Matthew 5:17 Ministries

Kefa’s Vision

Acts 10:9–16 (CJB)

9 The next day about noon, while they were still on their way and approaching the city, Kefa went up onto the roof of the house to pray. 10 He began to feel hungry and wanted something to eat; but while they were preparing the meal, he fell into a trance 11 in which he saw heaven opened, and something that looked like a large sheet being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, crawling creatures and wild birds. 13 Then a voice came to him, “Get up, Kefa, slaughter and eat!” 14 But Kefa said, “No, sir! Absolutely not! I have never eaten food that was unclean or treif.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time: “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and then the sheet was immediately taken back up into heaven. 17 Kefa was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen, when the men Cornelius had sent, having inquired for Shim’on’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask if the Shim’on known as Kefa was staying there. 19 While Kefa’s mind was still on the vision, the Spirit said, “Three men are looking for you.

Some commentators speculate that in his trance on the seaside rooftop, what Kefa (Peter) saw was not a sheet but the sail of a boat passing by. And indeed, othonē could be translated as ‘sail-cloth’ (11, NEB). The main point of his vision, however, was what the sheet contained: all manner of four-footed animals, reptiles, and wild birds, a mixture of clean and unclean creatures. 

10:12–14 All kinds of four-footed animals, crawling creatures, and wild birds. Leviticus 11 specifies that only those four-footed animals that chew the cud and have split hoofs are kosher (clean or unclean) for Jewish people to eat. No reptiles are allowed, and permitted birds are listed by name. In Kefa’s vision, all kinds of creatures appeared, including treif (nonkosher; literally, “torn”). The word “treif” refers to animals slain “torn” by predators and not slaughtered per Jewish practice. 

17–19 Kefa was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen …. Kefa’s mind was still pondering the vision. What could it possibly mean? Would God, who established his covenant with the Jewish people and gave them an eternal Torah at Mount Sinai, and who is himself unchangeable (Malachi 3:6), change his Torah to make unclean animals clean? This is the apparent meaning, and many Christian commentators assert that this is the meaning. But they ignore the plain statement a few verses later, resolving Kefa’s puzzlement. Let’s explore this common misinterpretation.  

As stated, the vision itself left him confused. But while he was wondering (RSV, ‘inwardly perplexed’) about the meaning of the vision, the delegation sent by Cornelius found out where his house was and stopped at the gate (17). They called out, asking if Simon, known as Kefa, was staying there (18). Then, while Kega was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him (in some direct, unmistakable way), ‘Simon, three men are looking for you (19). So get up and go downstairs.

Do not hesitate to go with them, for I (the Spirit) have sent them’ (20). Although the vision challenged the fundamental distinction between clean and unclean foods Peter had been brought up to make, the Spirit related this to the difference between clean and unclean people and told him to stop making it. That Peter grasped this clearly from his later statement: ‘God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean’ (28). So Kefa went down and said to the men who had come from Cornelius: ‘I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?’ (21).

The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius, the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man who all the Jewish people respect. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say (22). At this, he invited the three men into the house to be his guests (23a). This seems to mean that he gave them lodging even though they were  Gentiles. We note how perfectly God dovetailed his working in Cornelius and Peter.

While he was praying and seeing his vision, the men from Cornelius were approaching the city (9–16). While Peter was still perplexed about the meaning of what he had seen, the men arrived at his house (17–18). As Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit told him that the men were looking for him, and he must not hesitate to go with them (19–20). And when Peter went down and introduced himself to them, they explained the purpose of their visit (21–23). 

“God has shown me not to call any person unclean or impure” (v. 28). So the vision is about persons and not about food. God specifies in Leviticus 11 what is regarded as “food.” God has not abolished the Jewish dietary laws. Yeshua said, “Don’t think that I have come to do away with the Torah” (Mt 5:17–20). The specific issue of whether Yeshua abolished kashrut had already been addressed in Mk 7:19, the conclusion being that he did not. In Kefa’s vision, the sheet lowered from heaven did contain all kinds of animals and wild birds. Yet, I know no Bible interpreters who insist that eagles, vultures, owls, bats, weasels, mice, lizards, crocodiles, chameleons, snakes, spiders, and bugs must now be considered clean and therefore edible. Later, how the laws of kashrut fit into the New Covenant is clarified for Kefa and us (Ga 2:12, 14b). So, as you see, the vision was about people and not about food.