Acts 10 & 11 – Was Cornelius Saved before Being Baptized?

By Wayne Jackson

Was Cornelius, the Roman centurion, saved before and without baptism? Some so claim.

They reason in this fashion: Cornelius received the Holy Spirit prior to being baptized (Acts 10:44-48). But only a child of God receives the Holy Spirit. Thus, Cornelius was a child of God before his baptism.

The argument is invalid for several reasons.

First, Cornelius’ reception of the Holy Spirit represented a very unique situation. He was the first Gentile to be offered the gospel. This was a revolutionary step in the unfolding of God’s scheme of redemption.

The fact is, the supernatural work of the Spirit in this case had nothing at all to do with Cornelius’ personal salvation. The outpouring of the Spirit was to persuade the Jews that Gentiles had a right to the kingdom of heaven, as well as Jews. Note these passages.

“And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:45).

“If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17).

“And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

Second, the apostle Peter, in his defense of the Gentiles’ acceptance into the church, made it very clear that God “made no distinction between them [Gentiles] and us [Jews]” in the matter of salvation (Acts 15:9). If one can learn, therefore, what the Jews were required to do in order to secure the remission of their sins, he will be forced to conclude that the identical process applied to Cornelius and his household.

Acts 2 contains the record of the first Jewish response to the gospel. Believers who had been convinced of the message regarding Christ were instructed: “®epent and be immersed … for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). Baptism was crucial to their obedience.

One must conclude that Cornelius was under an equal obligation. No wonder Peter “commanded” the Gentile soldier to be immersed (10:48).

Third, according to Peter’s rehearsal of these events, which is more chronological than is Luke’s original record (cf. 11:4), the Spirit fell upon Cornelius just as the apostle “began to speak” (11:15), and therefore, before this Gentile even heard the message, hence, before he had faith (cf. Rom. 10:17). If the argument mentioned above is valid, then Cornelius was saved without faith — which is quite unreasonable.

Underscore “began” in verse 15, and marginally note this point.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.