So a few days ago, my wife sent me this.
She got it from her sister Kathleen, who overlaid the Bible verse on a picture Jan took a while back when we kayaking in Pacific County (a wonderful September day!). Neither of us are sure what it means, but Jan speculates it may be because I am neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat. I’m going with that. At any rate, it was good for a laugh and hug, and I’m always good for that.
I posted it on the Book of Face and a reader was incautious enough to write:
“All kinds of” is a biblical phrase? I wouldn’t have guessed. I’m all kinds of surprised.
This was a reckless thing to say to a man who is only too ready to launch into biblical/theological nerdery on the flimsiest provocation.
Herewith is my reply:
In biblical parlance it means “many different species”. In American slang it means “a whole lot of”. It’s a reference to the Church’s mission to all the Gentiles and not just to the Jews.
The best rule of thumb when reading the New Testament is to look at the Old Testament for the background of the mental world the people writing it lived in. They are a people more marinated in the thought forms and worldview of the Old Testament than the most devout Star Trek fan is marinated in the lingo of the franchise. They really and truly believe these are the oracles of God and have been raised in an entire culture that thinks the same thing. So when Genesis reports God said
“Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. ” (Ge 1:24–25)
…they just use that language. But they also (and this is very typical for that culture too) assume there is a deeper spiritual meaning to be found in it too. That is the background for this epoch-making incident in the book of Acts:
The all kinds of animals, like the all kinds of fishes, becomes an image of all the Gentile nations that are welcome in the Church. It’s why John mentions this incident:
Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” But Peter began and explained to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.” (Ac 11:1–18).
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved† said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:4–11).
This miraculous catch of fishes after the Resurrection is the bookend to the first time Peter met Jesus and caught a miraculous draught of fishes. His first impulse had been to beg him to “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man” and Jesus had replied, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Now the real fishing expedition is about to begin as the Church is born and the number of fish is significant. Jerome tells us that 153 is the number of nations in the world according to ancient opinion. The point is, yet again, that the mission is to all the Gentiles.