Some people believe that certain New Testament scriptures remove all distinctions between clean and unclean meats. But what do these passages really say?
Most theologians assume that God’s laws regarding clean and unclean meats ended at Christ’s crucifixion. They suppose that the New Covenant removes the need for Christians to keep such laws. But is that what the Bible says?
The administrative change from the Levitical priesthood to the ministry of Jesus Christ did not void God’s expectations that His people obey His law of clean and unclean meats (or any other law) as part of their sanctification, or separation, as people of God (see Leviticus 11:44-47; 19:2; 20:7, 22-26; 21:8). Peter and Paul both speak of the continuing need for God’s people to be holy (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:14-16).
Some Bible scholars acknowledge that members of the early Church continued to observe the distinctions between clean and unclean meats. However, because of the common misconception that the New Covenant abolishes much of God’s law, many assume these food requirements were simply Jewish cultural practices that continued until the Church became more gentile in composition and outlook. Such preconceived ideas have influenced interpretations of many New Testament passages. In theological circles this is known as eisegesis, or reading one’s own ideas into Scripture.
Let’s examine the New Testament passages dealing with food. As we do that let’s practice exegesis— drawing meaning out of Scripture by seeking a thorough understanding of the background of a passage as we seek to apply it.
Peter’s vision: Did God cleanse all meats?
One often-misunderstood section of the Bible concerns Peter’s vision in which he “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 this sheet “were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.” Peter heard a voice tell him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:11-13).
Assuming the vision meant he should eat unclean animals, Peter spontaneously responded: “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (verse 14). The same vision came to Peter three times (verse 16).
At this point many readers, without finishing the account, assume they know the meaning of the vision—that God told Peter we are now free to eat any kind of animal flesh we desire. In context, however, these scriptures show that this is not at all what Peter understood. On the contrary, even after seeing the vision three times he still “wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant” (verse 17).
Later Peter realized the significance of the revelation. It was that “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (verse 28). Recognizing the real intent of the vision, Peter baptized the first gentiles (non-Israelites) God called into the Church who were not initially Jewish proselytes (verses 45-48).
This divine disclosure, we see from reading further in the account, did not concern food at all. Rather, it concerned people. Because the Jewish religious leaders at the time of Christ had erroneously considered gentiles to be unclean, this dramatic vision righted a common misconception that had come to affect Peter and other members of the Church. It demonstrated that God was beginning to offer salvation to members of any race. Gentiles whom God was calling were now welcomed into the Church.
Far from abolishing God’s instructions against eating unclean meats, these verses show that, about a decade after Christ’s death, Peter had “never eaten anything common or unclean.”
Peter obviously had not assumed that God had annulled His own food laws or that Christ’s death and resurrection rendered them obsolete. From Peter’s own words we see that he continued to faithfully follow those laws.
Nor do we find any evidence that he ate unclean meats after this experience. He obviously continued to obey God’s laws delineating meats that could and could not be eaten and saw no reason to change his practice. He realized that the puzzling vision could not be annulling God’s instructions, which is why he “thought about the vision” until he understood its meaning (verses 17-19, 28)—that gentiles could become members of the Church upon repentance and faith, too (verses 34-35, 45-48).
Food controversy in the Church
When reading through the New Testament, we do find references to a controversy in the early Church involving food. However, an examination of the Scriptures reveals the issue to be different from what many assume.
In 1 Corinthians 8 the apostle Paul discussed “the eating of things offered to idols” (verse 4). Why was this an issue?
“Meat was often sacrificed on pagan altars and dedicated to pagan gods in Paul’s day. Later this meat was offered for sale in the public meat markets. Some Christians wondered if it were morally right for Christians to eat such meat that had previously been sacrificed to pagan gods” ( Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1995, “Meat”).
It is interesting, though not conclusive, to note that in Acts 14:13, the only passage in which the type of animal sacrificed to idols is mentioned, it was oxen—clean animals—that were about to be offered.
This controversy was not over the kinds of meat that should be eaten. Obedient Jews of the day, in accordance with God’s instruction, did not consider unclean meat even to be a possible source of food. Instead, the controversy dealt with the conscience of each believer when it came to eating meat— clean meat—that may have been sacrificed to idols.
Paul explained that “an idol is nothing” (1 Corinthians 8:4), clarifying that it was not intrinsically harmful to eat meats that had been sacrificed to an idol. That an animal had been sacrificed to a pagan god had no bearing on whether the meat was suitable for food.
Paul continued: “However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse” (verses 7-8).
When a believer bought meat in the market or was invited to a meal at which meat was served, it was not necessary to determine whether anyone had offered it to an idol, said Paul (1 Corinthians 10:25-27). His concern was that the brethren be considerate of others who believed differently. He taught that in such cases it was better for them not to eat meat than to risk causing offence (1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:28).
The question of meat sacrificed to idols was a considerable controversy in New Testament times. It is the foundation of many of Paul’s discussions of Christian liberty and conscience. Unlike God’s law of clean and unclean animals, which was straightforwardly recorded in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures are not explicit about the matter of food offered to idols. But, in the first-century world of the New Testament, this issue varied in significance and importance to members according to their conscience and understanding.
The timing of Paul’s letters
The chronological relationship between Paul’s letters to the members in Corinth and his correspondence with those in Rome is another important piece of background information people often overlook.
Many believe Romans 14 supports the idea that Christians are free from all former restrictions regarding the meats they may eat. Verse 14, in which Paul wrote, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean,” is often cited as a proof text for this view.
This approach, however, fails to consider Paul’s perspective and the context of his letter to the Roman church. Many Bible resources agree that Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians around A.D. 55 and that he wrote his epistle to the Romans from Corinth in 56 or 57. As demonstrated above, the food controversy in Corinth was over meat sacrificed to idols. Since Paul was writing to the Romans from Corinth, where this had been a significant issue, the subject was fresh on Paul’s mind and is the logical, biblically supported basis for his comments in Romans 14.
Understanding Paul’s intent
Those who assume the subject of Romans 14 is a retraction of God’s law regarding clean and unclean animals must force this interpretation into the text because it has no biblical foundation. The historical basis for the discussion appears, from evidence in the chapter itself, to have been meat sacrificed to idols.
Verse 2 contrasts the one who “eats only vegetables” with the one who believes “he may eat all things”—meat as well as vegetables. Verse 6 discusses eating vs. not eating and is variously interpreted as referring to fasting (not eating or drinking), vegetarianism (consuming only vegetables) or eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Verse 21 shows that meat offered to idols was the dominant issue of this chapter: “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” Romans of the day commonly offered both meat and wine to idols, with portions of the offerings later sold in the marketplace.
The Life Application Bible comments on verse 2: “The ancient system of sacrifice was at the center of the religious, social, and domestic life of the Roman world. After a sacrifice was presented to a god in a pagan temple, only part of it was burned. The remainder was often sent to the market to be sold. Thus a Christian might easily—even unknowingly—buy such meat in the marketplace or eat it at the home of a friend.
“Should a Christian question the source of his meat? Some thought there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to idols because idols were worthless and phony. Others carefully checked the source of their meat or gave up meat altogether, in order to avoid a guilty conscience. The problem was especially acute for Christians who had once been idol worshipers. For them, such a strong reminder of their pagan days might weaken their newfound faith. Paul also deals with this problem in 1 Corinthians 8.”
What is the point of Paul’s instruction in Romans 14? Depending upon their consciences, early believers had several choices they could make while traveling or residing in their communities. If they did not want to eat meat that possibly had been sacrificed to idols, they could choose to fast or eat only vegetables to make sure they did not consume any meat of suspicious background that might offend their consciences. If their consciences were not bothered by eating meat that might have been sacrificed to idols, they could choose that option too. Within this context, said Paul, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (verse 5) because “whatever is not from faith is sin” (verse 23).
Romans 14 is, in part, a chapter on Christian liberty—acting according to one’s conscience within the framework of God’s laws as they pertained to meat sacrificed to idols. Understood in its context, Romans 14 does not convey permission to eat pork or any other unclean meat. When one understands that the food controversy of the New Testament era dealt with meat sacrificed to idols and not which meats were clean, other scriptures become clear.
Debate over ceremonial cleansing
Another often-misunderstood passage is Mark 7:18-19. Here Jesus said, “Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” The subject here—made obvious from verses 2-5—was unwashed hands, not which meats could be eaten. The purification of food referred to the way the body’s digestive process eliminates minor impurities such as those that might be present from eating with unwashed hands.
The Pharisees, like Jesus and His disciples, ate only meat the Scriptures specified as clean. They objected, however, when Jesus and His disciples did not go through the Pharisees’ customary ritual of meticulously washing their hands before eating.
Jesus, whose hands were sufficiently clean for eating, even if not clean enough to meet the Pharisees’ humanly devised standards—explained that the human body was designed to handle any small particles of dust or dirt that might enter it due to handling food with hands that hadn’t been ritually washed. He further suggested that, if the Pharisees were serious about wanting to obey God, they needed to revise their priorities. Cleansing one’s thoughts, He said, is eminently more spiritually important than washing one’s hands (verses 20-23).
The New International Version of the Bible renders the latter part of verse 19 this way: “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’).” The New American Standard Bible similarly offers: “(Thus He declared all foods clean.)” These translations stand in stark contrast to the King James and New King James versions, which indicate that the bodily digestive process purifies food as opposed to Jesus making a pronouncement reversing God’s laws on which meats to eat. Which interpretation is correct?
The King James and New King James renditions best fit the context, which concerns eating with ceremonially unwashed hands rather than deciding which kind of flesh is suitable to be eaten. They also best fit the New Testament culture wherein Jews and Christians ate only clean meats.
Notice that in both the NIV and NASB the latter part of verse 19 is in parentheses, as though Mark is explaining Christ’s words. This is obviously an interpretation of the original wording of Mark’s Gospel. In the original Greek the words “In saying this, Jesus declared” (NIV) and “Thus He declared” (NASB) are not present; translators have added them to explain what they think Mark intended, thereby placing their own preconceived and mistaken interpretations on Jesus’ words.
Putting together all the scriptures on the subject helps us properly understand the biblical perspective. When we see from passages such as Acts 10, discussed earlier, that Peter states he had eaten no unclean meat about a decade after Christ’s death, it becomes obvious that the apostles did not believe He had abolished the commands against eating unclean meats. Such a view simply cannot be sustained in the light of plain scriptures to the contrary.
No New Testament passages describe Christians eating meats that had been considered unclean; such a view is glaringly absent in the Bible. On the contrary, we find many scriptures in which the apostle Paul vigorously and repeatedly upholds adherence to God’s laws (Acts 24:14; 25:8; Romans 3:31; 7:12, 22), as did James, the half brother of Christ (James 2:8-12; 4:11), and John (1 John 3:4). Violating God’s laws regarding clean and unclean meat would have been unthinkable to them.
Colossian controversy clarified
When Paul wrote that Christians should “let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16), some assume the believers he was addressing were eating pork and other meats previously considered unclean. Again, the Bible nowhere supports this assumption.
In reality, the issue of clean and unclean meats is nowhere addressed in this passage. Paul doesn’t discuss which foods the Colossians were consuming; the Greek word brosis, translated “food,” refers not to food itself but rather to “the act of eating” ( Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, p. 245, emphasis added).
Some other translations make this clear. The Twentieth Century New Testament, for example, translates this as “Do not, then, allow anyone to take you to task on questions of eating and drinking …”
Although many assume that Paul’s criticism is directed at teachers who advocated Old Testament practices (such as following the law and practicing circumcision), no biblical evidence supports this view. However, we should recognize that perversions of proper biblical practice abounded at the time, both in Judaism and the emerging early Church. As The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia explains: “There is more than Judaism in this false teaching. Its teachers look to intermediary spirits, angels whom they worship; and insist on a very strict asceticism” (1939 edition, “Epistle to the Colossians”).
The false teaching Paul condemned contained many elements of asceticism—avoidance of anything enjoyable—which was intended to make its followers more spiritual. Notice his instructions to the Colossians: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—’Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).
From this we see the ascetic nature of the error Paul was combating. The false teachers’ deluded attempt to attain greater spirituality included “neglect of the body” (verse 23). Paul characterized their misguided rules as “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” (verse 21). Their efforts created only a “false humility” (verse 23) and were destined to fail because they were based on “the commandments and doctrines of men” (verse 22) rather than God’s instruction.
Paul admonished the church at Colosse not to listen to the ascetics. Rather than abrogating God’s laws concerning unclean meats—which some people incorrectly read into this passage—Paul is instructing the Colossian members not to concern themselves with ascetic teachers who criticized the manner in which the Colossians enjoyed God’s festivals and Sabbaths in pleasant fellowship with eating and drinking.
Such enjoyment, although condemned by these false teachers, is perfectly acceptable to God. (For further understanding, please request the two free booklets God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind and Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest .)
In this section of Colossians Paul encourages the Church to hold fast to its teachings and proper understanding; it is not a treatise on which foods to eat or on which days to worship God. We must be careful not to read preconceived notions into these or any other scriptures.
Misunderstood instructions to Timothy
Still another part of Paul’s writings that is often misunderstood is Timothy 4:3-5, where he speaks of false teachers “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
What was the motivation of these false teachers? Did Paul warn Timothy against teachers who would advocate keeping the biblical laws concerning clean and unclean meats? Or was something else at work?
We know Paul told Timothy that God inspired the Old Testament Scriptures to be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), so the notion isn’t credible that Paul would caution Timothy against adhering to instructions found in those same Scriptures.
On the other hand, Paul’s words show us the real problem: These teachers were demanding that people follow commands not found in the Bible. They were “forbidding to marry,” yet marriage is encouraged, not discouraged, in the Scriptures. They were also “commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
The Life Application Bible helps us understand the background of the problem Paul addressed here: “The danger that Timothy faced in Ephesus seems to have come from certain people in the church who were following some Greek philosophers who taught that the body was evil and that only the soul mattered. The false teachers refused to believe that the God of creation was good, because his very contact with the physical world would have soiled him…[They] gave stringent rules (such as forbidding people to marry or to eat certain foods). This made them appear self-disciplined and righteous.”
Paul discusses the true source of these heretical teachings in 1 Timothy 4:1: Rather than being founded in the Bible, these teachings originated with “deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Thus we see that the problem in 1 Timothy 4 was perverted worldly asceticism, not obedience to God’s laws that define clean and unclean meats.
Paul’s assumption was that “those who believe and know the truth” (verse 3) would be familiar with the scriptures that identify which meats were specifically “sanctified [set apart] by the word of God” (verse 5) for our enjoyment. He encouraged Timothy to remind them to let the Scriptures be their guide instead of these ascetic teachers.
As in the situation Paul discussed in his letter to the Colossians, the problem he addressed with Timothy was asceticism, not adherence to God’s dietary laws.
A broader view of history
As we have seen, no scriptural evidence exists that indicates that members of the early Church ever changed their practice of following God’s instructions regarding clean and unclean meats. Instead, we see the unambiguous words of one of the apostles showing that, about a decade after Christ’s death and resurrection, he had “never eaten anything common or unclean.”
Does the Bible give us any other indication regarding when and for how long these laws were to remain in effect? Let’s set the present aside and move forward in the history of humanity to the coming time of Christ’s return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God. A sharply defined picture of His will for the future provides additional understanding to help guide us in the present.
The book of Revelation, in describing the end-time events leading up to the return of Christ, uses the expression “a haunt for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2). If clean and unclean designations no longer exist, why did Jesus inspire this picture for John? God is consistent and unchanging (James 1:17; Malachi 3:6; 4:4; Hebrews 13:8;Matthew 5:17-19). Animals He categorized as unclean thousands of years ago remain unclean in the future. Revelation 18:2 may figuratively refer to demons — called “unclean spirits” in the New Testament. Even so, such a metaphor would not make sense if there were not still a distinction between actual clean and unclean birds. Note also that unclean spirits are compared to frogs in Revelation 16:13. Again, only when we understand that frogs are still unclean does this comparison follow.
Another passage that refers to the time of Jesus’ return to earth presents this picture: “For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots,…the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. ‘Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed together,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 66:15-17). Here we see that, at Christ’s return, eating unclean things is condemned and those who do so will be punished.
The biblical position is clear. Distinctions between clean and unclean meats existed long before the New Testament was written; they were followed by the leaders and other members of the early Church; and they will still apply at the time of Christ’s return in the future, when He will enforce them. Therefore they are clearly to be observed today as well by members of the modern Church, which “keeps the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
Even though first-century Christians struggled with their consciences over meat sacrificed to idols, the Bible indicates that they lived in harmony with God’s instruction regarding clean and unclean meats. Shouldn’t we also live in harmony with those laws?
God designed and gave His laws for our benefit. As the apostle Paul wrote, the “benefits of religion are without limit, since it holds out promise not only for this life but also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8, Revised English Bible).
Which Animals Does the Bible Designate as ‘Clean’ and ‘Unclean’?
God reveals which animals—including fish and birds—are suitable and unsuitable for human consumption in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.
Although the lists aren’t exhaustive, He reveals guidelines for recognizing animals that are acceptable for food.
God states that cud-chewing animals with split hooves can be eaten (Leviticus 11:3; Deuteronomy 14:6
These specifically include the cattle, sheep, goat, deer and gazelle families (Deuteronomy 14:4-5).
He also lists such animals as camels, rabbits and pigs as being unclean, or unfit to eat (Leviticus 11:4-8).
He later lists such “creeping things” as moles, mice and lizards as unfit to eat (verses 29-31), as well as four-footed animals with paws (cats, dogs, bears, lions, tigers, etc.) as unclean (verse 27).
He tells us that salt and freshwater fish with fins and scales may be eaten (verses 9-12), but water creatures without those characteristics (catfish, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, squid, octopi, etc.) should not be eaten.
God also lists birds and other flying creatures that are unclean for consumption (verses 13-19). He identifies carrion eaters and birds of prey as unclean, plus ostriches, storks, herons and bats.
Birds such as chickens, turkeys and pheasants are not on the unclean list and therefore can be eaten. Insects, with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, are listed as unclean (verses 20-23).
Why does God identify some animals as suitable for human consumption and others as unsuitable? God didn’t give laws to arbitrarily assert control over people. He gave His laws (including those of which meats are clean or unclean) “that it might be well” with those who seek to obey Him (Deuteronomy 5:29).
Although God did not reveal the specific reasons some animals may be eaten and others must be avoided, we can make generalized conclusions based on the animals included in the two categories.
In listing the animals that should not be eaten, God forbids the consumption of scavengers and carrion eaters, which devour other animals for their food.
Animals such as pigs, bears, vultures and raptors can eat (and thrive) on decaying flesh. Predatory animals such as wolves, lions, leopards and cheetahs most often prey on the weakest (and at times the diseased) in animal herds.
When it comes to sea creatures, bottom dwellers such as lobsters and crabs scavenge for dead animals on the sea floor. Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels similarly consume decaying organic matter that sinks to the sea floor, including sewage.
A common denominator of many of the animals God designates as unclean is that they routinely eat flesh that would sicken or kill human beings. When we eat such animals we partake of a food chain that includes things harmful to people.
As nutritionist David Meinz observes: “Could it be that God, in His wisdom, created certain creatures whose sole purpose is to clean up after the others? Their entire ‘calling’ may be to act exclusively as the sanitation workers of our ecology. God may simply be telling us that it’s better for us believers not to consume the meat of these trash collectors” (Eating by the Book, 1999, p. 225).
Clean and Unclean Animals
The following list, based on Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, identifies many of the animals God designates as clean and unclean. The list uses their common names.
|Mammals That Chew the Cud and Part the Hoof
Cattle (beef, veal)
Sheep (lamb, mutton)
|Fish With Fins and Scales Anchovy Barracuda
Black pomfret (monchong)
Herring (or alewife)
Mackerel (or corbia)
Mahimahi (or dorado, dolphin fish [not to be confused with the mammal dolphin])
|Minnow Mullet Perch (or bream)
Pike (or pickerel or jack)
Pollack (or pollock or Boston bluefish)
Sardine (or pilchard)
Silver hake (or whiting)
Smelt (or frost fish or ice fish)
Snapper (or ebu, jobfish, lehi, onaga, opakapaka or uku)
Trout (or weakfish)
Tuna (or ahi, aku, albacore, bonito
Turbot (except European turbot)
|Birds With Clean Characteristics Chicken Dove
Sparrow (other songbirds)
Types of locusts that may include crickets and grasshoppers
* In the King James Version, Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:16 list “swan” among unclean birds. However, this seems to be a mistranslation. The original word apparently refers to a kind of owl and is so translated in most modern Bible versions.
|Animals With Unclean Characteristics
Swine Boar Peccary Pig (hog, bacon, ham, lard, pork, most sausage and pepperoni)
Llama (alpaca, vicuña)
All insects except some in the locust family
Marine Animals Without Fins and Scales
Sturgeon (includes most caviar)
Crayfish (crawfish, crawdad)
Birds of Prey, Scavengers and Others
For a reliable list of clean and unclean fish: http://www.kashrut.com/articles/fish/
Co-Host: Next let’s talk with Marlene from Yakima, WA. Good evening, Marlene.
Caller: Good evening.
Pastor Doug: Hi. And your question?
Caller: My question is from Acts 10 where Peter has the vision of the sheet and he saw all these animals and a voice told him to ‘get up, Peter, kill and eat’. And Peter is saying that he had never eaten anything impure or unclean. But yet, God comes back and said ‘Don’t call anything impure that God has made clean’. Now is he talking about actually killing these animals in here? Or is he talking about preparing him to go to the Gentiles?
Pastor Doug: Well, I think that you’re onto it there. Some people try to use this passage to say this is where God said that we can eat anything.
Pastor Doug: Anyone who does that is not reading the whole story or they’re really twisting scriptures because the Bible is so clear. First of all, the vision happens three times. This vision takes place sometime about 36 or 34 AD. Peter says now 34 AD is 3 ½ hears after Christ died, Peter says “I have never eaten anything common or unclean”.
You mean, Jesus never condoned it during His earthly ministry? Obviously, Peter never heard Jesus do it, and three times the sheet comes down and three times this voice says ‘Arise, kill, and eat’, and three times Peter says ‘Not so, I’ve never eaten anything common or unclean’, and he never takes anything from the sheet.
Now the sheet goes back up to heaven and Peter is wondering what this vision means. He knows it does not mean to go against the clear command not to eat these abominable animals in the Bible. And so he’s wondering what it means, and Gentile men come walking up right while he’s praying for an interpretation, and they say ‘we want you to come and preach to a Gentile’.
And Peter goes to the Apostles later and he explains the vision himself and so let’s let Peter define it. Peter says, “God has shown me not to call any man’— m-a-n, not p-i-g-, not clam, not vulture, he says ‘God has shown me not to call any man common or unclean. So Peter went and preached to Cornelius and they were baptized, and then the gospel began to go to the Gentiles. That was the reason for the vision. It had nothing to do with our digestion. It had to do with our attitude toward other groups that we think are unclean people.
Caller: That’s my theory, too. But why does He tell—why is He telling Peter to kill and eat? What does this represent?
Pastor Doug: Well, keep in mind, when Jesus called His disciples, He tells them ‘I’ve called you to be fishers of men’. One of the last things that happened in the life of Christ, the disciples gave Him fish to eat. That’s a symbol that they were satisfying the Lord by bringing souls to Him. Jesus, when He won a Samaritan woman, He brought her to the Lord—you know, the woman at the well? The disciples brought Him food. He said ‘I’ve got food you don’t know about’. What was that food?
That food was to win souls. It had nothing to do with killing physical animals. It had to do with bringing people to Jesus. And so the whole theory or the whole theme in this passage and all through the scriptures, food, for God, is a symbol of bringing Him souls.
Caller: So ‘kill and eat’ is to…?
Pastor Doug: Yeah, it means to conquer for Christ.
Caller: Conquer for Christ?
Pastor Doug: Yeah, to bring souls to Him. Matter of fact, another example of this, Marlene, would be the last miracle of Christ. He asked the disciples, in the Gospel of John, ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ and they said ‘We fished all night, Lord, and we didn’t catch anything’, and He said, ‘Cast the net toward me’. They cast the net toward Him, filled the net, and brought it to Jesus, and they ate together. And He told them, ‘I want to make you fishers of men’. That is the purpose for the vision. Good question, Marlene.
Caller: Okay. Thank you very much.
Pastor Doug: You’re welcome.