Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 30

by | Aug. 01, 2003

Sunday School

Robert L. Millet on the Conversion of Cornelius:
It was noted...that there were persons of Gentile lineage in the church as early as the day of Pentecost, several years before the conversion of Cornelius. What makes Cornelius and his household unique is that the earlier Gentiles were all proselytes to Judaism; Cornelius and his group were apparently the first nonproselytes and uncircumcised Gentiles to be baptized into the church.
Opening the door of the gospel to the Gentiles was another new dimension of missionary activity and the third step outlined in Acts 1:8. All previous conversions were of persons who held to the law of Moses and practiced circumcision. Even Paul's dramatic entrance into the church did not entail a new type of procedure, but Cornelius's entry signified a new day. It is important that it was Peter, the presiding officer of the church holding the keys of the kingdom, who began the proselytizing effort among the Gentiles. Only through the President of the Church does the Lord make such changes as the one involving Cornelius.
There is another significant feature of priesthood procedure in the account of Cornelius's conversion. The angel did not preach the gospel to Cornelius but directed him to Peter. The angel had sufficient knowledge, but it was not his calling to preach among mortals at that time. Peter was the living mortal administrator with the commission to take the gospel to men on the earth.
A similar circumstance is seen with the Lord's visit to Saul on the road to Damascus. He did not preach the gospel to Saul but told him it would be given to him in the city. Then the Lord sent Ananias to tend to it. Why did not Jesus do it? Because it is not the order of the priesthood for a heavenly being to preach to mortals when there is a qualified mortal with a priesthood commission able to do it. (This principle is alluded to in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.) The Prophet Joseph Smith also taught this subject.
Many have supposed that Cornelius was an exception to the order of heaven—that he received the gift of the Holy Ghost before baptism, whereas all others had to wait until after baptism. The wording of Acts 10:45 leads to this misconception. The Prophet Joseph Smith said Cornelius was not an exception and did not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after his baptism.
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 38 - 39.)
 Bruce R. McConkie on Cornelius:
Here stands a man who is prayerful, pious, devout, and godfearing; whose charitable deeds are had in remembrance before the Eternal Throne; whose faith and godly conduct enable him to see within the veil and to converse with heavenly beings—and yet this man is not a candidate for salvation; he is not so much as on the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life!
How then can any man hope for salvation? The angel answers: 'Send for Peter. He will teach you the gospel; he will baptize you in water and bring you into the fold of Christ where you can become a new creature by the power of the Holy Ghost, thus putting off the natural man and becoming a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.' What a message thunders forth to the pious and good among all churches from this heaven-directed experience of Cornelius!
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 96.)
Bruce R. McConkie on God Giving the Holy Ghost to Gentiles:
Acts 10:44-48 God here pours out the Holy Ghost upon Cornelius, his kindred, and friends as a sign to Peter (and through him to all Israel) that the gospel was now to go to the Gentiles. The Holy Ghost is the greatest gift a man can receive in this life, and it comes to those who believe and obey the laws of the gospel. Since the Gentiles are here so visibly anointed with this heavenly endowment, it is evident that the Lord is offering to them the gifts and blessings of that gospel which heretofore has been preached almost exclusively to the house of Israel.
Two basic and fundamental gospel doctrines must be known to understand this spiritual outpouring of divine grace: 1. The nature and kind of being the Holy Ghost is; and 2. What is meant by the gift of the Holy Ghost.
As to the Holy Ghost himself, the scriptural teachings are summarized as follows: "The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a Personage of Spirit, a Spirit Person, a Spirit Man, a Spirit Entity. He can be in only one place at one time, and he does not and cannot transform himself into any other form or image than that of the Man whom he is, though his power and influence can be manifest at one and the same time through all immensity. (D. & C. 130: 22-23; Teachings, p. 190, 275-276; Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 59-62.)
"He is the Comforter, Testator, Revelator, Sanctifier, Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit of Promise, Spirit of Truth, Spirit of the Lord, and Messenger of the Father and the Son, and his companionship is the greatest gift that mortal man can enjoy. His mission is to perform all of the functions appertaining to the various name-titles which he bears. Because he is a Spirit Personage, he has power—according to the eternal laws ordained by the Father—to perform essential and unique functions for men." (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 359.) See Commentary I, pp. 752-756.
As to the gift of the Holy Ghost itself, the scriptural accounts reveal: "'There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Holy Ghost,' the Prophet taught. (Teachings, p. 199.) As the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost is a Personage of Spirit; the gift of the Holy Ghost, however, is the right, based on faithfulness, to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead. It is the right to receive revelation, guidance, light, and truth from the Spirit. 'The presentation or "gift" of the Holy Ghost,' President Joseph F. Smith said, 'simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment.' (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 60-61.)
As Joseph Smith explained: 'Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. Until he obeyed these ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, according to the order of God, he could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man, and it obey him.' (Teachings, p. 199.)
"In similar manner, in this day, many nonmembers of the Church, 'by the power of the Holy Ghost' (Moro. 10:4-5), learn that the Book of Mormon is true, or that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, but unless they repent and are baptized that flash of testimony leaves them. They never receive the continuing, renewed assurance that comes from the companionship of that Spirit Being whose mission it is to whisper truth to the spirits within men. (Teachings, pp. 198-199.)
"Further, the fact that a person has had hands laid on his head and a legal administrator has declared, 'Receive the Holy Ghost, does not guarantee that the gift itself has actually been enjoyed. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the right to have the constant companionship of the Spirit; the actual enjoyment of the gift, the actual receipt of the companionship of the Spirit, is based on personal righteousness; it does not come unless and until the person is worthy to receive it. The Spirit will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle. (1 Cor. 3:16- 17; 6:19.) Those who actually enjoy the gift or presentment of the Holy Ghost are the ones who are born again, who have become new creatures of the Holy Ghost. (Mosiah 27:24-26.)
"Even a righteous person is often left to himself so that he does not at all times enjoy the promptings of revelation and light from the Holy Ghost. 'Every elder of the Church who has received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, by one having authority, has power to confer that gift upon another; it does not follow that a man who has received the presentation or gift of the Holy Ghost shall always receive the recognition and witness and presence of the Holy Ghost himself; or he may receive all these, and yet the Holy Ghost not tarry with him, but visit him from time to time (D. & C. 130:23); and neither does it follow that a man must have the Holy Ghost present with him when he confers the Holy Ghost upon another, but he possesses the gift of the Holy Ghost, and it will depend upon the worthiness of him unto whom the gift is bestowed whether he receives the Holy Ghost or not.' (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., p. 61.)" (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., pp. 312-313.) See Commentary 1, pp. 856-857.
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 105.)
James E. Talmage on the Miraculous Deliverance of Peter from Prison:
But to return to Peter, as he slept in prison, so securely guarded, some of the saints were gathered in prayer for his deliverance. And an angel of the Lord appeared in the dungeon, with a halo of light about him: he awakened Peter, and bade him arise; and immediately the chains fell off; he dressed himself and followed the angel through the doors and gates of the prison, all of which were opened by unseen hands, and Peter found himself in the streets of the city outside the prison walls. All had been so quickly done, that the apostle did not at first realize his deliverance; but fully arousing himself, he offered thanks to his Maker, and hastened to the house of one of the saints, where many were gathered in prayer. A young sister, Rhoda, came to the door where he knocked, and recognizing his voice she was so filled with joy over this great answer to their prayers that she forgot to open the door but ran into the room and told the brethren and sisters there what had happened. They could not believe her: they told her she was mad; and then as she insisted that she was not mistaken they feared it was his ghost. But Peter kept knocking, and at last they opened the door, and were astonished to find him safe. Why should they be so surprised, when they had been praying for that very blessing? One might think that their hearts would be so full of thanksgiving that there would be no room for astonishment.
Yet we today feel surprised when the Lord manifests His power to us in any strong or otherwise remarkable manner; our greatest cause for wonderment would seem to lie in the contemplation of His mercy, that He will interpose in behalf of such weak and sinful mortals as many of us are. He is as willing today as ever in the past to assist His servants, and that too, by what we call miraculous means should it be necessary. In this belief lies one point of difference between the Latter-day Saints, and most other professed Christian sects of the day: we think that the Lord operates in the same ways, and through similar channels as those He has used in days gone by. He has placed prophets, and apostles, and elders, and evangelists upon the earth and He sustains them by His power as He has ever done, in the execution of His divine purposes. And I give you my testimony, adding it to the many you hear from time to time, that the power of God is with His people, and that the authorities and gifts which characterized the doings of the ancient prophets, and the ministry of the apostles of old are upon the earth today. But I do not ask you to take my testimony as a guide: it can only benefit you by putting you in the way of gaining a testimony and a knowledge for yourselves, or for strengthening the testimony you already have: and in this, again, lies a distinguishing feature of our Church. Our Elders do not ask you to embrace the Gospel of Christ on the strength of their belief: they urge upon you to seek wisdom of Him who has promised to give liberally to all who ask in faith, and to upbraid none who so apply. The ministers of Christ who leave their homes and forsake the business by which they live, and who come amongst you with the word of eternal life, do not bring testimonies of the truth to give you. Like the virgins who have oil in their lamps they will show you simply where to get oil for yourselves; at the same time raising their voices in solemn warning that the Bridegroom is near at hand, and that the day of God's judgment is near.
(Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 3: .)
 Bruce R. McConkie on an Angel Freeing Peter from Prison:
Peter is arrested by Herod and sentenced to be slain; he is imprisoned in a cell with guards at the locked doors; he lies chained to two soldiers; a great iron gate with more guards closes in the prison itself; a total of 16 soldiers have the lone apostle in their charge. The Church prays for his deliverance, while Peter sleeps (as his Master had done when the storm threatened their ship on the Sea of Galilee); and lo, God sendeth an angel and Peter is freed. When no recourse remains but through divine intervention, the miraculous deliverance is accomplished. God does for man what he cannot do for himself. See Acts 5:17- 26.
(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 116.)
Robert L. Millet on the Conversion of the Gentiles:
Although Peter had opened the door for the Gentiles to come into the Church, missionary work proceeded slowly among them at first. Many Christians went forth throughout the cities of Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch "preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only." (Acts 11:19.) About three hundred miles north of Jerusalem, however, at Antioch in Syria, there was lively activity resulting in the conversion of a great number of Greeks. Hearing of this, the Brethren sent Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch to look into the matter. After assessing the situation, he soon brought Saul from nearby Tarsus to assist him.
There is a faulty translation in the King James Version of Acts 11:20. The text states that the missionaries at Antioch preached to the Grecians. A Grecian, however, is a Jew who speaks Greek, whereas the sense of verse 20 and the verses following call for the word Greek instead of Grecian. Most modern translations of the Bible use the word Greek. Grecian adds nothing to the story, for Grecians had been in the Church for years; but bringing Greeks into the Church was something new to write about.
Barnabas was probably selected for the assignment at Antioch because he was from Cyprus and, being from a Gentile environment, he would have common ground with Gentile converts. Likewise, his reason for wanting Saul to assist him would be that Saul's experience with Gentiles would make him an asset to the work.
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 38 - 39.)
Bruce R. McConkie on Saul and Barnabas Being Called to the Ministry:
Acts 13:1. Prophets and teachers] Not one prophet, but many; not one teacher, but many—with those named being examples. There are always prophets and teachers—a great host of them—in the true Church. Indeed, where the Lord's prophets and teachers are found, there is the Lord's Church; and where such are not found, there the true Church is not. See Commentary I, pp. 251-253; Rev. 19:9-10.
Acts 13:2. The Holy Ghost said] The Lord Jesus Christ said; but the instruction came by the power of the Holy Ghost, that is, the Lord spoke to them by the voice of the Spirit. The Holy Ghost is God's minister to give revelation, to convey his mind and will to men. "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart," the Lord says, "by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation." (D. & C. 8:2-3.) And the receipt of continuous revelation is the proof positive of the identity of the true Church. Where there is revelation from the Holy Ghost—revelation in the full, complete, and literal sense, revelation dealing with all things both temporal and spiritual—there is the true Church; but where such is not found, there the true Church is not.
The work whereunto I have called them] What work? Apparently they were being set apart as missionaries, for they immediately went forth to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances according to the pattern set by Jesus. But who is to say whether more than this was involved? Obviously they both already held the Melchizedek Priesthood and were elders. Were they now being ordained seventies? Such is an apostolic and a missionary office. From this time on Luke refers to them as apostles. Could this have been their ordination as such, or their setting apart as members of the Council of the Twelve? If so, and such is a distinct possibility, one or more of the other apostles would have been present to confer upon them the keys of the kingdom. But whatever office or position was involved, Saul and Barnabas were now going forth as legal administrators, on the Lord's errand, called by revelation, and authorized to serve and minister by the laying on of the hands of the Lord's anointed—all of which sets the pattern for ministerial service for all true ministers in all ages.
Acts 13:3 Laid their hands on them] Saul and Barnabas were called by prophecy and were either ordained or set apart or both by the laying on of hands, all in accord with the Lord's law "that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof." (Fifth Article of Faith.)
There are two types of ministerial calls in the Church—those to ordained offices, and those to administrative or set apart positions. Both kinds of calls are made by prophecy, that is by the spirit of inspiration, but one type is of a permanent nature and the other is temporary. Brethren are ordained to offices in the priesthood, which offices they hold ever thereafter, in time and in eternity. Hence the common saying, "Once a bishop, always a bishop." But brethren are set apart to serve as missionaries, on high councils, in positions of presidency, as bishops of designated wards. The setting apart empowers the priesthood holder to serve in the administrative or ecclesiastical position for the period of the assignment.
Priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things for the salvation of men. Where men are actually endowed with power from on high, with the priesthood of the Almighty, there is the true Church, and where the priesthood is not, there the true Church is not. See Heb. 7:1-3.
 (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 119.)
Robert L. Millet on Paul's First Missionary Journey:
Saul and Barnabas stayed at Antioch "a whole year" and "taught much people." (Acts 11:26.) At about that time there came a great famine, and the saints in Judea were especially impoverished. The disciples at Antioch sent relief to the Judeans by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. The famine occurred in the days of Claudius Caesar, emperor from A.D. 41 to 54, and is generally thought to have occurred around A.D. 44. (Acts 11:25-30.) It had been ten years since the resurrection of Jesus, and the church had grown rapidly.
When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from Jerusalem, they took John Mark (a nephew or cousin to Barnabas) with them. Shortly thereafter, having been called by revelation and set apart by the laying on of hands, they departed from Antioch and sailed to Cyprus and the cities of Galatia, part of the land known today as Turkey. Chief among the cities were Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which they visited in that order. The missionaries preached to Jews, proselytes, and Gentiles and encountered both strong opposition and outstanding success. At Cyprus, Saul (who at this point became known as Paul) found it necessary to smite an enemy with blindness in the name of the Lord. Paul knew well the stunning effect of blindness. At Antioch of Pisidia, the missionaries preached in the synagogue for at least two Sabbaths, and there "came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God." (Acts 13:44.) The Gentiles were pleased, but many of the Jews were not, and Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the city. A similar event occurred at Iconium. At Lystra, Paul and Barnabas were almost worshiped by the Gentiles, but the Jews from Antioch and Iconium stoned Paul and left him for dead. The strongest opposition in every city came from the unbelieving Jews because Paul taught that salvation came through Jesus Christ and not through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:23-42.)
The missionaries then visited the cities in reverse order and returned to Antioch of Syria. The mission had lasted perhaps a year, and the brethren had traveled over fourteen hundred miles—a small thing in our day, but a considerable accomplishment by sailboat and by foot through rough terrain. The probable date of the journey is A.D. 47-48.
There were two notable personal developments for Saul on this journey. The first is that while in Cyprus, Saul became known as Paul and is consistently called Paul thereafter. (Acts 13.) This renaming was probably because the Greek name Paulos would be more acceptable to Gentile audiences. The second development is that until the missionaries reached Cyprus, Barnabas seemed to be in charge. (Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2.) Beginning at Cyprus, Paul seemed to be the leader. (Acts 13:13, 50.) Most of the information about this first missionary journey centers around what Paul said and did; little is said about Barnabas.
On their first visit to each place, the missionaries preached and baptized. On the return journey, they "ordained elders in every church." (Acts 14:23.) These actions give a clue to missionary procedure and show that the church was organized with local priesthood leaders.
(Robert L. Millet, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 6: Acts to Revelation [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 38 - 39.)
David O. McKay on the Conversion of Gentiles:
As we followed Paul and Barnabas in their first missionary journey, we noticed that in nearly every city they visited, they found Jews, and that their preaching was frequently first done in a synagogue. The fact is, that the Jews were scattered over nearly all of the Roman Empire. They were on the coasts and islands of Western Asia, on the borders of the Caspian Sea, and some were even as far as China.
Jews Kept to Their Religion.
But no matter where the Jew was living, he always kept his own religion, and studied carefully the Law of Moses. That is what James meant when he said, "Moses of old time, hath in every city, them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day." Their religion taught them not to mingle with the Gentiles in marriage or in social intercourse.
Gentiles Would Not Worship with Jews.
The Gentiles, on the other hand, looked with contempt upon the Jews; while the "gay and licentious festivities of the Greek and Roman worship" made the Jews look with contempt upon Gentiles. They would trade with each other, and mingle together in daily vocations, but as a rule, that is as far as their intercourse went. They said with Shylock: "I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you."
Of course, there were Gentiles who sometimes became converted to the Jewish religion, and there were some who married Jewish women, but the line of dislike and suspicion was none the less sharply drawn.
Peter's Prejudices.
You remember how difficult it was for the Lord to convince Peter that the Gentiles were worthy to be baptized into the Church of Christ. Peter saw in a vision a vast sheet descending from heaven in which there were unclean animals, and he heard a voice saying, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat." But Peter said, "Not so, Lord: for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean."
Peter's Revelation.
When Peter realized the meaning of the vision, his whole Jewish nature was shocked; for to obey was to break the Law of his forefathers by associating with Gentiles. The Jewish Christians who were with Peter from Joppa to Caesarea were "astonished" when they saw "the gift of the Holy Ghost poured out" on the "unclean" Gentiles. When Peter reached Jerusalem, he was accused of having not only associated but eaten with Gentiles, but Peter had learned by revelation that "what God has made clean" no one should "call common or unclean," that the Lord is "no respecter of persons," and that "every nation" that accepts Him, and "feareth Him and worketh righteousness," may receive His blessings.
The Church Agitated.
But there were many Jews in the Church who did not believe this, and the only condition on which they would accept a Gentile was that he should obey the Jewish religion also. When this class of Christians heard that Paul and Barnabas had baptized hundreds of Gentiles, they became very much agitated in their feelings, and some of them went to Antioch and began to preach, first privately then publicly, that unless the Gentiles obeyed a certain Jewish rite, they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas had told the Saints that obedience to the Gospel of Christ would save the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and that the Gentiles did not have to become Jews. Now these men from the chief branch of the Church declared that Paul and Barnabas were wrong. No wonder "those who from among the Gentiles were turned unto God," were "troubled" and perplexed. Indeed, the controversy became so sharp that it threatened to lead some out of the Church.
(David O. McKay, Ancient Apostles [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1964], 171.)
 Robert J. Matthews on Circumcision and the Law of Moses:
It may be helpful at this point to explain why there is so much emphasis and concern about circumcision. It seems to us today such a strange matter to be fighting about in the Church. Circumcision is a very old practice among mankind, even among non-Jewish peoples. However, the Lord Jehovah appointed it the token of the covenant he made with Abraham (Genesis 17). This covenant was to extend throughout Abraham's posterity, and through this covenant were blessings and promises of God's favor to be realized throughout time and eternity. Circumcision was the badge, the sign of identification showing that one was a believer in the true God, and in all the dimensions of the Abrahamic covenant. The token was continued in the law of Moses. The manner in which the word circumcised is used throughout the book of Acts and the epistles is generally as a one-word representation for the entire law of Moses; hence when the Jewish members of the Church insisted that Gentiles be circumcised, they really meant that the Gentiles should obey all of the law of Moses.
(Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 302.)
Robert J. Matthews on the Council at Jerusalem:
The rapid influx of gentile converts to Christianity in Antioch and in Galatia caused great concern among some of the Jewish members of the Church in the Jerusalem area. Paul and Barnabas had brought many Gentiles into the Church by baptism, but they had not required circumcision. Certain men came to Antioch from Judea and taught (without authorization from the Apostles) that "except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabas had a great disputation with them. The matter was finally taken to the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem for settlement.
Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, an uncircumcised Greek convert, went to Jerusalem for the scheduled council. There the strongest opposition to the Gentiles came from those Church members who had been Pharisees before becoming Christians (see Acts 15:5).
In the council Peter rehearsed his experience with Cornelius. The decision was that gentile converts need not be circumcised but that they should "abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornications" (Acts 15:29). This decision was clearly a vindication of the doctrine taught by Paul and Barnabas and was in harmony with the teaching that the law of Moses had been fulfilled by Christ. The Brethren at Jerusalem wrote an epistle to the Saints in the vicinity of Antioch and Cilicia informing them of the decision of the council, and they sent Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what the council had decided.
(Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 274.)
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