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May We Eat "Unclean" Food or Blood?

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean (Acts 10:14). But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20).

A reader asks, "In Acts 10:14, Peter still seems to be observing food laws. Why is this? Jesus would have told him that that particular law was abrogated. This puzzles me. Can you explain this? Was it optional for Jewish Christians? Also, in Acts 15:20, blood is forbidden to be eaten in food. Does this apply today to all Gentile believers?"The first question, arising out of Acts 10:14, concerns Peter’s response to the command from heaven to eat unclean animals and birds, which came before him in a vision on the rooftop of Simon the tanner. Unknown to him, Peter was soon to be summoned by messengers from Cornelius to come to the house of this Gentile proselyte to bring the gospel to them. Peter was given this vision to prepare him for going to Cornelius’ home.

Peter needed this vision, for to visit in the home of a Gentile and eat with him was strictly forbidden by Jewish law. Further, to eat the animals, with which Peter was confronted in his vision on the rooftop of Simon’s house, and which he was commanded to eat, was also forbidden by Jewish law ( Lev. 11).

Two things must be grasped in order to understand this passage. First, the civil and ceremonial laws given to Israel in the OT were intended to set that nation apart from all the nations of the earth as God’s elect, covenant people. But, with the work of Christ, including the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, salvation was no longer limited to the Jewish nation, but was to break out of the confines of Israel and be brought to all nations. It was God’s purpose in Christ to save a catholic church, a church chosen from every nation, tribe and tongue.

Second, the early NT church had a very difficult time breaking away from the OT economy. The apostles still went to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1), even though the temple was a part of the OT law. Present in the early NT church were many who found it extremely hard to abandon completely the requirements of the old economy. Acts 15:1-2 indicates that the problem was so severe that a special synod had to be called to settle the issue.

Peter was having the same difficulty and had to be instructed in the truth that God was saving Gentiles too and bringing them into the fellowship of the church. The laws governing the life of the nation of Israel as a separate people were no more in effect. This principle, revealed to Peter in Joppa, holds good for the entire new dispensation.

Jesus would not necessarily have explained these things in detail to His disciples, because they would not have understood them in any case. They could not even comprehend that Christ had not come to establish an earthly kingdom, for, at the time of His ascension, they were still hoping and asking for such an earthly kingdom (Acts 1:6), even though Jesus had explicitly taught the disciples that His kingdom was heavenly (Luke 17:20-21John 3:3).

Nevertheless, Christ did explain these things to them, although they did not understand until the illuminating Spirit was poured out on the church. Christ had told them that He had come to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). He had explained to them that the food laws were not a requirement in the new dispensation (Mark 7:14-23). He had repeatedly told them that His calling from His Father was to suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and rise again the third day. But the disciples were perplexed and confused when these things actually took place, for they saw Jesus’ death as the end of their dreams. Even the resurrection was an event which they did not expect.

The second question, concerning the decision of the Jerusalem Council, to admonish the Gentiles to abstain from eating anything with blood is in the realm of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is also involved in the last question the reader asks in connection with Acts 10:14: "Was it [i.e., eating unclean animals] optional for Jewish Christians?"

We can only deal with the issue of Christian liberty very briefly in this connection. Paul’s great epistle to the Galatians has sometimes been called "The Charter of Christian Liberty." (See also Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8; 10:19-33).

The church in the old dispensation was under the law, because the Israelites were children and the law was a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ (Gal. 3:23-4: 7). But Christ fulfilled the law so that all the ordinances and requirements of the OT law are no longer binding on the NT church. Our freedom from the law is a gift of Christ through the Spirit in our hearts.

The NT saint, who walks in the liberty of the gospel, is one who is able to decide for himself what he may do and what he may not do with respect to those many things which are not specifically mentioned in Scripture as right or wrong.

We must remember, however, several things about Christian liberty. First, the believer makes his decisions on what is right and what is wrong for him on the basis of the abiding principles of the moral law of God, summed in the decalogue. He does not have "freedom to do as he pleases." Second, he may not use his liberty as an occasion for the flesh (Gal. 5:13), that is, he may not appeal to Christian liberty to satisfy his sinful pleasures. Third, our liberty is curtailed by our calling not to offend our brother. If our conduct is the occasion for our brother to sin against his own conscience, we are guilty of a heinous sin (I Cor. 8:11-13). Finally, the one standing in Christian liberty decides for himself whether he may eat meat from animals called unclean in the OT law (e.g., pork) and whether he may eat a prime rib of beef which is cooked very rare. These principles apply to both Jewish and Gentile converts, who are one in Christ.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 13
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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  • State or Province
    MI
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  • Country
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  • Telephone
    616-667-6033

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