Senate, Utah Capitol. Salt Lake City Utah.
Saturday, 24 September 2022
Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Acts 10:28
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
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Peter has now fully entered the house of Cornelius and is before all those gathered together. With that context remembered, it next says, “Then he said to them.”
It is Peter who speaks, thus setting the tone for what must be conveyed. A change from the normal way things were within society has taken place that must be explained. This will then set the tone for the rest of what is conveyed. Peter now explains that change, saying, “You know how unlawful it is.”
What he will convey is not actually a point of Mosaic law but rather of Pharisaic law. However, because of their traditions and standards, the thought permeated society to a wide degree. Those who diverged from such implicit laws were considered lowly and contemptible. The unlawful matter that Peter is referring to is “for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.”
The word translated as “keep company” signifies to join to. Both it and the word translated as “go to” are in the verse where Philip was told to come near and join with the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch –
“Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’” Acts 8:39
Hence, the Spirit had already shown that what Peter is saying is incorrect. It is a misapplication or even a twisting of what God allows. Further, the word translated as “another nation,” allophulos, is found only here in the New Testament. It speaks of one who belongs to another tribe or race, a foreigner. The utterly ridiculous nature of this is seen time and again in Scripture. Innumerable examples can be found where exactly that occurred.
David had men of other nations as his chief men, such as Uriah the Hittite. He also spent time among the Philistines while Saul was king. Solomon entertained the Queen of Sheba, inviting her into his palace and associating with her.
The prohibitions found in the Law of Moses were to separate Israel from the nations of Canaan and their idolatrous and immoral practices. But the very same passages that speak of those things, such as Leviticus 18, actually include the thought of associating with foreign people –
“Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.” Leviticus 18:24-29
Further, the pilgrim feasts of Israel clearly invited foreigners to be enjoined to the people of Israel in their times of celebration –
“You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. 12 And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.” Deuteronomy 16:11, 12
In those words, the ger, or stranger, means an alien or foreigner. The law Peter is now conveying is one that is not Scriptural but cultural. Despite that, it permeated the thinking of Jewish society. This will be seen in chapter 11 –
“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!’” Acts 11:1-3
One can see that the congregation of believers was astonished at what Peter had done and was clearly upset by his actions. As for Peter and why he has done this, he explains it to those in Cornelius’ house, saying, “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
The word “me” is emphatic and is given as a complete contrast to the words “You know.” In other words –
You know how unlawful it is … To me, however, God has shown.
This takes the reader back to the trance Peter was in and the words, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Peter came to understand that the foods that were deemed acceptable to the nations to eat were not something that defiled those people. God had pronounced to Noah in Genesis 9:3 that every moving thing that lives was acceptable as food.
Israel was given a dietary law that did not void that pronouncement by God to Noah (meaning the people of the world). Rather, the law added restrictions to Israel, but it did not end the freedoms of the people of the world. Hence, the people of the world could not be considered common or unclean by eating those things, even if Israel could. Therefore, it was the law – a law that had been fulfilled and ended by Christ – that made them unclean for Israel.
Therefore, the addition of the laws of the Pharisees twisted what God had said, but it was not something that God ever intended, as is evidenced in His word.
Life application: The Pharisees added to the law of God. This is one of the main things Jesus rebuked them for. And he did it time and again. The same is true with denominations, churches, pastors, preachers, and teachers – and even lay people – to this day. We add our own pet peeves to what we find acceptable or unacceptable when we teach others about supposed Christian morality. This is legalism and it is as harmful as ignoring precepts found in the word.
Churches set their own arbitrary standards of morality. No dancing. No skirts on women above the knees. Men must wear ties in church. No soft drinks. No pork (heaven forbid!). Such teachings are damaging because they stem from man, not from God. We cannot go unscathed when this occurs. Churches will become legalistic and increasingly demanding. Eventually, a standard of conformity exists that demands allegiance to the leader and not to God.
Be careful to evaluate all things. If a church has cultural standards, respect them. In other words, if you go to an Arab church in Nazareth, you want to be sensitive to the cultural mores of the congregation. If you attend a Korean church in Sarasota, Florida, the same is true. Those cultural mores are not the same as church doctrines. If the church sets forth unbiblical doctrines, then head for the door. Be wise in understanding the differences and be respectful to the congregants if their practices are cultural but not unbiblical. Of this thinking, Vincent’s Word Studies says –
“It is interesting, in this connection, to note the ‘Honour all men’ of 1 Peter 2:17. It is obvious that the pride of class, resting on mere differences of culture, and showing itself in acts and words of contempt, is, from one point of view, even less excusable than that which at least imagined that it rested on a religious basis, while from another, it is less inveterate, and therefore more easily curable.”
Lord God, may we never add to Your word that which You have set forth for Your people. If Your word says something is acceptable, then we are not to condemn it. If Your word prohibits something, then we are not to tolerate it. If Your word does not address the issue, then give us the wisdom to determine what is proper based on a right understanding of the rest of Your precious word. To Your glory, we pray. Amen.