What is so amazing about Acts 10 is not just that we begin to see the gospel taken out to the Gentiles, but that we begin to see the fulfillment of the prophecy that Yeshua (Jesus) spoke over Shi’mon Petros (Peter).
YESHUA’S (JESUS’) PROPHECY OVER SHI’MON PETROS (PETER)
After giving his confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Yeshua (Jesus) says,
Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)
There is something here that often gets read over and not discussed, and that is Yeshua’s statement, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah.” The phrase Bar-Jonah can literally mean “son of Jonah,” however, in this case, this phrase should not be literally since in the Gospel of John, we find out that Shi’mon Petros’ (Peter’s) father’s name was Yochanan [John] – NOT Jonah. For example, when Shi’mon Petros (Peter) is first introduced to Yeshua (Jesus), He tells him,
You are Simon THE SON OF JOHN; you shall be called Cephas (which is translated as Peter). (John 1:42; emphasis added)
We can also see this in Yeshua’s (Jesus’) discussion with Shi’mon Petros (Peter) after His resurrection:
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, SON OF JOHN, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” (John 21:15; see also 21:16-17)
So if Shi’mon Petros’s (Simon Peter’s) father’s name is Yochanan (John), then why when blessing him does Yeshua (Jesus) call him “bar-Jonah“? The phrase “bar-Jonah” can also be translated to mean, “One who shall be like Jonah.” And what did Jonah do? He needed some divine persuasion (he was swallowed by a great fish), but afterwards, he brought the message of God to the Gentiles (the people of Nineveh) that led to them repenting and being saved, and here in Acts 10, we begin to see the fulfillment of that prophetic word that Yeshua (Jesus) had spoken over him.
SHI’MON PETROS‘ (PETER’S) ARRIVAL
In part 1, we discussed the divine persuasion that God used to motivate him (his vision) to go with the men of Cornelius to his home. But after receiving this vision and the instructions of the Spirit, he and a small group of other Jewish believers follow the men to Cornelius’ home. As we resume our study, Shi’mon Petros (Peter) reaches the home of Cornelius, and we read,
And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” And as he talked with him, he entered, and found many people assembled. (Acts 10:25-27)
In this scene, we can already see a contrast in these two cultures. I can see Cornelius thinking that he was honoring Petros (Peter) for coming, because he knew that any other Jew would not have come simply because of the fact that he was a Roman. However, as a Jew, Petros (Peter) knew that no one was to “worship” anyone but God, regardless of the reason. So Petros’ (Peter) tells him to “stand up.”
A QUESTION OF LAW
We then read,
And he 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 unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. And so I ask for what reason you have sent for me.” (Acts 10: 28-29; emphasis added)
Now in this passage, Shi’mon Petros (Peter) says that it was “UNLAWFUL” for him to “associate with a foreigner” or even “to visit him.” But what law is he referring to?
Now some may wonder, “Why is this important? What difference does it make?” The importance here is that Christians have argued for centuries that in the vision given to Peter that God had overturned the dietary laws; however, as I demonstrated in Part 1, the vision had absolutely nothing to do with food.
However, Peter is saying here that there is a law against a Jew “associating with a foreigner” or even “visiting him.” But here is the interesting thing: this law does not exist anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”). It is not there. So if this law is not in the first part of our Bibles, then where is it?
A REFERENCE TO THE MISHNAH?
During the times of the New Covenant Scriptures, or what is called Second Temple Judaism, there were other teachings that were also considered “law:” the “Oral Law,” or what is also called “the tradition of the elders.” For those who are unfamiliar with the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner, a non-Messianic Jew, explains in his English translation of the Mishnah:
The Mishnah is important because it forms the foundation for the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds. It therefore stands alongside the Hebrew Bible as the holy book upon which the Judaism of the past nineteen hundred years is constructed. The six divisions are (1) agricultural rules; (2) laws governing appointed seasons, that is, Sabbaths and festivals; (3) laws on the transfer of women and property along with women from one man (father) to another (husband); (4) the system of civil and criminal law (corresponding to what we today should regard as “the legal system”); (5) laws for the conduct of the cult and the Temple; and (6) laws on the preservation of cultic purity both in the Temple and under certain domestic circumstances, with special reference to the table and bed. These divisions define the range and realm of reality.” (xv)
Now regardless of one’s personal belief regarding the Mishnah, the unmistakable reality is that the Mishnah was a major influence in the teachings and lives of Jews from the days of the Second Temple period onward, including today. Now in the fourth division, called “The Order of Damages,” the Mishnah, there is within that division, a portion called Tractate Abodah Zarah, which has many different teachings about when it is permissible to sell things to a Gentile (non-Jew) and when it is not permissible. For example, it teaches that it is forbidden to sell anything to Gentiles for three days before their festivals (Tractate Abodah Zarah 1:1A). Now what I found interesting about this idea is that just two verses later, it lists SIX (6) festivals of the Gentiles that were apparently being celebrated during this time, and one of them is the Saturnalia (Tractate Abodah Zarah 1:3B), from which many of the customs of Christmas are derived.
Now in looking through this particular tractate, I believe that the “law” that Peter is referencing here in Acts 10:28 seems to have been based on teachings like Tractate Abodah Zarah 2,
A. They [Jews] do not leave cattle in Gentiles’ inns,
B. because they are suspect in regard to beastiality.
C. And a woman should not be alone with them,
D. because they are suspect in regard to fornication [rape].
E. And a man should not be alone with them,
F. because they are suspect in regard to bloodshed. (Tractate Abodah Zarah 2:1A- F)
Could this teaching in the last two lines be the reason that Shi’mon Petros (Peter) took a small group of other Jews with him? But we can clearly see here in this particular teaching that Gentiles (non-Jews) were automatically suspect of violence, sins and abominations. Therefore, there was a clearly implied attitude that Jews should keep their distance, whether a man or a woman.
A PROBLEM WITH CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP & INTERPRETATION
Now a major problem we have in Christianity is that people who are trained in our seminaries and Bible colleges do not receive any training in the Mishnah or in the classical texts of Rabbinic Judaism. As a result, many Christians, ministers, Bible teachers, etc., do not realize that this law being referenced by Shi’mon Petros (Peter) is not a law given in the Bible, but in the “Oral Law,” or “the traditions of the elders.” As a result, Christians have historically and traditionally misinterpreted this chapter because they have continued to remove it from its original context of Second Temple Judaism and to interpret it from their own denominational perspective.
WHAT WAS GOD’S DESIRE FOR JEWS AND GENTILES?
But was this separation between Jews and Gentiles what God wanted? No, it wasn’t. In fact, God’s attitude was the exact opposite. For example, when God called Abram, he brought a group of Gentile servants with him who became a part of his camp. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, there was a mixed group of Gentiles that came out with them (Exodus 12:38), and they were still with them in the wilderness (Numbers 11:4):
And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
It’s interesting in this verse that we discover that it was the Gentiles who were with them that started complaining and grumbling, and then they got the Jewish people to do it as well. But if the “mixed multitude” was there in the wilderness still, then this means that this same “mixed multitude” of Gentiles would have been standing there at the base of Mt Sinai would God gave His commandments to His people, who were made up of both Jews and Gentiles – not just Jews.
And in the book of Deuteronomy, God makes it clear that His hope is that Gentiles (non-Jews) will see how holy and righteous His commandments are as they are being lived out by Israel that this will attract them to God:
Keep therefore and do them [His commandments]; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)
Obviously, if God is desiring Gentiles to Him, why would He have created a law to keep the Jews away from the Gentiles? It doesn’t make any sense. And then in the book of Isaiah, God gives Gentiles (non-Jews) a special blessing if they will grasp hold of God’s covenant and keep it:
Blessed is the man that does this, and the son of man that lays hold on it; that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, The LORD has utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, I am a dry tree. (Isaiah 56:2-3)
Notice that God doesn’t say, “Blessed is the Israelite…,” or “Blessed is the Jew….,” which means that this blessing is for anyone – Jew or Gentile, and not just for the Jewish people. God also forbids Gentiles (non-Jews) from saying that God would separate them from His people, Israel. But is this what Christianity teaches – that God has separated Israel and the Church into two separate peoples, in direct contradiction to what God formally forbids here in Isaiah 56? And so if it wasn’t God who separated Christians from the Jews, then who did?
Now look what God then goes on to promise Gentile believers:
Also, the sons of the stranger (Gentile), that join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLE. The Lord GOD which gathers the outcasts of Israel said, Yet will I gather other to Him, beside those that are gathered to Him. (Isaiah 56:6-8; emphasis added)
So as we can see throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”), it has always been God’s desire to bring all people to Him, both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew), this is hardly any new kind of revelation. Maybe those people who go around teaching that the idea of God bringing all people to Him is “a New Testament revelation” needs to go back and reread their Bible?
Therefore, this “law” that Shi’mon Petros (Peter) refers to when he meets Cornelius and everyone there in his household is not God’s law, but it is part of the man-made traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, God’s vision did not have anything to do with overturning God’s laws, but about overturning Shi’mon Petros’ (Peter’s) acceptance and belief of a man-made tradition or law of separation that was keeping Shi’mon Petros (Peter) from doing what God wanted him to do, which was to bring the message of repentance to the Gentiles, like the prophet Jonah, and thereby begin to experience the blessing that Yeshua (Jesus) had spoken over his life back in Caesarea Philippi.
FOR PART 3
For the final part of this series, I want to examine the last part of Acts 10, when the Holy Spirit falls upon Cornelius and those present. I hope that you continue with me as I complete my study of this chapter.