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Peter’s Vision of Unclean Animals

Peter is credited with inaugurating the “Gentile mission” when he evangelized the centurion Cornelius and the people gathered in his household in Caesarea (cf. Acts 10-11). Before Peter met with Cornelius, he had a vision where he was commanded three times to eat the unclean animals that were lowered on a sheet from heaven. The primary message of the vision is about welcoming non-Jewish persons into the fold of the Jesus community. However, some scholars also understand the vision to deal with questions about mixed table fellowship between Jewish and non-Jewish individuals, confronting Peter’s assumption that it was even unlawful to visit Cornelius at his house in 10:28. I came across an older post by Michael Bird that lists several texts attesting to a range of attitudes over “Jews eating with Gentiles” and a few other texts are added in the comments. I would only add a few comments. First, we have to be careful how we evaluate the accusations that Jews refused to dine with others due to their alleged hatred of humanity in the Greco-Roman sources. These elite writers polemically distorted the cultural practices of all the subject peoples who were contrasted with their “civilized” imperial rulers. Second, the beliefs and practices of first-century Jews in Judaea or in the Diaspora were not monolithic. Thus, there was probably a spectrum from the absolute rejection of fellowship with non-Jewish outsiders (or perhaps also with other Jews perceived not to live up to the same standards of Torah observance or ritual purity), to permitting table fellowship as long as the Jewish diners could use their own utensils to cook kosher food or could eat only vegetables, to Jews who assimilated to varying degrees to the customs and diets of their non-Jewish neighbours. This may be related to the controversy over table fellowship in Antioch discussed in Galatians 2:11-14, so I will list some resources on that incident in the next post.

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