The Acts

Everything has been made Lawful to Eat by Inspiration

The second of the arguments, which Christians corresponding with Muslims have used to back up their claim, is that Acts 10 makes what was previously forbidden to eat now lawful. The chapter relates a dream inspired in the chief apostle Peter, who was the co-leader of hawáriyyún, or disciples. Hawáriyyún is the name given in the Quran to the followers of Jesus present with him while he was manifest on earth, expounding his mission.

The verses most quoted in support of their argument are just five: Verses 11-15.

And he saw the heaven being opened and a certain vessel like a great sheet coming down on him, bound by four corners, and being let down onto the earth by them. Therein were all the kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, and the wild beasts, and the creeping things, and the birds of the heaven. And a voice came to him, saying, ‘Rise, Kill, slay and eat!’

But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord, because I have never eaten anything common [koinon] or unclean [akatharton].’

And again a voice came to him a second time, saying, ‘What things God made clean [ekatharisen], do not call common [koinou].’ [Acts 10:11-15]

When he was told to kill and eat the creeping, crawling and flying wild creatures,

“Peter responded the way any good Torah -observant Jew of the 1st century would have. He refused, saying that he had NEVER eaten anything “common” (koinon) or “unclean” (akatharton).That statement by itself is interesting, considering that it had probably been at least ten years since the resurrection of Messiah at that time. Clearly, Peter did not take Yeshua‘s words recorded in Mark 7 (examined above) to mean that any animal could legally be eaten. Why did Peter differentiate between “common” (“defiled“) and “unclean” in his reply? The Greek word Akatharton specifically refers to those animals prohibited from being eaten in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, as an examination of the Greek  Septuagint translation of the Old Testament clearly shows. But “common” referred to a different group of animals altogether. Only clean animals designated as food sources in the Torah could become “common” or “defiled” in such a way that they became inedible. Peter was saying here that he had never eaten any “unclean” animals or any clean animals that had been “defiled” ceremonially. The angel’s answer to Peter is interesting; it conclusively shows that food is not the subject of this vision at all. The angel told Peter not to call “common” that which God had cleansed (ekatharisen). There is no mention of the “unclean” here at all by the angel.” [Huie, B. in Here a Little, There a Little, Are All Foods Clean?]

This was done three times . And the object was taken up into heaven again.[Acts 10:16]

Hitherto, despite the martyrdom of Stephen, Peter, like all the disciples, had seen his mission as being only to the Jews, just as Jesus’ injunction had ordered. This is clear from a verse in the next chapter, demonstrating the resistance he had to overcome to change its orientation.

Indeed, they who were scattered by the oppression taking place over Stephen passed through to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the Word to no one except only to Jews.  [Acts 10:16]

This vision changed that orientation and converted Peter to Paul’s camp, and eventually persuaded him, unlike James, the brother of Jesus, that his services were needed to guide the new Christians living among the Romans.

Does it make sense, therefore, to interpret it literally? Is it true that every kind of living animal thing that walks on four legs, such as a lion or cheetah or wild dog, or monitor lizard, could now be eaten by Christians? Is it true that any creature that stoops from the air is edible; a bat, for instance, or falcon or vulture, perhaps? That any creeping thing is allowed as your repast, such as roaches, rats and cobras, or wild beasts such as killer whales, sharks and crocodiles? Does it make sense? Would you actually utilize such a license?

If you would not, are you not being ungrateful? Remember the lesson that Jesus taught in John 8 concerning the manna from heaven that the Jews got bored with. The context of the story from Numbers 11 was the lust of the Children of Israel, who craved alimentary variety, saying:

‘Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt for naught; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all save this manna to look upon.’ [Acts 11:19]

What happened when they rejected God’s bounty? In the same chapter, God furiously condemns the rejection of manna as their source  of sustenance because, in wishing for tasty meat, they complained they had been better off in Egypt – from whence they had been delivered: He told them,

‘You shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you; because of the fact that you have rejected The Lord, who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, “Why came we forth out of Egypt?”’ [Numbers 11:18]

However, God is merciful in this world as well as the next, and he toned down the manner of granting them what they wished. So God told Moses to:

Say unto the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow, and you shall eat flesh; for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, “Who shall give us flesh to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt”. Therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and you shall eat.’ [Numbers 11:19-20]

That, however, did not prevent the Just punishment from befalling them once their base desires had been satiated. When it was over, the people were decimated by a plague, and Moses

called that place Kibroth Hatta’awah because they buried there the people that had lusted. [Numbers 11:34]

So, if you don’t eat all those nasty carnivores, scavengers and creepy crawlies that He has permitted, does it not mean you are in danger of a similar vengeance being brought down on you because you do not?

Of course it doesn’t. Most of them may actually be bad for you and your digestion. Because this is not a literal license to eat what you may. It is a symbolic dream, which Peter understood all too well, that draws a parallel between the “untouchable, impure Gentile”, and the “untouchable, impure food”referred to, each type of animal representing the different and varied tribes of people the world over. One is clearly forbidden, but the other (the Gentile) is not. And Peter understood the dream that way.

Incidentally, it is significant, here, that Peter recognized all the animals presented to him as being impure to eat. This means that the concept of certain types of food being impure continued to be part of the disciples mindset, indicating that their teacher, Jesus, had not taught them any differently.

The verses are actually in the context of a visit he was about to receive from the servants of a Gentile, the first Gentile Peter was to minister to. Peter had been in Lydda, but was called to Joppa because a certain lady disciple, Tabitha, well known for her good works and charity, had died. He stayed with a certain Simon, a tanner, in Joppa, and whilst he was there, came to her house and raised her up alive again. For this his fame spread far and wide.

A certain Roman, Cornelius, who was also a believer and generous alms giver, received a visit from an angel who told him;

‘Cornelius! Your prayers and your alms went up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and call for Simon who is surnamed Peter. This one is lodged with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.’ And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa. [Acts 10:4-8]

The next day, when the three men Cornelius sent were

passing along on the road, and drawing near to the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and wished to taste food. But as they were preparing it, an ecstasy fell on him. [Acts 10:9-10]

Whereupon (while he was still on the roof) the vision, mentioned earlier, occurred. Peter’s reaction to the vision was to doubt

within himself what the vision which he saw might be, [Acts 10:17]

and just

as Peter pondered concerning the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. But rising up, go down and go with them, not discriminating, because I have sent them’. [Acts 10:19]

In verse 3 and 7 of Acts 10, the messenger identified as telling Cornelius to send his men to find Peter was an angel, but the messenger who says to  Peter ‘I have sent (the men at your gate)’ is called the Spirit. This identifies, yet again, The Spirit with an angel of God, just as the Quran does. In fact, The Spirit [Al Ruh], or Holy Spirit [Al Ruh Al Quddus] in the Quran is identified specifically with the function of Angel Gabriel, who brings revelation to and supports the apostles of God.

Coming back to the story-line in Acts 10 and 11, when Peter arrives at the Centurion’s house, he says

‘You know how unlawful it is for a man, a Jew, to unite with or to come near to one of another race. Yet God showed to me not to call a man common or unclean. Therefore, I also came without complaint, being summoned.’ [Acts 10:28-29]

So Cornelius told him about the visit he had received from the angel, and said

‘At once I sent to you, and you did well to come. Now then, we are all present before God to hear all the things having been commanded you by God.’

And opening his mouth, Peter said, ‘Truly I see that God is not a respecter of faces, but in every nation the one fearing Him and working righteousness is acceptable to Him.’ [Acts 10:33-35]

The Jews that had come with him, and there were a lot who had accompanied him, were amazed at this change in policy, witnessing

the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the nations also. For they heard them speaking in languages and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid the water that these not be baptized, who the Holy Spirit received, even as we also?’  [Acts 10:45-47]

When Peter recounted these events to the other disciples in Joppa in Acts 11, he reported that

‘the Spirit said to me to go with them, not discriminating.’  [Acts 11:12] 

And after they had heard the whole story, their reaction was to keep silent and (then) to

glorify God, saying, ‘Then God also has granted to the nations [i.e. Gentiles] repentance unto life.’ [Acts 11:18]

It should be stressed, here, that being a gentile does not, and never has, cut people off from God’s mercy and guidance. Mere custom had solidified the division, conceived of and made law by the scholars and rabbis among the Jews, between the Children of Israel and the other descendants of Abraham.  The Judaism itself admits that non-Jews live under a law not covenanted with them and their descendents but with their predecessors, which they identify as the Noachide,or seven universal laws of Noah [The Jewish Virtual Library]. These laws are the basic foundation upon which both the line of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, David and Jesus and the line of Isma’il, Saleh, Shu’ayb, Ayoub, Younus and Mohammad built their respective divine legal systems, which are, of course, very similar to one another because neither God nor the His underlying Law changes.

In fact one of the many misconceptions concerning the gentiles is that they were foreign to His covenant because they were not Jews, descendants of Jacob. However, this is an error. The Jews were helped against the gentiles in the wars of God because the gentiles had lapsed, had become idolaters, not because they were foreign. Jews that rebelled, or became idolaters, were just as subject to God’s wrath as were the non-Jews, and non-Jews had their own prophets come to them, as can be seen even in the Bible with the prophet-hood of Ishmael, Jethro, Balam, Job and Jonah and the prophet-hood of Isma’il [Ishmael], Shu’ayb, Saleh, Ayoub [Job], Younus [Jonah] and Hud in the Quran.

This is evident in the covenant of circumcision which Abraham made with God so that he would bless the descendants of his son, Ishmael in the land between the Euphrates and the Nile, and also his future son Isaac in the land of Canaan. [Genesis 17]

After hearing Peter and glorifying God,

some men from them, Cypriots and Cyrenians, who had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, announcing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believing, they turned to the Lord. … And a considerable crowd was added to the Lord.

And Barnabas went out to Tarsus to seek Saul. And finding him, he brought him to Antioch. And it happened that many of them were gathered to them in the assembly a whole year. And they taught a considerable crowd. And the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. [Acts 10:9-10, Acts 11:20-21 & 24-26]

Conclusion

So, as we have seen, the vision of Peter was not about food, even though he was hungry when the vision came to him (which may have been the reason he received the parable comparing nations to forbidden [animals for] food made legal for slaughter), but about breaking down the barriers of discrimination between Jewish Christians and the Christian followers growing among the Gentiles.

For the Jews, even the Messianic Jews, they had considered non-Jews to be common and defiled, but God was showing Peter that they were also people who had been called into His family of worshippers.

No longer could the messianic Jews justify not keeping company with or going to a Gentile (a tenet of the oral law, not the written Torah). Instead, God showed Peter (and through him the rest of the messianic Jews) that he must accept these people as part of His chosen nation Israel. Peter was told by the angel in Acts 10:15 that what God had cleansed (ekatharisen) he was not to call “defiled.”

 A review of the usage of the Greek root word katharizo (“cleanse”) in the Gospels illustrates the point God was making more fully. This word and its variants are used several times to describe the cleansing of leprosy by Yeshua and his disciples (Matt. 8:2-3; 10:8;11:5; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 4:27; 5:12-13; 7:22; 17:12-19). Just as Yeshua  physically cleansed many lepers of their disease, God was showing Peter that He was spiritually cleansing the Gentiles of their impurities (Acts 15:9; Eph. 5:26; Titus 2:14;Heb. 9:14, 22-23; I John 1:7-9)…” [Huie, B. in Here a Little, There a Little, Are All Foods Clean?]

through the advent of the Messiah’s first coming.

Nowhere in the three chapters that give us the context of the dream does it even suggest that the literal interpretation (eating forbidden food) should be applied. In fact, it isn’t until much later that the subject of what is lawful to eat for the Gentiles is mentioned, when James, the brother of Jesus ordered a letter to be written and taken by the proselytising apostles wherever they preached, saying,

hold back from sacrifices to idols, and blood, and that strangled, and from fornication; from which continually keeping yourselves, you will do well. [Acts 15:29]

because

in every city from ancient generations Moses has those proclaiming him, having been read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. [ Acts 15:21]

Although the letter does not conclusively deny that previously forbidden species of animals may now be eaten, it certainly confirms that certain methods of slaughter makes the eating of them unlawful, and cites the authority of Moses as the source of these prohibitions. The natural conclusion, therefore, is that none of the animals mentioned in Peter’s dreams are actually permissible to eat, and his vision does not entail the relaxing of the prohibition from eating pork and pork derivatives.

Read on in The Gospels

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