Peter was perplexed. So says Luke in Acts 10:17
Not just “perplexed” but “way perplexed.” Check out these definitions by Greek experts:
A.T. Robertson: “To be completely at a loss to know what road to take.”
Schaff’s Commentary: “to doubt within himself.”
Barclay: “At a loss in his own mind.”
What caused this bold, strong-minded “Rock” to be so fickle? Here’s what happened.
Peter is up on a roof praying and gets hungry. It happens in church services every Sunday. Peter goes into a trance – which also happens in church services every Sunday. In this trance, Peter sees a sheet, a very large sheet coming down from heaven like a sail. This sheet is overflowing with mammals, reptiles and birds – all of them “unclean” according to Leviticus 11. Everything in Peter’s religious education tells him that these things are off limits – “Can’t touch this!”
They are abominations.
Tasty? You bet.
But Peter wouldn’t know. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14).
But there on the roof, with this delicious but unholy spread before him, Peter hears a voice say to him,
But three times. “3” is big in literature – Three wishes, Three Bears, Three Little Pigs,. “3” is big in the Bible – Three temptations of Jesus; Moses was hidden for three months; Peter denied Jesus three times; Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days. Middle-School aged Jesus went missing for three days. Saul was blinded for three days… Well, you get the picture.
According to Jewish law, once something is done three times, it is considered a permanent thing. “Three” is big.
The voice said, “Pull up a chair and eat. Eat and enjoy.”
Peter’s response? “I don’t think so.” Check out the different translations of Acts 10:14, “Surely not Lord,” “Absolutely not, Lord,” “Never Lord,” “Lord, I can’t do that,”
When we hear this story in Sunday School, we think, “Peter, you’re an idiot! What’s so hard about this? Can’t you hear what God is telling you to do?”
Yes, Peter heard.
There’s the conflict.
There’s the rub.
There’s the chaos.
That’s why he was perplexed. He heard loud and clear. But, what he was hearing now from God went totally against what God is recorded as saying before.
Here’s God in Scripture. “Don’t eat” (Leviticus 11:47).
Here’s God in a dream. “Eat”
“I’m so confused.”
Like a chameleon in a bag of Skittles.
Eat the very things you’ve been told not to eat. The things that were called “unclean” I now call “clean.” Whoa!
Peter obeyed the vision. He disobeyed Leviticus 11:47.
We know the event wasn’t about food. It was about people. An “unclean” man, a Gentile, was knocking at Peter’s door. God wasn’t just opening Peter’s eyes and taste buds to the flavors of pork. He was opening Peter’s heart and arms to a Gentile named Cornelious and all the Gentiles to follow.
What would have happened had Peter made a different call?
What does this event mean for us as we interpret and apply the Bible?
I really don’t have a clear answer to that last question.
I was raised with the belief that the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Bible – but it seems that wasn’t the case with Peter.
I’m a bit perplexed myself.
Maybe this event tells me that the Bible + the Holy Spirit + Reason + the Community past and present work together to reveal what God wants.
What do you think?