Online Bible Commentary
What God Has Cleansed
Acts 11:1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!" 4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' 8 But I said, 'Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.' 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 40. The new movement called “The Way”, and later called Christianity, is about ten years old. The gospel had been taken first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, those descendants of Jews and Gentiles (non Jews) who intermarried, and now Peter has just brought the gospel to some Gentiles in Caesarea.
When Peter returned to Jerusalem the apostles and other Jewish disciples had already heard that he had taken the gospel to some Gentiles (vv. 1-2a). These circumcised Jewish believers confronted Peter saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (vv. 2b-3)!
“The Way” movement initially was believed to be a sect of Judaism and therefore only available to the circumcised, those who were born Jewish. Jews were taught not to associate with the uncircumcised, the Gentiles.
Peter then launched into the reason why he took the gospel to the Gentiles. He explained the vision which the Lord had given him while he was praying at the home of Simon, the tanner, in Joppa (v. 5a).
Peter explained how, in the vision, a large sheet came down from Heaven directly to him (v. 5b). On the sheet were “four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air” (v. 6). The animals were all animals that Jews were forbidden to eat according to the Jewish food laws of the Old Testament.
The Lord then told Peter “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (v. 7). Peter responded “Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth” (v. 8). The Lord responded, in the vision, not once, but three times, “What God has cleansed you must not call common” before the sheet drew back up into Heaven and the vision ended (vv. 9-10).
This vision convinced Peter that if the Lord cleansed something Peter should no longer consider it unclean. This included not only once forbidden foods but also once forbidden people, such as the Gentiles.
This passage reminds us that the Old Testament needs to be interpreted through the light of the New Testament. Any verse or passage in the Bible must be interpreted in the context of the whole Bible.
God had cleansed what the Old Testament had called unclean. The new believers of 40 A. D. did not know this because they did not yet have the New Testament writings.
However, we know better and are held responsible by God. Unlike the believers of 40 A.D., we have the New Testament writings. Taking a verse or passage in the Old Testament without exposing it to the light of the New Testament can result in false teaching.