By Norman S. Edwards
From SVM -Winter/Spring 2017 – 2
Who did Peter acknowledge when stating the prohibition to eating with common men or people of another religion? (Rich Traver quoted Acts 10:28 in his article.) My question has always been what Bible or Torah law prohibits Jews from eating with non-Jews? My theory is Peter was following the customs of the Rabbinic thinking which would come to be added and amended to Rabbinic Judaism. Although I know of no Mishnah or Talmudic Jews today not being allowed to eat with anyone—though there are various requirements for Kosher. — R. K., MarylandR. K., Maryland
This verse has been a puzzle to some:
Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
There is no Scripture that commands Israelites not to eat or drink with people of other nations, and indeed Jesus did it (John 4:7-9). The Scripture the Jewish leaders used to add this regulation was probably this:
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son” (Deuteronomy 7:2- 3).
This verse is not a commandment on how to treat all other nations, but just those nations whom God had appointed for destruction because of their sin (Genesis 15:16; Leviticus 18:25-27; 20:22-23). Nevertheless, the leaders applied it to many other nations. Furthermore, Rabbinic Judaism frequently employs the idea of “building a fence around the law”— enacting more rules in an attempt to prevent people from getting close to breaking God’s law. Since Jews did not want their sons or daughters marrying people of other nations, what better way to prevent that than to forbid them from even enjoying a meal together? Unfortunately, it is easier to make additional laws than it is to teach people to have a heart for God.
Is there some writing where the Jews have preserved that law against eating with gentiles? The Babylonian Talmud tractate Avodah Zara, Chapter 2, ninth paragraph after Mishna IV states: “Rabh vowed not to drink water at the house of Gentiles, saying: They are not careful to cover the water…” John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible contains six references along these general lines: Bible Study Tools – Gill’s Exposition of the Bible
Even so, these statements are generally a certain Rabbi’s opinion, not a clear citation of a Jewish national law that Peter states. A little thinking will allow us to conclude why there is no written source for the law that Peter was citing. A little brief timeline should help us understand:
400 BC The Old Testament was finished. The Jewish scribes were careful to keep that written law separate from their “oral law”— which was said to be a combination of traditions handed down from Moses and the wise sayings of many other teachers along the way.
60 BC to 60 AD. The Jews were a vassal state under Rome, but had their own farms, their own markets, their own kitchens, etc. They were so independent they boasted: “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone” (John 8:33). Indeed, it is not difficult for them to pass a law against eating with “Gentiles”—Romans, Greeks, Samaritans, Arabs and others in their land. They produced their own food. Their law fed their false religious idea that they were God’s people and everyone else was not.
70 AD. The Romans crushed the Jewish revolt, destroyed Jerusalem and nearly all Jews were driven from their homeland. They were humbled. As refugees, they ate wherever they could, with whomever they could. Sometimes, food would be their payment for labor. It was difficult enough to arrange for biblically clean food. This was not a good time for a man-made law against eating with people of other nations. They were at the mercy of people in other nations. The law Peter cited was destroyed along with Jerusalem.
200 A.D. The Jewish scholars, seeing the dispersal of their people and the proliferation of the New Testament as the written interpretation of the Old Testament, decided to write down their oral law in a book now known as the Mishnah. It does not contain any clear prohibition against eating with Gentiles—as Jews were still dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and many were still refugees.
500 A.D. to now The Talmud— about 5 times the size of the Bible— was finalized. It is commentary on the Mishnah and numerous other commentaries have been written on both. Many Jews are now comfortable in the lands where they have been dispersed. They again have control over their own food supply. We again see a few commentators suggesting that Jews should not eat or drink with Gentiles.
The biggest lesson we can all learn from this is to avoid adding our own rules and traditions to the Scriptures. None of us obey all of the clear commands of God that we already know. If we need to add rules for ourselves to better obey God, let us do it in faith. But let us not impose them on others. For example, if a person finds that whenever they go to eat with unbelievers that they end up getting drunk, eating way too much or joining in on immoral activities, then it might make sense for them to avoid eating with unbelievers. We need to be like Jesus, who ate with sinners without sinning, and who preached the love and righteousness of God to them. We do not need so many man-made rules.
May God bless all of us to use our freedom in Christ for His glory!