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In reading and studying regarding Peter’s vision at Joppa, and Saul/Paul’s conversion vision, I have the following observations:
Peter’s vision of the great sheet containing unclean animals
The town of Joppa is located on a small rocky cliff-like bluff, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with a small natural harbor. It was the most “Jewish” of any of the coastal towns of Palestine. Simon Peter, the chief apostle, was lodging “with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side.”
“Peter went up upon the housetop [As a fisherman and sailor, he would have been very interested in looking out to sea and seeing the sails on the many ships in the Mediterranean Sea and in Joppa’s harbor.] to pray about the 6th hour [12 noon]; And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit [bound or tied] at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice [the Lord delivered His message three times]: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.” (Acts 10:5,6,9-16)
Immediately after Peter’s vision, he was instructed by the Spirit to go down from the rooftop and meet the three men who had been sent by the devout gentile centurion Cornelius to Peter. He and others then accompanied them back to Caesarea Maritime, where Peter learned that “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” and “that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
In The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words,2001,the word “sheet” in Acts 10:11 is a translation of the Greek word “othone” #3607, which means a fine linen, a linen cloth, especially a sail, a sheet. Christ’s dead body was wrapped in “othonion” #3608, meaning a piece of fine linen, a linen bandage (Luke 24:12, John 19:40, 20:7).
So, Peter saw a “certain vessel descending… as it had been a great sheet [othone] knit at the four corners”. I have previously, inappropriately, thought of this sheet as being like a “bed sheet”, but I don’t think they used “bed sheets” at that time, and a “bed sheet” is not a “great sheet” and would not have been able to hold all the animals that Peter described. No, this is not a “bed sheet”, this is a “great” and large sheet. This was likely a large piece of cloth similar in size to the sails of the ships that Peter had been seeing from Simon the tanner’s housetop on the cliff bluff overlooking the Mediterranean shore, just prior to his vision. I think Peter saw a large rectangular cloth sail (ship’s sail) filled with unclean animals.
Saul/Paul’s Conversion Vision near Damascus
In the chronology of The Acts of the Apostles, Jesus’ appearance to Saul/Paul as he journeyed to Damascus occurs just prior to Peter’s vision just described. (Acts 9:1-22). Following Jesus’s appearance to Saul, the Lord in a vision instructed the disciple Ananias to go to the house where Saul was located and to restore his sight. When Ananias was reluctant to go to Saul, the Lord said, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) Following Saul/Paul’s vision and conversion to Jesus Christ, he became the apostle to the gentiles; with great success.
We are informed in Acts 17:2-3, that Paul abode in Corinth with Aquila and Priscilla, and wrought (worked) with them as a “tentmaker”, which was also his craft. Ancient Corinth was located at a narrow isthmus connecting the Peloponnese peninsula to the rest of the Greek mainland. (See Bible Maps) It was a strategic location in Greece and in the Mediterranean Sea, located between two large gulfs on the west and east. It was a very important center of water-borne trade.
Regarding “tentmaker”, John F. Hall in “New Testament Witnesses of Christ”, 2002, page 214, wrote:
“It is not known how Paul’s family rose through the years to become one of the wealthy and prominent families of Tarsus. Luke describes Paul as having knowledge of the trade of skenopoios (Acts 17:2-3). King James’s translators rendered the Greek word into English as “tentmaker.” The second part of the Greek term, poios, does signify one who makes, but what Paul is described as knowing how to make is a skenos, which can mean tent, but in reality refers to anything made from a large quantity of cloth. For example, the curtains of a stage, or the painted cloth backdrops of a dramatic production can be a skenos, from which our English word “scene” is a derivative. A skenopoios could also manufacture great cloth sails for the ships of the period or awnings to cover courtyards, marketplaces, or amphitheaters. In that era, cloth was used more widely than it is in our own time. When it is remembered that Tarsus was the location of one of the Roman world’s most important textile industries, it is perhaps not amiss to suggest that Paul’s family wealth and status came from their involvement in the manufacture and further utilization of cloth in the ways suggested above, and in a very large-scale operation.”
In The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, 2001, “skenos” #4632 is used as “vessel, implement, & sail.” “skene” #4633 is used for tent, cloth hut, booth, Mosaic tabernacle, the temple in Jerusalem, heavenly prototype of tabernacle/temple, & house of David.
I see a special relationship regarding Saul/Paul referred to as a “chosen vessel” and Peter seeing a “great sheet” like a “certain vessel”.
This is an important connection between Peter’s vision of the large and great sheet of sail made of cloth, matched with Paul’s craft/trade as a maker of large sheets or sails of cloth. Peter, in vision, was seeing the large sheet/cloth sail containing the “unclean, the gentiles” who would also receive the blessings of the Covenant. Paul, one of the Covenant, and trained as a maker of “large sheets/sails”, had been prepared and recently called to preach to and gather the “gentiles” into the Covenant. Paul was described as a “chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). Paul was the “great and large sheet or saiI of cloth” to gather the gentiles. I think that great and large sheet or sail of cloth is an interesting connection between Paul as a “large fabric maker” and Peter’s vision of the “great sheet” or “sail. Remember that Peter had been a fisherman on a boat with sails.
Whereas Joppa was the most “Jewish” of coastal towns and had a natural harbor; Caesarea Maritima (named for Caesar Augustus), 30 miles to the north of Joppa, was the Herod the Great-built, Roman administrative capitol of Palestine, located on the Plain of Sharon, built on a flat beach and sand dunes, with a man-made artificial (not natural) harbor. It was the largest eastern Mediterranean harbor, and was made with two very large underwater and above water concrete jetties.
Whereas Joppa and its harbor were natural and Jewish, Caesarea Maritima was artificial and Roman. Joppa was rocky, Peter means “rock”. Caesarea was built on sand.
Peter was in “Jewish” Joppa; he was called by the Lord to go to the God-fearing, devout Roman Centurion Cornelius in Caesarea Maritima – to the most gentile town in Palestine.
Bible Maps and Photographs:
Joppa and Caesarea – Map 14 Palestine in New Testament Times, Map 18 Journeys of the Apostles
Corinth location: Maps 20, 21, 22, Paul’s second, third journey, and journey to Rome
Photograph of Caesarea – Bible Photo 19
Photograph of Joppa – Bible Photo 20