Peterâ€™s Conversation with God: A Lesson in the Perspicuity of Scripture
Many Christians are familiar with Acts chapters 10-11 and Peterâ€™s vision. This passage is often cited to indicate an abolition of the dietary laws of the Old Testament. What many people may not be familiar with, however, is the conversation that I imagine went on behind the scenes between Peter and God. It went something like this:
G.â€” â€œPeter, I need you to go speak with a Roman army officer. His name is Cornelius. Heâ€™s a nice guy. I like him, and I need you to minister to him.â€
P.â€” â€œYou are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to go and visit with him, is something that just isnâ€™t done. Heâ€™s goyim, and therefore unclean.â€
A time passes, and Peter goes onto the rooftop to rest. While there, he has the vision that is so well-known. The heavens opened, a great sheet is lowered and â€œin it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the airâ€ (Acts 10:12). God then speaks:
G.â€” â€œPeter! Rise, kill and eat.â€
P.â€” â€œI hear you Lord. I see there are some unclean animals in that sheet, food that is forbidden in the Torah. I donâ€™t eat unclean foods.â€
G.â€” â€œGood man. Keep up the standards. Peter! Rise, kill and eat.â€
P.â€” â€œI heard you the first time. And I repeat my response to you. I have never eaten anything that is unclean or common. So why do you have unclean animals in that sheet? Are you asking me to eat unclean foods?â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, I have a lesson for you. Stop treating as unclean what I have made clean.â€
P.â€” â€œOK, so youâ€™re telling me, â€˜start treating as clean what You made unclean?â€™ That doesnâ€™t make sense to me. But if you insist on changing the rules, who am I to object.â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, thatâ€™s not what I said. I did not say â€˜start treating as clean what I have declared as unclean.â€™ You missed the point because you got the message back-to-front. Letâ€™s start this conversation for a third time and see if we can get on the same page. â€¦ Peter! Rise, kill and eat.â€
P.â€” â€œLord, this is the third time Iâ€™ve heard this. And Iâ€™m going to repeat myself, just so you know where I stand on this dietary stuff. I do not eat food that is unclean. So why are you asking me to eat unclean foods?â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, I did not ask you to eat food that was unclean. All Iâ€™ve done is ask you to rise, kill and eat, and Iâ€™ve displayed all these clean and unclean animals for you to choose from. Did I say choose unclean animals? The way youâ€™re interpreting my words is called eisegesis. Listen up! What I said is this: â€˜stop treating as unclean what I have made clean.â€™â€
P.â€” â€œBut you said â€˜kill and eat.â€™â€
G.â€” â€œI also said â€˜rise.â€™ And you seem to have no problem with this word. Now â€˜riseâ€™ can mean â€˜rise like the sunâ€™ so when I say rise, I could mean get up, move above the earthâ€™s surface, and generate heat and light like the sun. But you accepted my plain and ordinary meaning of the word â€˜rise.â€™ Maybe you should do the same with the two words â€˜killâ€™ and â€˜eatâ€™ and stop forcing them to say something that the ordinary sense of the words do not mean. Do you think Iâ€™m a Gnostic with hidden meaning in my words?
P.â€” â€œNo, Lord. I donâ€™t think youâ€™re a Gnostic. Youâ€™re certainly mysterious, and in one sense incomprehensible to man. And sometimes you speak in parables that take a lot of serious thought.â€
G.â€”â€œStop and think about the clarity of My words, Peter. When I gave the list of foods that were clean and unclean, was I not clear? Were there some hidden words that people had to probe in order to identify first, what the list of unclean animals was going to be, and second, to comprehend that I do not want my people to eat them? I thought I was pretty clear on that. Now if I was clear in giving My instructions, donâ€™t you think I would be just as clear if I changed them? Why would I use hidden meanings in words?â€
P.â€” â€œLord, you were very clear. So clear itâ€™s embarrassing. So letâ€™s not mess around here. Are you saying that itâ€™s now OK to eat chicken and bacon subs?â€
G.â€” â€œWhy would I tell you that? Peter, you seem intent on making this a conversation about diet, which is why you keep taking the words I say, â€˜stop treating as unclean what I have made clean,â€™ and turning them on their head with your â€˜itâ€™s OK to call clean what God used to call unclean.â€™ Why do you do this?
P.â€” â€œItâ€™s called the â€˜perspicuity of scripture.â€™â€
G.â€” â€œWhatâ€™s that Peter? Can you explain it?â€
P.â€” â€œSure. Itâ€™s a phase that has a general meaning about Scripture. It explains nothing in and of itself. But itâ€™s a great argument to use when you donâ€™t want to be too specific.â€
G.â€” â€œAnd when you use that phrase Peter, are you thinking of My perspicuity of Scripture or someone elseâ€™s? And is this not really what our discussion entails? Iâ€™ll say it again; this is not a conversation about diet. Itâ€™s about categories of clean and unclean and which category goyim belong to. This is a discussion about who determines what is clean or unclean. So Iâ€™m going to say it again, since you have some difficulty comprehending this point: Stop treating as unclean what I have made clean. Yes, youâ€™re right. It is about the perspicuity of Scripture. Itâ€™s about the perspicuity of My Word.â€
P.â€” â€œAll right I donâ€™t get it. Explain it to me.â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, it is simple, really. Do not change My categories. Do you get it yet? These are not your categories; they are mine. Iâ€™ll say it one more time. Stop treating as unclean what I have made clean.â€
P.â€” â€œI still donâ€™t get it. You told me to kill and eat, and you showed me that huge canvas with all those clean and unclean animals in it. Whatâ€™s that about if itâ€™s not about diet?â€
G.â€” â€œThis is a lesson about what is clean and unclean and who determines those categories â€“ that is, about My perspicuity of Scripture. I surely said â€˜kill and eat.â€™ But thatâ€™s all those words contain, and your imagination is running wild to make â€˜kill and eatâ€™ mean the same as â€˜dietary laws lifted.â€™ I am not using either word to indicate what should be killed and eaten. What should be eaten is determined by My rules of what is kosher. And you have a serious misunderstanding of these rules because you use your own definition of clean and unclean. Thus, this discussionâ€™s about who makes the rules. Itâ€™s about who makes the categories of clean and unclean. Three times I have said, â€˜Stop treating as unclean what I have made clean.â€™ Which word here donâ€™t you understand? I want you to stop changing My definitions of clean and unclean. I need you to understand this point so that when a couple of goyim come knocking on your door in a little while, you will know how to respond.â€
P.â€” â€œGoyim? I canâ€™t talk to them; theyâ€™re unclean! But you really do appear quite decided that this is not about diet. So I guess I canâ€™t now start eating ham and pineapple pizza?â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, I am the Lord who does not change. Thatâ€™s the perspicuity of Scripture youâ€™re missing. Donâ€™t you remember those words recorded in the Tanakh? You should know them well, since up until this point, youâ€™ve been a Scripture-believing, Messiah-believing follower of Me. Now where were you when I gave my sermon on the Mount? Did you pay attention? I said at that time, â€˜not one jot or tittle of the Torah is abolished.â€™ And that, just to make the point a little sharper, is a mere repetition of what I said centuries before in Psalm 119:151-152. There, I made sure it was written down that my instructions are forever. Now, from My position Peter, â€˜foreverâ€™ is a really long time, not just a few centuries. Iâ€™m not called the everlasting God for no reason. Here I am giving it again: My perspicuity of Scripture. Get it?â€
â€œWhat makes you think I am now contradicting what I have said earlier? Why would I do that? Gosh, every God-hating goyim in the world is just waiting for that day. Didnâ€™t you notice the number of times the legalistic Pharisees, who like to twist my words to mean something I never intended, tried to catch me contradicting the Torah when I was with you on earth? They had a perspicuity of Scripture that was just plain wrong. They were just waiting for me to renounce what Iâ€™ve said in the past. Iâ€™ve never done this before, and Iâ€™m not about to do it now; and you can be certain I will not do it in the future of earth. Otherwise, you will have trouble with some other words of mine: â€˜I am Adonai. I do not change (Mal. 3:6).â€™â€
â€œNow, back to my instructions to you, to â€˜stop treating as unclean what I have made clean.â€™ Which of my words are you having trouble with? I really am speaking as clearly as I can now, just as I spoke clearly on the Mount, and just as I spoke in the Psalms.â€
P.â€” â€œSo you mean that I am somehow mixing your categories of clean and unclean?â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, you got it â€¦ at last! Now, go do what I instructed you to do. Get off your backside and go answer the knock on the door. Thereâ€™s a couple of guys sent by Cornelius. I want you to go with them.â€
P.â€” â€œLord, you know that there are people who think that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to visit with him, is something that just isnâ€™t done. The goyim are unclean. I canâ€™t talk to them.â€
G.â€” â€œPeter, I had your fellow-disciple John record some words. I canâ€™t tell you the chapter and verse, because they are not in the current manuscripts. But I said on one occasion, and John wrote it down, that you cannot understand what I say until you understand Moses and the Torah. How many times do I have to tell you, â€˜stop treating as unclean what I have made clean.â€™ Go check the Torah and see if I classified the goyim as unclean.â€
P.â€” â€œLord, are you trying to tell me that the goyim are clean and that itâ€™s kosher to talk to them?â€
G.â€” â€œAt long last . . .â€
P.â€” â€œLord, I hate to interrupt this conversation, but thereâ€™s a knock at the door and there are three guys from Caesarea asking for me.â€
G.â€” â€œGet up, go downstairs, and have no misgivings about going with them, because I myself have sent them.â€
P.â€” â€œIâ€™m gonna go with them, and you know what? I feel really good about this. And by the way, thanks for the conversation. I learned something.â€
G.â€” â€œWhat did you learn?â€
P.â€” â€œNot to treat as unclean what you have made clean. For a while I was turning your words backwards, and I thought you said â€˜start treating as clean what I have declared as unclean.â€™ But now I see this does not make sense. What does make sense is that I keep Your categories of clean and unclean and stop making up my own rules on these things. And now I know I was ignoring Your categories of clean and unclean and using mine in their place. Lord, weâ€™re now on the same page on this one. Now I understand the phrase, â€˜perspicuity of Scripture.â€™ Thanks for the insightâ€”and your persistence with me.â€
â€œBut you know, Lord, Iâ€™m going to be in real trouble when I hit Jerusalem. A bunch of Circumcised believers there will criticize me for visiting and eating with the goyim. What should I tell them?
G.â€” â€œTell them, â€˜Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.â€™ See if they get the message that I am the Lord; I change not. And that means My categories of clean and unclean remain intact. Tell them about the new perspicuity of Scripture that you have, and how it is a perspicuity of continuity, not discontinuity. It is My definition that classifies goyim as clean. Not your definition, and certainly not the definition of these Circumcised believers.â€
And Peter met with Cornelius, stayed a few days, then made his way to Jerusalem. When the Circumcision crowd questioned his mixing with the goyim, Peter responded as God instructed and told them about the vision and the perspicuity of Scripture.
â€œOn hearing these things, they stopped objecting and began to praise God, saying, â€˜This means that God has enabled the Goyim as well to do tâ€™shuvah [repentance] and have life!â€™â€
Thus everyone learned the lesson of Peterâ€™s vision which could be called a lesson in the perspicuity of Scripture. And Peter never once thereafter doubted that the dietary laws remain intact, as commanded by the Lord who does not change. And he never more doubted that perspicuity of Scripture really should mean continuity of Scripture, not discontinuity.
This article originally appeared on Biblical Landmarks and is reproduced here with permission.