Cornelius in the Bible Becomes a Christian

The Story of the First Gentile Conversion to Christianity

Cornelius in the Bible
Cornelius kneels at the feet of Peter.

Eric Thomas / Getty Images 

Cornelius in the Bible was a god-fearing gentile centurion of the Roman army whose Christian conversion is recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 10. The salvation of Cornelius and his household marks a key turning point in the early church's commission to take the gospel "to the ends of the earth" as Jesus had instructed (Acts 1:8).

Question for Reflection

As Christians, it's easy for us to feel superior to nonbelievers, but we should keep in mind that we have been saved through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and God's grace, not our own merit. We should ask ourselves, "Am I open to sharing the gospel with the unsaved so they can receive God's gift of eternal life too?" 

The Conversion of Cornelius Bible Story

In the city of Caesarea, a Roman centurion named Cornelius was praying when an angel appeared to him. Although a Gentile (non-Jew), he was a devout man who loved God, prayed, and gave alms to the poor.

The angel told Cornelius to send to Joppa, to the house of Simon the tanner, where Simon Peter was staying. He was to ask Peter to come to him at Caesarea. Cornelius' two servants and a loyal soldier set out on the 31-mile journey.

The next day, Peter was on the roof of Simon's house praying. As he waited for food to be prepared, he fell into a trance and had a vision of a great sheet being lowered down from the heavens onto the earth. It was filled with all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told him to kill and eat. 

Peter refused, saying he had never eaten anything common or unclean. The voice said to him, "What God has made clean, do not call common." (Acts 10:15, ESV) This happened three times before the vision ended.

Meanwhile, Cornelius' messengers arrived. God told Peter to go with them, and they left for Caesarea the next day. When they arrived, they found Cornelius had gathered his family and friends. The centurion fell at Peter's feet and worshiped him, but Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up. I too am a man." (Acts 10:26, ESV)

Cornelius repeated his story about the angel, then asked to hear the gospel. Peter quickly summarized the story of Jesus Christ. While he was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon the household. Immediately Cornelius and the others began speaking in tongues and praising God. Through the outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit, God dramatically demonstrated his acceptance of Gentiles into the church.

Peter, seeing these Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had on Pentecost, gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

When Peter and his six companions returned to Joppa, they were accosted by members of the circumcision party, former Jews who were upset that the gospel should be preached to Gentiles. But Peter recounted the entire incident, giving his reasons for changing.

The others glorified God and said, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18, ESV)

Points of Interest From the Story of Cornelius

  • Cornelius and his household were the first Gentiles to be taken into the Christian church, showing God intended for the church not to be just another sect of Judaism but something entirely new.
  • Peter had been steeped in the Jewish tradition of shunning Gentiles, therefore he did not understand at first the meaning of his vision. When Peter accepted the invitation of Cornelius, he realized God was creating a new covenant.
  • Before Paul preached to the Gentiles, God had already set this groundbreaking precedent that they were part of his plan of salvation. About ten years after Cornelius' conversion, Paul defended his mission to the Jerusalem Council of the church, with Peter and James supporting him.
  • Centurions are generally spoken of positively in the Bible. The fact that a Roman had abandoned the mythical gods of his country and turned to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob foreshadowed the decline of pagan superstition and the future triumph of Christianity.
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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Cornelius in the Bible Becomes a Christian." Learn Religions, Sep. 8, 2021, Fairchild, Mary. (2021, September 8). Cornelius in the Bible Becomes a Christian. Retrieved from Fairchild, Mary. "Cornelius in the Bible Becomes a Christian." Learn Religions. (accessed June 2, 2023).