So they arrested Him and led Him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!” But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!” After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!” “No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted. About an hour later someone else insisted,”This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.” But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know Me.” And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.Luke 22:54-62
Did you manage to harmonize the “discrepancies” in the denial story as told by the four gospel writers? This is one of those classic sections of the gospels where the record suggests the gospel writers stories are not the same. Many critics point to these kinds of examples in the Gospels to show the Bible is not reliable. “See, the witnesses can’t agree as to what was said and by whom. This wouldn’t hold up in a court of law. Lawyers would pick holes in their evidence because the recorded evidence doesn’t agree.”
What do you think? Could you act the part of the lawyer and defend the case in court so it won’t get thrown out?
I have marked in red below those parts of the testimony for which we need an explanation to defend “our case” (or in this case the written account penned by the four gospel writers).
You will see from the above testimony that there are differences in the things that were said and in the people who said them. Matthew and Mark are aligned the closest; there is not much difference between their testimony. But there are some differences and one in particular which is more significant. Most others are a matter of the words used but which carry the same intent. The more significant difference I refer to is that Matthew claims the second girl who challenged Peter was different from the first person. Mark on the other hand says it was the same girl who challenged him the first time. Luke indicates it was some one else altogether, in fact a man, whereas John claims multiple people were involved – they (servants and guards). How do we reconcile these accounts together? Can we do that or are the accounts just too different?
Come on Matthew and Mark, just who was it? Was it the same girl or wasn’t it? Surely you could tell if the same girl spoke to Peter or not. And what about Luke? He wasn’t there to have been an eyewitness. Neither for that matter was Mark if indeed he was the one who left his cloak or outer garment behind and fled as we talked about in Gem 1224. After Luke researched the matter he places the second challenge in the mouth of a man. John on the other hand records that there were a number of people challenging Peter the second time. A mixture of servants and guards. The first challenge John claims came from a woman as opposed to a servant girl. Well that is not hard to reconcile, is it? Woman or girl, it is all a matter of perspective. But we are still left with the discrepancy between Matthew and Mark as to whether this was the same or a different girl. Luke’s claim that it was a man could well be explained by John’s statement. I suspect what may well have happened was a girl started the ball rolling, then others chipped in with their bit. So one girl started it, another girl repeated the comment, which Matthew noted, then a man added his comment. All the comments are similar and John tells us there were a collection of servants (girls) and guards milling around. This is all very likely as well that a single person, a servant girl started it off. Then when others added their comments, the group grew. Note there is an escalation of those challenging Peter with each denial. I am sure he must have been making his way to the exit in the end.
I don’t personally think there is an issue of the fidelity of the Word of God. All of the comments are in the category of having the same intent. Nothing really contradicts in terms of factuality. Oh there are little differences in the comments of the people but all on the same theme or point. This is all in accord with how we human beings see things. Any two people who witness a particular event will see it in slightly different ways. We see it through our personal grid. We take note of certain details that other people don’t see.
Besides which let me share with you something that a police detective told me after a God’s Awesome Book seminar I conducted in New Zealand some years ago in Masterton. I had been talking about the differences in testimony recorded in Bible. I made the comment that where human eye-witness testimony is concerned no two people will see things alike. There will always be little differences of perspective. Ask any husband and wife. It is just how it is. After the seminar had finished a police detective came up to talk to me. He told me that detectives working on a crime scene and interviewing witnesses look for the differences to substantiate the factuality. If two or more people’s testimony agrees on every point and word for word the same they suspect collusion. It is more likely that the people have concocted their testimony in order to make sure their stories match than if it were true. True eye-witness testimony contains little differences which prove to us it’s true. This testimony of what happened at Peter’s denial fits right in with that.
Nothing that was recorded actually contradicts any other aspect of factuality. If we pick up on the likelihood that more people are getting in on the act of challenging Peter in a group then it is even more likely. I imagine it started with one person but others added their comment. In the end there were numbers of people, possibly all talking at once. In the recollection of the disciples and the reports of what was said as the story was spread it is most likely that the record we have in the gospels is in accord with what actually happened.
In the previous Gems I suggested that you also note the number of times the cock crows in each gospel account. To facilitate that I have noted the occurrence of the rooster crowing in orange and white in the passage above because roosters are orange and yellow. Well I don’t have the choice of a red highlight.
Note that each gospel writer concludes this segment with the statement of the rooster crowing. But it is Mark who records two crowings. We need to investigate the details of this.
- Does the crowing of the rooster fit with the comments I made about eye witness testimony above or is this a different category?
- Can we talk about “eye witness testimony” if only Matthew and John were there with the action at this time?
- Assumedly Mark has run away if the one who lost his garments was indeed Mark. Luke was not part of the twelve and didn’t “join the action” until Paul’s journeys, so he can hardly be counted as an eye witness.
This needs to be investigated further; in the next Gem.
Tell the truth or someone will tell it for you.Stephanie Klein
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember everything you’ve said.Mark Twain
John came fasting. Jesus came feasting. One you called a demon. The other a glutton. You stumble over the truth not the form.John Piper
There is a price to pay for speaking the truth. There is a bigger price for living a lie.Anon
Truth divorced from action is the epitome of hypocrisy.Robb Thompson
Truth divorced from experience will always remain in the realm of doubt.Robb Thompson
Truth becomes impotent the moment the believer refuses to act upon it.Robb Thompson
Truth slides into dogma the moment it is not exercised.Robb Thompson