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Bible Q&A – Was Cornelius a Proselyte?

Question: Was Cornelius a Proselyte? – Anonymous

It is asserted by some that Cornelius, because he feared, worshiped, and prayed to God—the God of Israel—that he must be a proselyte [a convert] to Judaism. Some make the claim that he was a partial proselyte, a “proselyte of the gate,” that kept the Jewish customs and feasts, but who had not been circumcised. But can either of these claims be proven?

First, there is nothing in the text of Acts 10-11 (the only places in which Cornelius is mentioned) to indicate that Cornelius was anything other than a Gentile. Even the passage that speaks of what kind of man he was—one that worshiped and served God—says nothing about Jews, Judaism, Israel, or the Law of Moses.

Second, in light of this, we should also note that there were others in the Bible who worshiped and served God, yet who were not attempting to follow the Law of Moses. Abel, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Melchizedek, and others were all people who worshiped and served God without ever knowing anything about the Law of Moses and Judaism. These men were all Gentiles—non-Jews, and worshiped God under what we’ve come to describe as the Patriarchal law. This law was exclusive to the Gentiles, and was never rescinded until the gospel began to be taken to the Gentiles in the book of Acts.

Third, had Cornelius been a “proselyte of the gate,” such a fact would have been ammunition for the Judaizing teachers who demanded obedience to the Law of Moses prior to becoming a Christian. It would have been brought up by those who were trying to keep the Gentiles from entering the church as Gentiles. But this concept—that Cornelius was somehow a Jew in actions, though not in circumcision—is foreign to all the biblical evidence.

Fourth, If Cornelius was a proselyte, then the Bible is a lie. The conversion of Cornelius and his family is the record of the first Gentile converts. This fact is made clear throughout chapters ten, eleven, and even in chapter fifteen (see 15:7). Yet, in Acts 6, we read of a well-regarded Christian named Nicholas, and one of the few things we know about him is that he was a proselyte—that is, a Gentile who converted to Judaism. Therefore, if Cornelius was a proselyte one of the following must be true:

  • Peter, the apostles, and the inspired author of Acts were all mistaken in saying that Cornelius and his family were the first Gentile converts—Nicholas pre-dates him.
  • Peter, the apostles, and the inspired author of Acts were all mistaken in saying that Cornelius and his family were the first Gentile converts—they were proselytes, and therefore no longer classed as Gentiles.

These are the only two options if Cornelius was a proselyte. The true option is this:

Cornelius and his family were Gentiles—not proselytes to Judaism in any way, shape, or form. This matches perfectly with what is said about them in Acts. This matches perfectly with the attitude of the Jews in going into his house. This matches perfectly with the attitude of the other Jews who heard about it. This harmonizes perfectly with the fact that a proselyte named Nicholas was already a Christian—he wasn’t counted as a Gentile anymore.

Was Cornelius a proselyte? No. He was a Gentile—the first Gentile to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

-Bradley S. Cobb