Did God Really Want Peter to Kill and Eat Animals? Go Vegan! By Chapman Chen, HKBNews
Updated: Jun 28
Summary: Based on Acts 10, one day when Apostle Peter was praying on a rooftop, he had a vision in which a large sheet containing four-footed wild beasts, reptiles and fowls was let down from Heaven to him. A voice (God's?) told him to "kill and eat". But Peter declined on the ground that he had never consumed unclean animals. The voice then said thrice, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean," (Acts 10:14) after which the sheet was taken back to Heaven. Many a Christian thinks that this is God's permission for humans to eat all animals. In reality, this vision has only two demonstrable functions:- First, to test Peter's compassion to animals and his loyalty to God's law (cf. Jeremiah 35); Second, to show Peter that God had cleansed all gentiles and removed the divide between gentiles and Jews (as stated by Peter himself upon entering centurion Cornelius's house later on).
1. God's Test
In Jeremiah 35, Prophet Jeremiah followed God's instruction, went to the house of the Rechabites and gave them wine to drink. But they declined, on the ground that "Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, 'You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever'" (Jeremiah 35:6 NKJV). God then contrasted the Rechabites against the people of Judah: "Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me" (Jeremiah 35:16 NKJV). God thus said, “Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered" (Jeremiah 35:17 NKJV).
Similarly, Peter's vision of the animals in the sheet was God's test of Peter's compassion to animals, adherence to the Levitical laws forbidding the consumption of Treif (non-Kosher), as well as his wisdom to comprehend the real meaning of the vision -- putting the Gentiles on the same par as the Jews.
The Rechabites passed the test; so did Peter.
Note that both during and after the vision, Peter never killed nor ate any animals. Indeed, according to Homily XII, Peter thinks that "The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts, through participation in it a man becomes a fellow eater with devils". (Clementine Homilies is a second-century work based on the teachings of St. Peter.)
2. The Order of the Events
The causal relationship of Peter's vision to the annihilation of the Gentile-Jew divide is first indicated by Cornelius's invitation of Peter to his house happening right after the vision, while Peter was still wondering about its significance (Acts 10:17).
Now, as aforementioned, the Gentile-Jew divide was the norm for the Jews in those days.
3. Gentile-Jew Segregation Removed!
According to F.F. Bruce's (1984) The New International Commentary on the New Testament,
"A God-fearer [gentile] had no objection to the society of the Jews, but even a moderately orthodox Jew would not willingly enter the dwelling of a Gentile, God-fearer though he were. No doubt some of Peter's inherited prejudices were wearing thin by this time, but a special revelation was necessary to make him consent to visit a Gentile."
Nonetheless, when Peter entered the house of Cornelius, he frankly told Cornelius and his folk how he had just overcome the Jewish prejudices against the gentiles, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean" (Acts 10:28-29 NIV). Note that this is not our interpretation of the vision but Peter's own interpretation of it.
Peter thus preached to the house of Cornelius about Jesus Christ's good news. Peter particularly emphasized that God's salvation and forgiveness of sins was available to not only the Jews but also all Gentile nations and individuals who feared God and believed in Christ (Acts 10:35, 42 NIV).
Subsequently, as a confirmation of God's Grace for the Gentiles, Peter baptized Cornelius and his people with the Holy Spirit, who descended on them and enabled them to speak tongues (Acts 10:44-46 NIV).
And as if this were not enough proof of the true meaning of the vision, when Peter returned to his home town Joppa, upon being confronted by his Jewish colleagues about the legitimacy of his entering the house of a Gentile, Peter retold them his animal-sheet vision and convinced them about its true meaning. Henceforth, Peter and the other ministers spread Jesus Christ's good news to gentiles all over the world without any discrimination or reservation (Acts 11:1-21 NIV).
4. The Vision Had Nothing to Do with Food!
In conclusion, "the vision had nothing to do with food, but only about the salvation of the Gentiles", to borrow the words of Hoffman (2017). As put by Hoffman (2017), "The vision was only to attract Peter's attention. Peter knew that he was not to kill and eat the animals that were upon the sheet. He knew that God was only testing him...God was not cleansing unclean animals and making them clean. He was showing Peter that he was about to cleanse the hearts of the people whom the Jews considered to be unclean."
Tyler (2013), too, points out that "The purpose of Acts 10 was clearly not to encourage Christians to eat meat, and never in Scripture is it implied that it was."
Chen, Chapman (2020). "Proofs that Jesus was Vegan." Dec. 28, HKBNews. (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/proofs-that-jesus-was-vegan-%E6%85%88%E6%84%9B%E8%80%B6%E7%A9%8C%E9%A3%9F%E5%85%A8%E7%B4%A0-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
Chen, Chapman (2021). ”Jesus Asks us to Serve the Animals. Go Vegan!" July 10, HKBNews (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/jesus-asks-us-to-serve-the-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews)
Chen, Chapman (2021). "Follow Christ's Words n Love your Neighbors, includ. Animals." June 15, HKBNews. (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/follow-christ-s-words-n-love-your-neighbors-includ-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
Chen, Chapman (2021). "Does Genesis Prescribe a Vegan Diet or a Meat Diet?" June 17, HKBNews (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/does-genesis-prescribe-a-vegan-diet-or-a-meat-diet-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
Chen, Chapman (2021). "Which One was Vegan? Cain or Abel?" July 20, HKBNews (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/which-one-was-vegan-cain-or-abel-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews)
Hoffman, Frank L. (2017). "Acts 10:1-11:18 - The True Meaning of the Vision of the Animals in the Sheet". All-Creatures. org (https://www.all-creatures.org/discuss/svtacts10.1-11.18-flh.html)
John, Tyler (2013). "Towards a Theologically-motivated Veganism." (https://www.academia.edu/6504500/Toward_a_Theologically_motivated_Vegetarianism)
Pic: From the internet