Christendom’s rationale for unclean foods being made clean is usually Peter’s vision in Acts 10. Dr. William J. Larkin’s IVPNT Commentary on Acts is no different. Let’s take a look at some of his commentary and compare with other Scripture.
First, Acts 10:9-17,
9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate;
Larkin’s commentary begins by indirectly pointing out that Peter remains Torah-observant,
About noon … Peter climbs … to the flat rooftop..[to pray], according to the pattern of pious Jews who prayed three times a day, though this was not necessarily one of the officially prescribed times (m. Berakot 4:1; Ps 55:17).
This understanding is confirmed in the Scriptures when Peter says, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Further, after the vision, Peter is ‘greatly perplexed.’ Clearly, he knows the vision does not square with multiple long passages of Scripture detailing clean and unclean meats/animals/food. Something is out of kilter here.
In discussing the probable contents of the sheet, Larkin rightly nails the meaning of the vision when he says,
The vision’s purpose—proving a new freedom in association of Jew and Gentile—is best accomplished if a mixture is present….Luke lets us know this mandated behavior change is from God by showing a rare free intercourse between heaven and earth..
The voice comes again, this time providing the rationale: God has declared all foods clean. Peter is not to go on declaring some foods profane or “common.”
He then cites and misuses multiple references. I won’t completely address each as I have done so in the past, but here is the list and what the passage is actually about:
- Mark 7:14-23 Discussion is not about food. It is about the Rabbinic tradition of hand washing, Corban and superseding Torah. See the context! Mark 7:1-13…
- Luke 11:39-41 Not about food, but about the Rabbinic tradition of hand washing.
- Ephesians 2:14-15 The Law is not abolished. It is the ENMITY against us which is abolished. The Law stands!
- Colossian 2:14 Notice, Ordinances/ ‘dogma’ = man-made rules! Context of the chapter is deceptive traditions of men! See vss. 4, 8, 18, 21, 23.
- Genesis 1:31 Misuse of this verse!! (Lev. 11 comes later. Makes God a ‘flip-flopper’ if true the way Larkin uses it.)
- 1 Timothy 4:3 Context is ‘doctrines of demons’ etc. Food, as defined by verse 5, is that which is sanctified by God’s Word. Lev. 11 hardly sanctifies unclean meats!
Recommended video that addresses many of these verses and others.
Where Larkin and Christendom fail is in trying to assign additional meaning to the vision, contrary to Peter’s own testimony!
28 And he [Peter] said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any MAN [a]unholy or unclean.
Simple research indicates that there is NO law in Scripture anywhere declaring Gentiles (men) are unclean. That was a Rabbinic ruling that was contrary to God’s Torah! Peter was perplexed because he KNEW the vision was not about food! Peter, further, KNOWS that according to Isaiah (66:16-17 in context),
‘Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and the sword, [and] those… who eat swine’s flesh, mice and detestable things will come to an end altogether!’
For the life of me, I can’t find my hermeneutics textbook from seminary, but I seem to recall that dreams and visions are considered the hardest of Scripture to understand or interpret. The correct principle, as I recall, is to let the text define the vision for the reader, wherever possible. Examples: Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, or of his family’s sheaves bowing to his was not about astrological or agricultural anomalies. Just read Genesis 37:8 for the very clear definition! Later, in Judges 7:13-15, when a guard relays a vision about a barley loaf flipping over a tent, he is not describing a culinary disaster. Again, the Scriptures clearly define the meaning of the dream! (Thanks to Hope Egan, author of Holy Cow! for those illustrations.)
Likewise, Peter clearly defines the purpose and meaning of his vision as previously quoted.
Larkin expresses an understanding of this aspect from multiple quotes, but he continues to undermine Torah principles as a secondary, misinterpretive use of this passage.
Peter’s objections are really based on continuing prejudicial distinctions between Jew and Gentile, and the vision as he comes to properly interpret it has to do with removing such distinctions…
When Peter says that it is against our law to associate or visit with a Gentile (literally, “a person of another race”), he is not pointing to explicit Old Testament teaching as much as to Jewish custom. Nehemiah did take the mandate excluding Ammonites and Edomites from the assembly (Deut 23:3-4) and extended it to all Gentiles (Neh 13:3). Rabbinic law extended the separation, however, by proscribing Jewish social contact with Gentiles, particularly accepting hospitality in their homes (m. `Aboda Zara 5:5; m. Toharot 7:6; compare m. Demai 3:4). In the end, in Jewish eyes, Gentiles themselves became a source of ritual impurity (t. Demai 3:14; t. `Aboda Zara 4:11)…
Peter puts it tersely: God has shown me that I should not call any man impure [common] or unclean (v. 28; compare vv. 14-15). Just as the external cultural barrier between holy and profane (the common), clean and unclean, has come down, so the prejudicial barrier between races and ethnic groups is forever removed.
Larkin may think the external barrier between clean and unclean has come down, but both Paul and Peter would disagree with him!! In a quote taken directly from Leviticus 11:44-45, Peter says in 1 Peter 1:14-16,
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
That is the “external ‘cultural’ barrier between holy and profane, clean and unclean!!” Paul agrees in a quote from 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 when he says,
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.
7 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of FLESH and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Please notice!! Neither Paul nor Peter are spiritualizing commandments from the Torah. Both of these passages assume physical outward obedience. Paul even equates touching what is unclean with defiling the temple of God!! Beloved, this is clear teaching that perfectly aligns with the Torah and defilement through physical contact with the unclean. We have already seen that unclean food merits special attention when the Great Judge comes with fire and sword!!
So, to sum up, Larkin’s IVPNT Commentary on Acts 10 follows traditional Christian interpretation that is dead wrong. Maybe we all need to re-read one of the very passages Larkin used against unclean food from its proper perspective: Placing traditions ahead of God’s Word! (I will [edit in Christian tradition] so you see how well it fits…)
5 The Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘[Do not eat what is unclean]’; 11 but you say, ‘[Peter’s vision says..yadda, yadda, false..]. (that is to say, [all food is] given [by] God),’ … 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
See that? Nothing new under the sun! The elders neglect the commandments of God and hold to the tradition of men. A tradition that is unsupported by Scripture.
Now you see how/where pastors get this to teach from the pulpits… It is what is inferred through commentary and professors. And, it is wrong.
Again, as I stated before, I am not picking on Dr. Larkin. I just happen to have his commentary and it is a clear example of Christian thought/teaching in the pulpits and in seminaries. I was guilty of teaching this very error until the Spirit hit me over the head and made me honestly read the Scriptures and stop adding/subtracting to/from them.
Brothers, dig deep. Get truth. Leave the traditions and the lawlessness behind.
I pray this challenges you!! If it has, please share.
More to come in this series.