In Acts chapter 10, something incredibly monumental has taken place. The Apostle Peter has gone to the home of a Centurion by the name of Cornelius and shared the Gospel with he and his household who come to believe. As evidence of their faith, they begin speaking in tongues. It is now official. Gentiles can believe in Y'shua too! Peter had also brought an entourage of Jewish believers in Y'shua with him, who testified to the veracity of these events.
Acts chapter 11 begins with the reality that word of this small, seemingly insignificant occurrence had spread throughout Judea. This was not particularly appreciated by the Jewish believers who'd gotten wind of it. The notion that Peter would even so much as eat with uncircumcised Gentiles was anathema. Breaking bread, as it were, implied fellowship... commonality. Now that Jews and Gentiles both found commonality in Y'shua, the “wall of partition” between the two had been knocked down. It was now, not only permissible to eat but desirable to eat together.
But this notion did not sit well with the Jewish believers. In fact, it did not initially sit well with Peter either. And so Peter has to set up his defense to justify this new form of conduct. What led Peter to bring the Gospel to Cornelius and his family? Was his defense air-tight? Furthermore, an even more vexing question arose from this. Part and parcel to Peter's defense was the issue of kashrut. Is it now, lawful for a Jew to eat what Moses had previously forbidden? I'm still not sure that I have a truly Biblical answer to this question as I wrestle with it in the course of this paper, but as I do wrestle with it, perhaps I'll come up with a satisfactory answer. If not, I believe that I may impart in my Gentile brother or sister, the vexing nature of this problem and an appreciation for some of the struggles of his Jewish brother in Y'shua.
So, in Acts chapter 11 verse 2, Peter proceeds to give a defense for his having preached the Gospel to a Gentile. He begins by essentially recounting the series of events that led up to Cornelius' “conversion”1.
He recalls how, while in a trance, he saw a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, to where he was. In the sheet he saw all sorts of animals which, from their description, implied that they were unclean.
What was an unclean animal? Leviticus 11 gives the key to this question by defining what a clean animal is. It is any animal that has a divided hoof and chews the cud. Hence, any animal that chews the cud but does not part the hoof is unclean and was not to be eaten. Likewise, any animal that parts the hoof but does not chew the cud is also unclean and not to be eaten. Certainly, any animal that neither chews the cud nor parts the hoof, is unclean and not to be eaten. This is why it is common knowledge that orthodox Jews don't eat bacon or pork.
Leviticus 11 goes on to list specific birds that are unclean and may not be eaten. From the list, in summary, one can conclude that unclean birds are essentially birds of prey and carrion eaters. This may be what accounts for the reality that the Jewish mother is the most adept of individuals at cooking almost every part of a chicken.
Flying insects with jointed legs for hopping such as locusts, katydids, crickets or grasshoppers are regarded as clean. All other flying insects are unclean. This undoubtedly is why one doesn't read of the Prophet, Elijah or John the Baptist having a diet consisting of chocolate covered flying ants but they did, however, eat locusts along with honey.
Fish with fins and scales are clean and may be eaten. Any other sea creature is unclean. Catfish are unclean. Lobster, crab and shrimp are unclean.
Creatures that move on the ground on their bellies are unclean. Of particular note are snakes. Presumably because the serpent was cursed by God back in the garden and made to crawl on his belly, a particularly harsh warning is given against Jewish consumption of that sort of creature.
You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean. Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground.2
Condemnation for the consumption of these unclean animals was so great that if a cooking utensil had even the slightest contact with an unclean animal or the carcass of an unclean animal, the utensil was to be broken.
In light of this backdrop, with its utter and complete prohibition of the consumption of unclean animals, Peter recounts his vision. He sees the sheet with the unclean animals swarming all over it. Interestingly enough, it seems that, excluded from the list of creatures Peter saw were the creatures that moved along the ground on their bellies. Nevertheless, prohibition against their consumption was quite clear to Peter. Then he hears a voice telling him “Get up Peter. Kill and eat.”
This command which was given to Peter was sure to cause cognitive dissonance. He replied
… 'Surely not, LORD! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'
A retort came from the LORD...
'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.'
This exchange between Peter and the LORD occurred three times before Peter was willing to acquiesce.
Even then, he still needed further evidence. Peter had seen a vision. No one else had seen his vision. Peter could very easily have been lying or hallucinating. Mohammed also claimed to have had visions. Yet no one else had been present to hear Muhammad’s conversations with the alleged angel, “Gebriel”. The test for Biblical veracity is much more stringent than that of Islam. Therefore who is to believe that this vision seen by only one man, Peter, has any manner of credibility? How can one man's vision possibly abrogate a set of laws whose authority had been attributed to God and whose traditions had endured for over one and one-half millennia prior to then?
The accounts in Acts lend some credibility to the conclusions drawn from Peter's vision. Scripture, for one thing, argues that a matter can only be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses3. Hence, Peters vision required at least one other witness in order to be verified. That witness, was Cornelius, the Roman centurion.
Prior to Peters seeing of his vision, Cornelius had had a vision. He saw an angel of God who told him to send men to Joppa to get Peter to come to his home. As Peter was thinking about the vision that he'd seen, the Spirit of God told him that three men had come to take him to the home of Cornelius the Centurion and that he was to, without any hesitancy go with them. Peter went with the three men along with other believers from Joppa who were also to serve as witnesses for what was yet to take place.
So, now we have two major witnesses... Peter and Cornelius. The resulting series of events, namely God's mentioning to Peter that men were coming to get him, along with the men showing up at the behest of Cornelius, serve as a further witness.
There is yet, a fourth witness... Peter actually showing up at the home of Cornelius. This was something that was utterly contrary to Peters nature. If Peters vision had not been real and Cornelius' vision had not been real the ensuing events would never have occurred. Peter attests to a prior aversion he had towards Gentiles when, in Acts 10:28, he says
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
So, we know that Peter had a vision. But what was his interpretation of that vision?
It is apparent that at least one of the messages of the vision is what we'd already heard Peter say in verse 10:28. “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Peter clearly took the vision of the unclean animals to be symbolic of Gentiles. This is clearly a Biblical understanding of this vision. According to the prophets of the Old Testament, the Messiah was destined to be a light to the Gentiles (e.g. Isa. 42:6). And in light of that, the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was also destined to fall. It seems, however, that it took this particular vision and the ensuing events to reveal this fact to Peter. That begs yet another question. From the scriptures, why hadn't Peter known that the Messiah was supposed to bridge the gap between Jew and Gentile in the first place? I can only surmise that Peter did not intuitively accept this because of the many biases that he carried with him into the kingdom of God.
The other issue, however, that sorely needs to be dealt with and to which I've already alluded is that of kashrut, or food. What may or may not be eaten? We know that Peter took the vision to mean that God's redemption through Y'shua was now available to the Gentile. The implication is that, along with this redemption, comes fellowship. As Paul put it,
For He (Messiah) is our peace, who has made the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. (Eph. 2:14-16)
The last verse of Acts 10 says that Cornelius asked Peter to stay with him for a few days. The chapter ends leaving one with a question. We know that Peter was asked, but did he, in fact stay? In essence, did he do as Cornelius had implored him, via invitation, to do? And along with that comes another question. If, indeed, Peter stayed, what did they eat? Did they eat vegetables? Did they eat lamb or brisket? Maybe they had bacon and eggs for breakfast. We really don't know.
Chances are highly likely that, in fact, Peter did stay with Cornelius and did eat with him. Peter doesn't say so, but he is accused of having done so by the Jewish believers back in Jerusalem. Verses 11:2-3 tell us...
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
The notion that this happened was very troubling to the Jewish believers. Rules against having fellowship with Gentiles were not without precedent. God, for instance, forbade fellowship with Moabites and Ammonites. In Dt. 23:3, He says, through Moses,
No Ammonites or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation.
Clearly, this law was circumvented in the case of the marriage of Ruth, the Moabites to Boaz who surely lived less than 10 generations after the writing down of this Mosaic decree. A question arises here, as well. How does one reconcile the breaking of this Mosaic mandate? A number of factors came into play with the marriage between Ruth and Boaz. Without discussing all of these variables at great length, however, one factor does seem to stand out above the rest. Ruth was not like any of the other Moabites. God forbade association with Moabites because as Dt. 23:4 put it,
...they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.
The Moabites had been cruel toward Israel as the people were about to enter the land of Canaan. Their cruelty actually extended to seeking Israel's demise. In stark contrast to this, Ruth displayed a kindness towards her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, that we know to be legendary. The statement that she made concerning her faithfulness to Naomi is almost colloquial. When told by Naomi to return to Moab after the death of Ruth's husband to find another husband, her daughter-in-law's response was...
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Ruth became a model of faithfulness to God and of a Gentile's love for the Jewish people. She had literally given up her future because of her faithfulness to Israel's God and her mother-in-law. But this sacrifice on her part turned into a privilege because the resulting marriage she had with her deceased husbands next of kin, Boaz, made her into the ancestor of King David who was destined to be the ancestor of the Messiah, Y'shua. Hence, she became one of the great Old Testament women of faith. Key to this Gentile Woman's entering the assembly of Israel was her love for God and love for the Jewish people.
So with Ruth as our Biblical precedent, we see our centurion friend, Cornelius, inviting the Jewish fisherman, Peter, into his home to show him hospitality and “stay for a while”. What characterized Cornelius? One excellent description of him is in Acts 10:22.
“… He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people.”
What made Cornelius God-fearing? Why was he respected by the Jews? I couldn't verify that this was the same centurion or centurions who was or were in the Gospel accounts, but I think it's safe to say that he had the same traits about him. He was Roman in origin. Romans were reputed idolaters. Caesar was the God of the Romans. Romans knew nothing about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This Centurion knew nothing about the Gospel but he was God-fearing. He could only have learned about God from the Jews whom he'd been commissioned by Rome to govern. This centurion was not only God-fearing, but he was devout and prayed daily.
Having learned about Israel's God from the people whom he'd been sent to govern, as given to disputations as these people were, nevertheless, undoubtedly, the centurion had grown to love and respect them, if anything, for the impact that this God had had on their lives. One of the centurion accounts in the gospels described the centurion as having “built their synagogue”. Again, we do not know if Cornelius was that centurion, but we do know that he had won the respect of the Jewish people who knew him.
So now this God Fearing, respectable centurion invites Peter into his home. He and his family come to faith in Y'shua and are baptized. He invites Peter to stay and, of course, provides him with all of the hospitality that is at his disposal. So they sit down to dinner. Again, I ask the question,,, what did they eat? As I've gone through this exercise, I've still not answered the question concerning whether Peters vision specifically referred to legalizing the consumption of unclean foods. We know for a fact that it did refer to the entering of Gentiles into the family of God. That's how Peter had interpreted it. This, however, had a biblical (Old Testament) precedent. We saw it with Ruth. We saw it as the fulfillment of prophecy (e.g. Isa. 42:6) we also saw it with the mixed multitude as they'd left Egypt along with the Hebrews after the first Passover (Ex. 14-15). In fact Old Testament history is replete with evidence of a foreshadowing of the inclusion of Gentiles into the family of God.
There is no such evidence, however, that I can find, which foreshadows the abrogation of the laws of kashrut for the Jew. Y'shua in Mark 7:19, at face value, seems to call for the abrogation of kashrut. but that was likely a common misinterpretation of the editorial concerning Y'shua' comment, “In saying this, Y'shua declared all foods clean”. The interlinear Greek source that I used as a reference does not say “thus he declared”. Some have argued that that phrase was an editorial insertion The Greek text that I used reads...
Hoti ouk eisporeuetak autou eis tEn kardian all eiEn koilian kai eis ton aphedrOna ekporeuetai katharizon panta ta brOmata.
That NOT it-is-INTO-GOING OF him INTO THE HEART but INTO THE CAVITY (bowel) AND INTO THE FROM-SETTLE (latrine) it-IS-OUT_GOING cleansING ALL THE FOODS1
"In saying this, Y'shua declared..." is absent from the text. And some have argued that Y'shua was commenting that the natural digestive process makes all foods, whether they'd been inserted into the mouth with washed or unwashed hands, clean.
Y'shua, here, is not addressing the issue of Kashrut but of a rabbinically imposed law laid down only a generation before Him, which stated that washing of hands was necessary to keep ritual uncleanliness from transferring onto the food that one was eating2. Bowels, 'though objectionable, as a topic of conversation, were nevertheless deemed as ceremonially clean because they were the product of a normal bodily function and represented a significant and normal part of life3. Hence, Y'shua was saying that food which enters the body is clean because it comes out the same way as does all food. Even if the food is ceremonially unclean because one's hands had not been washed in advance, it is not that which defiles the man, but what is in his heart. Clearly the Greek text to which I referred excludes the insertion “Y'shua declared all foods clean”. The name, "Y'shua" is not even found anywhere in the sentence. There could be other manuscripts that would indicate otherwise but at this juncture I could only say that the phrase was probably inserted by the bias of Gentile translators. Hence, the laws of kashrut are not abrogated certainly by this text. If they had been, they would have been an admission of a gross inconsistency in the Bible because, unlike the promise of the Gentiles entering the kingdom of God through the Messiah, there is no Older Testament precedent for the abrogation of Kashrut, none that I've recognized, anyway. The argument that “Y'shua said it, therefore it must be taken by faith” is a poor one. It still requires an Older Testament precedent. Furthermore, clearly from the Greek, Y'shua did not say those words!
Another text which could be used for presenting a case that the laws of Kashrut had been abrogated can be found in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 which says...
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Y'shua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom messiah died.
So what did Cornelius serve Peter for dinner?
To reiterate, he was a devout, God-fearing man. We also know that he was highly respected by the Jews who knew him. I would bet that he was a man who knew how to demonstrate good and tasteful hospitality.
I think that Romans 14 may be a key concerning the choice of foods that Cornelius used to entertain his guests. Of course, Romans had not been written yet, but the same Spirit that inspired Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Romans was undoubtedly present in Peter and Cornelius. So let's take a brief look at Romans 14.
1. Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Y'shua, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom messiah died.16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves messiah in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean,but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
I left out some verses because they dealt with things other than food, but in a sense, the whole chapter deals with issues of personal legality before God. In essence, it's a call for each individual to be perfectly persuaded concerning what lines he personally feels may or may not be crossed before he were to sin. Some people are vegetarians. They feel that killing animals for the sake of food is wrong. Others feel that eating chicken or beef or venison is perfectly OK. Paul would define the former individual as the “weaker” brother and the latter individual as the “stronger” brother. The weaker brother is weak because he feels that should he eat meat, he would lack the faith to believe that God would not condemn him for doing so. Hence, he would be engaging in sin. The stronger brother, on the other hand, is strong because he's more conscious of the liberty that God has given him through the Messiah.
According to this passage of scripture, The stronger brother is neither to flaunt his behavior before the weaker brother nor is he to attempt to coax the weaker brother into conducting behavior that the latter deems wrong or sinful. This, Paul argues, results in causing of the weaker brother to stumble. Likewise, should the weaker brother get wind that the stronger brother engages in what the weaker brother would regard as sinful behavior, the weaker brother is not to condemn the stronger brother for it. These respective attitudes call all of the members of the family of God to peace. We have mutual respect ultimately because the Messiah died for each of us.
So how would Cornelius have applied Romans 14 in his hospitality towards Peter?
Undoubtedly, he was sensitive to the fact that Peter had gone way out of his comfort zone to enter the house of a Roman centurion, a Gentile, no less. Having gained the respect of the Jews who knew him, undoubtedly he was aware of the laws of kashrut. In fact, he probably would have inquired of Peter what foods he liked or was used to eating. He probably knew that Peter still felt, at the very least, queezy about eating anything that was not kosher. In fact, to show good will, the centurion probably served him kosher food prepared from Peter's favorite butcher shop or delicatessen.
Actually, I have an even better idea. Cornelius was a Roman centurion. Rome is in Italy. So I'm convinced that Cornelius served Peter spaghetti.
So why do I write this long essay only to draw the somewhat dubious conclusion that Cornelius served spaghetti to Peter?
Allow me to emphasize... NEITHER JEWS NOR GENTILES ARE SAVED BY EATING KOSHER FOOD. Nor are Gentiles condemned for eating traif (food that's not kosher). I'm still not entirely convinced that these laws don't apply to Jewish believers, however... especially when one is seeking to assert his identity as a Jew. Yes, Paul does say, in Romans 14 that “All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble”. Paul could be including himself in this statement on the one hand, but on the other hand, he could be talking to an almost if not entirely Gentile ekklessia in Rome and using the words “all food” from the perspective of his audience.
Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm not entirely convinced that the Gentile believer understands the depth of the step of faith that the Jewish believer has to take to come to Y'shua. Immediately the Jewish believer is bombarded by the enemy with all sorts of accusations foremost of which is “You're no longer a Jew”. This particular accusation eats inexorably into the soul of the Jewish believer. And then the Gentile (the stronger brother) who knows that “All food is clean” seeks to unwittingly tempt the Jewish believer into conducting behavior (eating pork, etc.) that is literally an affirmation of that accusation (that he's no longer Jewish). Hence, by eating that ham sandwich, the Jewish believer may not be condemned but he is, in fact, providing evidence (erroneously interpreted or otherwise) that he is no longer a Jew.
I dare say, that such an invitation on the part of my Gentile brother, is in fact a violation of Romans
14 where Paul says 'If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom messiah died. (vs. 15).
As for me, I am obligated to guard myself against judging my Gentile brother for eating traif in my presence. I will however, be critical of an attitude in which he has not bothered to attempt to enter into my shoes and consider how I might feel about it especially when this attitude has prevailed in the church over the past two millenia (Case in point... the second counsel of Nicea declared that if a Jew chose to come to 'Christ', he had to give up his identity, his traditions and every last vestige of his Jewishness).
So how does all of this play out? Allow me, if you will, to propose two contrasting dialogues...
Gentile – “I hope you like ham. That's what we're having.”
Me – “If you have potato chips I'll have those.”
Gentile – “Do you eat ham? If not, I've prepared some corned beef for you.”
Me – “Thank you so much for your consideration. It was very kind of you to think of me. I hope it wasn't too much work for you to prepare the corned beef.”
Gentile – “Well, it was a little extra work. But you're worth it.”
Me – “No... God is worth it.”
It is commonly assumed that the opposite of Love is Hate.
On the contrary... the opposite of Love is Indifference.
As I've tried to wrestle with the issue of kashrut for the Jewish believer, I find it difficult to believe that the New Testament, out of the blue, abrogates it without any Old Testament precedent. Personally, I don't feel that I'm authoritative enough to say that Jewish believers should not eat pork. If one doesn't have love, not eating pork is of no value. Nor do I really think it's anyone's business to establish a doctrine on such an issue. After all, as Paul put it,
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves messiah in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Furthermore, I confess. I've done worse things in my life than eating ham sandwiches.
I do think, however, that the issue of kashrut carries with it a deeper dimension... namely an exciting way by which the church can demonstrate love and know that it is doing so. It is by overcoming these barriers that the church demonstrates that it is, indeed, one new man in messiah... Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:15). Hence, even with ham sandwiches, or pork present, the breaking of bread can genuinely be built around a foundation that will invariably make their fellowship into a truly kosher church picnic.