6. Lesson From Acts 10

 

The poison of Ethnocentric Jewish Exclusivism permeated the first century Jewish society. A careful reading of the Greek of Acts chapter 10 and Kefa’s conversation with HaShem will show that this simple fisherman was also blinded by the prevailing halakhah that sought to avoid Gentiles at all costs. Firstly, allow me to define the important Greek words we will encounter during this section:

 

  • 5399-Phobeo fobevw (V)+2316-theon qeo;n (N, M)=feared+God (i.e., God-fearer).
  • 2840-Koinoo koinovw (V)=to make common, to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, defile, profane.
  • 2839-Koinos koinovß (A)=common, i.e., ordinary, belonging to generality, by the Jews, unhallowed, profane.
  • 2511-Katharizo kaqarivzw (V)=to make clean, cleanse, consecrate, dedicate, purify (morally or ritually).
  • 111-Athemitos ajqevmitoß (A)=contrary to law and justice, illicit, (i.e., taboo).
  • 169-Akathartos ajkavqartoß (A)=unclean, ceremonially, that which must be abstained from according to Levitical Law, foul.

 

Having made us aware of the language of Luke’s narrative, let us pick up the study from my previous commentary to Acts 10:

 

Q: While the vision of the food is clearly in view, when HaShem responds to Kefa’s refusal, he only instructs Kefa not to call common (koinoo koinovw) that which he (God) has cleansed katharizo kaqarivzw. Why doesn’t HaShem also teach Kefa not to call unclean (akathartos ajkavqartoß) that which God has ostensibly cleansed katharizo kaqarivzw?

A: Obviously God has not cleansed (katharizo kaqarivzw) those animals that he created to be declaratively unclean (akathartos ajkavqartoß)! If I, Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy, the author of this commentary, could convey this single, important point to your average Christian pastor, then we would not be having this conversation at all! The vision is just that—a vision! The proof that God is not truly altering Kefa’s paradigm in regards to food but rather to non-Jews is borne out by the careful attention to not mention akathartos ajkavqartoß in verse 15, yet by his Ruach HaKodesh impress Kefa to utilize the word akathartos ajkavqartoß in regards to non-Jews in verse 28. The Levitical definition of permitted and forbidden animals, as outlined in chapter 11, cannot change! God remains the same both yesterday, today, and forever! Why would he need to change the rules governing the definition of food with the arrival of his Son? It makes nonsense to suppose such a reading of Acts chapter 10! To be sure, if God were supposedly changing the rules, giving the information to a “country bumpkin” like Kefa—and in a vision no less—is the wrong way to go about doing it, wouldn’t you agree? We should not suppose that this is a mystery hidden from the Jewish people only now to be revealed after his Son has gone to the execution stake (on the same level as the mystery of the gospel that the Gentiles are now to be welcomed into Isra'el as full-fledged covenant members if they place their trust in Yeshua).

 

Q: If HaShem is not cleansing (katharizo kaqarivzw) unclean (akathartos ajkavqartoß) animals then what is he cleansing? How are we to understand the vision?

A: I personally believe that Kefa's interpretation of his own vision is the best and most important interpretation offered. Namely this: what HaShem has designated as kosher (fit for consumption) and treif (not fit for consumption) in the Torah of Moshe, concerning food, still remains clean (tahor r{h'J) and unclean (tamei aem'j) respectively. Although the sheet contained all manner of animals, I believe what HaShem is trying to get Kefa to understand is that the animals represent all manner of peoples, not the literal animals themselves. This interpretation is in accord with the unchangeable nature of HaShem. To be sure, is this not how Kefa interprets the vision himself in verses 28, 34 and 35?

 

28 He said to them, "You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn't done. But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean.

 

34 Then Kefa addressed them: "I now understand that God does not play favorites, 35 but that whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to (Emphasis, mine).

 

Q: But I thought that the Torah forbade Jews from having contact with Gentiles. Isn’t that what Kefa explicitly tells his Gentile associates in verse 28, which you quoted above?

A: Observe Acts 10:28 in 10 various, yet common English translations (the original Greek word athemitos ajqevmitoß has been identified and underlined in each version):

 

NASB (New American Standard Bible): 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.

 

GWT (God’s Word Translation): He said to them, "You understand how wrong it is for a Jewish man to associate or visit with anyone of another race. But God has shown me that I should no longer call anyone impure or unclean.

 

KJV (King James Version): And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

 

ASV (American Standard Version): and he said unto them, Ye yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation; and yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean:

 

BBE (Bible in Basic English): And he said to them, You yourselves have knowledge that it is against the law for a man who is a Jew to be in the company of one who is of another nation; but God has made it clear to me that no man may be named common or unclean:

 

DBY (Darby Bible Translation): And he said to them, Ye know how it is unlawful for a Jew to be joined or come to one of a strange race, and to me God has shewn to call no man common or unclean.

 

WEY (Weymouth New Testament): He said to them, "You know better than most that a Jew is strictly forbidden to associate with a Gentile or visit him; but God has taught me to call no one unholy or unclean.

 

WBS (Webster Bible Translation): And he said to them, Ye know that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come to one of another nation; but God hath shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

 

WEB (World English Bible): He said to them, "You yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man who is a Jew to join himself or come to one of another nation, but God has shown me that I shouldn't call any man unholy or unclean.

 

YLT (Young’s Literal Translation): And he said unto them, 'Ye know how it is unlawful for a man, a Jew, to keep company with, or to come unto, one of another race, but to me God did shew to call no man common or unclean.

 

Isn’t it interesting that from 10 English translations all but three render our Greek word as “unlawful”? The GWT, the BBE, and the WEY, however, attempt to supply a slightly different nuance than unlawful to this word, an attempt I call commendable. Even The Scriptures, a version popular among Messianics, leaves room for questioning the real intent of the translators:

 

And he said to them, “You know that a Yehudite man is not allowed to associate with, or go to one of another race. But Elohim has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

 

The Greek word athemitos ajqevmitoß, found in only two places in the Apostolic Scriptures,[1] is a composite of two Greek words: the word tithemi tivqhmi meaning “to set, put, place, set forth, establish,” and again, the article “a” rendering the word tithemi tivqhmi into its negative value.[2] Thus, athemitos ajqevmitoß does convey the notion of “unlawful,” but we should carefully note that if Kefa wanted us to understand that such a prohibition was rooted in the written word of God, the Torah, then he would have used a conjugation of the Greek word nomos novmoß, which normally refers to God’s Torah. To be sure, our writer Luke uses anomos a[nomoß at Acts 2:23 (rendered “wicked” in KJV and “godless” in the NASB) when referring to those men who crucified Yeshua. The TSBD defines the adjective anomos a[nomoß as “destitute of the Mosaic law, departing from the law, a violator of the law, lawless, wicked.”[3] By comparison, the adjective athemitos ajqevmitoß refers to that which, although not written down, is simply socially unacceptable, viz, taboo, but certainly not proscribed by Moshaic Law. David Sterns CJB is a better translation of this pasuk:

 

He said to them, "You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn't done. But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean (Emphasis, mine).[4]

 

The Torah of Moshe never prohibits Jews from “keeping company” or “coming unto one of another nation.” This statement of Kefa’s reflects the “ethnocentric Jewish exclusivism” baggage that the Torah communities of his day had engineered, baggage not uncommon among people groups who are marginalized. In other words, Kefa was just regurgitating the standard mantra of his day. This did not excuse his error, which is why HaShem went through all the trouble to send him the vision in the first place.

 

In the end, considering how the written Word of God describes forbidden and permissible foods, and considering the core nature of the Gospel as revealed to Abraham, the father of those faithful Jews and Gentiles who are in Messiah (Romans chapter 4; Galatians chapter 3), the message of the Acts 10 vision is actually crystal clear. Certain forbidden animals of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are declaratively unclean (akathartos ajkavqartoß, corresponding Hebrew is tamei aem'j), and thus should not be eaten by covenant members because HaShem says not to eat them (he declares them “off limits”). The Torah never hints at a time when such a declaration would be reversed by Divine decree or such (the traditional understanding of the Acts 10 vision). However, those loyal to covenant faithfulness need not worry because the vision was never about food in the first place. It was about people. Those Gentiles from the nations that God was brining into Remnant Isra'el via faith in Yeshua are not intrinsically (and thus, irredeemably) unclean (akathartos ajkavqartoß) like the 1st century Judaisms were professing. Jews should not avoid them merely because they are Gentiles by birth and remain Gentiles in Yeshua. They, like all men, have been created in God’s image, and as such, should be viewed as defiled (koinos koinovß) by the stain of sin, yet in need of cleansing (katharizo kaqarivzw) by the blood of Yeshua.[5]

 



[1] Acts 10:28; 1 Peter 4:3

[2] TSBD, ἀθέμιτος.

[3] TSBD, a[nomoß.

[4] For a thorough treatment of Stern’s reasoning behind his translation of this verse see his Jewish New Testament Commentary, pp. 258-259.

[5] Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy, Acts 10 (Tetze Torah Ministries, 2007), pp. 4-7.