"You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, (Acts 10:28 ESV)

Can someone offer a citation from Torah or other Jewish works that may have influenced 1st century Judaism in regards to these "laws" on Jew/Gentile association that Peter speaks of? This must have been a fairly prevalent "law" for Peter to expect Gentiles to know as well, i.e., "you yourselves know..."

5 Answers 5


I would say that it is from the Tanach.

*Ezra 9:11 Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.

*12 Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.

They were commanded not to marry, nor seek the peace or welfare of the Gentiles.

  • So you think that the commandment against intermarriage was eventually extrapolated into a rule of zero association? I can buy that. I wonder if there is something more explicit in the literature that ties that connection together.
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 0:49
  • I am sure that it became a common theme among the people to not associate with the Gentiles, as God called them to be special and separate from the rest of the nations. There could have also been oral laws made from an interpretation of these verses. I do not have any info on that, but it would strengthen this thought in the people. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 0:53

As I understand the Jewish Encyclopedia article cited below it appears that this was what is referred to as a Gezerah.:

A rabbinical enactment issued as a guard or preventive measure; also a prohibition or restriction generally; from the root "gazar" (to cut; to decide). The term is especially applied to a negative ordinance ("taḳḳanah" being applied to a positive one) which, the Rabbis instituted as a guard or a fence ("geder") to a Biblical precept. A gezerah was instituted when occasion demanded, either on account of internal laxity with regard to the laws or because of some external danger that threatened neglect in the observance of Biblical injunctions. Thus, on one occasion at a meeting of rabbis eighteen gezerot or restrictions were ordained, some of which aimed at a better observance of the laws of cleanliness, while others had as their aim the restraining of too close a contact with the Gentiles. Among these gezerot were included prohibitions against tasting the bread, oil, or wine of the Gentiles, and against intermarriage or improper relations between Jews and non-Jews (Shab. 17a; 'Ab. Zarah 36a). An individual rabbi with his court sometimes saw fit to institute a gezerah; but such an ordinance was not always universally accepted by the people, and repeated enactments had to be made in order to enforce it (Ḥul. 6a, with regard to the prohibition against the use of the wine of the Kuthites)...

As I understand the intended use of these prohibitions was to provide concrete, practical practices that would put a distance between the Jew and the danger of transgression. What seems to have happened in reality was that these additions diverted focus from the spiritual meaning of the precepts to external conformity, which the prophets decried.

The rationale for not eating with gentiles probably arose from prohibitions in Jerusalem designed to prevent the Jews from accidentally eating unclean foods and/or foods offered to idols. We see the tension around this issue all throughout 1 Corinthians.


While other commentators hinted at what Robertson wrote in his commentary, Robertson answered your question directly:

The old form of ἀθεμιτος [athemitos] was ἀθεμιστος [athemistos] from θεμιστο [themisto] (θεμιζω, θεμις [themizō, themis], law custom) and α [a] privative. In the N. T. only here and 1 Peter 4:3 (Peter both times). But there is no O. T. regulation forbidding such social contact with Gentiles, though the rabbis had added it and had made it binding by custom. There is nothing more binding on the average person than social custom. On coming from the market an orthodox Jew was expected to immerse to avoid defilement (Edersheim, Jewish Social Life, pp. 26–28; Taylor’s Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, pp. 15, 26, 137, second edition).

Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Ac 10:28). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Note the word translated unlawful here in Acts isn't the normal word for unlawful used when related to Mosaic law. 1 Peter 4:3 uses the word associated with idolatry.

Devout Jews would not enter into idolaters’ homes lest they unwittingly participate in idolatry; they apparently extended this custom to not entering any Gentile’s home. It was considered unclean to eat Gentiles’ food or to drink their wine; although this purity regulation did not prohibit all social contact, it prevented dining together at banquets and made much of the Roman world feel that Jews were antisocial. Cornelius is undoubtedly accustomed to accepting reluctant (10:22) snubs, so Peter’s statement in 10:28 would mean much to him.

Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ac 10:27–29). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Here are quotes with references:

Peter’s statement makes two moves toward interpreting his vision, one dramatic, one subtle. The dramatic move is that Peter perceives that his vision was about more than clean and unclean foods; it involves proper social interaction with persons—“no one should call a person impure or contaminated.” Gentile hostility toward Jews was rooted in part in Jewish adherence to dietary regulations and purity customs (Tyson 1987, 627). This view is born out by Jub. 22.16: “Keep yourself separate from the nations, and do not eat with them; and do not imitate their rites, nor associate yourself with them” (for a Gentile’s perspective, see Juvenal, Sat. 14.104–105; Tacitus, Hist. 5.5). Thus to move from the issue of food to persons would have seemed natural to the audience.

Parsons, M. C. (2008). Acts (p. 150). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Peter, in v. 28, striking what seems to be a stern note, advises the assembled group that it was taboo for a Jew to associate with or visit a foreigner, that is, if he or she wished to remain a clean Jew in good standing. The word αθεμιτον here could be translated “unlawful,” but it probably has its weaker sense of “taboo” or “strongly frowned upon.” There was no formal law that strictly forbade Jews from associating with Gentiles, it was just that they had to be prepared to pay a price for doing so, the price being becoming ritually unclean. Texts written by Roman authors such as Juvenal (Sat. 14.104ff.) and Tacitus (Hist. 5.5) show that Jews did regularly refuse to associate with Gentiles, and were objects of suspicion because of their “antisocial” behavior. Jubilees 22:16 expresses the sentiment of many early Jews: “Keep yourself separate from the nations, and do not eat with them; and do not imitate their rituals, nor associate with them.”

Having reminded his audience that they themselves are aware that a Jew shouldn’t be visiting or associating with Gentiles as he is now doing, Peter contrasts this approach with what God has now shown him. The second half of his opening remarks to the gathering in Cornelius’s house begins with καμοι, and the και probably has some adversative force—“but to me, God has shown.…” Here it becomes evident that Peter has now concluded that his vision was not just about food but also or perhaps primarily about persons. No person should be called common or unclean.

Footnote 106 references John 4:9 showing Jewish attitudes toward Samaritans.

Witherington, B., III. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles: a socio-rhetorical commentary (p. 353). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

  • That is helpful. Does Robertson or Edersheim offer a footnote for "the rabbis had added it and had made it binding by custom"?
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 0:54
  • The only note is (Edersheim, Jewish Social Life, pp. 26–28; Taylor’s Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, pp. 15, 26, 137, second edition). Remember when Joseph was in Egypt and met his brothers, the Egyptians had similar customs concerning the people of Canaan.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 1:00
  • Do you think the fact that they didn't use the normal word for "unlawful" designates this law as a different category of law? Perhaps like the difference between koinos and akathartos (common and unclean, respectively, which I understand koinos to be more associated with Pharisaic tradition and oral law and akathartos (the word also used in the LXX in Lev 11) as being levitically unclean.
    – Joseph O.
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 1:31
  • @Joseph Note that the commentators comments indicate that ἀθεμιστος is different from ἄνομος.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 21:31
  • Note the HCSB translating this verse: Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 21:37

It is the same as in the garden. God had said in Genesis 2:16-17 and the Lord God commanded the man, saying “ of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die”. When answering Satan, Eve said in Genesis 3:3 "...God has said,'you shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

God had spoken to Adam before the creation of Eve. It was his responsibility to teach her the Word of God, but somehow she had understood “neither shall you touch it”. It is the first evidence of man’s wisdom being added to God’s word and gave Satan the opportunity he looked for. If man will equate his words with God’s, then he is ripe to believe a lie. “ You will not surely die.

By God’s command, man was free to climb the tree and even make his hammock in it and sleep, but not to eat from it. It is wise to be prudent and flee temptation, but when you make your wisdom on a par with God’s Word, you have legalism.

Peter seems to have been under the legalism of the Jews, but not the command of God. The Jews added so many laws to try and prevent uncleanness, that they effectively lost any witness they had in the world because of their offensive attitude toward their fellow man.

Another example would be their dietary laws, which today would have a devout Jew not eat dairy and meat at the same time. They will keep it on separate shelves in the fridge, or if rich enough, have two fridges and store each separately to avoid breaking the law. Yet the only law of Moses regarding dairy and meat, is in Exodus 23: 19, : “ You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk”.

There may be many reason’s for the Lord’s prohibition, but not eating dairy and meat together is not one of them. and legalism erected a whole structure of prohibition in its own wisdom.

Thank God what He has called clean is clean, by His grace we have been saved!

  • Hi Frederick, welcome to the site. This is an interesting perspective; could you tie it back to the original question? Please be sure to take the site tour, and thanks for contributing! Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 17:06

It is likely that it was an oral law. Consider the following:

Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:34, 24:22, Numbers 15:15, Deuteronomy 24:17, 27:19, Leviticus 19:34

  • The Law forbids Israelites from dissociating with strangers or foreigners from other nations/gentiles if they are in the faith.

John 4:7-43

  • The Samaritan woman had knowledge of the ordinance that Jews should not deal with outsiders and she was astonished that Jesus did not abide by this rule. Jesus interacted with this Samaritan woman and other Samaritans, who were Gentiles. If there indeed was a commandment within the Law to not have fellowship with Gentiles, then Jesus would have broken that commandment, thus being found with sin. Also, if it was a commandment within the Law, then God would've never instructed Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jesus illustrated the point in his good Samaritan parable that all people are accepted by God if they do the will of God [Luke 10:30-37].

I think the fact that the Samaritan woman and the men in Acts 10 knew that Jews shouldn't associate with non-Jews is evidence of it being an oral ordinance because the Gentiles did not have the Law.

Also, check Dottard's response on Was the tearing down of the Wall of Separation between Jew and Gentile, mentioned in Ephesians 2:14, to be permanent or temporary?.

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