Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sailing with Peter and Paul

Peter, lodging in Joppa with a tanner, experienced a vision while praying on the roof of the house with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. Tanners dealt with the hides of slain animals. The fact that Peter lodged with a tanner would have been significant to both the Gentile and Jewish Christians, for Judaism considered the tanning occupation unclean.

Simon, the tanner, had apparently become a believer and a part of the ekklesia in Joppa. Student exchange programs are promoted because they assist the participants in learning about cultural diversity and play a role in reducing one’s prejudices. Thus we can understand that while Simon Peter is lodging with Simon the tanner, he is gradually having his prejudices loosened.

Then one day Simon Peter is up on the rooftop praying and waiting for lunch. He falls into a trance and has this vision of a large sailing sheet being lowered from heaven, full of animals, which were unclean in Jewish tradition. In verses 13-15, Simon Peter hears the command: “‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’”

Peter had a vision of many unclean animals being declared clean. Theology changes to meet social need. This change prepared the way for the acceptance of Paul by the Jerusalem community. No one objected to the fact that Paul was a tentmaker. No one had even objected that Peter was lodging with a tanner.

Peter had a vision, as a result of which Peter concludes that certain Gentiles may become members of the Way. This vision was not so compelling that Peter, who had “never eaten anything that is profane or unclean,” was able to eat with Gentiles in Antioch without objection.

Apparently Saul, the tentmaker, had such scruples about the composition of the new group forming around the followers of Jesus that he sought letters from the High Priest so that he could seize them wherever they were and bring them back for a good stoning. Were these new members of the Way not Jewish enough for Saul? Both Peter and Saul had to make a social adjustment. Both Peter and Saul were assisted in making this social adjustment by a vision. What exactly were their scruples?

A little clarity about their moral uncertainties would be helpful. In the Epistle to Barnabus, we read “But when he chose his own apostles who were destined to preach his gospel – men who were sinful beyond measures so that he might prove that he came not to call righteous but sinners – it was then that he revealed himself as God’s Son.”

It is unlikely that Peter the Galilean fisherman was such a strict observant of the food laws that he was able to say that he had never eaten anything unclean. The sail cloth vision does not have any connection or relevance to the story of Cornelius. Furthermore the account is silent with respect to Cornelius not being circumcised.

It is much more likely that Paul could and did make the statement at one time that he had never eaten anything unclean. If Paul had experienced the sail cloth vision as proposed by Bligh, we could then better understand his claim that the gospel for the Gentiles was revealed to him as he asserted in Galatians 1:12.

Although I am convinced there is something odd about the sail cloth vision of Peter, I am not convinced my preliminary thoughts provide a solution. This remains a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2006


Post a Comment

<< Home