In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said. Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel. And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.” As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.Acts 10:1-8
Sending for Peter
The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean. ” But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven. Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there. Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.” So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?” They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” So Peter invited the men to stay for the night.Acts 10:9-23
Peter’s Arrival and Cornelius’ Explanation
The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa. They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends.Acts 10:23-24
I have picked out the elements in the text which shed light on this matter.
One afternoon about three o’clock, Cornelius had a vision
“Cornelius!” the angel said. Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter.
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.
The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon . . .
The same vision was repeated three times.
Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house.
Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you.
Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation.
So Peter went down
So Peter invited the men to stay for the night.
The next day he went with them,
They arrived in Caesarea the following day.
So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for.
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon.
Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God!
Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’
So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come.
Two of you took me up on the challenge and wrote the following:
It’s apparently about 63 kilometres from Joppa to Caesarea. If the three men Cornelius sent were travelling by foot, they must have been really pushing themselves to get to Joppa by midday, especially considering the late start they had made the previous day. I can’t imagine they would have had the energy to start back straight away. Probably the main reason for the delay though was Peter’s decision to take six of the local brethren with him. This would have taken some time to organise. This decision must have been prompted by the Holy Spirit as these six men were valuable witnesses when Peter was taken to task by the circumcision party in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:12)
I think that the pace of life was a lot different, these guys had just walked 50k over night, they needed a break and they wouldn’t have had access to a horse or camel being servants and the bike had a puncture. (Wow all those people on one bike Kev! Now no wonder it had a puncture)
Commentators’ opinions – There is a huge difference of opinion among the commentators. Some think they must have travelled at night, others think that is out of the question for many cultural reasons. Still others think that horses or donkeys have to have been involved give the facts as presented to us by Luke. (I am not sure donkeys would have helped in the speed of the journey). Many feel to account for the statement that they left immediately after 3 pm prayer and arrived the following day at noon that they have to have been on horseback and travelled at night. But according to my calculations the time taken from around 5.00 pm one day until 12.00 noon the next easily fits walking pace. Others have focused on the meaning of the words used. Some have analysed the word [epaurion] meaning next day . . . next day and concluded the time can be shortened from four days to three days. Thus they point to a reading in the Western Greek text which changed [tetartes] “fourth” into [trites] “third”. One commentator thinks being soldiers that they left early the next day after staying the night and that “morrow” in verse 9 is relative to their starting, not to the vision of Cornelius. Believe me they have looked at it from every angle. I am not going to bother giving you all of the detail. It all goes on for pages.
Here is a summary:
The estimate of the distance between Joppa and Caesarea varies from 24 miles (38.6 km) to 63 miles (101 Km). Walking speeds can vary greatly depending on many factors such as height, weight, age, terrain, surface, load, culture, effort, and fitness. The average human walking speed is about 5.0 kilometres per hour. So applying these various calculations means it took them somewhere between 8 hours at the fastest pace all the way up to 19 hours at the slowest pace. So there is huge variance making it impossible to calculate accurately given the discrepancy in estimates.
My opinion is that they left around 5 pm on the first day and arrived at noon that means it took them 19 hours to make the journey. It seems to me that they walked through the night going as fast as they could. Hence when they arrived at Peter’s in Joppa around lunchtime Peter suggested they needed to stay the night. Their appearance must have told him that they were not in any fit state to go straight back. Therefore they left Joppa on the third day probably early in the morning and therefore arrived early on the following day (4th day). Hence Cornelius says “Fours days ago”.
Some of you probably think, Why spend so much time on this matter? Just accept the words that Luke has written for us and don’t worry about the accuracy.
Others of you think, It is good to check out the detail of what is recorded so that we can determine the facts and have answers for the critics.
I have learned over the years since my first reading of the Bible 43 years ago that you never know what part of the Scripture will yield treasure when you dig into it, nor whether you will spend a disproportionate period of time chasing a false lead. It is like that with Deeper Bible study. But the thrill of the chase makes it worth it. As I told someone recently I will have to add Cornelius, Peter, Simon, and all the other players of this scenario to my list of people to ask questions of in heaven. But then I said I won’t need to do that because in heaven I will know as I am known, completely! So I won’t have to ask questions at all.
My mother used to say, Ian, you ask so many questions.
Mum I am still doing it. But she already knows that because she is in heaven now.
Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door
Because the truth is hard to swallow, that’s what the wall of love is for. Moody Blues – A Question of Balance
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. Voltaire
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. Friedrich Nietzsche