In analyzing the Apostle Peter’s vision of the sheet let down from heaven, readers usually make one of two mistakes. The first mistake many people make is in saying this was a message about eating pork and ham. This vision had nothing to do with eating pork and ham. The second mistake they make is assuming it was about accepting non-Israelites into the Church. The vision had nothing to do with that either.
Peter’s summary of the vision was, “I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.” Acts 11:5-10. The interpretation of the vision had been explained by Peter to Cornelius and his friends. “And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” Acts 10:28. We must accept Peter’s interpretation of the vision and not put our own interpretations on it. Peter did not say anything about eating pork in his explanation. People who interpret the vision in this way are just looking for an excuse to eat ham sandwiches and have bacon with their eggs. We believe they do so at the risk of bringing illness upon themselves.
The second incorrect interpretation of this vision is to say that Peter became convinced to accept non-Israelites into the Church. This is not true. Peter already accepted non-Israelites into the Church before the vision of the sheet. The evangelist Philip had preached the Gospel in Samaria and many people had become Christians. “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” Acts 8:14-17. The Samaritans were a mixture of Israelites and non-Israelites. Most of them were not Israelites. The evangelist Philip also preached to an Ethiopian and baptized him. (Acts 8:26-39). The evangelist Philip was one of the first seven deacons in the early Church. Another one of the seven was Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. (Acts 6:5). Proselytes were non-Jews who became Jews by accepting Judaism. Therefore, there is good evidence that there were many non-Israelites in the Church before Peter’s vision of the sheet. Peter accepted them into the Church and even laid hands on them to have them receive the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s error was in glorifying Judaism. He only wanted to accept people into the Church if they practiced Judaism or a form of worship similar to Judaism. The Samaritans had a form of worship similar to Judaism which they had practiced for centuries. (2 Kings 17:24-28). God had to break Peter of his worship of Judaism. The effect of Judaism on the early Church was a recurring problem. “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1. The apostles corrected this error and made it clear that we are saved through faith. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. In our generation, we must resist the temptation to think that anyone can be saved by doing good works or following certain commandments. Without faith in Christ, those good works cannot deliver people from hell.