Luke 7:2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.

The elders of the Jew had a good relationship with this Gentile centurion. Jesus didn't think twice to visit this Gentile.

Acts 10:28 He [Peter] said to them [Gentiles]: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile.

Apparently, these Gentiles knew some Jewish law that forbade some relationships between Jews and Gentiles. Where can we find the wording of this law?

  • 1
    This was very instructive to look into and it would never have occurred to me to ponder on it, had you not asked the question. Thank you. (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 20:33
  • The expression could be like the modern 7 principles of Kwanzaa, which encourage racial segregation and a mutually beneficial society and economy. Someone shopping at a store owned by someone of a different race would be considered to be going against principle #4. It isn't a real "law", but people might refer to it as such. Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 14:52

6 Answers 6


The word ('unlawful' or 'against the law') used by Peter, in Acts 10:28, or at least the word reported by Luke, as used by Peter, is αθεμιτος athemitos which is only used one other time in scripture, by Peter (again) in 1 Peter 4:3 where he admits that :

... the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the nations (or, Gentiles) when we walked in ... abominable idolatries. [KJV]

It is remarkable that Peter, a Jew, says 'we' counting himself among such as had committed such things as the whole list, and the abominable idolatries as well.

The word is not what one might have expected. One might have supposed that nomos would have been used. But it is not.

The word is, of course, a negative but I cannot find the corollary ever used in scripture which is not θεμιτος themitos but (so my Liddell & Scott tells me) θεμιστος themistos which means 'agreeable to law'. It is stating that there is an understandable divide between persons keeping law and persons not keeping law.

But Paul has much to say in the first three chapters of Romans about the hypocrisy of supposed law-keepers, who do not actually keep it, and the tendency of non-law-keepers to conform, to some extent, to sensible conduct anyway. And there are lessons to be learned by both in what Paul expounds throughout Romans dealing with the very large issue of Jew and Gentile.

I would say that 'not agreeable to law' is not exactly the same as saying 'unlawful'.

Law does not 'agree' or 'disagree' to anything. Law just states law.

The word used by Peter would appear to have the meaning 'not agreeable to persons following law'.

Thus, considering Peter's careful use of a word only ever twice used in scripture (and that both times by himself) and considering the context of Peter being taught by a vision to be careful about what he called 'common' or 'unclean' and considering the second context in his epistle where he is counting himself, a Jew, as guilty - to some extent - of Gentile sins or at least of such tendencies, perhaps, it would seem that Peter is treading carefully.

'Disagreeable to law-keeping persons' is not stating that there is a definite Law which forbids Jews and Gentiles congregating together.

One could say a lot more about the history of Israel, about the development of the Gospel, about the bringing in of Gentiles into the church - but I think the context of Peter's words is obvious and does not need to be enlarged upon.


There is no law in the Hebrew Bible stating that it is forbidden to associate with or visit Gentiles. Peter was apparently referring to "Oral Torah," also called "the traditions of the elders" (Matthew 15:2) - meaning rabbinical rulings and interpretations.

By way of background, among first-century rabbinical teachers there was significant controversy over the issue of relations with Gentiles. The school of Shammai opposed commerce with non-Jews while the school of Hillel was more lenient and was known especially for reaching out to non-Jews as students.

A famous story characterizing Shammai tells of a time when a Gentile came to him and asked to be converted to Judaism upon the condition that Shammai summarize the entire Torah while standing on one leg. Shammai took offense at the request, and he drove the applicant away with his measuring stick. Hillel, on the other hand, did as the seeker requested by summarizing all of "the Law and the Prophets" with the famous dictum: "What is hateful to you, do not unto your neighbor."

Jesus himself confirms the practice of association with Gentiles when he said "You traverse sea and land to make one convert." (Matthew 23:15) He was critical of the Pharisees' hypocrisy but he too associated with non-Jews in order to bring them to God. In any case this statement shows that Jewish legal authorities indeed associated with Gentiles regularly.

Another aspect of this question has to do with timing. In the runup to the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 c.e., the House of Shammai seems to have gained prominence and eventually allied itself with the Zealots. This process may have advanced considerably by the time Peter preached to Cornelius, which could have led Peter to his statement about association with Gentiles being unlawful.

Conclusion: There is no OT law against association with Gentiles. However, at the time in question many rabbis did interpret the Law in that way, while others were more lenient. It is not strictly true that such relations were unlawful.


I don't think there is a Mosaic law that directly forbid association with gentiles. It was a pharisaical custom/law added to the Mosaic law like the washing of hand and Corban.

Mark 7
9He went on to say, “You neatly set aside the commandment of God to maintaine your own tradition. 10For Moses said: ‘Honor your father and your mother’f and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’g 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever you would have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12he is no longer permitted to do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by the tradition you have handed down. And you do so in many such matters.”

  • Why choose an example of a law which Jesus specifically condemned as contrary to God's law an example of a legitimate law? Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 20:01
  • It shows how far and how wrong they had gone overboard.
    – user35953
    Commented Aug 11, 2020 at 11:40
  • 1
    Why choose an example of a law which Jesus specifically condemned as contrary to God's law an example of a legitimate law ("our law forbids")? He means the law forbids this, not Pharisaical laws. He said the vision about eating unclean foods referred to being allowed ("what God has called clean [now]") only then and not before. Commented Aug 11, 2020 at 17:10
  • Do you have a better example that I can choose?
    – user35953
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 11:04
  • 1
    Well, I wouldn't approach it from your angle. For example, Jesus calls the Psalms, "your [the Jews'] law." He could mean that. Or he could have been speaking about a traditional understanding of a passage in the Torah, which has been lost to time. Both are quite possible. Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 17:28

The Mosaic Law. Which has 613 commands, out of which most know up to 10.

JOSHUA 23:7 That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them:

In this account, Joshua is nearing death, and warning the children of God to honour the commandments.

DEUTERONOMY 7:3  Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

They were to be separate that is, Holy, apart. A people separated unto God. (God hates mixture)

  • It's true the these passages forbid worshiping other gods and intermarrying but not association with non Jews. In fact without "mixture" neither Jesus nor King David would never have been born, for both of them have several women in their lineage who come for forbidden ethnic groups. Ruth was a Moabite, and Rahab was a Canaanite (both listed in the genealogy of Mt.) Commented Mar 26 at 4:28

In the time of the Christ, the Jews regarded the Gentiles as dogs, unclean and unchosen.

Jewish girls and boys could not marry Gentiles.

In Deuteronomy 7, the Jews were instructed to destroy the seven Gentile nations when they took possession of the holy land.

Peter could not and did not want to go to the house of a Gentile, Gentiles were unclean.

  • Hi user39905, welcome. There's no specific law in the OT that forbids interaction with Gentiles. Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 8:46
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    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 10:16

Over and above the laws of ritual purity, in the instances they were still relevant, this verse has no parallels in Jewish literature of the time. In fact, a great number of rabbis of the Talmud associated with gentiles and are even said to have been friends with Roman emperors. One named Antoninus is said to have converted this way. Also, Luke states that Simon was well respected among Jews. It would have been hard to gain this respect without making any kind of contact. Either Luke is portraying Peter as ignorant of Jewish law which is why his mission passes to Paul, or more likely, this is a specifically early Christian interpretation of Jewish law as it was relevant to Christians. For example Matthew 18:17--"...treat them as you would a gentile or tax collector." This flies in the face of what we think of as Christian contemporarily, but Jesus himself was a bit more hostile to gentiles than Pharisees, which is where some of Paul's openness to them actually derives from.

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    – agarza
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 5:10

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