Statue of the Apostle Peter, St. Peterburg, Russia
28 And he [Peter] 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.
~ Ac 10:28
It should not be swept under the rug that there is an element of racism going on here. Let’s process what Peter said here.
Acts 10 starts with two visions. Peter has one of them, and it is about a sheet coming down from Heaven with unclean animals on it. Peter protests he has never eaten anything “common or unclean”. That’s odd wording. Furthermore, what did he mean that it was “unlawful” to go into the house of a Gentile? Where is that in God’s Law? Well, it isn’t.
Clean and unclean meats are outlined in the OT Law. Peter was still observing them, years after the death of Christ. The only hint in the four Gospels of anything different is a scribal entry in the margin of the text in the Book of Mark. It is left out of many modern translations because it is missing in so many ancient copies. The above opening to Peter’s speech should show it was not a vision about food but about our attitudes towards human beings of different races, cultures and backgrounds.
Specifically, anything “common” was ceremonially unclean. It was deemed unclean by the religious authority under their various teachings and rules, much like the nit-picky rules they made to build a fence around the Sabbath day. So, when Peter was saying that it was “unlawful” to go into Cornelius’ house, he meant it broke one of the religious leaders’ traditions that purportedly put a fence around the Law.
According to Edersheim, you could not enter a Gentile’s shop if it was festively decorated. A Jewess was not allowed to help a heathen woman who was about to give birth. Apparently, if you were the only person near a Gentile woman who was about to deliver a child, you could not assist her even if you were an experienced midwife.
“Milk drawn from a cow by heathen hands…might indeed be sold to strangers, but [it could not be] used by Israelites.”
“If a heathen were invited to a Jewish house, he I should not be left alone in the room, else every article of food or drink on the table was henceforth to be regarded as unclean.”
“If cooking utensils were bought of them, they had to be purified by fire or by water; knives to be ground anew, spits to be made red-hot before use, etc, etc.”
If a group of Jews was about to have a banquet for a wedding or a high day, you could ruin the occasion very easily. Just have a Gentile come in and place his hand on the table where the food was laid out. He need not actually touch the food or the eating utensils, just a corner of the table and the party would be over. No devout Jew would eat a morsel of food from that table.
~ Wesley White, “The Life and Teachings of Jesus, Part II: Religious Groups During His Time“, Dynamic Christian Ministries
To be fair, there are certain laws regarding dealing with Gentiles, but especially in regards to marriage. Israel was not to intermarry with the pagans of the land. However, that was just the point: pagans. Ruth was a Moabite. Rahab was from Jericho, and she was not what you might consider a paragon of virtue at that. The Law allowed Gentiles to convert, even under the Old Covenant! People seem to forget that small point.
Consider as well the Samaritans. They were racially and religiously impure from the viewpoint of many of the Jews, including of course the Pharisees. They mixed their beliefs with the beliefs of the Israelites who were deported out of the Kingdom of Israel to the north.
The Samaritans may have been the most hated of groups outside the Romans. It would be debatable who was more despised between the tax collectors (publicans) and Samaritans. That’s why the Parable of the Good Samaritan may have been the most shocking parable told by Jesus. It was likely more shocking that the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in which both sons acted in a totally disgraceful manner towards their father. When asked which was the neighbor to the man who was mugged, the scribe could not even bring himself to form the word “Samaritan”, could he? He simply said, “The one who showed mercy.” Yet not shocking enough, Jesus said to follow the Samaritan’s example! Can you imagine the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees?
The Bible tells us that the races are not so far apart after all.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
There is no superior race. That’s an unbiblical and heretical idea that demeans what it means to be created in the image of God. “We are also his offspring.” Who? “We” who are “made of one blood”!
There is no room for racism in Christianity. Paul confronted Peter for reverting to his prior style of behavior towards Gentiles for a good reason. It was hypocritical, for one thing. He acted differently depending upon who was around. However, it was also wrong because he was acting terribly towards fellow believers.
There are other forms of prejudice, aren’t there? There are the labels that people like to throw around to demonize people. “Left wing”, “right wing”, “Communist”, “Marxist” are just a few.
Bill O’Reilly made a splash recently about Nelson Mandela when he said, “He was a Communist!” Al “Charlatan” Sharpton, a man who makes a living by keeping the pot of racism stirred up, made sure that got out on his show, all the while cutting the tape right before O’Reilly praised Mandela. However, the “Communist” and “Marxist” labels are still uppermost in some people’s minds, even though that was years ago. For the record, Mandela did praise Fidel Castro, and the African National Congress declared itself in 2004 to be a social democratic party.
The real question for us should be: Who cares?
I am being quite serious. All of the governments of this world, including the democracies of the United States, Australia, etc., are not of God. That is the major reason we should not involve ourselves with the politics of this world. Which politician is going to stand for all godly values? Not a one. That is the problem. The politics of the world is always about compromise. God’s law says there is no compromising with His ways because His ways are always right.
It is time to denounce the denouncing of Nelson Mandela, for many of them are rooted in prejudice, pure and simple. Unfortunately, there is a stubborn prejudicial undercurrent that infects a few in the Church of God, whether it is racism or political prejudice.
Worse, such unchristian attitudes show the lack of the work of the Holy Spirit. As I’d already written in “Leaders Like Mandela, King Are ‘Forged in the Fire’“, Mandela came out of prison a changed man. What are we unless we Christians believe in the power of change? If mercy means nothing to us, then it means nothing at all.
Frankly, such ignorance and intolerance show the person to not be a Christian at all. Christ gave a stern warning to those who cannot forgive, and that same attitude carries forward in how we should be Good Samaritans in every way and “show mercy”.
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
~ Mt 6:15