Peter’s Denials

Peter_Denies_Jesus66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s maids came along. 67 Seeing Peter warming himself, she looked intently at him and said, “You too were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” So he went out into the outer court. (Then the cock crowed.) 69 The maid saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 Once again he denied it. A little later the bystanders said to Peter once more, “Surely you are one of them; for you too are a Galilean.” 71 He began to curse and to swear, “I do not know this man about whom you are talking.” 72 And immediately a cock crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” He broke down and wept.

The Apostle Peter was last seen as Jesus was escorted into the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, for the trial before the Sanhedrin: 54 Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest’s courtyard and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire. The part of the narrative taking place outside the trial setting is resumed in vv.66-72. The construction of the narrative lets the reader know that while Jesus is “on trial” in the house, his follower Peter is “on trial” out in the courtyard. Both are interrogated; the results, however, are quite different. At the precise time when the court entourage was mocking Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the prophecy that Peter would deliberately deny him was being fulfilled (v.30). The most plausible source for this narrative is Peter himself.

Peter’s three denials before the cock crows twice demonstrate that another of Jesus’ prophetic statements have come true (14:30). Each accusation of being one of Jesus’ followers brings a more vehement denial: Peter claims not to understand what the servant girl is talking about (v. 68); denies being one of Jesus’ followers (v. 70); swears an oath that he does not know the person they are talking about (v. 71). The oath, a curse against himself if he is lying, introduces the explicit denial that he does not know Jesus.

The Denials. The maid (v.66) remarks “You too were with the Nazarene Jesus.” Some scholars hold this to a scornful observation calculated to embarrass and unsettle the one addressed. But in the NT, Nazarene most frequently describes a person from Nazareth (AYBD: 1049); I would suggest, at this point, it is just an implied question indicating that she already knows the answer. Peter does not reply, “Sorry, you have the wrong person” but he denied here statement, using the form common in rabbinical law for a formal, legal denial. The first denial is followed by the cock’s crowing (v. 68) – although Peter gives no indication of having taken notice of the crowing.

It is at this point Peter leaves the “courtyard” (aulē) for the “outer court” (proaulion). The movement indicates his desire to escape. Yet he does not immediately leave the area. The second denial is reported indirectly. The same maid (or possible a second maid) makes the accusation to others standing around. It is easy to see how it might well be the same maid, knowing Peter is lying, wondering why he is so vehement about denying it and thus wants to make her case in a more public manner – so she follows him. With a listening crowd her words are perhaps more pointed and accusatory: “This man is one of them.” One can almost imagine the venom in the expression, “one of them.” Peter again denies her charge but by using the imperfect tense of the verb for “deny,” Peter is now repeatedly denying being a follower of Jesus. His denials earned him only a brief respite, for the bystanders sensed his discomfort and refused to leave him alone.

Some time passes between the denials to the maidservant and the charge by one of the bystanders that Peter must be one of Jesus’ disciples because he is a Galilean (v. 70). The confident challenge, “Surely you are one of them; for you too are a Galilean,” provoked Peter to maintain vehemently and formally that he had no knowledge of the Nazarene. The statement that he began to invoke a curse is intentionally left without an object in the Greek text to denote both that he cursed himself if he is lying and those present if they insist on asserting that he is a disciple. Peter’s avoidance of the name of Jesus (“this man about whom you are talking”) is deliberate and exposes the Lord to the contempt envisioned in Mark 8:38 (“ashamed of me and of my words”).

Peter apparently did not notice the first crowing, but the second reminds him of what Jesus had said. “He broke down and wept” (v. 72).

Notes

Mark 14:68 [Then the cock crowed]: found in most manuscripts, perhaps in view of Mk 14:30 and 14:72 but omitted in others. The verse is not needed to establish the number of times the cock crowed since v.72 provides that information.

Mark 14:70 Galilean: The Galileans are often mentioned in the Talmud because of their dialect (e.g. TBErubin 53b; Megillah 24b). They were unable to distinguish between the several guttural sounds that are so important an element in Semitic languages. Peter’s speech showed him to be a Galilean and his presence among the Judeans in the courtyard invited the deduction that he was a follower of the heretic Galilean, Jesus of Nazareth.

Sources

  • Stephen Goranson, “Nazarenes” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman. (Doubleday, New York:1992) 1049
  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 540-44
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 8:715-6
  • The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible

 

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