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Act’s 10 – Peter’s Dream – Can we now eat whatever we want?

Peter’s dream in Acts 10 is used more than any other passage of scripture to argue that Christians are no longer expected by God to follow the dietary laws in Leviticus 11. Many believe this to be a proof text for the abolishment of many laws in the Torah. It is my goal here to give scholarly evidence as to why this text’s true meaning is not to abolish the dietary laws.

The Passage

“The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”
(Acts 10:9-16 ESV)

A closer look into this passage shows us that this vision was not about food at all. It is first worth noting that Peter utterly defies God when he is told to rise, kill, and eat. Why did Peter, who was speaking first-hand to God, refuse such a seemingly-simple command? It is because Peter thought that his unchanging God (Malachi 3:6) was changing his own sacred Word. Peter honestly probably assumed that this vision was not from God being that it seemingly completely transgressed his own character. The very next verse, as recorded by Luke, proves that Peter completely missed the meaning of the vision.

Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there.”
(Acts 10:17-18 ESV)

It is also worth noting that God had to give Peter the vision three times. If God were truly telling Peter that he can now go eat cockroaches or rats, God would not have repeated the vision two more times, because that’s exactly what Peter thought God meant! Peter believed that God was telling him that he can now eat whatever, which is evident by his “no, Lord” response, so God decides to give him the vision twice more in hopes that Peter correctly understands.

During the vision, after Peter refuses to accept that God is throwing away chapters of his own Word, God tells Peter that he is not to call anything common that God has already made clean. God has clearly called creatures like pigs, shellfish, rats, and vultures unclean (Leviticus 11); not that they are evil, but that they are just dirty animals that are purposed to be natural garbage disposals, not food! Did the death of Jesus somehow radically make those animals clean? Jesus died to redeem sinners, not to make a pig a clean animal. After all, Jesus himself affirms that validity of the Torah in his ministry (Matthew 5:17-19), and God has declared pigs specifically as being unclean in the kingdom following Judgment Day (Isaiah 66:17), so why would there be this random period between the death of Jesus and his second coming where all of these creatures are now clean? If you interpret this dream the way Peter did three times, you have these issues which you must recognize in your Bible. I would like to show you, using the same chapter in Scripture, that this passage is about something much deeper than what we can and cannot eat.

“And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.””
(Acts 10:24-29 ESV)

Peter, a first-century Jewish man, who had been raised his entire life under the teachings and traditions of the Pharisees and Sadducees, believed Gentiles to be “unclean” people and that Jews were to never associate with them. This is not a teaching of God, and it absolutely does not appear in the Word of God. On the contrary, God has always associated and recognized Gentiles as his people just as much as native-born Israelites (Numbers 15:15-16; Isaiah 56:3-7). Peter, however, had been taught his whole life by the wicked men of his time that certain people were subhuman and that God could never redeem them. And believe it or not, it took until this vision for Peter to understand that he was believing a lie; and the saddest part of this is that this vision is given to Peter approximately 10 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God used a vision that he knew would grab Peter’s attention to teach him something Peter had been shut off to for so many years, even after Jesus died and rose again. But why was this necessary? This was necessary because God’s plan was for Peter to reach a man named Cornelius – a Gentile. Immediately after receiving this vision, Peter was met by Cornelius’s men on his behalf. Peter agreed to go meet Cornelius after realizing the true meaning behind the vision. Once Peter reached Cornelius, he had this to say:

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.””
(Acts 10:34-43 ESV)

So the next time someone tries to argue with you that Acts 10 is God’s way of telling Peter that we can disregard his laws and eat whatever we want, show them that God instead used this vision to help a fisherman blinded by his own tradition reach millions.

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