Corne'lius (Κορνήλιος, Lat. Cornelius). The centurion of this name, whose history occurs in Acts 10, most probably belonged to the Cornelii, a noble and distinguished family at Rome. He is reckoned by Julian the Apostate as one of the few persons of distinction who embraced Christianity. His station in society will appear upon considering that the Roman soldiers were divided into legions, each legion into ten cohorts, each cohort into three bands, and each band into two centuries or hundreds; and that Cornelius was a commander of one of these centuries (ἐκατοντάρχης) belonging to the Italic band, so called from its consisting chiefly of Italian soldiers, formed out of one of the six cohorts granted to the procurators of Judaea, five of which cohorts were stationed at Cesarea, the usual residence of the procurators (Jahn, Biblische Archaologie, 2:215, Wien, 1824). SEE CENTURION.
The religious position of Cornelius before his interview with Peter has been the subject of much debate. On the one side it is contended that he was what is called a proselyte of the gate, or a Gentile, who, having renounced idolatry and worshipping the true God, submitted to the seven (supposed) precepts of Noah, frequented the synagogue, and offered sacrifices by the hands of the priests, but. not having received circumcision, was not reckoned among the Jews. In support of this opinion it is pleaded that Cornelius is φοβούμενος τὸν Θεόν (a man fearing God), ver. 2, the usual appellation, it is alleged, for a proselyte of the gate, as in chap.
Ac 13:16,26, and elsewhere; that he prayed at the usual Jewish hours of prayer (Ac 10:30); that he read the Old Testament, because Peter refers him to the prophets (x. 43); and that he gave much alms to the Jewish people (Ac 10:2,22). On the other side it is answered that the phrases φοβούμενοι τὸν Θεόν, and the similar phrases εὐλαβεῖς and εὐσεβεῖς, are used respecting any persons imbued with reverence towards God (Ac 10:35; Lu 1:50; Lu 2:25; Col 3:22; Re 11:18); that he is styled by Peter ἀλλόφυλος (a man of another race or nation), with whom it was unlawful for a Jew to associate, whereas the law allowed to foreigners a perpetual residence among the Jews, provided they would renounce idolatry and abstain from blood (Le 17:10-11,13), and even commanded the Jews to love them (Le 19:33-34); that they mingled with the Jews in the synagogue (Ac 14:1) and in private life (Lu 7:3); that, had Cornelius been a proselyte of the gate, his conversion to Christianity would not have occasioned so much surprise to the Jewish Christians (Ac 10:45), nor would "they that were of the circumcision" have contended with Peter so much on his account (Ac 11:2); that he is expressly classed among the Gentiles by James (Ac 15:14), and by Peter himself, when claiming the honor of having first preached to the Gentiles (Ac 15:7); that the remark of the opposing party at Jerusalem, when convinced, "then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life," would have been inapplicable upon the very principles of those who assert that Cornelius was a proselyte, since they argue from the traditions of modern Jews, the most eminent of whom, Maimonides, admits a sincere proselyte to be in a state of salvation. The other arguments, derived from the observance of the Jewish hours of prayer by Cornelius, and his acquaintance with the Old Testament, are all resolvable into a view of his religious position, which will shortly be stated. The strongest objection against the supposition that Cornelius was a proselyte of the gate arises from the very reasonable doubt whether any such distinction existed in the time of the apostles (see Tomline, Elements of Theology, 1:266 sq.). Dr. Lardner has remarked that the notion of two sorts of proselytes is not to be found in any Christian writer before the fourteenth century (Works, 6:522). See also Jennings's Jewish Antiquities (bk. 1, ch. 3). The arguments on the other side are ably stated by Townsend (Chrolnolog. N. Test. note in loc.). SEE PROSELYTE. On the whole, the position' of Cornelius with regard to religion appears to have been in that class of persons described by bishop Tomline, consisting of Gentiles who had so far benefited by their contact with the Jewish people as to have become convinced that theirs was the true religion, who consequently worshipped the true God, were acquainted with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, most probably in the Greek translation, and observed several Jewish customs, as, for instance, their hours of prayer, or anything else that did not involve an act of special profession. This class of persons seems referred to in Ac 13:16, where they are plainly distinguished from the Jews, though certainly mingled with them. To the same class is to be referred Candace's treasurer (Ac 8:27, etc.); and in earlier times the midwives of Egypt (Ex 1:17), Rahab (Jos 6:25), Ruth, Araunah the Jebusite (2Sa 24:18, etc.), the persons mentioned 1Ki 8:41-43, Naaman (2Ki 5:16-17). See also Josephus, Antiq. 14:7, 2, and his account of Alexander the Great going into the Temple, and offering sacrifice to God according to the direction of the high-priest (ibid. 11:8, 5); of Antiochus the Great (ibid. 12:3, 3, 4), and of Ptolemy Philadelphus (ibid. 12:2, 1, etc.). Under the influence of these facts and arguments, we regard Cornelius as having been selected of God to become the first-fruit of the Gentiles. His character appears suited, as much as possible, to abate the prejudices of the Jewish 'converts against what appeared to them so great an innovation. It is well observed by Theophylact that Cornelius, though neither a Jew nor a Christian, lived the life of a good Christian. He was εὐσεβής, influenced by spontaneous reverence to God. He practically obeyed the restraints of religion, for he feared God, and this latter part of the description is extended to all his family or household (ver. 2). He was liberal in alms to the Jewish people, which showed his respect for them; and he "prayed to God always," at all the hours of prayer observed by the Jewish nation. Such piety, obedience, faith, and charity prepared him for superior attainments and benefits, and secured to him their bestowment (Ps 25:9; Ps 1; Ps 23; Mt 13:12; Lu 8:15; Joh 7:17). His position in command at Caesarea doubtless brought him into contact with intelligent Jews, from whom he learned the truths respecting the Messiah, and he seems to have been prepared by a personal knowledge of the external facts of Christianity to welcome the message of Peter as of divine authority.
The remarkable circumstances under which the benefits of the Gospel were conferred upon him are too plainly and forcibly related in Acts 10 to require much comment (see Paley, Evidences, prop. 2, ch. 2; Niemeyer, Charakt. 1:650 sq.; Neander, Planting and Training, p. 69 sq.). While in prayer at the ninth hour of the day, he beheld, in waking vision, an angel of God, who declared that "his prayers and alms had come up for a memorial before God," and directed him to send to Joppa for Peter, who was then abiding "at the house of one Simon, a tanner." Cornelius sent accordingly; and when his messenger had nearly reached that place, Peter was prepared by the symbolical revelations of a noonday ecstasy or trance, to un derstand that nothing which God had cleansed was to be regarded as common or unclean. — Kitto, s.v. This event took place about September, A.D. 32 (see Meth. Quart. Review, 1850, p. 499-501). "On his arriving at the house of Cornelius, and while lie was explaining to them the vision which he had seen in reference to this mission, the Holy Ghost fell on the:Gentiles present, and thus anticipated the reply to the question, which might still have proved a difficult one for the apostle, whether they were to be baptized as Gentiles into the Christian Church. They were so baptized, and thus Cornelius became the first-fruit of the Gentile world to Christ, publicly recognized as such; Tradition has been busy with his life and acts. According to Jerome (adv. Jovin. 1, p. 301), he built a Christian church at Caesarea; but later tradition makes him bishop of Scamandios (Scamandria?), and ascribes to him the working of a great miracle (Menolog. Graec. 1, 129)." There are monographs on the history of Cornelius in German by Linder (Basel, 1830), Krummacher (Brem. 1829, transl. Edinburgh, 1839), in Latin by Basil (Opp. 108), in English by Evans (Script. Biog. 3, 309); also in Latin, on his character by Fecht (Rost. 1701), Feuerlin (Altorf. 1736); on Peter's vision, by Deysing (Marb. 1710), Engestrom (Lund. 1741); on the effusion of the Spirit, by Goetze (Lubec. 1712); on his baptism, by the same (ib. 1713); on his prayers, by Michaelis (in the Bibl. Bremn. v. 679 sq.); on Peter's sermon, in English, by Taylor (London, 1659). See also Krummacher, Life of Cornelius (Edinb. 1839, 12mo); Jour. Sac. Lit. April, 1864.