Peter and the Pagans

Sabbath School Commentary for discussion on Sabbath, August 30, 2015

Hunger is common to all men, but not all men satisfy their hunger with the same food. When it comes to individual, family, and even national identities, food separates us from those who are not of ‘us’. The table, with its established rituals and rules, offers social inclusion and all the pleasures of membership even as it excludes those who do not share in its tastes or customs. It follows that what you eat largely determines who you will eat with. For instance, as a fat-eschewing, sugar-abstaining, meat-abjuring vegetarian (although, I do eat the occasional egg as a kind of good-will gesture), I find very little by way of food commonality at the typical Adventist pot-luck. Nor, it seems, can I relish what most other Adventists (or Americans, for that matter) would define as ‘good food’. Thus, sadly, I do not share many meals with other Adventists. Yet, we are, of course, fellow believers, Christians and brothers and sisters in Christ.

I wonder sometimes about just how brotherly and sisterly we can be if we do not share the same food preferences. Homogeneity, despite the popular call for ever more ‘diversity’, does bring certain benefits. Folks who are more alike than different tend to enjoy each other’s company more than those who are always feeling like outsiders to each other. There are risks to enlarging the ‘fold’ to include people who do not eat like we do, just as it can be rather straining to spend time with people who hate your politics or your choice of wine (I, of course, know nothing of wine, but here I find yet one more reason not to drink it).

We’ve all been more or less brainwashed to go about ‘celebrating diversity’, but in reality, once the peeping and piping has ended, we still prefer our diversity to remain pretty much cosmetic. I am reminded of the ‘mom and pop’ Chinese restaurants found in many Scottish towns: everything on the menu was purportedly Chinese, but everything also tasted exactly like ‘fish and chips’. More to the point, I have observed that the ‘diversity’ vendors are usually just as intolerant as their homogeneity touting forbearers—just in different ways and towards different groups.

When that sheet full of unclean beasts (and snakes) descended from heaven to meet Peter’s immediate need for food, the poor man felt, of a sudden, as if he could no longer ‘be himself’. God’s direct command, ‘kill and eat’ threatened to erase Peter’s identify as a Jewish Christian. Note too, how the narrator is careful to tell us that at the very moment that God presented Peter with this stock-yard of taboo animals, the kind of food that Peter had always eaten was being prepared for him down in the kitchen (Acts 10. 10). It is the same as if any of us were to be offered a plate of food that we loathed when the food we loved (and knew as ‘healthier’) was about to be handed to us. And, of course, Peter staunchly refuses to do what God asked him to do: “No Lord… for I have never eaten anything unclean (10.14). Food— never underestimate it.

When Cornelius the ‘unclean’ Roman came to Peter’s door, the vision gets repeated in the real. Note how the Roman Centurion who, after all, feared the same God that Peter preached, bows down before Peter ‘at his feet’. Cornelius could worship the same God as Peter, but the two of them could not sit down and share a meal. This was not only because Romans ate like Romans and Jews ate like Jews; it was also because Jews ate like God taught them to and Romans ate, merely, like their parents did. Cornelius bows to Peter as an outsider wanting in, and Peter’s perplexity as to the meaning of his vision ends, for, in that moment, Peter knows that they are both the same: “Stand up! I myself am also a man”.

Ellen White writes of a ‘common bond of humanity’ that unites us all. God showed Peter that the kingdom of Heaven was more than ‘food or drink’; that Christian culture, even in its most enlightened iterations, must never be allowed to blind us to that essential humanity that must inform our every glance even as we sit and eat with folks who do not eat like we do or who, shockingly, eat as God has taught us not to. Thus, in this context, I do not celebrate diversity nearly as much as I celebrate homogeneity—the sameness of our shared humanity. You may ‘kill and eat’ your food, and I may be a prissy vegan, but, today, we will eat together (and forbear our differences) because we are both sinful men made ‘clean’ by God (Acts 10.15).


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7051

it is not what goes into the mouth that is unclean but what comes out. Of course I have a trained dietary preference. but salvation is of the heart, mind, and soul of man not the stomach. There is no merit in Loma Linda foods and not much nourishment either. Having been raised on a farm, Milk, cheese, eggs, fruit, and s wide variety of vegetables make up my 90 plus years with all my teeth and gut intact. The questions, of what, when, are not relevant. it is Who alone is worthy of worship. It took a Roman to make that clear. Tom Z

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The food laws were integral to the separation that God wanted the Israelites to follow as he knew that refusing to eat what the local surrounding people preferred would be a simple, but most effective law to keep them from mingling with heathens; accepting their gods or intermarriage.

Food has always been part of Middle Eastern hospitality: to invite strangers and share food and drink. Without eating and drinking together there can be no relationships developed and isolation from all but one’s own people is maintained. All of the “unclean” foods prohibited were not necessarily unhealthy but were listed because they were commonly eaten by surrounding cultures.

Adventists made a grave mistake when the Jewish food laws and many others were adopted as it achieved the same result of separation. But Christians were given the commission to take the Gospel to the world; something impossible if at the same time no eating or drinking together occurred.

Peter was reprimanded for wanting to continue the old Jewish laws and told by the Holy Spirit that following them would prevent seeing all as worthy of God, regardless. Although symbolic, the reality is that following such restricted food laws would still be a barrier to building friendships today which is why they were eliminated for Christians.

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The SS quarterly - I also use the original teachers edtion - makes the symbolic understanding clear : (page 112) - I wholeheartly accept this sight.

But we have a problem that is outlined by Elaine : Through the milleniums of Jewish history Jews were kept separate - and found their identity - by, fo example, when travelling not making use of the taverns like in Acts 28, 15, but cooking in their own pots aside. At several pogromes “secret” Jews were detected by checking their kitchen - two cooking pots, one for milk and the other for meats.

No, I do not eat pork or horse meat or catfish. But brought up as a vegatrian Adventist - I am - or was - just an alien .You simply do not learn at home how to handle the cutlery and correctly use the napkin - when once applying for a career in Pharma industries ( I had four very good offers , but Sabbath free was the crucial issue at last) after the smalltalk and the professional matters the local CEO invites me to join him going for the noon meal into a downtown restaurant. - that is usually done here also for checking an other side of the candidate. With this then already I could cope - I had done my very own hidden training in restaurants - but alone with my heritage : Game over immediately. One false action at the dinner table and you are just out, game over.!

I am highly obliged to William G. Johnson for his service and especially for his instant help in a local church affair. But he once reported his experiece with being inivited by a sheik - we have so much in common - waiting for the Messiah to come, no pork, no alcohol, this strong interest in health - - so no problems in accepting the hospitality… Imagine the sheik would have anounced that this very Friday - join me to watch the execution by decapitation of an unbeliever !

So, what and when do we “water down” our standards in mission endeavours ? (quoted from the SS Quarterly)

“And invite all your friends for this evangelism !” - I just have no non- SDA friends - where and when could I associate continuously with them - oh , I forgot : Yes, in the ballroom, there is no problem with not eating at all !

It seems to have escaped most Christians that Peter’s vision had nothing to do with food or drink, as he pointed out at the end of the chapter. It certainly did not give us license to abandon our health principles, because God would never command that which He has expressly forbidden. I hope I’ve misread him, but the author seems to hint that we may ignore our health principles for the sake of fellowship and witness because we’ve been made “clean.”

The issue at the time was whether or not the Gentiles were eligible for the kingdom of God. They always had been, but the Jews had lost sight of that long before. It took a shock treatment to get them out of their narrow-minded way of thinking. But the creepy-crawlies in Peter’s vision had never been eligible to be ingested, and they certainly aren’t fit for human consumption now.

The title of this weeks lesson is “Peter and the Gentiles.” The first thing that came to min was–the name of a new rock band. Must be a throwback from my misspent youth. :imp: I would have given it a title that included more than just Peter, since others are included in the early ministry to the Gentiles.

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Birder, how do you reconcile your view of Adventist dietary restrictions, with the story of Ellen White (in her 80’s, while enroute from her exile in Australia back to the US), while in New Zealand enjoying a meal of oysters?

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i really enjoyed this short little article - the irony that homogeneity can still be operating in the midst of diversity…in the wake of the disappointment of san antonio, it’s important to continue to recognize the difference between culture and truth, even while knowing that others won’t…probably the only choice, other than moving out, is to continue to attempt to enlighten…

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Oh well, so much for taking he story out of context.

[quote]And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.[/quote]
As @ageis711Oxyain noted in her comment, table fellowship is the hub of the community. Actually there is no getting around it. Certainly we can pretend that the feasting on the word of the Lord in worship is sufficient, especially when followed by pot luck!

Yet, this mode does not follow the Great Commission. Disciples of Jesus are not made. Sure, there may be an intellectual conversion, but nobody sees the Christ in action. How many times have we heard a particularly stirring sermon, or participated in an enervating Bible study? Then what? Stepping outside, the power points easily fade into nonchalance as we return to the workaday world. This is no Gospel, but a faded facsimile.

I suppose, though, that it is for the good that table-fellowship is not enjoined in Christendom, since that would require us to live like Christ, in love, in mercy, in grace, forgiving the neophyte that proudly brings the shrimp gumbo to the table, JOYOUSLY eating it while cautiously explaining why I, personally, tend to avoid it.

[quote]Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
. . .
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. … Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.[/quote]

Trust God.

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The oyster issue is dealt with in the link below:

http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/Vegetarian.html#Question of Fish

Now, can someone finalise the issue of duck?

Funny how some people are still patterning their life after EGW on lifestyle issues. I choose a higher power as my example. Luke 7:

33 'For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and ye say, He hath a demon;
34 "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

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I think we like to say that Peter’s vision was only about people and not about food, because it supports our doctrinal views. While I do believe that his vision in Acts 10 was primarily about people, the reality is that in the Jewish view of the 1st c. world, you were what you ate. There was no separation in their thinking between what was eaten, and the eater.

And, this wasn’t about heath, which is the modern Adventist emphasis and preoccupation. It was about ritual cleanness vs. uncleanness. One who ate pork, shellfish, or any other foods proscribed by the Torah, was considered the latter. They were ritually impure, outside the covenant, and the covenant people of God…IOW, a Gentile, and Gentiles as a whole.

It was this entire understanding that God was overthrowing in Peter’s mind, as he prepared him to go and give the gospel to a Gentile, stay at his house, and sit at his table while he was there. Food was to no longer be a matter that inhibited fellowship, or to identify one as being an outsider. Cornelius and his household all received the Holy Spirit when they accepted Jesus, just as the Jewish believers did. There is not a single word about Peter talking to him about changing his diet, or keeping kosher. He simply preached Jesus to him. Along with the overthrow of the requirement of circumcision, another Jewish identity marker, this was paving the way for the idea that Gentiles were to be accepted as Gentiles in the Messiah Jesus, and not be forced to live like Jews. This view never was, and could never even be entertained, in the SS lesson.

And, there is more evidence that Peter loosened his previous dietary strictures for the sake of welcoming Gentiles, as Gentiles, into table fellowship. Paul speaks of how he confronted Peter at Antioch, after Peter began backing away from this fellowship, saying to him, "How can you, who was living like a Gentile, try to force Gentiles to become like Jews? " Peter withdrew not just from simply sitting at the same table. Paul says he was living like a Gentile. It is simply not a stretch to say that Peter was not only associating freely with them, but eating freely with them as well…the same food at the same table as them.

He was living out what Paul said in Romans 14, “The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And, "I reckon that no food/nothing in and of itself, is unclean." When he felt pressured by Jewish traditionalists, he retreated from this freedom and free table fellowship, and brought division into the church at Antioch. It was why Paul rebuked him so soundly.

This is the same atmosphere I’ve seen in the Adventist church. We have cherry picked this OT ritual law, and transported it into the NT church where it doesn’t belong. It has become a source of overscrupulousness about dietary matters, that often divides people, and has been the source of all kinds of judgmental attitudes about people’s spirituality, and whether or not they are truly converted. It is an attitude I have seen within our own denomination, and towards Christians of other denominations, as well. The same attitude that God was trying to undo in Peter.

The idea of ritual purity and belonging to God over matters of food is over. The matter of God caring about our health, and wanting us to care about it as a gift from him, is not. The principle that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit is squarely in the NT. This takes into account far more than avoiding pork, shellfish, or anything else on the “unclean list.” It ostensibly points us to a well rounded, healthy, and wholistic way of living.

It also certainly points us away from thinking we’re whole because we avoid what’s on a checklist of “unclean” foods , while bingeing on Big Franks, Worthington canned foods, and Little Debbies.

Thanks…

Frank

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I find it interesting that Peter could object, even refuse and counter argue, a direct command of God. The authority of the Word did not circumvent his reason or personal judgment. I wonder if if Peter was influenced by the example of Jesus?

Not according to the bible.

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I gave a biblical argument, grounded in the NT, specifically the move to include Gentiles as Gentiles. Speak to that, rather then just making pronouncements.

Frank

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For those who read the Bible literally, their M.O. suddenly changes when confronted with the story of Peter and the “unclean foods.” It becomes a metaphor in accepting the former “unclean” Gentiles and nothing at all about the literal foods shown!

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Could you be more specific?

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