In Acts 10:34, the apostle Peter declares that “God is no respecter of persons” (KJV). To understand the meaning of this verse, we must first consider the context of Acts 10.
Acts 10:1–8 introduces readers to Cornelius, a “centurion of what was known as the Italian cohort” (verse 1, ESV). Despite being a Gentile, Luke describes Cornelius and his family as “devout and God-fearing,” and Cornelius “gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (verse 2).
An angel of God appears to Cornelius in a vision and instructs him to “send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter” (Acts 10:5, ESV). Cornelius did exactly as the angel instructed him to do (verses 7–8).
As the messengers approach Joppa, Peter receives a vision from the Lord (Acts 10:9–16). In Peter’s vision, a large sheet descends from heaven, containing “all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air,” including clean and unclean animals (verse 12, ESV). Suddenly, a voice comes to Peter and commands him to “kill and eat” (verse 13). Peter, a devout Jew, refuses the command: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (verse 14, ESV). To which the Lord responds, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (verse 15, ESV). This vision is repeated three times for emphasis (verse 16).
Shortly after Peter’s vision, the messengers arrive in Joppa (Acts 10:17). The Holy Spirit then instructs Peter to “accompany them without hesitation” (verse 20, ESV).
The next day, Peter travels to Caesarea with Cornelius’s messengers (Acts 10:24). When Peter enters Cornelius’s home, Cornelius falls at his feet and begins to worship him (verse 25). Peter promptly lifts him up and refuses to receive the worship (verse 26).
Peter acknowledges the unusual circumstances that led him to Cornelius’s home (Acts 10:28–29). Although it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile, God showed Peter that he should not despise or reject anyone (verses 28–29). In response, Cornelius recounts the vision that he received from an angel of the Lord (verse 30–32). He then expresses a desire to hear what Peter had to share with him and his household (verse 33). It is at this point that Peter declares, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (verse 34, KJV). Or, as the ESV has it, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”
The statement “God is no respecter of persons” means that God does not show favoritism or partiality. In other words, the free offer of the gospel is available to all—Jew and Gentile alike (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24).
In the Old Testament, God established a covenant relationship with Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6). This led many Jews to believe that Gentiles were “unclean” and beyond the reach of God’s saving grace.
Peter’s vision and subsequent encounter with Cornelius shattered the Jewish notion of exclusivity. God revealed to Peter that His redemptive plan included Jews and Gentiles (cf. John 10:16). Peter’s declaration that “God is no respecter of persons” affirms that the gospel of Jesus Christ is available to all, irrespective of nationality or social status. This profound truth breaks down national barriers and unites people from diverse backgrounds (see Ephesians 2:11–22).
As Christians, we are called to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV, emphasis added).