“Why do Christians often use Peter’s vision in Acts 10 to prove they aren’t required to keep the kosher food laws?” asks Tom Hennessy via the Internet.
As presented last week, Peter’s vision experience in Acts 10 was clearly a sign for the Jerusalem church to take the gospel of Christ to the non-Jewish community. In this vision God used an image Peter could understand–kosher versus non-kosher foods. Three times Peter was told to kill and eat non-kosher animals, and each time the thought was so abhorrent he refused to do so. Within 24 hours after the vision, Peter was presented with a clear opportunity to share the gospel with a non-Jewish family and he immediately grasped the significance of the vision.
That significance was not a new eating plan.
“But Acts 10.15 says of the food, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ Surely this proves we’re no longer restricted to kosher foods and we can eat all foods.”
But it can’t be “proven” here; not by this verse–not for two reasons. For one, the food pronounced clean by God was time and location specific. Peter (and we) can’t take a one-time permission text and apply it to all peoples at all times. For another, the context of the passage concerns the sharing of the gospel to those beyond the church.
Trying to “prove” something using a verse or a passage removed from its fuller context is to “proof-text.” Proof-texting is commonly used to prove what otherwise might be untenable–or to prove nearly anything one wants to prove–without using the full weight of the passage or of the Bible.
For instance, proving infanticide is approved in the Bible by quoting Psalm 137.9: “Happy are those who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks!”
Or proving a child’s death at the hands of a drunk driver is God’s will because, “We know all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).
From seemingly random verses I’ve heard it “proven” that (1) the King James Version is inerrant and infallible, (2) moderate alcohol consumption is evil, (3) if you aren’t baptized you can’t get to heaven, (4) children should be beaten to keep them in line, (5) women should be subservient to their husbands even to the point of abuse, (6) single people can’t be clergy, (7) divorced people can’t be clergy, (8) women can’t be clergy, (9) the wealthy are blessed by God, (10) the wealthy are cursed by God.
And these are just a few. Many are outright ridiculous and yet I’ve heard each “proven” repeatedly for years.
To interpret any given verse appropriately we must read the whole passage that surrounds it. This might be just a paragraph or so, or it could be the whole the book that must be read to understand the verse fully. For instance, Ecclesiastes 2.24, “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil” needs the whole book as its context to understand that these words are spoken from the depths of cynicism and despair. They aren’t meant to be taken literally.
Rightly interpreting scripture is a task that cannot be taken lightly, for the results can impact many lives. Interpreting any passage out of its fuller context can be dangerous, not to mention misleading and outright wrong.
And by the way, Christians are not required to keep the kosher food laws. Not because of Acts 10.15, but because the letters to the Galatians and the Romans deal fully with this very issue.