Thursday, March 30, 2017

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Does Acts 10:11 overturn kosher laws?

Acts 10:10-11: In this passage, Peter is about to be sent by God to visit Cornelius, who is a Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) believer in God. Prior to their encounter, Peter has a vision where a sheet comes down from heaven. The sheet is filled with animals, and we can guess it contained clean and unclean animals because not all four-footed animals were unclean).

After an exchange between a voice, presumably God, and Peter, we arrive at the conclusion of the vision “What God has made clean, you must not call common (Acts 10:15).” But what on earth did this mean?

First we note that Peter was “deeply perplexed” about the meaning of the vision (Acts 10:17). Thus it was not obvious to him why he was asked to kill and eat these animals.

Soon thereafter, envoys sent by Cornelius arrive. Peter talks to them and he invites them to stay overnight before they set out the next day. Peter knows these men were sent by God (Acts 11:20). But it is likely that these men were not Jewish. Luke doesn’t tell us for sure, but it seems the most likely answer.

Peter travels to Caesarea to meet Cornelius. We then learn what the meaning of the vision is, as Peter understands it, in the initial exchange between Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10:28):

Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner. But God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean.

Peter seems to think that the vision was not per se a commentary on the definition of dietary laws. Rather, the primary meaning was that the Jew (i.e., him) must not consider the Gentile (i.e., Cornelius) to be unclean. Note that Peter was speaking to a crowd (Acts 10:27), presumably of Gentiles.

Peter preaches a bit of a sermon and then a most amazing thing happens to confirm what God was teaching him. The Gentile believers receive the Ruach HaKodesh (Acts 10:44-45). The circumcised (i.e., Jewish) believers were “astounded” and soon thereafter the Gentile believers in Yeshua are welcomed into the family of God through the waters of the mikveh (i.e. baptism).

The messages could not be clearer: God was accepting the Gentile in the same way he accepted the Jew. Messiah died for the Jews and he died for the Gentiles. “Everyone” who believes in his name, Peter tells us, can receives forgiveness for sins (Acts 10:43).

But what about the kosher laws; surely this vision applies to the making clean of all foods? Well, this vision may also imply that, but Luke doesn’t give us the impression that it does. The main point, and likely the only one, is that the unclean cannot contaminate the clean because God makes a person clean. The atonement of Yeshua covers them all.

But what about the kosher laws? There is no reason to assume Acts 10 addresses this, but once we have Gentiles and Jews worshiping together it is going to have to be worked out. This happens later in Acts 15. But if you want to know why keeping kosher is not an issue of righteousness, Acts 10:11 not the passage to use. You should read instead Romans 14 and 15 to see that Paul does not think keeping kosher is an issue of holiness; it is a liberty in Messiah kind of thing. This, however, is not to say that keeping kosher is unimportant. But Paul’s take, at the very least for Gentiles, is that kosher is not central to the gospel because God makes us kosher.

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