught that the HS was infused and sealed into the believer at baptism, and thus, the water should never be separated from the spiritual events that occur.God is not bound by the Sacrament, so He poured the HS upon them to show Peter they needed baptism.


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