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Did Jesus predict that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed twice, or three times before the cock crowed at all?

Posted on Mar.17, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Average rating: 5.7 / 10 (Rate It).

Each of the gospels reports that at the Last Supper, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny that he knew Jesus three times. In three accounts, Jesus says that this will happen before the cock crows; in the other, he says that it will happen before the cock crows twice.

In Mark, Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him before the cock crows twice:

Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ [Mark 14:29-31a (NRSV)]

Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s closely, except that it has Jesus predict that Peter will deny him before the cock crows at all:

Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ [Matthew 26:33-35a (NRSV)]

Luke agrees with Matthew:

And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’ [Luke 22:33-34 (NRSV)]

John provides further testimony to the prediction that Peter’s denial will be before the cock crows at all:

Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. [John 13:37-38 (NRSV)]

So did Jesus predict that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed twice, or that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed at all?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Amtiskaw

    Hmm, tricky. The passages you cite don’t contradict each other very strongly just considered on their own.

    If you really want to establish a contradiction, then I suggest the problem is actually caused by Mark 14:68.

    i.e. Mark tells us that Peter denied Jesus once, and the cock crew, whereas all the other gospels (especially Luke, who says it in the strongest way) tell us that Jesus predicted the cock would not crow at all until Peter had denied him three times…

  2. 2
    Errancy

    I was planning on posting on Peter’s denials (as opposed to Jesus’ predictions of Peter’s denials) next, as a companion piece. If you could hold fire on discussing that for now I’d appreciate it.

    I do think that the predictions are worth examining on their own. There are two angles on this that I can see.

    First, Mark and Matthew are clearly recording the same conversation (in Luke and John the conversations are rather different). There’s a significant difference in meaning between “before the cock crows” (Matthew) and “before the cock crows twice” (Mark), so which did Jesus actually say in that conversation?

    Note that this isn’t about the predictions contradicting each other, but about the reports of Jesus making the prediction contradicting each other. I do, however, think that there’s a second way to approach this that does take the predictions to be contradictory.

    I assume that you say that the predictions don’t contradict each other very strongly because “before the cock crows twice” and “before the cock crows” are mutually consistent; anything that satisfies the latter also satisfies the former. However, I think that a case can be made that “before the cock crows twice” implies “after the cock crows once”, in which case the two predictions would be inconsistent.

    They’re the two ways in which I think the accounts of the predictions are problematic; any comments?

  3. 3
    Amtiskaw

    “I was planning on posting on Peter’s denials (as opposed to Jesus’ predictions of Peter’s denials) next, as a companion piece.”

    Well, as I said, I believe the strongest inconsistency requires you to look at both at once (especially Mark 14:68 vs. Luke 22:34).

    Still, putting that aside for now, I agree that the predictions recorded by Mark and Matthew are not entirely consistent. I’m sure you’re right that “before the cock crows twice” implies that it will crow once (as indeed Mark later says it does).

  4. 4
    WisdomLover

    I will attempt to confine my remarks to the scope you suggest. But perhaps it goes without saying that what I say here will have obvious implications for that other issue.

    I suggest that what Jesus actually said meant or implied something like this “Before the cock crows tomorrow morning, and before he crows twice, you will deny me three times”. He was thus making a lesser and included prediction that the cock would crow once before the coming of Good Friday morning.

    Each of the Gospels accurately record part of what Jesus predicted. None record all of what he predicted. As usual, the fullest picture is achieved by reading all of the accounts.

    Mark’s account, which is thought to be Peter’s account, recalls the prediction of both crowings because Peter lived through the crowings and the denials first hand. That is what was most vividly memorable to Peter. It was that second crowing that brought Jesus’ words back to his mind.

    The single-crower accounts are mostly just concerned with recording the part of the prediction that implied that the denials would happen before Good Friday morning.

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