Call No One Profane (Acts 11:1-18)

May 6th, 2013

In Acts 10–11, Luke introduces Cornelius as a pious Gentile centurion who had a vision from God telling him to send for Peter who could offer a message that would save him and his whole household.

Peter was also having a vision. A large sheet full of all kinds of creatures, reptiles, and birds was lowered from heaven. A voice said, “Eat”; but Peter said to the Lord that he had never eaten anything that was “profane or unclean.” The voice persisted, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:14-16). As Peter puzzled over this vision, Cornelius’s messengers arrived. Peter went to see Cornelius and his family and close friends. Peter related to Cornelius that, while Jewish law forbade him from associating with Gentiles, he had just received a new insight from God that such distinctions were no longer valid (10:28).

Peter was here exaggerating a bit. Jewish law did not prohibit all interaction with Gentiles; and, on a practical level, Galilee was essentially Gentile territory. As Jews had been exiled and fled persecution throughout the Greco-Roman world, no doubt they had extensive contact with Gentiles. But the point was still dramatic—a new day was dawning in which Jews and Gentiles would become one in a common faith and mission!

Preach an Inclusive Gospel

Peter then shared the good news with all who were gathered: God shows no partiality but accepts anyone in any place who honors God and does what is right. God sent Jesus to proclaim reconciliation to a limited audience—the people of Israel—but now, through Peter, God is saying that all who believe in Jesus can be forgiven (10:34-43). While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on those who heard the word, and they began uttering ecstatic speech. This astounded the circumcised (Jewish) believers who had accompanied Peter. Peter concluded that they could no longer refuse to baptize Gentiles, since they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit just as the apostles had at Pentecost.

Peter did an unheard of thing! He socialized with “unclean” or “profane” people (Gentiles). He ate with them. He baptized them in the name of Christ! The “circumcised believers” in Jerusalem (who had given sanctions for other Gentile contact; see 8:14) questioned Peter: Why did you do this? Peter explained and then reminded them of the promise that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (see Luke 3:16). Peter concluded that God had given to Gentiles the repentance that leads to life (11:18). The early church ultimately concluded (at the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15) that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised as Jews to become Christian, even though they needed to observe the moral laws.

The irony of this story is that today Christianity is a Gentile religion. The excluded minority has become a dominant majority. And the tragedy is that we Christians often discriminate not only against Jews but also against many others who do not fit our understanding of who is acceptable. Christians often ignore this story’s message that all whom God has created are acceptable to God; all are eligible to receive God’s grace and to be embraced as God’s children.

Think About It

As a faithful Jew Peter assumed he should not associate with people considered “unclean,” “impure,” or “uncircumcised.”

  • How do we as Christians sometimes avoid or reject people who do not fit our understanding of who is faithful or acceptable?
  • What insight does this story give us?
  • What groups do we exclude? How do we rationalize this?
  • Who are the Peters of our day through whom God may be calling us to become more accepting?


excerpt from: Keeping Holy Time: Year C by Douglas E. Wingeier Copyright 2001 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

comments powered by Disqus