After my last post on the subject of the Torah and its applicability for today, a few people had some questions about Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-28. Today, I’ll expound on this passage of scripture and give my interpretation of it. Once again, I want to be clear that it is not my intention to sway anyone to my own beliefs. I write this as an informative article for those who have asked, not as a persuasive one. If you have not read it already, please Read This before you proceed. Thank you.
Acts 10:9-28:  The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.  Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance  and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth.  In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.  And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”  And a voice [spoke] to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”  This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.  Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.  And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.  While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you.  Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”  Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius,* and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”  And they said, “Cornelius [the] centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.”  Then he invited them in and lodged [them]. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.  And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends.  As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped [him].  But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.”  And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together.  Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call anymancommon or unclean.
The common interpretation of this passage is that God is showing Peter that he can now eat anything he chooses. However, Peter himself could not figure out what this vision meant – it was obviously symbolic and not literal (verse 17). As he ponders this vision, the Holy Spirit tells him “three men seek you, go for I have sent them” (vss 19-20). Note how many times the vision was given to him, compared to how many men sought him (vss 16 and 19). Peter, in this same passage, will go on to explain the vision himself saying: “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company or come into one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Vs. 28). There are two things that are important about this passage. First, that Peter was obviously keeping the Law, even 10 years or so after Jesus’ death, saying, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Second, Peter states very clearly that the vision was given to show him that in Jesus, those commandments are superceded that separate the Jewish and Gentile believer (see Deut 7:3-11, Josh 23:11-13). No mention of unclean foods is made in his interpretation. Thirdly, and most importantly, salvation was now available to all men, Jew or Gentile, by faith, as verse 11:18 makes clear. In the Old Testament, Jews were commanded not to intermingle and marry Gentiles. Now, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, the Gentiles have been “grafted in” and are a part of the Jewish people (John 10, Eph 2, Romans 11:16-24). We are no more allowed to marry nonbelievers than the Jews were (2 Cor 6:14), but Gentile believers no longer have to be separated from the Jewish believers because Jesus has broken down the wall of separation (Eph 2:14). Peter goes on to explain this vision once again in chapter 11, and again we see that the vision is meant to tell the Jews not to separate themselves from the Gentile believers. The vision was a symbolic reference to the Gentiles, not a literal reference to eating pork, shellfish, etc. Note that when Peter explains this vision, he makes no reference to what can or can’t be eaten:
Acts 11:2-8  And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him,  saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”  But Peter explained [it] to them in order from the beginning, saying:  “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me.  When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.  And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’  But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’  But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’  Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.  At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea.  Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.  And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter,  who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’  And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as [He gave] us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
It’s extremely interesting to notice what Peter does not say here. The Jews were upset because Peter went in and fellowshipped with the Gentiles (11:2), which was against the Mosaic Law (see Deut 7:3-11, also Joshua 23:11-13). But notice that Peter does not say to these Jews: “oh, foolish Jews, don’t you know that the Law was done away with? We don’t need to worry about Deut 7:3-11 and Joshua 23:11-13, because the Law is no longer applicable to us as believers!” Isn’t it interesting to note that, if the Law wasn’t applicable to be livers, Paul missed a perfect opportunity to say so? But instead, he defends his actions by saying that God Himself has shown him that salvation has come also to the Gentiles and that the Holy Spirit has been given to them as a gift, just as to the Jews. The Gentile has been included in the Remnant Family of Israel (Romans 11:17, John 10:16, Eph 2:15-16, etc.) Acts 15:14-18 will tell us that this has been God’s plan from the beginning:
Acts 15:14-18:  Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.  And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:  ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up;  So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’  “Known to God from eternity are all His works.
Again, it’s interesting to note how James chooses to answer this argument. Rather than tell us that the Law is no longer applicable, therefore Jews can fellowship with whomever they choose, James points to the law to verify this new union between Jews and Gentiles: “And to this agree the words of the profits, as it is written…” Using the Old Testament, he verifies that this new relationship between Jew and Gentile was foretold from the beginning. The Bible does not contradict itself. God does not “do away with” or change His laws without first making it clear, through scripture, that this is the will of God. “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
This understanding is what led my husband and I to search the New Testament for proof that the law truly was “done away with” at the cross.
We never found it.