What is the meaning of Peter’s vision?
Peter’s vision comes part way through Acts 10. In Acts 10:1-8, a man called Cornelius, a Roman — so somebody who was a gentile, not a Jew — was spoken to by an angel who told him to make contact with Peter. Peter was a Jew, and Jews saw gentiles (i.e. non-Jews) as unclean people, people they couldn’t associate with [Acts 10:28]; so, if a gentile was to come to Peter then Peter would probably have not allowed him to join the Christian community, which was, at this point, made up only of Jews (Cornelius was soon to become the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity: Acts 10:48).
In the vision in Acts 10:11-15, God was preparing Peter for the arrival of the gentile, Cornelius. The “unclean animals” in the vision represented the gentiles, and God was saying that he counted them as “clean” [Acts 10:15]. God was inviting the gentiles into the communityof believers, and he wanted Peter (and the other Christians) to welcome them in, too.
The lesson from the vision dawns on Peter later in the chapter, where he says:
…God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. [Acts 10:28]
Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. [Acts 10:34-35]
However, it still took an exta miracle to totally prove the point to Peter and the other Jewish Christians: God caused the gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit so that they spoke in tounges [Acts 10:44-46]. After this, Peter declares:
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]
‘And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’ [Acts 10:48].
Is this to be used as a dietary law?
In itself, Acts 10:11-15 doesn’t tell us much about dietary laws — the lesson is about the need for the Christian community to accept people, regardless of their nationality or race, who fear God and do what is right (v35). However, it is supporting evidence for other passages in the New Testament that directly state there are now no dietary laws, e.g.:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink… [Col. 2:16]
…whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled… (Thus he [Jesus] declared all foods clean.) [Mark 7:18-19]
One man’s faith allows him to eat everything […] …no food is unclean in itself [Rom. 14:2,14 NIV]