Q&A: Peter's Vision

by Aaron

Years ago, a friend of ours told us he believed that Christians misinterpret Peter’s sheet vision in Acts 10 to mean that we can literally eat all kinds of animals previously considered unclean. Peter’s vision is later explained (as you've pointed out in recent sermons) to mean that no person (i.e. Gentiles) is excluded from God's message/kingdom. My friend's point is that this is the only meaning of the vision, that we read too far into it by taking it to mean that we can literally eat any animal.

Have you considered this stance? What are your thoughts?

(Even further, what do you think of the idea that we were created vegetarian, if not vegan, based on the available food in the Garden of Eden?)

 

I hope I don’t sound too harsh, but your friend is a legalist. Legalists will look for any reason to ADD laws where there aren’t any laws.
 
Let me start at the beginning. (Or, in the beginning, if you will…)
 
In the garden, we were probably vegetarians…but remember the garden was called “good” and not perfect. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with being a vegetarian; we just can’t use the Garden of Eden as the standard to say this is how everyone should live. Everything changes once Noah exits the ark in Genesis 9:3. God says to him, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” He does go into prescriptions about blood and such after this, but here we get the idea that we get steak (praise the Lord!).
 
When Jesus comes, He does follow dietary laws because He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). He couldn’t do that by ignoring it (haha). Jesus was showing us the true intent of the law…it was made for man’s benefit. The law was meant to lead us to Jesus and His grace as we realize living up to it is unobtainable. This is why Jesus fulfilled the law for us.
 
When you get to Peter and his vision, you see God moving his church toward understanding the greater call of mission. Dietary laws were part of the civil law (as was not wearing blended fabrics or cutting your sideburns). These laws limited the interactions that God’s people had with their surrounding neighbors, because they couldn’t eat the same things; they essentially hindered mission. One of the reasons God showed Peter the vision in Acts 10 was so Peter would understand that he COULD now eat with Gentiles.  It was about witness, and that witness included food.
 
A few years later, Peter actually forgot this and Paul confronts him in Galatians 2:11-14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?

The circumcision party said what your friend did. “You can’t eat that; God’s vision for you wasn’t REALLY about food.” They tried to make everyone start to follow dietary laws again. Paul goes on to say, Galatians 2:15-16 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
 
Think about this…because we talked about this during Acts as well, is the prescription for circumcision still valid if the dietary laws are? That is part of the civil law as well. Why not tell everyone they have to be circumcised? Paul goes on in Galatians 5:2-12 and essentially says if the Law and circumcision is so great, why not cut off your whole penis? Then you will be REALLY spiritual! (Paul is being sarcastic). Paul then says these amazing words in Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedomGal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
 
I have no problem if someone wants to eat a certain way; they have that freedom. However, the second they say others have to eat a certain way (or be circumcised, or wear certain clothes, or cut their hair a certain way), they have left the realm of freedom and entered slavery. They have cut themselves off from those God has called us to minister and serve. The point of the freedom God gives is that we can worship God in any context we find ourselves in…serving others is worship, and we cannot serve others if we feel like we are better than them.