Wednesday, June 25, 2008

St. Peter's Denials and the Cock's Crows: A Biblical Contradiction?

[PeterDeniesChrist.jpg]

St. Peter Denying Christ, by Paul Gustav Doré (1832-1883)


Dr. Jason Long, an agnostic pharmacist, and author of Biblical Nonsense, has recently written a post about the alleged contradiction of the account of the cock's crows in relation to the denials of our Lord by St. Peter. He was responding to a short treatment by Protestant apologist J.P. Holding.

I'd like to (tentatively) propose a different solution. It's controversial itself, but I am simply throwing it out as a possible solution to seeming difficulties in the Gospel accounts: food for thought and speculation. Some may find it plausible; others may not (but that makes the discussion fun).

First, let's see what Dr. Long states (his words in blue):

Perhaps more than any contradiction in the Bible, the cock crowing contradiction has attracted its share of how-it-could-have-been-scenarios. This is my response to one apology. Comments are welcome.

Shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus tells Peter that he will choose to disavow any knowledge of Jesus on three occasions. After these events manifest, a cock will crow to remind him of Jesus’ words. In the books of Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus warns Peter that all three of his denials will take place before the cock crows. In these three accounts, the situation unfolds exactly how Jesus predicted. The cock crows after, and only after, Peter’s third denial is made in accordance with what Jesus states, “the cock will not crow until you have denied me three times.” However, the details are different in Mark. Here, we see Jesus warning Peter that he will deny their friendship three times before the cock crows twice. Of course, this is exactly how the events play out in Mark. The cock crows after the first denial and again after the third denial. This is an undeniable contradiction without a rational explanation. If Mark is correct, the cock must have crowed after the first denial – even though Jesus said, in the other three Gospels, that it would not crow until after the third denial. If these three Gospels are accurate, Mark is wrong because the cock could not have crowed until after all three of Peter’s denials. How does the apologist handle this one?

. . .
does it make any sense for the author to say that the cock would crow twice (or three, or four, or five, or seventy-two times) if the three denials all took place before the first crow? Of what relevance is the second crowing, and why is it worth mentioning? . . .

Mark is internally consistent. Matthew, Luke, and John are internally consistent and consistent among each other. The only problem is that Mark is not consistent with the other three. The simplest answer is that Mark made a simple error.

And in the combox:

One more thing: Matthew, Luke, and John are explicit that the crowing took place immediately after the third denial. In the exact same place in Matthew, the author mentions the second crowing (implicit in its immediacy). This second crowing can only be the same crowing that the other three mention. If the second crowing took place immediately after the third denial, the first crowing must have taken place before the third denial, which would contradict what Jesus said would happen in Matthew, Luke, and John. What am I supposedly missing here? That the first crowing was understood to be a middle-of-the-night crowing that the other three Gospels did not need to mention? This is wild speculation, is it not?

All four Gospels treat this topic. There are four accounts of Jesus' prediction to Peter, and four accounts of Peter's actual denials:
Predictions: Matthew 26:31-35 / Mark 14:27-31 / Luke 22:34 / John 13:31-38

Peter's Denials: Matthew 26:69-75 / Mark 14:66-72 / Luke 22:54-62 / John 18:15-17,25-27
All these passages can be read in a very handy overview by Edwin K.P. Chong, in the Quodlibet Online Journal of Christian Theology and Philosophy. I'd like to submit as a plausible explanation what is known as "the six-denial solution." Chong describes it as follows:
A more radical solution to the problem is to submit that there were in fact six denials altogether, not three. The rationale here is that Mark's quote of Jesus saying that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crows twice means that there would be three denials for each crow of the rooster. The rooster crowed after the third and the sixth denials. . . . it explains why the various people involved in the denials in the four Gospels differ somewhat. Is it possible that the four Gospels together account for six different denial episodes altogether, but that each Gospel only describes three of them?

The six-denials approach was popularized by Harold Lindsell in his 1976 book, The Battle for the Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976]. The success of the approach relies on being able to reconstruct a cogent account of the six denials that is consistent with all the Gospels. One possible account, due to Michael Cortright, is given below [dead link]:

First denial:

A girl at the door to the courtyard (John 18:17).

Second denial:

A servant girl, by the fire in the courtyard (Matthew 26:69, Mark 14:66, Luke 22:56).

Third denial:

A man by the fire in the courtyard (Luke 22:58).

First crow.

Mark 14:68 (King James Version).

Fourth denial:

Another girl, at the gateway (Matthew 26:71) or entryway (Mark 14:68,69).

Fifth denial:

Some anonymous (standing) people by the fire in the courtyard (Matthew 26:73, Mark 14:70, John 18:25).

Sixth denial:

Another man who happens to be a male servant of the high priest (Luke 22:59, John 18:26).

Second crow.

Matthew 26:74, Mark 14:72, Luke 22:60, John 18:27.
The above reconstruction appears to be largely consistent with the Gospel accounts.
This explanation was provided (perhaps definitively) in the book, The Life of Christ in Stereo, by Johnston M. Cheney (edited by Stanley A. Ellisen, Portland: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1969). This is a Harmony of the Gospels, with a few appendices: one of which (#2: pp. 218-220) is devoted to this textual issue. I shall cite it at great length:
Discrepancy has been charged to this account because the related details are so diverse that they simply refuse to group themselves into just three denials without some very questionable manipulating of the texts. A surplus of details has proved embarrassing . . .

The solution that this harmony has evolved is suggested first of all by noting the differences in the two warnings Jesus gave to Peter. The first, recorded by Luke and John, occurred in the Upper room. John shows that this took place before Jesus' great farewell discourse . . . The second, recounted by Mark and Matthew, occurred much later. It was given when Jesus and the disciples were on the way to Gethsemane . . . Note the difference in the wording of the two warnings. In the first warning, Jesus said:
". . . the cock will not at all crow this day till you have denied three times that you know me." (Italics indicate emphasis in Grk.) (John 13:38)
On the latter occasions he said:
". . . today, during the night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." (Mark 14:30)
From just a simple analysis of these words, it is evident that Jesus predicted Peter would both deny Him three times before the cock crowed at all, as well as three times before the cock crowed twice. The grammar itself demands this . . . The evidence is that Jesus predicted six denials.

The First Three Denials. By noting the first denials in each account, it is evident that the one recorded by John occurred first. It had to, for it took place as Peter gained entrance to where the other denials were uttered. And his second denial was the second recorded by John, for here Jesus had just been taken bound from Annas to appear before Caiaphas. This second denial was a response to the men around the court fire as Peter sat with them.

The third denial occurred also by the fire, this time in response to the query of the high priest's servant girl. Following this, Peter went out into the fore-court. But it was at this point, as Mark records (according to Textus Receptus), that "a cock crowed" (Mark 14:68) . . . interestingly enough, this crowing occurred after only the first denial recorded by Mark. By allowing the Evangelists to minutely supplement each other, the first cycle of denials is seen to be precisely as Jesus had predicted: Peter denied Him three times before the cock crowed at all.

The Second Three Denials. . . . There is "another woman" (Matt. 26:71), a second query by the high priest's maid (Mark 14:69), "another man" (Luke 22:58), "another man" (Luke 22:59), and finally "a kinsman of the one whose ear Peter had cut off" (John 18:26). There is obviously some overlap in these accounts, but they are seen to draw out Peter's additional three denials after the first crowing of the cock. Following Peter's adamant curse and his final denial, Mark declares that the cock crowed "the second time." . . .

It is to be recognized that each of the individual Evangelists recorded and was evidently aware of only one warning by Jesus and only three denials by Peter. They each recorded accurately what they knew.
Edward T. Babinski, another agnostic, recommended in the combox for Dr. Long's article, a tightly-argued treatment by Dave E. Matson. The above scenario resolves many if not all of the alleged difficulties suggested by Matson in his section "The Problem" because there are more denials that occur, thus resolving supposed contradictions in the accounts of each denial (that seem even at first glance to add up to more than three specific denials).

The article, Peter's Denial, by Doug Ecklund, lays out a scenario for six denials, with all the verses laid out for the convenience of the reader.

John Schoenheit, in a (transcribed) 1995 talk entitled The Last Week of Christ's Life, concurs with this theory:
This is his first denial [John 18:15-17] and it happened at the house of Annas. E.W. Bullinger and others have worked out the six denials of Peter. Prophecies were there, and one of them said, “Before the cock crow, thou shall deny me thrice,” another says, “Before the cock crow thrice, thou shall deny me twice.” I have worked on this for some time, and I am satisfied that I believe that six denials by Peter are there. It would have worked something like this that Christ would have said, “Before the cock crow thou shall deny me thrice.” Peter would have kept on saying no it is not going to work that way, no that is not the way it is going to be. Christ would have then said, “Before the cock crow twice, thou shall deny me thrice.” In fact, even if you look at the Gospel records and try to harmonize them, we have one denial here with Annas; other Gospels clearly [refer to] three denials in front of Caiaphas, so you already have four denials; . . . you can get your Bible and get 3x5 cards to line out the various denials. Do this like a reporter using who, what, where, when, why, and how. You will see that Peter makes six different denials.
The Defending the Faith website also offers a scenario for six denials:
i. The First Series of Three.

1. The First Denial, John 18:17. Place: the door (thura) without. Time: entering. The questioner: the porteress (Gr. thuroros).

2. The Second Denial, Matthew 26:70 (Mark 14:68). Place: the hall (aule). Time: sitting. Questioner: a certain maid. Luke 22:56-58 combines the same place and time, with the same maid, and another (heteros, masc.).

3. The Third Denial, Matthew 26:71. Place: the gateway or porch (pulon). Time: an interval of an hour. John 18:25, 26 combines the same place and time, with another maid and bystanders, one of them being a relative of Malchus.

A Cock Crew
(Mark 14: 68. John 18:27)

ii. The Second Series of Three.

1. The First Denial, Mark 14:63. Place: "beneath in the hall". Time: shortly after. Questioner: the maid again.

2. The Second Denial, Matthew 26:73 (Mark 14:70). Place: the gate (pulon). Time: shortly after. Questioners: the bystanders.

3. The Third Denial (Luke 22:59, 60). Place: the midst of the hall (aule; v. 55). Time: "an hour after" (v. 59). Questioner : a certain one (masc.).

A Cock Crew

(Matthew 26:74. Mark 14:72. Luke 22:61)

IV. We thus have a combined record in which there remains no difficulty, while each word retains its own true grammatical sense.
Willmington's Guide to the Bible provides another such outline of six denials.

* * * * *

For those who don't care for this scenario, Protestant apologist Norman L. Geisler offers an explanation with the traditional three denials, in his book Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1980).

The CARM website presents a three-denial schema in a convenient outline form.

Eric Lyons at ApologeticsPress.org gives it a shot by explaining the seeming contradiction by analogy to other similar uses of language (scroll down about 3/4 to the bottom).

St. Augustine's explanation from his Harmony of the Gospels, Book III, chapter 2 is also fascinating.

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