Peterism—a false doctrine that still tries to invade the church

Introduction

So Ken Ham writes something that fires people up. I’m not surprised. But this time it was over Mr. Ham’s stir-fry that stirred some Christians up!

Ken Ham posted about the meal that he was eating at a Chinese restaurant with a picture. It is hard to believe a plate of food would warrant such controversy, considering all the compromise with “millions of years” in the church that Ken Ham repeatedly calls out! Regardless, the picture is reproduced below:

Shrimp

Most comments were quite favorable but there are groups of Christians who were shocked that Mr. Ham would eat something that was “unclean”. They openly rebuked Ken (and anyone else who would eat shrimp, lobster, rabbit, and swine like bacon and ham (not Ken’s relatives!), etc. They would often quote Old Testament passages (e.g., Leviticus 11:9-12, etc.) and leave it at that. But were these rebukes in order?

I’ve heard these “unclean food” arguments too and have been involved in this discussion many times over my years. But I need to warn you up front that this is actually Peterism. It is a dangerous slope and of all the false doctrines floating around during New Testament times, the Bible explicitly calls this one out…publically, no less.

Does the Old Testament call certain foods out as “unclean”? Yes, but that is not the issue.

Now to properly understand the issue, we need to lay the foundation. So bear with me as we dive into the Old Testament passages before we jump into Peterism, which occurs in the New Testament. A few examples of unclean foods are listed in Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 11.[1] Without being exhaustive, here are a few verse sets:

  • Deuteronomy 14:1-3 “You are the children of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead.” For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. “You shall not eat any detestable thing.
  • Deuteronomy 14:7-10 “Nevertheless, of those that chew the cud or have cloven hooves, you shall not eat, such as these: the camel, the hare (rabbit), and the rock hyrax; for they chew the cud but do not have cloven hooves; they are unclean for you. “Also the swine (pigs/hogs) is unclean for you, because it has cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud; you shall not eat their flesh or touch their dead carcasses. “These you may eat of all that are in the waters: you may eat all that have fins and scales. “And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.
  • Leviticus 11:1-12 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘These are the animals which you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth: ‘Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud — that you may eat. ‘Nevertheless these you shall not eat among those that chew the cud or those that have cloven hooves: the camel, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; ‘the rock hyrax, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; ‘the hare, because it chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves, is unclean to you; ‘and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. ‘Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you. ‘These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers — that you may eat. ‘But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. ‘They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination. ‘Whatever in the water does not have fins or scales — that shall be an abomination to you.

First thing I want you to note is that these commands were not directed to the Chinese. Nor were they appointed to the people of Peru. In fact, this passage was not pointed gentiles. These commands were given to the chosen and special people—the Israelites—as part of the covenant between God and Israel (Deuteronomy 14:1-3, Leviticus 11:1-2), which came to fruition at the time of Moses. Prior to Moses, the Israelites could partake of swine, rabbit, lobster, and so on.

Genesis 9:3 was in effect for the whole world until the Israelites were called out to have a special sacrificial and clean diet which points to the ultimate sacrifice and ultimate cleanness that is Christ. You need to understand that God does not change, but His rules to man may change at given times for given purposes.

Originally, man was a vegetarian (Genesis 1:29). Then after sin, it change when there was a new covenant at the time of Noah, e.g., Genesis 6:18, 9:9-17, Hosea 6:7. God changed the eating permissions.

Man was first permitted to eat meat after the Flood. Then more food rules came about with an even newer, but pointed, covenant (that we call the “old covenant” or “Old Testament” with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel)). This came into law with the children of Israel at the time of Moses.

New Testament and “unclean” foods

This brings us to an eternal covenant in Christ (e.g., Jeremiah 32:40, Matthew 26:28, Hebrews 13:20). We also call this the “new covenant” or the “New Testament” and it is not a covenant for one group of people but for all. Christ blood was shed for all tribes and nations, not one people group.

As most Christians are aware there is no longer a distinction between Jews and gentiles (Romans 10:12). We are all in the same boat in need of Jesus Christ for salvation. And yes, there were changes with the new covanant. I’m not diving into all those changes, but I am going to point out one big change and it came from mouth of Christ, who is the Word of God.

Jesus made a profound declaration, which seemed to stifle the Jews—even among His own disciples. In the context of clean and unclean, He said:

Mark 7:14-19 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.)[2]

So Jesus Christ, who is God, declared all foods clean. Is this too hard for an all-powerful God to make all foods clean? No it is not.

Now I want you to understand a subtly of this. In one sense, it is like we went back to a Genesis 9:3 diet. However, we didn’t exactly do that. We, unlike Genesis 9:3, do not eat clean and unclean foods. It is actually a little different (even though the result is essentially the same).

All the unclean foods from Genesis 9:3, even those called out specifically in the Old Testament, are now made clean. So we are still eating a clean diet, the difference is that unclean foods of Genesis 9:3 have been made clean. Thus pigs, rabbits, shrimp, lobsters, and so on are now clean foods for all people.

Peter struggles with the new cleanliness in the New Testament

This cleanliness of all foods is demonstrated in the New Testament and Peter struggled with it—not once but twice. Let’s evaluate these instances.

Peter’s first struggle

Acts 10:9-16 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

Peter recounts this to the others in Acts 11.

Acts 11:4-10 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. “When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. “And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ “But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ “But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ “Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

In these passages, it reaffirms that God cleansed unclean foods. Peter misunderstood the situation. He thought that if he ate foods that used to be unclean under Mosaic Law, then they were still unclean. He failed to take Jesus Christ’s words to heart that all foods were now clean and Christians were freed from the regulation of the Law in such a fashion (Galatians 3:8-14). Peter didn’t realize that if he ate foods that were made clean then he would still be eating foods that were only clean!

Of course, the situation is used as a foundational springboard to show that Christ was making gentiles, who were often seen as unclean, clean. One might assert that Peter never ate; thus this doesn’t apply to physically unclean meats, but merely points to the spiritually unclean gentiles who are now made clean. However, this argument fails because if the physical aspects are false, so also would the subsequent spiritual aspect be false that are built on this principle.

Peter’s second struggle and Paul’s open rebuke

Peter should have learned from his mistakes. Like all of us, he can be a little dense sometimes. But who am I to criticize Peter—he walked on water for a while whereas I sink every time! Paul recounts:

Galatians 2:11-13 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

Regarding eating food with gentiles, Peter failed openly this time. What makes it worse was that he was dragging other Christians down with him—some of these Christians were quite prominent! Paul rebuked Peter openly.

Due to Peter’s repeated error, when one neglects that all foods have been made clean, then this is called Peterism. Now Peter relented and went so far as to commend Paul letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16)—keep in mind that these letters record the open rebuke to Peter from Paul.

Clarifying the issue

I want to add a point of clarification for this New Testament teaching. Let’s do this with a practical example. Let us imagine a Muslim or a Jew comes to know Christ, like we see daily. Let’s call this person Abraham or Abe for short.

Abe has been involved in his former religious practice for many years where he abstained from pork seeing it as unclean (as is the case in both Islam and Judaism). When he receives Christ as Lord, Abe is no expert on Christian doctrine and beliefs. It is not like Abe suddenly has a PhD in Bible! The point is that he is a new believer and not too well versed in Christian doctrine yet. Though he may be very excited to learn, he just isn’t there yet.

Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Let’s reflect. We were all just like Abe. At one stage in our past, we knew precious little about our Christianity. When I was saved, I was 9 years old. I was a babe or a little child in my theology. I needed milk, not solid food. As I grew in the Scriptures, I went from milk to solid food.

Abe is the same way. Abe came into Christianity as a babe or a child and he needs to be fed milk before solid food. When you wean a baby from a bottle it is not “overnight”. After having 4 children, I understand this principle very well. It takes time.

So Abe becomes a Christian and his faith is still fragile with a weak conscience and needs to gain wisdom from the Scriptures to become strong in his faith. If a Christian brother, let’s call him William, sees Abe and says, “now that he knows the truth about pork, I’m going to eat it in front of him to make sure he understands the error of his old ways.” Naturally, Abe would be shocked and thrown into a state of wondering about his newfound faith. Although unclean things like pork have been made clean, what William did is wrong. His actions were out of spite for our new brother in Christ.

The problem was that Abe didn’t know the truth about how all foods have been made clean by God. He needs to be fed the Scriptures first and have this explained like God did with Peter (three times no less!). So Abe was still under the perception that swine or shrimp were unclean causing him to stumble. The Bible says:

Romans 14:1-3 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

Some who are strong in faith can eat all things, but some, due to weakness, limit themselves to only vegetables, or in the case of Abe was limited even in his meat selection. The Bible talks further about these issues in the New Testament but this should suffice to get the point across. Keep in mind that Paul, a former Jew who argued one should abstain when eating with a weak brother (1 Corinthians 8:10-13), even ate all foods and defended it in saying:

1 Corinthians 10:29b-31 For why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.[3]

The key is to be respectful and train up the weak as Paul did. But a Christian needs to be mindful of believers who have come out of these types of situations, like Abe, so they can gently and lovingly teach the truth.

Thus, they help their weak brother so that they can overcome their former beliefs about certain foods being unclean. Through the use of teaching with Scripture, can the person move from milk to solid food and go from weak in faith to strong in faith. Then they will be stronger in their faith and you will have gained a brother.

But what about alleged later prophets who say they changed the rules to avoid swine again or be vegetarian?

The Bible says:

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

The New Testament text is a result of the Holy Spirit speaking through and by the power of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, who is God. An apostle is like a legal representative (think power of attorney) of someone else. The New Testament exists by Christ’s authority; that is apostolic authority, and thus God’s authority.

Beware of false prophets

Prophets existed in the Old and New Testaments, but Apostles of Christ were given a higher authority even though both were mouthpieces of God. Why is this significant to this discussion?

Simple. Any alleged prophet and their works after the New Testament is a lesser authority than the New Testament. The New Testament is to be used to judge any alleged new revelation, not vice versa. So if a supposed prophet disagrees with the New Testament, you stick with the New Testament teaching and the alleged prophet is viewed as a false prophet.

What do we make of those supposed prophets who once again say swine or shrimp is unclean? The apostles of Christ—the New Testament, must judge their teachings. Being that their proclamations are inconsistent, then they are wrong. It would be a doctrine of demons, thus a false prophet (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

Vision and prophecy were sealed up after the New Testament

The Old Testament prophesied that prophecy (no more prophets) would cease upon the destruction of the Temple’s sanctuary, when it would be burned with fire per Psalm 74:3–9. When the sanctuary is destroyed and the things in it with fire and broken down and all the meeting places (e.g., synagogues in Israel) are destroyed, there will no longer be any prophet in the land.

This is confirmed by Daniel 9:24-27 when vision and prophecy shall cease when the Holy City (that is, Jerusalem per Nehemiah 11:1, Isaiah 52:1) and sanctuary (that is, the Temple; e.g., 1 Kings 6:19) are destroyed which occurred in the first century.

Prophets like Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Obadiah still existed when the Babylonians came in and destroyed Solomon’s Temple. Also, the items were largely taken out of the Temple by the Babylonians and were later returned and not destroyed (2 Chronicles 36:7, Ezra 5:14, etc.), which is unlike the destruction in A.D. 70 with the second Temple (Herod’s Temple). The items met their final destruction even to this day.

So vision and prophecy (i.e., new prophets) should no longer be possible after the New Testament was completed.

Concluding remarks

But Peterism still finds its way into churches because some Christians fail to adhere to Christ’s statement that all foods are cleansed. This may be purposeful or simply out of ignorance. Paul states to Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:1-5 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

Paul goes so far as to point out that when people command others to abstain from foods (which clearly included creatures by the context), that this is the doctrine of demons and a lie. These are pretty bold words by the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind these are not words of a weak brother either—these are people who knew the teachings and depart from them.

Peterism is a false doctrine and promotion of it warrants the same rebuke that Paul gave to Peter—as Paul boldly did in love for Peter—pointing to the authority of the Bible. The New Testament reigns supreme and is consistent that all foods are now clean. So when eating shrimp, lobster, pork, rabbit, and so forth, they are now classed as clean foods and part of a clean diet. Keep in mind that Christ never went back on His Word on this issue.

Cite this article: B. Hodge, Peterism—a false doctrine that still tries to invade the church, Biblical Authority Ministries, February 11, 2016, https://wordpress.com/post/biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com/124.

[1] All passages NKJV unless otherwise denoted.

[2] NAS

[3] NAS

Peterism—a false doctrine that still tries to invade the church