Acts 9:43 – Simon and Cornelius

Peter stays in Joppa at the home of Simon the Tanner (Acts 9:43). This simple statement is important, especially in the light of what happens in chapter 10. This is significant since the occupation of leather-worker (tanner) was considered to be unclean by the Pharisees. In the Mishnah there are several references to tanners.

They put carrion, graves, and tanneries at least fifty cubits away from a town. They make a tannery only at the east side of a town. (m. B. Batra 2:9, Neusner, 561–562).

A man should not sit down before the barber close to the afternoon [prayer], unless he has already prayed. Nor [at that time] should a man go into a bathhouse or into a tannery, nor to eat, nor to enter into judgment. (m.Sabb. 1.2, Neusner, 178–179)

A tanner is just about the lowest possible job in any ancient society! Because of the stench of the tanner’s shop, most towns required that the tanner had to live on the outskirts of town, outside the walls and as downwind as possible. Keener reports the tanner is over listed along with other undesirables, including beggars and prostitutes (2:1725).

Morocco Tannery

Tanning pits in Morocco

The tanning trade seems to have been good for Simon since he is able to show hospitality to Peter in his home. The home is large enough to have a gate and courtyard far enough away from the house that Peter did not hear Cornelius’ men arrive (10:17-18).

Simon is undoubtedly Jewish since he shares the same name as Peter, the most common name among Jews in the first century. But he is certainly not representative of normative Judaism. As C. K. Barret says, Peter is staying “in a low class area and with one of very doubtful repute in Jewish eyes” (Barrett, Acts, 486). Peter is therefore continuing the ministry of Jesus, reaching out to those who are on the fringes of Jewish society, sharing meals and hospitality with them.

It is therefore curious that Peter hesitates when he is told to God to Cornelius in chapter 10. This is a testimony to how far Jews and Gentiles were separated culturally. Peter has no problem staying in the home of a tanner, yet he is hesitant to enter the home of a Gentile God-fearer who was likely more “clean” with respect to the Law than the tanner.

4 thoughts on “Acts 9:43 – Simon and Cornelius

  1. I find this interesting as well. I think it speaks to the true breadth of the social divide between Jews and Gentiles. Yes, Peter is continuing the behavior of Jesus by going to the homes of the Jewish outcasts. But seeing his reaction to entering the home of the God-fearing Gentile in 10:28 shows how deep the vein of separation runs within the Jewish people. This is the point where we start to see this gap between the two people groups close. When Peter said he came to them, the God-fearing Gentiles, without objection because of what God had shown him (10:9) then shared the Gospel with them (10:34) it marks the beginning of a kind of people that Israel has never seen before. And all of that will eventually lead to the removal of this favor towards Jews over Gentiles.

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  2. I think that Luke includes this short remark at the end of chapter 9 as a way of illustrating the differences between Jews and Gentiles. As mentioned, Simon’s vocation alone places him in an awkward position in regards to the Law and cleanliness. Cleanliness itself is a key focus point in chapter 10, and thus probably has solid correlation from Luke’s perspective.
    However, this would not be the first time in Scripture that a Christ follower (or Jew) would have been associated with the lowly while doing God’s work. The Shepherds in Luke 2 are also considered to be one of the bottom classes of people in society. Yet God choses to use them in His work of announcing the coming of the Messiah to the Jews.
    In the same way, God is using Simon the Tanner (who is a low class citizen and definitely looked down upon by his up-wind neighbors) to show to Peter that God still favors what mankind looks down upon. In Luke 2, the people would have looked down on the shepherds. God still used them. In Acts 9, the people would have looked down on the Tanner, but God used Him in the apostle Peter’s ministry (at the minimum to show hospitality to Peter by housing him, but also to illustrate the level of God’s love toward all people). Finally, in Acts 10, God uses Cornelius, who is a Gentile, to show Peter that He loves all people. The Gentiles were looked down upon by the Jews (in the same way that shepherds were looked down on for their social status, and Simon the Tanner would have been discriminated in a sense for his social status). Through the vision that Peter receives, God indirectly compares Peter’s situation with Simon the Tanner to that of Christianity and the Gentiles. All people in all situations can be saved and are loved by God. This is a truth that God is continually revealing throughout the book of Acts to the apostles, and is eventually declared most clearly by Paul.

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  3. In biblical Judaism times the lowest occupations on the social-political spectrum were prostitutes, tax collectors and tanners (leather-workers). Tanners lived in either the outskirts of cities or far from them as far down wind as possible to keep the smell of the tanning process. Although this occupation is deemed unclean and one of the worst jobs a person in the ancient world could get the man named Simon was maybe not well off but he had some wealth and he was able to show hospitality to Peter. Simon’s house was big enough to have a front gate and a courtyard, and it had to be of some distance away from his house. And that can be said because Peter didn’t hear Cornelius’ men arrive at the house. Even though Simon was a Jew his job kept him at a low level of social standing. Because of the work he did he was not allowed to worship in the temple and partake in temple sacrifices. But what makes this whole situation unique is how Peter is willing to stay in the home of someone like Simon who most people wouldn’t talk to or even look at. While Peter is an apostle of the church and a follower of Jewish law. But when Cornelius’ sends for Peter goes but tells Cornelius’ that it is not lawful for a Jewish person to enter the house of a Gentile, even though Cornelius’ is a God-Fearing Gentile, who has found favor in God. What does this say about our own selves? are we like Peter unwilling to associate with anyone who we think is below us or our social level? Or are we going to go where ever we can in order to preach in the name of Jesus in order to save as many people as possible?

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