9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.
10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance;
11 and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground,
12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.
13 A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" 14 But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean."
15 Again a voice came to him a second time, " What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."
16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. NASU
A highlight of the story (Acts 10:1-11:18) of the breakthrough of the gospel among the Gentiles is the supernatural way that God led both Cornelius and Peter. In Acts 10:1-8 the Lord spoke to Cornelius through a vision and an angel. Now, God speaks to Peter through an experience that Luke later (Acts 10:19) calls a vision. Peter falls into a trance, sees an object like a sheet coming down, and hears a voice speaking to him. These dramatic events are a part of the process of opening a door of faith to the Gentiles.
When the angel spoke to Cornelius, he immediately (Acts 10:7-8) sent two servants and one solder to Joppa. These messengers departed from Caesarea sometime after 3:00 p.m. The distance to Joppa was about 24 miles (Lenski, p. 401; Gangel says 31 miles), so the men had to make good time. It was about the sixth hour (noon) when the group approached Joppa.
Peter was in the home of Simon the tanner (Acts 10:5-6) whose house was by the sea. A lot of water is needed for tanneries. Peter was on the housetop praying. This was a housetop and not an upper room. Many homes in Palestine had an outdoor flight of steps to a flat root. The flat roofs were commonly used (e.g. Nehemiah. 8:16; Jerusalem 19:13) as places to pray and for other purposes.
As Peter was praying, he became hungry and desired to eat. While a meal was being prepared he "fell into a trance (ekstasis)" and saw a vision. Our word "trance" is a translation of the Greek word ekstasis. According to Arndt and Gingrich (p. 244), ekstasis can mean distraction, confusion, astonishment, or terror. In addition they say that it can mean trance or ecstasy. A trance (or ecstasy), they say, is "a state of being brought about by God, in which consciousness is wholly or partially suspended." They cite Acts 10:10 as an illustration of this meaning. Whatever his precise state of mind, Peter saw a vision.
Peter saw the sky opened up and an object like a great sheet coming down. It was lowered by the four corners to the ground. God was about to ask Peter to do what he normally would not do. To reach the Gentiles, he must overcome some of his past views. He was very familiar with the Jewish laws about clean and unclean animals. These laws are presented in Leviticus 11:1-47.
The sheet was filled with "all kinds [panta] of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air." Concerning the Greek word panta, Robertson (p. 136) says it literally means "all," but that "clearly all varieties" are intended. He (p. 136) says that "Both clean and unclean animals are in the sheet." To the mind of Peter it was probably an unholy mixture.
At this point a voice said, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" Peter replied, "By no means, Lord (kurie), for I have never eaten anything unholy (koinos) and unclean (akatharton)." The Greek words are interesting. The word kurie (Lord) can mean "Sir," but Peter probably understood the voice to be divine. Peter said he had never eaten anything koinos or akatharton. The word koinos means "common" or "shared by all," but it can have an unholy connotation. This connotation is made clear by the word akartharton, which means ceremonially "unclean." Because of his background, Peter politely objected to what the voice commanded.
After Peter objected (Acts 10:15), "Again a voice came to him a second time." What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." Here is clear evidence that dietary laws were not timeless and changeless. This warning was given three times before the "object" was taken up into heaven. Obviously, God reserves the right to change or interpret any dietary laws.
Peter was present when Jesus (Mark 7:18-23) declared that it was not what goes into a man's stomach but what comes out of his heart that defiles him. It was not until now, however, that he understood the full truth of what Jesus taught.
Now, the question arises as to what this had to do with the Gentiles. Did the vision only have to do with food laws or was there a wider application? The answer lies in Leviticus 20:24-26. The Jews were to be separate from other peoples. Because of this, they had to make a distinction between the clean and unclean animals. The Jews could not eat with Gentiles.
It was Peter himself who applied the vision to the Gentiles. Speaking to Cornelius and his friends, Peter (Acts 10:28) said: "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean." NASU Clearly, God's command applied by analogy to the Gentiles.
George M. Flattery
Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Cambridge: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Arrington, French L. The Acts of the Apostles. Peabody: Hendrikson Publishers, 1988.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
© Copyright 2003. GMF.