In an ongoing effort to investigate Armstrong's keeping of the clean and unclean meats laws, I would like to go over the Sheet Vision of Acts 10.
Not that anyone knows for certain, but some put the calling of Cornelius around 40AD. Peter was staying at the house of one Simon, a tanner, when God caused a centurion named Cornelius to send three of his servants (all of whom were Gentiles) to meet Peter.
9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill [Strong's 2380 burn for ritual sacrifice] and eat." 14"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure [2839 ceremonially or morally unclean, common, polluted] or unclean [169 ceremonially or morally lewd or demonic]." 15The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure [2840 ceremonially or morally unclean, common, polluted] that God has made clean [2511 make clean, purge, purify]." 16This happened three times [one for each man coming to him], and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. 17While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate.
I want to draw your attention to the word “kill” in verse 13. It is not just kill, but to burn in sacrifice; yet again, food laws are associated with sacrificial laws. From the days of Adam, animals were separated for sacrifice. Now, God says to Peter “sacrifice even what was once the unclean.” To a Jew, this must have been utterly impossible to accept. To those who feel the foods laws are still in place, think of how it makes you feel now, and then multiply that by a billion.
“Peter had God’s Spirit, and certainly was as much an apostle as any man,” Armstrong argued, “shouldn’t he have been taught by Jesus that the food laws were no longer valid, if that were the case?”
The answer is obvious: at the time of Jesus’ life the Gentiles were not called, but this vision shows that by Jesus’ death and life God had changed the paradigm.
The Worldwide Church of God taught that this took place 10 years after Jesus’ death. I’ve heard numbers as high as 20 years and as low as 3 years. This was most likely from 7-9 years after the death of Jesus.
Should we use this very same logic, the “Peter didn’t know x years later” argument, then we must conclude that physical circumcision is still in force since he didn’t know about that, and Gentiles are not called since he obviously didn’t know about that either, as well as Talmud laws are still in force since he and several others continued to regarded those even 20 years past this point. Peter didn’t understand those things at this time. This logic cannot selectively apply to one area (meats) and not the others (Gentiles, circumcision, Talmud, marriage laws).
Is it any wonder Peter didn’t understand all things? Clearly he didn’t see Jesus’ meaning in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. When Jesus taught them He would be killed, and then it came to pass, what did Peter do? He went back to fishing (JOHN 21: 3). Peter is one of the men who asked the resurrected Jesus on the day He was taken up, (ACTS 1: 6) “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel”. Jesus simply did not teach everything the Apostles would need to know while He was alive, nor did they grasp it all. This is clear in His statement in John 14: 25-26 “25 These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” Clearly, God was at this time teaching Peter something he did not previously receive (JOHN 16: 12-13).
That lesson, I regret to add, Peter was not always straightforward in following even 20 years after the death of Jesus as we read in Galatians 2: 11-14. He was eating with the Gentiles, in a manner that he knew the Jewish converts would not approve of. But he regarded their opinion more than he regarded the calling of the Gentiles.
(GAL. 2: 11-14) “11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”
We can see even further that Peter had no understanding at the time of Acts 10 about Gentile cleansing by the first words out of his mouth to Cornelius in Acts 10: 28, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.”
ONLY this vision gave Peter any inkling of any removal of the rules against associating with Gentiles, so therefore it most certainly did change things. It was not something Jesus taught them before this day. Certainly it is clear that no one else at that time understood either, because the first thing the people said to Peter when he returned to Jerusalem to tell about his experience was “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (ACTS 11: 3). Those who were zealous for the law were offended and accusing him of sin and betraying not only the food laws of Moses but the circumcision laws of Abraham.
It is clear that Jesus openly and plainly taught no one about the calling of the Gentiles, yet the Gentiles are called. The argument that “Peter wasn’t taught meats are cleansed by Jesus, therefore meats are not cleansed” is completely invalidated. People who make this claim often haven’t the foggiest idea what a great many and very strict rules there were in Judaism to separate them from the Gentiles, both in the Torah and in the Talmud. It wasn’t just food by any means, but food and rules against intermarriage were the main separators. The symbolism of the unclean animals includes separation. The animals were separated from them as unclean (LEV. 20: 25).
According to Worldwide’s own theology, “God instituted His law of clean and unclean to show the difference between His people and the nations around them.”
Absolutely correct! This is how some of the Jews understand it as well. However, we now know there is no substantive difference in God’s eyes any longer.
(GAL. 3: 28) “28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
All of these separations were wiped away – including the intermarriage between Jew and Gentile (especially between Christ and His Church). If the separators weren’t removed, the Apostles, being Jews, couldn’t go to the Gentiles effectively. If they weren’t wiped away, what Paul corrected Peter for in Galatians would have been normal behavior. Remember, Peter was the original Apostle to the Gentiles (ACTS 15: 7). Is it any wonder Paul took over that spot (GAL. 2: 8)?
Until that time, all who preached the gospel went to the Jews only:
(ACTS 11: 19) “19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.”
Of course that’s what they did. The gospel was to the Jew first, then the Gentile (ROM. 1: 16). But at that time they simply didn’t understand. Peter said to God, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Peter never went into a Gentile’s house until that time either. Yet he was about to. And he was about to eat with them. Peter ate with uncircumcised men!
Now, let me inform you of a little known fact about the clean/unclean meats laws as practiced – it was (and still very much is in some circles) considered an offense for anyone who is neither Jewish nor seeking to become a proselyte to Judaism to keep the food laws. Many Jews consider that a sign between them and God only. All Gentiles are discouraged from even attempting to keep the food laws. There are 613 laws in the Torah, given by Moses, called mitzvahs, which are binding on the Jews. However, there are only 7 laws binding on the Gentiles, called the 7 Noachide laws. The food laws were not among them. So, Peter ate with men who were not keeping the food laws! Now, in all honesty and candor no one can claim to know what Peter ate. But the opposite is also true – no one can claim to know what he didn’t eat. Best chances are however, in a Gentile house that until a few hours beforehand he felt was forbidden for him to enter, he ate something unclean.
“But Peter’s reaction to the vision clearly showed that the Gentiles are now called,” one would argue, “it doesn’t clearly show meats are cleansed”. Yes, Gentiles, the reality to the shadow, are cleansed. And no it does not clearly show this. That is correct. But one must take the evidence as a whole. This is only one specific area of the Bible. We cannot prove nor disprove the entire meats argument here - this is supporting evidence only.
Take circumcision for example - the other great physical sign given to physical Israel; commanded from the days of Abraham himself. The first people Peter reported his experience to complained that he ate with uncircumcised men. Later we learn that circumcision of the flesh was done away with – however we have no direct command from God showing Paul this was so. The evidence must be taken as a whole.
So this argument then becomes completely undone. Gentile separation and circumcision are shown as being done away with, yet not all in one place. Even so, nothing separates Jew from Gentile now in God’s eyes. But we are to believe the unclean meats laws are still in effect? This makes no sense!
What did Peter see? Gentiles? No, he saw unclean beasts of all sorts. What did God ask him to do? Go to the Gentiles? No, God asked him to sacrifice and eat. How much more clear can you get than that?? Is God a liar? Does God tempt us to sin? What did Peter say to three direct commands from God? “No.” And we side with Peter against God, as if God didn’t know what He was talking about but Peter did, as if God were asking Peter to sin? “God never rebuked Peter,” Worldwide says. As if saying no to God and getting away with it makes it alright. However God most certainly did get after Peter.
(ACTS 10: 15) “15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’”
Yet some still insist “God was not talking about meats.” If the vision wasn’t about meats, why did Peter respond about what he put in his mouth? I conclude God most certainly was talking about meats – if the vision wasn’t enough to convince people, then He was talking about meats by associating them with Gentiles.
Some quote Acts 10: 28 “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” Then they say, “See? Peter concluded that he should call no MAN common or unclean.” And so God did instruct Peter as such. What God has cleansed we should not call common. Obviously God’s point in the vision was primarily about men. The disconnect is some people claim it is only about men, which makes little sense given the weight of other Bible verses touching this subject. They forget Peter was a Jew and believed the meats laws didn’t apply to Cornelius anyhow. Why mention them, then?
If the meats had nothing to do with the equation, why did God use them in the vision? Why not use some other symbol, for example seas or perhaps Gentiles? But if meats represented Gentiles here, why not let the Bible interpret the Bible and see that meats represent Gentiles, and most likely have represented the Gentiles since the day God instructed Moses concerning them. It was the food laws that worked the front line on the separation of the Jew from the Gentile. Now that separation is abolished by a miracle of God. Why then the continued need for the separator? Also think about this, if the meats are a shadow of the Gentiles, and the Gentiles (the reality) are cleansed, then how can one reason the meats (the shadow cast by the reality) are not cleansed? Can a fountain give fresh water and impure water? Can a cleansed reality cast an unclean shadow? Not possible!
Look at Peter’s reaction to the vision – he wondered about its meaning. The Worldwide Church of God asks, “If the meaning of the vision was so simple as to cleanse all foods, why did Peter wonder about the meaning?” Two things:
First, this wasn’t so simple as foods; that statement is misleading. It was a sea change in God’s direction unheard of for 1,400+ years. Things are being changed here that went back before the law and the prophets all the way to Abraham. While Jesus was alive as a man, He challenged the Talmud openly. Now He is challenging the Old Covenant and the calling of the Jews only.
Second, any man would wonder. The proven fact that Peter did not understand up until this point makes that his obvious natural human reaction. Most certainly he marveled at what God was doing. We can imagine what went through his mind. “Could it be so? Is God really doing this? It was against all the law – what else does this change?”
And what was his conclusion? Peter did not previously understand the New Covenant, or the gospel, or even God’s love. Now he does – just that much more.
(ACTS 10: 34-35) "34Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."
He knew the Jews were no longer separated.
“The vision was of God, but the vision was symbolic,” they argue. You find me one vision that isn’t symbolic! Much of the book of Revelation is symbolic. Of course it was symbolic! But that doesn’t give us license to undo what God was doing. What a weak argument this is.