Peter’s Vision

After my last post on the subject of the Torah and its applicability for today, a few people had some questions about Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-28. Today, I’ll expound on this passage of scripture and give my interpretation of it. Once again, I want to be clear that it is not my intention to sway anyone to my own beliefs. I write this as an informative article for those who have asked, not as a persuasive one. If you have not read it already, please Read This before you proceed. Thank you.

Acts 10:9-28: [9] The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. [10] Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance [11] and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. [12] In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. [13] And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” [14] But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” [15] And a voice [spoke] to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” [16] This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. [17] Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. [18] And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. [19] While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. [20] Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” [21] Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius,* and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” [22] And they said, “Cornelius [the] centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” [23] Then he invited them in and lodged [them]. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him. [24] And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. [25] As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped [him]. [26] But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” [27] And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. [28] Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call anymancommon or unclean.

The common interpretation of this passage is that God is showing Peter that he can now eat anything he chooses. However, Peter himself could not figure out what this vision meant – it was obviously symbolic and not literal (verse 17). As he ponders this vision, the Holy Spirit tells him “three men seek you, go for I have sent them” (vss 19-20). Note how many times the vision was given to him, compared to how many men sought him (vss 16 and 19). Peter, in this same passage, will go on to explain the vision himself saying: “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company or come into one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Vs. 28). There are two things that are important about this passage. First, that Peter was obviously keeping the Law, even 10 years or so after Jesus’ death, saying, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Second, Peter states very clearly that the vision was given to show him that in Jesus, those commandments are superceded that separate the Jewish and Gentile believer (see Deut 7:3-11, Josh 23:11-13). No mention of unclean foods is made in his interpretation. Thirdly, and most importantly, salvation was now available to all men, Jew or Gentile, by faith, as verse 11:18 makes clear. In the Old Testament, Jews were commanded not to intermingle and marry Gentiles. Now, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, the Gentiles have been “grafted in” and are a part of the Jewish people (John 10, Eph 2, Romans 11:16-24). We are no more allowed to marry nonbelievers than the Jews were (2 Cor 6:14), but Gentile believers no longer have to be separated from the Jewish believers because Jesus has broken down the wall of separation (Eph 2:14). Peter goes on to explain this vision once again in chapter 11, and again we see that the vision is meant to tell the Jews not to separate themselves from the Gentile believers. The vision was a symbolic reference to the Gentiles, not a literal reference to eating pork, shellfish, etc. Note that when Peter explains this vision, he makes no reference to what can or can’t be eaten:

Acts 11:2-8 [2] And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, [3] saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” [4] But Peter explained [it] to them in order from the beginning, saying: [5] “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. [6] When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. [7] And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ [8] But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’  [9] But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ [10] Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. [11] At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. [12] Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. [13] And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, [14] who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ [15] And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. [16] Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ [17] If therefore God gave them the same gift as [He gave] us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

It’s extremely interesting to notice what Peter does not say here. The Jews were upset because Peter went in and fellowshipped with the Gentiles (11:2), which was against the Mosaic Law (see Deut 7:3-11, also Joshua 23:11-13). But notice that Peter does not say to these Jews: “oh, foolish Jews, don’t you know that the Law was done away with? We don’t need to worry about Deut 7:3-11 and Joshua 23:11-13, because the Law is no longer applicable to us as believers!” Isn’t it interesting to note that, if the Law wasn’t applicable to be livers, Paul missed a perfect opportunity to say so? But instead, he defends his actions by saying that God Himself has shown him that salvation has come also to the Gentiles and that the Holy Spirit has been given to them as a gift, just as to the Jews. The Gentile has been included in the Remnant Family of Israel (Romans 11:17, John 10:16, Eph 2:15-16, etc.) Acts 15:14-18 will tell us that this has been God’s plan from the beginning:

Acts 15:14-18: [14] Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. [15] And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: [16] ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; [17] So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ [18] “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

Again, it’s interesting to note how James chooses to answer this argument. Rather than tell us that the Law is no longer applicable, therefore Jews can fellowship with whomever they choose, James points to the law to verify this new union between Jews and Gentiles: “And to this agree the words of the profits, as it is written…” Using the Old Testament, he verifies that this new relationship between Jew and Gentile was foretold from the beginning. The Bible does not contradict itself. God does not “do away with” or change His laws without first making it clear, through scripture, that this is the will of God. “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

This understanding is what led my husband and I to search the New Testament for proof that the law truly was “done away with” at the cross.

We never found it.

Related Posts:

Our Take On Torah

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8 Responses to Peter’s Vision

  1. Jo says:

    In the first post in this series, you wrote that the law has no subcategories, and because all the law is moral, we should keep all the law. In this post, you admit to one subcategory: commandments meant to separate the Jewish and Gentile believers. The dietary laws, as you pointed out, are symbolic of the separation between Jew and Gentile. Therefore they ought to be considered part of that category. The very next verse in that Acts 15 passage says that the Gentile believers shouldn’t be “troubled” with following the law of Moses with the three exceptions of abstaining from things polluted by idols, sexual immorality, and uncooked meat. The Council of Jerusalem did not require Gentile believers to keep this category of laws.

    Circumcision is another practice that set the Jews apart from the Gentiles. We know from Paul’s discussion of Titus’s situation in Galatians 2:3 that circumcision is another part of the law that is no longer required.

    Certainly the law was not “done away with” at the cross of Christ. The moral law, which predates Moses, has always been in effect, and still is. The ceremonial law (the sacrificial system and the laws that separate Jews from Gentiles) has been superceded with Christ.

    • Rina says:

      Jo, Perhaps I have not been clear about what I was trying to say in this article. In no way did I mean to say or to imply that God “did away with” one of His Laws. Let me put it this way: Jews were not meant to be on intimate terms with Gentiles. They were not to intermarry (Deut 7:3), they were not to make covenants with Gentiles (Ex 23:32), they were not to allow Gentiles into the temple (Deut 23:3), etc. When Jesus died on the cross, however, the Gentiles became “grafted in” to Israel (Romans 11:19). This meant, for all intents and purposes, that Gentiles became spiritual Jews. It’s not so much that Jesus “did away” with the law separating Jews from Gentiles, but that Gentiles became a part of Israel. Gentiles are still commanded not to marry non-believers, and not to enter into covenants with non-believers, just as the Jews have always been. In fact, the New Testament tells us that we are not even to EAT with certain types of sinners (1 Cor 9:11). In essence, Peter’s Vision was meant to tell the Jews that “Salvation is also of the Gentiles.” It’s not that Jesus did away with the law, it’s that he changed US – the Gentile believers – and made us a part of Israel. We no longer have to be kept separate from Jews because we ARE Jews (spiritually speaking.) And again, God made this clear in His Word that He was going to do this with the Gentiles. I don’t see a place in the Word where God made it clear that believers would be allowed to come together during the time of Niddah, wear clothing of mixed materials, cease to tithe, etc., after Jesus’ death.

      As for practices that set the Jews apart from Gentiles, that you say are no longer required… how can you be certain which laws were written for the sole purpose of separating the Jew from the Gentile, if God never makes that distinction in the Word? Certainly one might say that the feast days (Passover, Tabernacles, etc.) and temple laws were meant to separate Jew from Gentile, yet how do we explain Paul encouraging the Gentile believers in Corinth to keep the Passover? How do we explain Zechariah 14:16,17 which tells us that Gentiles will celebrate the feast days? How do we explain Isaiah 66:18-21 which tells us that someday Gentiles will be appointed as priests and Levites?

      You wrote that the moral law is still in effect, but that the ceremonial law has been superseded with Christ. My question to you would be: what consists of “morality?” Most of us agree that the law against stealing would be considered a “moral” law, while most Christians today see keeping the Sabbath as a “ceremonial” law. Yet God’s penalty for stealing was returning what is taken along with other things. The penalty for not keeping the Sabbath is death. Which do you think God considers most important? Once again, I return to my previous question: Which of the commandments are applicable today? Which are not? How do we know the difference?

  2. Mrs. Parunak says:

    This is really interesting. I must admit that I don’t have a really consistent way of interpreting the OT. I’m curious, are you keeping the Law as you understand it from Scripture, or are you keeping according to traditional Jewish interpretation. In other words, would you consider the prohibition on boiling a kid in its mother’s milk to extend to things like using the same dishes for meat and dairy? Also, I’m gathering from other things you’ve said that you don’t eat kosher meat. How did you arrive at that decision?

    • Rina says:

      Mrs. P, we keep the Law as we understand it from Scripture, not the traditional Jewish interpretation (although we do incorporate some Jewish traditions during the feast days like Tabernacles and Passover, we don’t believe these are mandated.) So no, we don’t separate our meat and dairy dishes. As for eating kosher meat, are you asking if we’re vegetarian? To answer that, we don’t eat a lot of meat because of the antibiotics and hormones that are used, but we do eat it occasionally, more so when we can get deer meat or butcher our own chickens. Am I misunderstanding the question?

  3. Mrs. Parunak says:

    I guess I didn’t ask the question very well. I meant, do you eat meat that wasn’t killed in a kosher way? As in, do you just buy your meat at a regular grocery store, or do you get meat that’s been certified by a rabbi as not containing blood?

    • Rina says:

      Oh, I see… thanks for the clarification. 🙂 We try to buy kosher meat if we can, but we adopt the “dont ask, don’t tell” policy as per 1 Cor 10:25. 🙂

  4. Mandy says:

    See if this article can clear away the confusion:
    Not All Meats Are Food

    • Rina says:

      Thanks for the link, Mandy. I haven’t had a chance to read it all, yet, but I’ve skimmed over it and hope to read it in full soon.

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