As I was reading today, I came across a Bible passage that is often misunderstood. We often use this passage to say something that it was never intended to teach. As I thought about it, I realized that there are many passages that this applies to. So, I am beginning a series that will explore some of those oft-misunderstood and misquoted passages. Today’s post will be about Acts 10:9-16. The passage reads:
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16, ESV)
I cannot tell you how many times I have either heard or read someone use this passage as proof that the Old Testament dietary laws no longer apply to the Christian. It is argued that God tells Peter in this passage that all food is now to be considered “clean.” Well, I agree that Christians do not need to adhere to the Old Testament food laws, but the proof does not come from this passage (For a proof about what is lawful to eat, look at Mark 7:14-23).
In fact, this passage really has nothing to do with food at all. Peter’s vision is to teach him that the message of Christ is not for Jews only, but also for Gentiles (all non-Jews). The Jewish thought of the time was that Gentiles were unclean and had nothing to do with the things of God. This vision was to correct Peter’s thinking and prepare him to spread the Good News to all nations indiscriminately. When you read the rest of chapter 10 and into chapter 11, this message is obvious. The emphasis comes out very plainly in Acts 10:28 where Peter, speaking to his Gentile visitors, says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” God showed him this in the vision of Acts 10:9-16.
When Peter reports to the church leaders in chapter 11 and they ask him why he has been preaching to the Gentiles, he tells them of his vision and the fact that God has declared that all people are to be considered clean (or worthy) of the gospel (read Acts 11:1-18). It is not a message only for Jews. It is for all people because they are all clean in God’s eyes.
So, this passage has nothing to do with food, but with people. As Christians, we are to proclaim the Good News to all because God has told us that no person is to be considered common or unclean.
Have you ever heard this passage used incorrectly? Are there any other passages that you know of that are commonly taken out of context? Do you think that this passage has anything to say concerning racial prejudices held by some Christians (look at Acts 10:28 again)?
If you would like to look at the passages discussed in this post, you can go to Biblegateway.com .