Simon and Simon

Among Jewish men of New Testament times, there were a lot of guys named Simon.

A lot.

Counting Peter, two of Jesus’ original twelve disciples were named Simon (Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot). Luke tells a story involving a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:36-50), whom some identify with “Simon the leper” (e.g., Matt 26:6) of Bethany. As we’ve seen in an earlier chapter of Acts, there was a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon, whose story was memorable enough to give us the word simony.

And now, at the end of Acts 9, we meet another Simon — a tanner who lived in the port city of Joppa. Luke tells us that after Peter brought Dorcas back from the dead and returned her good as new to the Christian community in Joppa, he went to stay for a while with the other Simon (vs. 43). It was only a matter of time before we got a story with two Simons under the same roof.

Simon and Simon. Sounds like a good name for a TV show.

Nah.

As we’ll see shortly, God will appear to a centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius and instruct him to send men to go retrieve Peter from Simon’s house. The instructions have to be extra clear to avoid confusion: “Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner” (Acts 10:5-6, NRSV). I can only imagine the men knocking on the tanner’s door when they arrive: “Hello. Are you Simon? Good. We’re looking for Simon.”

What’s interesting here, though, is not the tanner’s name, but the fact that he was a tanner. Scholars note that his work required him to work with the hides of dead animals, which technically would have made him unclean, or at least in the neighborhood of it. More scrupulous Jews would have avoided him (for that and other reasons having to do with olfactory processes).

Peter, it seemed, had no problem with this. In fact, he probably felt pretty comfortable staying in a house by the sea (Acts 10:6).

Does it matter? Probably not much. It just makes it interesting that Peter will later be squeamish about uncleanness when he is given the vision that leads him to rethink his stance on associating with Gentiles.

There’s “unclean,” apparently, and then there’s unclean. (I’m willing to make this compromise, but hey, here’s where I draw the line!)

We who are not Jewish by heritage and who take our right to the gospel for granted may find it difficult to understand just how hard it was for some early believers — including Peter himself — to truly grasp what it meant for God to embrace the Gentiles in his saving plan. An unclean brother is one thing, but an unclean Gentile?

What was God thinking?

Just this, as Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles would later write: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (Rom 10:12). That includes Romans, of course, and everyone we’re already tempted to put on the other side of us versus them.

Whatever their name might be.

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