I love living in between two worlds (Judaism and Christianity, in case you didn’t know what I meant). It means sometimes having to submit to questions about my identity (Why Jesus? Why Judaism?).
One scenario which plays itself out repeatedly is the following: 1. I speak in an evangelical church, 2. I go out to lunch with some of the people, 3. the absence of pork in my diet is noted, and 4. someone brings up Acts 10 and wonders why I don’t realize that the dietary laws of the Torah are now obsolete.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not complaining. I enjoy the opportunity to challenge the status-quo from time to time. I also don’t mind saying the same things over and over again. After all, one of the messages I deliver in churches I have given about 600 times! I’m used to repeating myself.
So it is not as though I expect this article to be my last word on the subject. I won’t print it in a brochure and hand it to the next person who asks me about dietary law. But I do hope it will answer the questions for many who have them. Acts 10 is simply not what many people think it is. There is a fantasy version and the real version of Acts 10.
Let’s start with the fantasy version: Peter was enjoying a Hebrew National kosher beef frank one day and talking with all his Jewish friends. Suddenly the Spirit came over Peter and he saw a vision. Cascading down from the Israeli sky was a giant silk sheet of white. Peter was drawn to look more closely. Inside the sheet there were many fancy platters, like a buffet table at a Hilton Hotel. On the platters there were scrambled eggs and waffles and hashbrown potatoes. But what really drew his attention were platters with honey-cured ham, crisp Hormel bacon, a suckling pig with an apple in its mouth, lobster, shrimp cocktail, and oysters on the half shell. Peter had secretly fantasized about eating such fare. With great joy he heard God say, “Peter, eat.” It was God. It was God telling Peter that Leviticus 11 was being repealed by heaven. Peter’s Jewish heart was kvelling. At long last he was freed from the burden that had weighed on him for decades. He could be just like everybody else.
It’s a nice fantasy. It’s what people want to believe. It makes for a nice theology (we’re all the same now). People frequently tell me, “There is now neither Jew nor Greek.” They love Galatians 3:28. They neglect the next part: neither male nor female. Sometimes I ask in order to introduce reality, “By your logic, then, I assume you have no problem with same-sex marriage?”
Let’s talk about the reality: Peter’s vision had nothing to do with eating. Peter didn’t eat anything and God wasn’t actually talking about food at all. God did not say, “I am repealing my Torah.”
Check Acts 10. Read the text carefully. See if what I am about to say is true. Peter saw a great sheet coming down from heaven and inside it were . . . animals of all kinds (not a breakfast buffet). The text specifies that this included birds and reptiles. Yes, sparrows, crows, pigeons, turtles, coral snakes, geckos, and many animals were inside — hardly a tasty vision.
When God told Peter to kill and eat anything he liked from the vision, Peter refused. Why? Because, contrary to many readings of the apostles, they were Jews and remained Jews and kept the Torah. Then God makes his point, “What I have made clean, do not call common.”
What does he mean? Is God making pork clean? How about geckos (eat up if you like)? No, God is talking about something else. This is that. We call it symbolism. What do the unclean animals in the vision symbolize? Gentiles. How do we know that? That is the context of the whole story. It is about Peter taking the good news of Messiah to Cornelius and his family, Gentiles who attend synagogue and want to know about Yeshua. Later, Peter relates the vision and says the vision taught him something. It did not teach him to break the Torah and renounce his Jewish identity. It taught him that men of all nations are acceptable to God.
Now understand this: God is not really doing something new. Check the prophets and psalms. God always accepted Gentiles. It is simply that Peter and others did not understand this. They thought Yeshua was just for Jews and converts. God is not repealing anything. He always wanted Gentiles to draw near (check Numbers 15:14-15). The anti-Gentile sentiment of Judaism was from the Second Temple period and was not from God. God never commanded a “Court of the Gentiles,” for instance, but allowed Gentiles to draw near. Peter simply needed education, not a reversal of the Torah.
So, the next time you are tempted to use Acts 10 as your rationale for saying the law is obsolete, remember Peter didn’t see honey-cured ham. He saw geckos and coral snakes. There was nothing new in the vision — just education for an apostle blinded by the Judaism of his day.