Resolved: to be as biblical as possible in writing about the crisis of twenty-first century human culture;

Resolved: to frame the contemporary issues with biblical categories, in order to name with accuracy, the protagonists in our present struggle for truth and sanity in a world seduced by lies;

Resolved: to strengthen the faith of the rising generation of Christians, who are being raised in a world increasingly hostile to Christian truth, by helping them recognize and embrace the coherence of a biblical Two-ist worldview, as well as understand and reject the attraction of the pervasive One-ist lie;

Resolved: to clearly articulate the distinct lines between One-ism and Two-ism, so that faithful believers can distinguish orthodoxy from heresy in the present Church, and resist with discernment the thoughts of “progressive evangelicals” whose teachings lead believers into pagan apostasy;

Resolved: to aid non-Christians in understanding the spiritual issues of life, the worldview they have consciously or unconsciously adopted, and to consider the power of biblical truth and the good news of God in Jesus Christ;

Resolved: To oppose the all-invasive multi-cultural synthesis of contemporary discourse, in order to stimulate the recovery of an “antithesis” approach to reality, where the options of One-ism and Two-ism are clearly perceived and stated, and to stimulate a renaissance in antithesis preaching, antithesis scholarship, antithesis art, music, literature, science, law and commerce, to the glory of God, the Creator and Redeemer, who is blessed forever. Amen.

(Adapted from Peter Jones. One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference)

Is it a sin?

“Is it a sin?”

I’ve heard this question delivered with defiance and with sincere desire to understand. In this vein sometimes one hears, “Is it a sin, or just not recommended?” The question can apply to almost any behavior (or lack thereof) and is typically trotted out in discussion about something different than your conversation partner’s present practice.

“Is it a sin?” is a loaded question both in terms of what it reveals about a perspective too many of us unconsciously share, and in what it suggests may be behind the perspective of the person to whom the question is posed.

But let me put it this way: sin is anything less than the perfect glory of God (Romans 3:23), so yes, doing anything Jesus wouldn’t do is a sin. However, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jess….shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid!

So what am I saying? We are swimming in sins of a variety of kinds, some of ignorance, some of weakness, and some of our own deliberate fault; praise be to God that we have forgiveness of these many sins through the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. So, now that I have no obligation to earn my salvation or to try and improve God’s opinion of me, I am now free to diligently labor to imitate Jesus ever more faithfully over time, as He leads and convicts me, and enabled to do so by the presence and leading of His Spirit in my new man. We are privileged to have His help in gradually re-fashioning our selves back into the image in which we were originally created.

I thought about it this morning, when once again God woke me up 30 minutes before my alarm, and I sensed He was calling me to come spend time with Him. Yesterday, I started praying but stayed in bed… there is this complex mixture of truths that I reflected on as I sat on the edge of my bed and then shuffled downstairs. On the one hand, I realize that God is calling me to live up to the potential for which He created me, and the circumstances of my life will be altered as a result of how faithful or unfaithful I am to His ways. On the other hand, I thought about how I feel when I open my kids bedroom door at 6:30 am and they moan and stretch and then rise to go swim… my feelings are entirely loving and positive–there is no condemnation or impatience in my heart, just love for them–and I pondered the truth that this is how God feels about me as well. And some mornings because I both want what is best for them, but also have compassion on them, I want to just let them sleep…as we did this morning. And I know that this too is what God is like: 

Psalm 103:13–14 

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Letter to My Kids on Tattoos

Dear Kids,

As you know, I have a tattoo on my left leg. Knowing that is the case, what would my advice to you be about getting a tattoo or getting noticeable piercings? I’m glad you asked! <wink>

First, let’s discuss whether the Bible has anything to say about this topic. The majority of people will tell you that anything the Bible has to say on the topic doesn’t apply today. That’s hogwash, although I didn’t know that when I got a tattoo.

I was raised in a fairly typical evangelical home where I learned that either God’s law has been done away with, or that the Law of Moses has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Neither one of those ideas is biblical, but you will find that most American Christians today believe something along those lines.

So what is the truth? If when in need of justification, the law of God continues today to point out our sin and our subsequent need of a Saviour, then it necessarily follows that God’s law continues to instruct us today, once we have been justified. In other words, if without God the law condemns us, then it must be true that with God the law instructs us. According to the Bible sin is lawlessness (Romans 4:7; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 3:4) and the wages of sin is death. What then is the converse of lawlessness? And of death? If, as Paul writes, the blessed are those, “whose lawless deeds are forgiven,” then what type of deeds will the blessed person be typified by? Lawful deeds, of course.

Please understand this clearly, I am not describing a peculiarly Calvinist or Arminian belief. Both perspectives agree, as I will evidence by quoting from both John Wesley (an Arminian) and J.I. Packer (a Calvinist).

“I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, — Closer and closer let us cleave To his beloved Embrace; Expect his fullness to receive, And grace to answer grace.” – John Wesley

And now from the Calvinist:

“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.” – J.I. Packer“…the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.”  – J.I. Packer

So when we read in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD,” we need to take this passage seriously as pertaining to our lives.

How are we to understand this passage? Why does God seem to care about marks on the body of His people? Well, perhaps we ought to ask if there are distinctively Christian marks? Indeed, the distinctively Christian mark is one that can only be seen by those who witness the event, and whose enduring evidence is to be your changed life. Whether circumcision or baptism, the marks mandated by God do not easily convey themselves to the casual observer. Furthermore, we are warned not to make our external trappings large or ostentatious (Matthew 23:5; 1 Peter 3:3-5), rather it is our actions that ought to identify us. Your mark is your baptism, and the evidence of your baptism is your walk. “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10a).

Tattoos are tribal; with what tribe are you identifying? If your tattoo is “Christian,” you are revealing your ignorance of the Christian tribe’s way. Rather ironic isn’t it?

While there is much more to say on this topic (why, for example, do so many contemporary Christians desire strongly to imitate a distinctively pagan practice?) let us reflect on this passage:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).

There is a cultural energy behind the practice of tattooing and there is no question that this energy comes from the world. The world, my children, is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. What do you think is the will of God in regard to marking your body?

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

So the final word here is that God says not to, but many will argue that point, so I hope you’ve gleaned from these thoughts that if you desire a tattoo, you ought to be asking, what is wrong with my desires? Rather, I pray that the eyes of your heart (your imagination) might be enlightened, that you may know the great hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward you. In other words, may your imagination be caught up by the vision of yourself as God sees you, and as He has fashioned you, and may all other desires fade in comparison!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

An Important Word for Our Time

We ought in these days to take note of the Barmen Declaration (1934), from which I excerpt the following.

2. “God made Jesus Christ to be for us our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Affirmation: Just as Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so also, and with the same earnestness, he is God’s powerful claim upon our entire life. Through him a joyous liberation from the godless conditions of this world occurs for us, a liberation for free, grateful service to his creatures.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if there are domains of our life in which we do not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, domains in which we would not need justification and sanctification by him.

3. “But let us be upright in love and grow in every respect into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Affirmation: The Christian church is the congregation of brothers in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of forgiven sinners, it has to testify in the midst of the world of sinners, both with its faith and its obedience, with its message as well as with its order, that it alone is his property, that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and by his direction in anticipation of his appearance.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church could relinquish the form of its message and its order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

5. “Fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Affirmation: Scripture says to us that the State, according to divine arrangement, has the task to be concerned for justice and peace in this still unredeemed world in which the church also stands, and to do so according to the standard of human insight and human ability, under penalty of threat and the use of force. In gratitude and reverence toward God, the church recognizes the benefit of this, his arrangement. The church reminds itself of God’s kingdom, of God’s command and justice, and thereby, of the responsibility of those governing and of the governed. It trusts and obeys the power of the word by which God upholds all things.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church, beyond its special task, should and could take over state-governmental actions, state-governmental tasks, and state-governmental positions and thereby become itself an organ of the state.[1]

[1] Martin Heimbucher and Rudolf Weth, eds., Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung: Einführung und Kokumentation, foreword by Wolfgang Huber (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2009), 33-43. Translated by Matthew Becker, Ph.D. (…)

Inescapable Logic

When you assume there is such a thing as evil,
you must assume there is such a thing as good.
When you assume there is such a thing as good,
you must assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.
When you assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
you must posit a moral law Giver.

If there is no moral law Giver, there is no moral law.
If there is no moral law, there is no good.
If there is no good, there is no evil.

If sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4),
and all have sinned (Rom 3:23),
and if the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23),
then I need a Savior.

If I still need a Savior there must,
still be an eternal, moral law, or…
I no longer need a Savior.

Letter to a Friend on Romans 14:14

The below is a letter to a friend written in response to a query regarding my understanding of Romans 14, and verse 14 in particular. I have removed situation specific particulars, but this is otherwise a faithful representation of the letter.

Thank you for honoring me with the opportunity to clarify.  Reading what follows will be a significant investment on your part, so I don’t take lightly your willingness to engage in this conversation. As I’m confident you can imagine, being willing to stand apart from the overwhelming majority of our Christian brethren on the matter of what we eat is a result of something not lightly considered, and a result of being convicted through years of study that it is not a light issue, but a major contributor to the inefficacy of our witness and inability to be salt and light to our culture. I venture to explain at this length because I am convinced that you also are equally desirous to serve God faithfully.

Having been convinced of this previously from Scripture, I have been fascinated to see in our lifetime the parallels between increasing sexual perversion and increasing obsession with what God calls unclean. Never before in history have shirts and hats proclaimed their dedication to bacon. Only in the extraordinarily decadent empires of history (and never to the degree we have taken it) has there been such a fascination with eating what has never previously been considered food, and we have likewise now surpassed even Rome in the depths of our sexual depravity. I have recognized over time that these things are not incidentally related.

Because it pains me to think “I’m right” in the face of so many legitimately godly people who disagree with me (my father and both grandfathers included, for whom I have enormous respect), and because it would otherwise unnecessarily differentiate my children from their friends (with both present and future consequences), I have on three occasions now gone back to reconsider from the ground up, whether the typical Christian perspective on this issue is correct. No one is entirely objective, but I have been diligent to presume the typical interpretation accurate, so as to read that perspective fairly. Of course, I also originally set out to disprove the conviction I now hold. On each occasion I have finally and reluctantly concluded that if one is willing to do the historical and exegetical work with an open mind to reading the Scriptures on their terms, there really is no other possible conclusion. I am fully cognizant, however, that most people do not have ready access to the details I will share below.

I spoke of two rules of hermeneutics. The first and easiest is to seek the controlling phrase, which establishes the context of a pericope, and is often found in the opening verse; as is the case, for example, in Mark 7 (the ritual washing of hands), Acts 15 (justification by circumcision/law keeping/ethnic conversion), and in Romans 14 (matters of opinion). This rule is often less helpful in prophetic passages, which can range all over the place, even sometimes within the same verse. Prophetic passages excepting, however, it is generally true that we need to seek the controlling phrase.

The second is much more difficult to wrestle with, but bears up under contemplation and investigation. The professor from whom I learned it said, “Hermeneutical principle number one is this: what the text could not have possibly meant to the original inspired biblical author, it cannot possibly mean today.”

My position on contradiction and change is something different from these two rules of hermeneutics.  First, God is immutable; his character never changes (Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17, etc.), and second, God (and therefore Scripture) never contradicts Himself (or itself). This does not mean that God doesn’t change instructions to mankind, but what we find is that case laws (specific applications of unchanging principles) are changed, and never moral laws, which are eternal because they reflect God’s character, which is eternal and unchanging. (This is inherent in the meaning of the word moral, which comes from the Latin mores, “customs or manners,” which change with society, but in the case of God are unchanging because He is immutable, i.e., God’s morals are ethical.)

In other words, adultery is not wrong because God flipped a coin and decided it would be so, but it could have been permissible had He decided otherwise. No, it is wrong because God cannot steal and cannot break his word; it would violate His character. Adultery has never been and will never be permissible; this is a moral law that cannot change. In the same manner, anything described by Scripture as “detestable” or an “abomination” is offensive to God’s nature and cannot change. Should a prophet/apostle have suggested that God changed his mind on one of these matters, he would have been rejected as a false prophet, on the basis of Deuteronomy 12:1-13:18, and very specifically of 12:32-13:5.

Deuteronomy 12-13 is an excellent place to practice discerning the case-specific from the enduring principle. I won’t do so here, but note that we find there instructions that guide our worship today, identify false prophets, and establish the second principle for recognition of Scripture (i.e., all subsequent potential scripture must agree with preceding Scripture or it is to be rejected).

So, God’s character does not change, though He may “change his mind,” (this, however, is an anthropomorphism, where something God does is explained in a manner that makes sense to mankind, while God knew from eternity what, for example, Moses and Abraham would say and what He would do as a result). Secondly, God does not contradict himself and Scripture does not contradict itself. This is not to deny that God makes changes in his instructions to mankind, and many examples could be given (e.g., where one is permitted to sacrifice), but these changes are always found to be modifications in application rather than revocations of principle.

So, if we were to take Genesis 9:3 or Romans 14:14 we are going to find something consistent with the meta-narrative of Scripture. Sometimes recognizing this is easy (e.g., Rom 14:14) and sometimes it is somewhat more difficult (e.g., Gen 9:3), but we can ferret out the intended meaning without doubt, if we are willing to submit to whatever Scripture actually says, regardless of what it might do to our present understanding or preferred system of interpretation. So let’s go there, and along the way we’ll hit Acts 10:9-29, and 1 Timothy 4:3-4.

There is no discussion in Romans 14 about whether it is okay to eat unclean meat, nor about whether we ought to keep the Sabbath. The context of the entire passage rules out the possibility of these two items being under discussion. For Paul and for his intended audience these are not matters of opinion; they are incontrovertibly declared by Scripture. And the rule of interpretation helpfully reminds us, “what it could not have meant to them, it cannot mean to us.”

I realize they are matters of opinion today, but we don’t interpret Scripture by contemporary opinion, but by exegesis of the text within its historical and scriptural context.

So let’s do that with Acts 10, because starting there becomes the key to instantly understanding Romans 14:14 (and the rest of the passage). Before we go there, recall that none of the passages which are now taken to suggest God changed his mind about clean/unclean meat (and the Sabbath) had even been written at the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. No one held what is today’s popular opinion regarding clean/unclean meat at the time. So the situation is analogous to the following: I am preparing to write you a letter in which I will reveal that God has changed His mind about whether homosexuality is permissible… do you think I will treat that revelation as an aside, as a “matter of opinion,” or will that be a major focus of my letter? How will your opinion of my legitimacy as a prophet from God be affected by that letter? Will you canonize my letter or reject it?

I wrote an actual letter on Acts 10 some years ago to another friend, so I will attach that here. As you ponder the explanation of Acts 10, keep in mind that in Romans 14:14, the word rendered “unclean” is κοινὸν (koinon), which does not mean “unclean,” but “common” or “profane.” This is one of only two places in the KJV New Testament where κοινὸν is rendered “unclean,” and the other occasion (Hebrews 9:13) incontrovertibly confirms my claim, for it should also not be rendered “unclean” but “common, profane, or impure,” as it refers specifically to ceremonial impurity (as opposed to akathartos, which describes morally unclean).  Read on as κοινὸν will feature significantly in Acts 10… (transition to attached pdf).



Okay… (assuming you have digested the thoughts on Acts 10), we now see that the issue of whether something (or someone) was considered κοινὸν/common, is a matter of tradition… or “opinions”, above and beyond the Scripture’s requirement, which actually accords with the controlling context of Romans 14, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” So rather than having a verse which overturns (at that time) 3000 years of accepted Scriptural authority in a passing comment, what we actually have is Paul saying—in agreement with the surrounding context— that while nothing is common in and of itself, if someone considers it to be common then for that person it is… therefore do not offend their conscience. Please note, furthermore, that the entire pericope is not talking about relaxing Scriptural injunctions (in that case Matthew 5:17-20 would apply and invalidate Paul’s comment), but about issues where an individual goes further than Scripture requires.

Romans 14:14 is typically read as if Paul was suddenly—in the middle of a passage about people who are stricter than Scripture itself—relaxing one of God’s major prohibitions—contra Jesus who specifically prohibited such a thing, and yet we believe that this is something Jesus taught Paul in Antioch or in Arabia. This makes absolutely no sense—and yet we do it. It may be the most common and most egregious instance of eisegesis vs. exegesis ever seen. The preconditioning required speaks volumes about the capacity of human nature to read through selective lenses—and we all do it; I am as guilty as another. I have been repeatedly struck by the grace of God to open our eyes only to that which we are ready to see. O how we depend upon the truth that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus!”  Would that we would come to understand what it means to, “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit!” “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit”… and therefore are subject to the law of God, which is, “fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”


  1. Romans 14:14 does not say, “there is nothing unclean of itself”
  2. it would violate the logic of the passage, if it did say that
  3. it would have been rejected by the hearers and caused Paul to be rejected as a legitimate apostle if he had said that.

To go back to something you said, is it possible to imagine that someone could engage in homosexuality “to the Lord”? The idea is first unthinkable, but secondly directly contradicts the flow of logic in Romans 14, as I’ve explained above. And this is the scenario Paul’s readers found themselves in—as we feel/think about homosexuality, so they thought about eating unclean meat. And now the legitimacy of the interpretive maxim is revealed: what the text could not have possibly meant to the original inspired biblical author, it cannot possibly mean today.

Finally, and this will take us to Genesis 9:3 and 1 Timothy 4:3-4. Notice how Paul uses “Nothing” in Romans 14:14. It is a universal indicative that is not truly universal: it presumes first the statements of God and is inclusive of “all” but the previously precluded. We find this often throughout Scripture. Thou shalt not work on the Sabbath, period…but the priests are specifically instructed to do so in the Tabernacle/Temple. “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die” (Lev 16:2) …except for the specific time and manner about which I will now instruct him.

Similarly, when God says, “Every moving thing…” we are expected to understand that this doesn’t include the blowfish, which is poisonous, nor the unclean animals which if you were to eat one of the single pair available would eradicate the species. Notice the next word, “even as the green herb” which were also “all” given, except of course those that were poisonous, and except of course, from the Tree of Life.  So, when we read “everything created” in 1 Timothy 4:3-4, we have to read it in the context of the surrounding verses, and in the context of the entire Scripture, knowing that nothing Paul says will contradict what God has already established.

It should be obvious from the surrounding verses what Paul has in mind here; for once again, he is describing extra-biblical strictures, “forbidding to marry and abstaining from food.” So, as you said earlier, is it possible to eat that which God has forbidden “to the Lord” or “if it be received with thanksgiving?”

Let’s apply the logic that is often used to read this passage in another context and see how well it works.

“For every woman God created is good, and no women is to be refused, if she be received with thanksgiving: For she is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”

True, every woman God created is good (Gen 1:31), but this doesn’t mean all women may be received with thanksgiving, for that would violate God’s prohibition.

I hope this has been helpful in revealing the logic I was using, and explains a bit more about how we approach Scripture and life. Even more, I hope it was convincing, and if it was not, I would love to hear why not.

Warm regards,



Understanding Acts 10

Hi, Nathan.

I was wondering if I might dialogue with you about biblical ideas or concepts I am trying to work out from time to time. In short, since completing Called to Obedience and reading Crazy Love a few years ago, I am reading the Bible with “fresh eyes”. There are things in the Bible I read now, which in the past I would have skimmed over or dismissed as irrelevant in our day and age. But now, I struggle with them. For instance Acts 10, Acts 15:29, or 1 Timothy 2:12 (or 1 Cor. 14:34). I value your opinion as someone who thinks hard on such matters, and tries to not let our culture and norms influence Biblical interpretation and application.

Let’s talk about food. What’s in – what’s out? This should be fun, as I know you’ve made dietary choices based upon your understanding of Scripture, and so I’m sure you’ve given it significant study.

In Acts 10, it appears God gives Peter instructions to put away his cultural foibles about clean and unclean food, specifically meat … what say you?


Well, I like to begin with what is clear and work toward the more difficult, so what better place to begin than 2 Timothy 3:14-17:

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing those from whom you learned, and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (HCSB)

…“continue” suggests continuity with what has gone before, especially given the emphasis, “that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures.” This is clearly a reference to what we know as the Old Testament, so when Paul goes on to say that “all” Scripture is profitable/useful for “teaching, rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness,” I am struck that I must wrestle with how to apply what we now call the Old Testament, but the original reader would have known as their only Scriptures. Dr. Ben Witherington III writes, “Hermeneutical principle number one is this: what the text could not have possibly meant to the original inspired biblical author, it cannot possibly mean today.” (The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism. Kindle Locations 45-46)

Furthermore, I’ve become convinced of this truth, well-articulated by J.I. Packer:

“Keep two truths in view. First, God’s law expresses his character. It reflects his own behavior; it alerts us to what he will love and hate to see in us. It is a recipe for holiness, consecrated conformity to God, which is his true image in man. And as such (this is the second truth) God’s law fits human nature. As cars, being made as they are, only work well with gas in the tank, so we, being made as we are, only find fulfillment in a life of law- keeping. This is what we were both made and redeemed for.”

(Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I Want to Be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, 1994, 232.)

So…now I must wrestle with how to apply the law of God as found throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. This, I can attest, is no easy task, but a lifelong endeavor fully dependent upon grace and mercy!

As it relates to understanding what Acts 10 says or seems to say, I am bound to figure out how it works with and does not contradict the sense in which Leviticus 11 expresses the character of God. To be more specific, Leviticus 11 suggests that the reason we are to separate the tamei (unclean/defiling) from the tahor (clean/pure) is because, “For I am the LORD your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy….” (Lev 11:44), suggesting that this issue goes to the core of our identity—God-imitating, holy people.

Further complicating the issue, Lev 11 suggests that consuming these tamei creatures is an abomination (detestable/abhorrent). Why does this further complicate things? Because an abomination is something abhorrent to our very nature, suggesting that the food laws cannot be a ceremonial law! On this point, it is interesting to note Revelation 21:27; speaking of the New Jerusalem, John records: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. “ Suggesting that the categories of clean/unclean, detestable, etc. are still very much in force at the launch of the world to come.

If we make a list of the things God calls abominable it becomes very clear that something which is detestable cannot change: child sacrifice, bestiality, necromancy, hands that shed innocent blood, a lying tongue, homosexuality, sowing discord among brothers, the wages of a prostitute, money earned by betting on dog fighting, etc. We find it impossible to imagine that a single other thing categorized in Scripture as an abomination could change to suddenly being okay. And this is appropriate, for anyone who suggested such a thing would have to be rejected as a false prophet (see Deut. 12-13) and remember Dr. Witherington’s first rule of interpretation). Which leads us to quite a problem because several passages in the New Testament, including Acts 10, seem to clearly indicate that God changed His mind about whether certain meats were to be considered abominable. How can this be?

As an aside, so as not to be distracted by whether or not the clean/unclean foods were specific to the Sinai legislation, note that Noah was aware of which animals could be eaten and/or sacrificed and which could not. This is why he takes a pair of all unclean animals and 7 pairs of all clean animals (Genesis 7:2).

So this leads us, finally, to Acts 10, where upon reading the actual text, we don’t find what we’ve all been under the impression it says. I wouldn’t be surprised if you, as I did, have a mental picture—likely derived from a children’s bible story book—of a sheet full of unclean animals descending from the clouds above Peter, when in fact the text says:

“and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.” Acts 10:11-12 (ESV)

“…and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.” (NASB)

So this was a sheet filled not just with unclean animals, but all kinds, both clean and unclean, as biblically defined. This will be important, because we are about to encounter a culturally rather than biblically-defined category.

“And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said,

‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.'” Acts 10:13-14 (ESV)

There are a couple things to consider here. First, if the sheet was filled with clean and unclean animals, why would Peter think God was telling him to eat an unclean animal? Imagine if God gave you a vision of a room full of women, your wife included, and said, “Rise, go and take a woman.” Would it even occur to you to imagine that God meant for you to take any woman but your wife? Of course not, because “thou shalt not commit adultery” is ingrained into your psyche. Likewise with Peter; in fact, Peter had even gone above and beyond.

What is the deal with Peter’s comment, “I have never eaten anything that is koinos/common or akathartos/unclean.”? Akathartos is the Greek word referring to something biblically defined as tamei/unclean, morally unclean. Koinos (a word you might recognize from koinonia/fellowship) is a category unfamiliar to us, but very familiar to Peter or any other observant Jew of Jesus’ day. It referred to a biblically clean animal considered to have become profane or common (as opposed to holy/set apart) by virtue of coming in contact with a biblically unclean animal (or unfit for Temple use, though not an unclean animal). This was a category extended to personal application outside of the Temple precinct by cultural tradition, not by biblical mandate.

Peter replies to God’s command to rise and eat by protesting, “But God, not only do I not eat unclean meat (obviously), but I’ve also always refrained from eating anything common, just to be extra careful.” This clean meat, in other words, became guilty by association in the minds of first century Jews.

Now again we come to a phrase where we are under the impression that God makes one statement, when in fact, He says something different. Acts 10:15 is even rendered to give such an impression in some translations.

“And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Acts 10:15 (ESV)

Because we are unfamiliar with the first century categories of unclean and common, we read this passage as if God said, “What God has made (i.e., “changed to” instead of “created originally”) clean/tahor/katharos do not call unclean/tamei/akathartos.” But this is simply not what God said, it is something we read into the passage!

This is about to make a whole lot more sense! So this happens three times and then the sheet is pulled up to heaven and Peter is left perplexed. And while he is pondering the Spirit speaks to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.” This is God’s explanation of what the vision meant. Peter understands; in fact, he has three Scriptural occasions to explain what the vision meant and he never mentions food, but somehow this fact escapes us!

First explanation:

“And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” Acts 10:28-29 (ESV)

Please note that nowhere in the Torah does it say it is “unlawful” for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, rather this was another tradition that had been added to God’s law; probably with good motivation, which is why God himself came to Peter to explicitly instruct him to ignore the tradition and not to “call any person common or unclean.” I hope you’re beginning to see that food in this passage is nothing more than a metaphor and the topic at hand was people, not food.

The second opportunity for Peter to explain what the vision meant is in Acts 11:1-18. After relaying the same exact story as we’ve just read in chapter 10, note both Peter’s summary of God’s instruction and the summary conclusion of those who listened:

“And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction.” (11:12)

“When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” (11:18)

Again, the message is about Gentile inclusion, about people…nothing about any change to the food laws.

Peter’s third explanation is in the context of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. The topic under discussion was how the Gentiles might be saved.

“And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Acts 15:7-11 (ESV)

So, what is Acts 10 about? The people of God were told to be holy by making distinctions, between what was holy and unholy, what was clean and unclean, etc. They were, indeed, to be distinct themselves, to be a set apart people by virtue of imitating God’s character. For centuries, they had followed God’s command to distinguish between what God created tahor/clean and what he created tamei/unclean…in other words what animals He made for food and what animals He did not consider food. They had extended the command to distinguish between clean and unclean foods to distinguishing between clean, common, and unclean foods. They had further extended this practice of distinction to people, considering the non-Jewish people either unclean or common (which, in fact, they often were, because of their not practicing the law), but the folks gathered at Cornelius’ home were God-fearers: Gentiles who had voluntarily taken upon themselves the practices of the Torah to the degree it was practical or they were allowed, and God needed to make sure that Peter’s conscientiousness did not prevent him from going with the messengers from Cornelius. Where, in fact, God wanted to demonstrate that He would make no distinction between the Jews and Gentiles, but would give the Gentiles the Holy Spirit by faith, just as he had to the Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

It is clear that the text of Acts 10 doesn’t say what we are given to thinking it says, and it is clear that Peter did not understand the vision to mean what we are given to thinking it means. Therefore, there is no longer any problem in reconciling Leviticus 11 and Acts 10, and I am now left to ponder Mark 7:19, Romans 14, specifically verse 14, and Colossians 2:16-17. Do they mean what we’ve so commonly thought?