Many Christian theologians and commentators have used the passage found in Acts 10: 9-16 as a basis to suspend the dietary laws of God. In this passage, we have Peter’s vision of unclean animals as reported by Luke.
Acts 10: 9 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:
10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he
fell into a trance,
11 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:
12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and
creeping things, and fowls of the air.
13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
14 But Peter said, Not so, L-rd; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or
15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What G-d hath cleansed, that
call not thou common.
16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
In verses 17-19 we read Peter was puzzling over this vision and what it meant. Could it mean that G-d who had established His Torah and Eternal Covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai and who is Himself unchangeable (Malachi 3:6), had changed his Torah and made unclean animals clean?
This appears to be the apparent meaning and many Christian commentators insist this is in fact the meaning.
17 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 inquiry for Simon’s
house, and stood before the gate,
18 And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged
19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek
But they ignore the plain statement a few verses later, which at last resolves Peter’s dilemma. In verse 28 we read: “G-d has shown me not to call any person unclean or impure.”
28 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 showed me
that I should not call any man common or unclean.
Therefore, the vision is about persons and not about food.
Having been a former police investigator, interrogator, and polygraph examiner, I have long ago learned that when guilty parties face exposure of an unlawful act they revert to one of three ways in defending their behavior. Consistently, they justify, minimize, or rationalize their behavior to alleviate guilt. As an experienced investigator, I learned the quickest way to obtain a confession was by allowing a suspect to transfer guilt. Does this remind the reader of anything biblical? This suggests to me another of my pet peeves, which is non-accountable, easy Christianity. As the statistics suggest most professors of faith in Yahshua immediately go back to their old way of life, as do the confessing criminals mentioned above. Because most people do not see the harm in eating a piece of ham contrary to G-d’s revelation, they fall back on these same defenses to justify eating food that G-d condemns. Even, learned scholars do this as evidenced by their declarations in the face of the incontrovertible evidence of G-d’s Word.
G-d has not abrogated the Jewish dietary laws. Yahshua Himself said, “Don’t think I have come to do away with the Torah” (Mat 5-17-20). The specific issue of whether Yahshua abolished kashrut (dietary laws) has already arisen at Mark 7:19; the conclusion there is that He had not.
The problem lies in Christians not understanding the Jewish roots of their religion and for lack of knowledge they arrive at incorrect interpretations on numerous passages. From the beginning of this chapter in Mark, Yahshua is talking about man’s commandments overlaid upon G-d’s given ordinances and laws. The P ‘rushim or Pharisees had interpreted the written Torah (First Five Books of Moses) and added additional rules. Together these came to be called at first the Tradition of the Elders and later the Oral Torah (see Mat 5:17, 12:2-11, 18:18-20, 23:2); it was committed to writing, notably in the Mishna, in the second and third centuries, expanded in the Gemara in the fourth and fifth (Mishna + Gemara Talmud) and later in other works.
Mark’s explanation of n ‘tilat-yadayim, ritual handwashing, in these verses corresponds to the details set forth in Misha tractate Yadayim. In the marketplace, one may touch ceremonially impure things; the impurity is removed by rinsing up to the wrist. Orthodox Jews today observe n’ tilat yasayim before meals. The rationale has nothing to do with hygiene but is based on the idea that “a man’s home is his Temple,” with the dining table his altar, the food his sacrifice and himself the cohen (priest). Since the Tanakh (Old Testament) requires a priest to be ceremonially pure before offering sacrifices on the Temple altar, the Oral Torah requires the same before eating a meal.
Many Christians think that Yahshua’s answer to the question in verse 5 condemns all of Pharisaic tradition. The fact is that He objects only to those practices of the P ‘rushim that place human tradition above G-d’s commands (v.8). He does not object to traditions as such, but to your tradition (vv. 9,13)…the operative word is “your,” as shown by His example (vv. 10-12), where a “tradition” is allowed to nullify the fifth Commandment, “honor your father and mother,” by letting people devote to Temple worship money they should use to support their parents.
On the contrary, Yahshua could not be opposing tradition as such because the Messianic Scriptures itself speaks favorably of its own traditions (I Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15), and at John 7:37 we have an example of Yahshua honoring a tradition spoken of in the Mishnah but nowhere in the Tanakh.
In essence just as a country’s legislation should not contradict or supplant its constitution, so too tradition (Jewish, Messianic, Christian or, whatever) cannot violate or alter G-d’s word (see Mat 12:2-11, Mat 18:18-20). The Oral Torah comes very close to implying that it can (Bava Metzia 59a, quoted at Acts 9:4); but according to the present passage, this position is inconsistent with Messianic Judaism. A modern example is the Roman Catholic Church, which holds that church law may supersede G-d’s law.
Which brings us to the verse cited Mark 7:19 above. The preceding verses were discussing korban, literally “sacrifice,” from the Hebrew word “near.” A korban is something brought near to G-d, and it brings the offerer nearer to G-d. Mark treats korban as a technical term, first transliterating it into Greek and then explaining it as a
“gift to G-d.”
Yahshua’s objection is to bad priorities. Vows and oaths are not to be used selfishly to give a pretext for avoiding doing what G-d, love, and righteousness require. Compare Mat. 5:33-37, 12:7, 23:16, and see how Yahshua continues this teaching in vv. 12-23. The rabbinic elaboration of the formulas and rules concerning oaths and vows can be found in Talmud tractates Shvu ‘ot and N’adarim.
Yahshua declared all foods ritually clean even if the participants at the meal have not washed their hands. But Yahshua did not, as many suppose, abrogate the laws of kashrut (G-d’s dietary laws) and declare ham kosher. Since the beginning of this chapter the subject has been ritual purity as taught by the Oral Torah (man’s traditions and laws) in relation to n ‘tilat-yedayim (vv. 2-4) and not kasrut at all. There is not the slightest hint in these passages that the foods are anything other than what Jews are allowed to eat by G-d’s decree. Neither is kashrut abolished in Acts 10:9-28 or Galatians 2:11:6.
Rather Yahshua is continuing His discussion of spiritual prioritizing (v. 11). He teaches that tohar (purity) is not primarily ritual or physical, but spiritual (vv. 14-23). On this ground, he does entirely overrule the Pharisaic/rabbinic elaboration of the laws of purity, but he does demote them to subsidiary importance. See John 7:22-23 on the halakhic process (legal process) of assigning ranks to potentially conflicting laws. Yahshua here is making Messianic halakhah.
At this point in the text cited above the Greek is a dangling participial clause, literally, “cleansing all the foods.” There is no “Thus he declared;” referring to Yahshua and there is only one meaning this passage can have and it is Marks’s halakhic summary of Yahshua’ s remarks which are that the body cleanses all foods we partake of in the digestive tract. With this understanding Yahshua is saying that the human digestive tract cleanses all permitted foods for bodily usage so that hand washing is of minor importance and the P ‘rushim shouldn’t be giving it so much attention. Against this rendering is the focus on personal hygiene instead of ritual purity, which is the topic of the rest of the passage. So we see that Yahshua was talking about ritual purity and not abrogation of kashrut laws.