Peter's vision and the supposed cleanliness of all animals
The first thing we must take into account when we read this passage is that this vision is happening about eleven years after Peter met Jesus for the first time. For three and a half years Jesus had been teaching the disciples the correct doctrines. Then, for about eight years, thanks to the Holy Spirit, the apostles reaffirmed what they had learned from Jesus; they practiced it, and taught others these doctrines. It would be illogical, and even absurd, to think that eleven years after having started his learning journey at the feet of Jesus, that the apostles did not know which were the correct doctrines.
Well, having set this precedent, let's take a good look at Peter's mental structure. Let's see what he believed about eating pork, crab, etc.. When God's voice tells him in verse 13, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat, Peter replied, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. Peter didn't respond by saying something like, Yes, Lord, I will do it immediately, because you taught me when you preached that after your resurrection we could eat anything. He didn't say either, Yes, Lord, I'll eat anything because after you left, the Holy Spirit revealed to us that we can now eat the animals that you commanded not to eat before.
If Peter did not respond like that it was because the apostles had not received any teaching or revelation telling them that everything was good to eat. If, in Peter's mental structure would have been the knowledge, or the idea, that these animals could now be eaten, he would have never dared to respond to the Lord that these animals could not be eaten, he simply would have risen to obey Jesus' order. The fact that Peter objected is proof that he never learned from Jesus, or from the Holy Spirit or from the other apostles that the forbidden animals could now be eaten. It is not logical to think that now, eleven years later, they were going to be taught that "now" they could eat all the animals.
Therefore we cannot deny that up until the moment of that vision, Peter had not learned that the animals that God had forbidden could now be eaten. Let's see now if that vision was given so that Christians could change their clean diet for a filthy one, where they could eat spiders, flies, worms, lizards, shrimp, pork, blood sausage, human flesh, etc..
Many feel that this Peter's vision was given to indicate to Christians that they could now eat any animal. There is reason to mis-interpret it like that, and I personally did for a while when I first started reading the Bible. However, once we analyze this case we fix the error. This vision was not given so that the Christian can eat everything, but so that the Jews would abandon their traditional scruples, in the sense that they did not mingle with Gentiles. Scripture indicates or implies in many passages that the Jews considered abominable to mix with Gentiles, as we can see in Acts 10:28. That was not one of God's commandments, but a custom that they had adopted, one of their Pharisaic traditions.
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Act 10:28)
In order to change that attitude toward the Gentiles within the disciples, the Lord gives Peter that vision. Let's analyze it. From the moment the chapter starts telling the episode at Cornelius' (an episode that ends with the introduction of the Gentiles to the Gospel) the vision is linked to Peter and the coming of Cornelius' messengers; therefore, it is not a vision aimed at changing the Christians' diet, but aimed at the same issue, that of mingling with Gentiles. Thus we see how the author links, in verse 9, the coming of the messengers to the city, to Peter's trip to the roof to pray. We already saw in verse 28 how it specifically says that the purpose of the vision was to help the Jews see that they could mingle with the Gentiles, which really was never forbidden, those were only customs and traditions.
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him: Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said: What is it, Lord? And he said unto him: Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter; 6 he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side; he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. 7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; 8 and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. 9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour (Act 10:1-9)
Once Peter's vision started, we see in verse 12, that the vessel-sheet had all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles and birds. If we were to think that this vision was to allow Christians to eat everything, we would have to admit that nothing was established, that nothing was modernized in reference to aquatic animals, since these are not on the vessel-sheet. If we would accept that this vision was to change the diet, we would have to ask: a) if we can't eat any aquatic animal, since they were not mentioned in the vision; b) if the prohibition is still valid for these; or c) if, even when they are not mentioned in the vision, would we include them with the ones allowed, just because.
All this makes me think that, if the vision had been given with the purpose of modifying the Christian's diet, it would have included fish and seafood; they would not have been passed over. Nevertheless, if the animals shown there were only a symbol for the Gentiles, then we can perfectly understand the absence of the aquatics, for they were not needed for the general symbolism.
10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten, but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11 and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the Earth, 12 wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the Earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said: Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time: What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16 This was done thrice; and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (Act 10:10-16)
When we get to verse 17 we see again these two things linked: the vision and the coming of the Gentiles messengers, just as it was in verse nine. Nowhere in these chapters is the vision's interpretation and the change of diet linked, except in the course of the vision itself, when Peter is told to kill and eat.
We see in verse 17 that the vision, far from provoking in Peter the assurance that it was only a change of diet for Christians, it provokes doubt; he did not believe that the given significance, the diet change, would be true, because if so, he had no reason to doubt. It is then that the Gentiles knock on his door, and as to dissipate the doubts the apostle had about the meaning of the vision, if it was about a diet change or about mixing with Gentiles, the Holy Spirit orders him to go with the Gentiles without doubt. We see again that the vision is once again linked to the visit of Cornelius' Gentile messengers.
In verses 19-20 Peter's doubt surfaces once again about the meaning of the vision, and then it is again wiped away by the divine order to go with the Gentiles. Evidently the vision had nothing to do with a diet change, but with a change in the traditional attitude towards the Gentiles that the Jews had.
17 Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, 18 and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. 19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him: Behold, three men seek thee. 20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them. 21 Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius, and said: Behold, I am he whom ye seek; what is the cause wherefore ye are come? (Act 10:17-21)
If we follow the reading up to verse 28 we will see how the only interpretation that the apostle gives about his vision is that God had shown him that no man (he says nothing about animals) should be called common or unclean. In other words, that all men were equal in God's eyes. If there had been additional interpretations they would have been indicated, but no, the only interpretation that Peter mentions is that in reference to Gentiles. What refers to animals and diet is not mentioned anywhere. So, the common and unclean that is mentioned in the vision in verse 15, did not refer to animals but to people; that is the case of the Gentiles.
27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. 28 And he said unto them: Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for, I ask therefore, for what intent ye have sent for me? (Act 10:27-29)
It is not logical to think that Jesus' sacrifice had been adjudicated to animals too. Jesus' sacrifice was not to take away the uncleanness of the human body (who, at the end, die) but to clean the filthiness of their souls. How then, can we think that that same sacrifice would be to clean the filthiness of an animal's body? This is clearer if we remember what Paul said in I Co 9:9-10 in the sense that God does not care about the oxen. How then, can we think that Jesus' sacrifice would free animals from their filthiness, as if it were due to the sins of the animal?
If Jesus' sacrifice freed animals from their filthiness, it would mean that it was a spiritual issue, which is absurd, and therefore, unacceptable. Then, what was the change that happened in the forbidden animals, which now can be eaten when they could not be eaten before? None. Are we going to believe that animals were cleansed from their sins? And the clean animals that continue to be clean, does it mean that they had no sin before? Do you realize the degree of absurdity that we would reach if we believed that the animals were cleansed by Jesus' sacrifice?
It is not sensible to think that Jesus' sacrifice, besides the salvation of our souls, had been good to take away from the spiders, roaches, rats, eels, worms, pigs, crabs, etc., the reason that made God forbid them for his servants since the beginning of time. Remember that even in the times of Noah, long before the ceremonial laws were established by Moses, animals were already classified as clean and unclean, as we see in Gen 7:2 and 8, and in 7:20. If unclean animals were considered forbidden before the ceremonial law, we can't even think that that prohibition was part of the ceremonial law, and therefore consider it obsolete together with the rest of the ceremonial law.
Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female; and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. (Gn 7:2)
Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the Earth (Gn 7:8)
And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar (Gn 8:20)
And if really we would think that any change happened to the animals after the sacrifice of our Lord, we would have to think that the same universal cleanliness happened to vegetables, which is inadmissible, since we know there are some poisonous ones.
If we continue reading to verses 34 and 35 we will see proof in them of the concept of equality of all races and nationalities, a concept that came only out of that vision. There had not been another source for such information, and there is no other meaning mentioned for that vision. In other words, we can honestly say that, at least as explained by Peter, there is no other meaning for the vision except to warn the Jews that they could set aside their traditional scruples of not mingling with the Gentiles. Remember, there is not a single verse in the whole Bible about not mingling with the Gentiles.
34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said: Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, 35 but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Act 10:34-35)
As a colophon, verses 44 and 45 tell how the Holy Spirit, making good on his word to Peter, was poured out on the Gentiles. The chapter is closed without any of the interpretations made about this vision show us that it referred to the cleanliness of animals.
It is true that if we take it literally and not pay attention to the interpretations of Peter and the rest, it does talk about eating all animals, but if we take it as such, then it does not say we can eat seafood, and it doesn't talk about the equality of the races. Besides, the authorized interpretation of the vision by the Holy Spirit and by Peter already says that it refers to people and not animals.
At the end of chapter 10 of Acts, if we read chapter 11 we see the same tendency, (Acts 11:1-19) at no time no one interprets this revelation as meaning that the animals in it could now be eaten; it was all always about the admission of the Gentiles.
11:2-3 we see that Christians in
1 And the apostles
and brethren that were in
We must remember here that Jesus told his disciples in Mt 10:6 to preach first to the Jews; maybe that's why now they have to be alerted of preaching now also the Gentiles.
Someone may object or ask why, if there is a message that is being given in regards to human beings, are animals used as symbols, and not people. That, I cannot explain, but it is evident that animals were used to symbolize things concerning people, since they were used to say that Jews can now interact with Gentiles.
But this is not an isolated case in Scripture. In Joseph's vision that he interpreted for Pharaoh's servants, the grapes represented the wine steward, and the baskets represented days. In the one he interpreted for Pharaoh, the cows meant time, and in the one in Daniel 8:19-20 the lamb and the goat represented persons.
In summary, the vision in Acts 10 meant that the Jews could be with Gentiles; it had nothing to do with a change in the believers' diet.