The proof that the food laws of the Old Testament have been done away with, is found in the tenth chapter of Acts. At least, that's what the vast majority of Christianity believes. But is this truly the case? We are going to examine this issue today and I just ask that my readers have an open mind, set all assumptions aside for the moment, and go with me on this journey.
Acts 10:1-8 (KJV)
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
Chapter 10 begins by introducing a man by the name of Cornelius. He was a centurion in the Roman army and lived in Caesarea. According to verse 2 he was a God-fearer that gave alms to the people and prayed to God. A God-fearer was an individual that followed the God of the Jews, but had not gone through ritual conversion. Since ritual conversion for men included circumcision, many more women actually converted than men. I can understand this! It also makes mention that all his household apparently were of like mind.
At the ninth hour of the day (3:00 p.m.) Cornelius had a vision. Why was the time mentioned? At the ninth hour of the day all the Jews were engaged in prayer. This speaks of Cornelius' devotion to Judaism. In the vision an angel appeared to Cornelius. God had noted Cornelius's prayers and alms. The angel then gave Cornelius some instructions. He was to send to Joppa for Simon Peter, who was lodging with Simon the tanner at the sea side. Peter would give him further instructions.
When the angel left, Cornelius sent two servants and a soldier to Joppa.
Acts 10:9-16 (KJV)
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Meanwhile, as the party neared the city of Joppa, Peter had gone up onto the housetop to pray. Again, the time is mentioned. It was the sixth hour (noon). Not surprisingly, he became very hungry, but apparently, the food was not quite ready. He fell into a trance and saw a vision. Heaven opened up and a sheet like vessel descended down to him. In the sheet were all kinds of animals. A voice told Peter to "Rise, kill, and eat." But Peter's response was a refusal. He went on to say that he had never eaten anything that was common or unclean. Peter was basically saying that he had always followed the food laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The voice spoke a second time telling Peter that what God had cleansed, Peter was not to call common. The voice commanded again and then the vessel went back into heaven.
Acts 10:17-23 (KJV)
Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate,
And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.
Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
According to verse 17 Peter was confused about what the vision meant. As he was thinking this, the men from Caesarea arrived. They asked for Peter. Again in verse 19 Peter was still thinking about the vision, but the Spirit told him that three men were at the door seeking him. Peter was to go with the men doubting nothing, because God had sent them.
Peter went down to the men and asked what they wanted. They explained and then Peter brought the men into the house and lodged them. (Whoa! Wasn't it considered unlawful for Peter to do this?) On the next day Peter actually went with the men back to Caesarea with some of the brethren from Joppa. (Whoa, again! Even though Peter had been instructed by God to go with these men, wasn't that unlawful?)
According to the written Word of God there is no law that prevented Peter from lodging the Gentile men or from traveling with them. It was only in Jewish tradition where this was found as an unacceptable practice.
Acts 10:24-29 (KJV)
And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
Back in Caesarea Cornelius had gathered his kinsmen and close friends together to wait for Peter's arrival. When Peter entered, Cornelius fell down and worshiped him. Peter wouldn't allow this. He mentioned the fact that it was unlawful (but only according to Jewish tradition) for Peter, a Jew, to come into the house of a Gentile. He clearly stated that God had told him not to call any man common or unclean. So Peter had traveled with the men and he then asked what Cornelius had wanted.
This is the first time that Peter stated his understanding of the vision. It is about not calling any man common or unclean. Three Gentile men stood at the door. God gave Peter the vision that allowed Peter to change his thinking so that he would go with the men. This is the beginning of the Jews understanding that the Gospel message was not exclusively for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. If Peter had not had the vision he would never have gone to see Cornelius. God had to intervene to make it happen.
Verses 30-33 explain Cornelius' experience and how he came to invite Peter to his house. Everyone gathered wanted to hear Peter speak.
Acts 10:34-35 (KJV)
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
As Peter began to speak he again stated the meaning of the vision. God is no respecter of persons. He accepts anyone who fears Him and works righteousness. Peter then went on give the Gospel message in verses 36-43.
Acts 10:44-48 (KJV)
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
While Peter was speaking the Holy Ghost fell on the people in Cornelius' house. The Jews that Peter had brought with him were astonished because the Gentiles were receiving the Holy Ghost just as the Jewish believers had. They even spoke in tongues and magnified God. In verse 47 Peter offered them baptism. They were baptized in verse 48 and then Peter tarried in Caesarea for certain days.
Acts 11:1-3 (KJV)
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
When the apostles and brethren in Judea heard about the incident they confronted Peter. Their concern was that Peter had gone into a Gentile's home and had eaten with Gentiles.
Since Cornelius was a God-fearer and observed Judaism, the food was not likely to be a problem. He undoubtedly followed the food laws himself. From the Jerusalem elders' own words it is evident that the problem was not what Peter was eating, but rather the simple fact that Peter had gone to be with Gentiles.
Verses 4-16 repeat Peter's experience at Cornelius' house.
Acts 11:17-18 (KJV)
Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
In verse 17 Peter ended his speech. In verse 18 the elders said nothing further and they glorified God and concluded that God had granted repentance unto eternal life to the Gentiles just as He had the Jews.
If the abolition of the food laws was the point in this whole account doesn't it seem strange that it is never mentioned? That would have been just as important to the Jerusalem apostles and brethren as the Gentile inclusion issue. But even as the elders were confronting Peter, nothing is said. The absence of evidence is overwhelming. Yet, we hear over and over again about how Peter's vision was about the accepting of Gentiles into the kingdom of God. Why read something else into this narrative when it is so plainly described?
It is my belief that Christianity has accepted this proof not so much because of Scriptural evidence, but because of our own traditions and assumptions. Close reading of the passage reveals its true meaning. Isn't it possible that the Christianity we've been handed could be mistaken on this point?