A Sampling From 4 Topics
by Dave E. Matson
without compelling evidence
<br /><br />Peter's Denials of Christ<br /><br />Background <br /><br />During the first centuries of the Common Era many different gospels were circulating within the Mediterranean community. Even Luke (Luke 1:1) mentions the flood of active gospel writers in his day! Only centuries later (after still more gospels) did the church choose 4 of them as the heart of its New Testament. Four loose horses, selected from the herd, now found themselves hitched to the same wagon!<br /><br />In all likelihood, gospels1 were written by Christian communities in Rome, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and other lands often far removed from Jerusalem and Galilee. (Jerusalem, itself, was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, and much of Palestine was uprooted for a time. Partly as a result, Christian leadership passed into the hands of the gentiles who were scattered about the Mediterranean. )<br /><br />Let us draw a few parallels between the gospel writers and local newspaper reporters. Those parallels will be useful in guiding our analysis.<br /><br />Each reporter writes for a specific audience, usually a town or a region. Similarly, each gospel was created (or adapted) to serve a particular religious community, church, or a faction within a community.<br /><br />Each reporter ideally writes to fill a need. Similarly, many gospels probably began as an official response to some ideological crisis. Schisms within the community and new competition without, the consequences of changing times, occasionally threatened the old order. A written document not only served to define and fix a doctrine but allowed it to reach a wider, more dispersed audience. It served as a theological anchor amid confusion.<br /><br />Each reporter writes a complete report. That is, each report is self-contained and requires nothing further to make sense to its original audience. Similarly, the Gospels were not written as chapters to be bound together! Each author, according to his own purpose and ability, included everything he felt his audience needed to know. Luke, for instance, does not send his readers to Mark or Matthew for additional details. Indeed, he treated Mark as little more than raw material in need of editing! Anything useful to Luke was copied while the rest of Mark was discarded like a pile of fish bones.<br /><br />Each reporter draws from various sources and molds the information to his or her needs. Similarly, Matthew uses Mark's gospel (more than 90% of it!), which he freely edits to suit his own needs. Luke, using more than 60% of Mark, even corrects some of Mark's rough grammar! To them Mark's gospel was nothing more than a very human, if newsworthy, source; it is hardly the sacred "word of God." Accordingly, Luke informs us that his account is superior to the gospels then circulating. Obviously, Matthew and Luke were not in the business of harmonizing their gospels with those already existing. They were in the business of writing their own definitive accounts.<br /><br />As you can see, each Gospel had to make sense all by itself, at least to its original audience. Secondly, the gospel writers were not in the business of harmonizing their differences. We must analyze the Gospels accordingly.<br /><br />That is our first point.<br /><br />Our next step is to ask how one might intelligently judge conflicting reports, whether they be of an automobile accident or of a historic event. Obviously, given independent reports, those elements common to all versions are most likely to be correct. That is the common bedrock to which all intelligent discourse is rooted.<br /><br />To abandon that foundation
is to abandon any pretense at rational inquiry. Here is where many attempted solutions fail, including an argument that supposedly involves 12 accusations and 12 denials.<br /><br />Let us now identify the common thread running through the Gospel accounts of Peter's denials.<br /><br />Overlook, for now, the three "group accusations" against Peter2. All 4 Gospels clearly depict the lone accuser as the only accuser. That is, Peter promptly denies each accusation the instant it occurs. Each accusation leads to one denial.<br /><br />Now look at the "group accusations." We might make allowance for some "thinking aloud" within a group, accompanied by dirty looks directed at Peter. However, in each case only one accusation is formally lodged against Peter by a representative of the group, and it provokes the denial.<br /><br />As you can see, the common thread running through all 4 Gospels is that of one specific accuser provoking a denial, the sequence being repeated 3 times. Any analysis that denies this basic thread is one of desperation and shall be dismissed without further ado.<br /><br />Finally, Matthew 26:75, Mark 14:72, and Luke 22:61 confirm that we are dealing with just 3 denials.<br /><br />Therefore, we may tally the 4 accounts in parallel. (The expanded edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible* applies throughout unless otherwise noted.)<br /><br />Let us see how these accounts stack up.<br /><br />The Data<br /><br />Accuser #1, the accusation, and Peter's response<br /><br />MATTHEW:<br /><br />One of the servant girls approached Peter.<br />"You also were with Jesus the Galilean."<br />"I do not know what you mean."<br /><br />MARK:<br /><br />One of the High Priest's servant girls came by and looked at Peter.<br />"You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus."<br />"I neither know nor understand what you mean."<br /><br />LUKE:<br /><br />A servant girl looked right at Peter.<br />"This man also was with him."<br />"Woman, I do not know him."<br /><br />JOHN:<br /><br />The girl who was attending the gate questioned Peter.<br />"Are not you also one of this man's disciples?"<br />"I am not."<br /><br />The location of the first denial<br /><br />MATTHEW:<br /><br />Peter is sitting in the courtyard with others, these presumably being the guards with whom Peter initially sat.<br /><br />MARK:<br /><br />Peter is warming himself by the fire in the courtyard, presumably still sharing it with the guards.<br /><br />LUKE:<br /><br />Peter is sitting by the fire in the middle of the courtyard, sharing it with those who seized Jesus.<br /><br />JOHN:<br /><br />The girl who questioned Peter is stationed at the gate. The denial plainly occurs just after Peter enters and before he has moved beyond the range for a normal conversation. (There is no suggestion that either the girl or Peter were shouting over a distance, and we must not rewrite the text to conform to our prejudices.)<br /><br />The timing of the first denial<br /><br />MATTHEW:<br /><br />The sequence of events is identical to Mark's account.<br /><br />MARK:<br /><br />The denial occurs after Peter seats himself in the courtyard, after Jesus is questioned at some length and confronted with many witnesses. (Jesus is questioned in the presence of all the chief priests and elders, and they ask him if he is the son of God. His answer causes the High Priest to ask, "Why do we still need witnesses?" The fatal questionand final judgment --occurred that night.) In many translations a **** crows immediately after Peter's denial.
Those who had seized Jesus had kindled a fire and were seated. Peter joins them. An unspecified (but apparently short) interval passes before the denial.
There is no appreciable delay as Peter had followed at a distance and was shortly admitted to the courtyard. The denial occurrs as Peter passes the gate, before he warms himself at the fire, before Jesus is questioned.
Accuser #2, the accusation, and Peter's response
A servant girl recognized Peter near the entrance to the courtyard and pointed him out to bystanders. (She is a different girl than accuser #1.)
"This man was with Jesus of Nazareth."
"I do not know the man." (As an oath.)
A servant girl saw Peter in the gateway or passageway and pointed him out to some bystanders. ("And the maid saw him, and began again to say..." can only refer to the previous maid mentioned in Mark 14:66.
Thus, she is the same girl as accuser #1.)
"This man is one of them."
Scripture only tells us that Peter denied the accusation.
A man passing by recognized Peter. (The "some one else" who saw Peter, presumably at the campfire, would not be one of that group. Those around the campfire were already aware of Peter's presence.)
"You also are one of them."
"Man, I am not."
A spokesman for some of those around the campfire put the question to Peter. (They are the "others" Re: Church question who are near enough to converse with Peter.)
"Are not you also one of his disciples?"
"I am not."
The location of the second denial
Peter went out to the "porch." (The Good News Bible interprets the location as "the entrance of the courtyard" and The New English Bible speaks of a "gateway.") It is there that Peter is pointed out.
Peter is in the "gateway" ("passageway" or "porch") when he is pointed out. (This appears to be the same spot as in Matthew's account.)
There is no sign that Peter has moved from the campfire when someone else notices him "a little later."
Peter is standing near the fire to keep warm.
The timing of the second denial
Peter walks a short distance, presumably because the first accusation left him in an uncomfortable spot. A servant girl quickly spots him. ("And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him...")
Peter walks a short distance, presumably because the first accusation left him in an uncomfortable spot. He is spotted again by his first accuser.
A "little later" Peter is again identified.
The High Priest questions Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. How long this took is not clear.
Accuser #3, the accusation, and Peter's response
The bystanders who had witnessed the second denial approached Peter.
"Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you."
"I do not know the man." (Sworn with a curse.)
The bystanders who had witnessed the second denial soon questioned Peter again.
"Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean."
"I do not know this man of whom you speak." (Sworn with a curse.)
Another man, who had not previously accused Peter, lodged the third accusation.
"Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean."
"Man, I do not know what you are saying."
One of the servants of the High Priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, questioned Peter. (He is probably a member of the campfire group since his question immediately challenges the second denial.)
"Did I not see you in the garden with him?"
Scripture only tells us that Peter denied the accusation.
The location of the third denial
A little earlier Peter had been in the gateway or entrance of the courtyard.
He is probably still there.
Peter still seems to be in the "gateway" ("passageway" or "porch") as the same bystanders accuse him again after a little while. There is no suggestion that they had to seek Peter out.
Peter is probably still warming himself at the fire. The third accusation, which consists of a forceful statement combined with evidence, is likely a delayed response to Peter's first or second denial. We have the same audience which witnessed Peter's earlier denial(s) and, thus, a stronger accusation is required. Therefore, Peter is probably still at the campfire. In Luke, all the action seems to take place around the campfire, and there is not the slightest hint that Peter left the area during the course of his three denials.
Peter is standing by the fire warming himself when the second accusation occurs, and the third accusation appears to follow immediately.
The timing of the third denial
A little while passes. At the third denial the **** immediately crows. ("And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, 'Before the **** crows, you will deny me three times.'") There is no hint of two ****'s crows.
A little while passes. At the third denial the **** immediately crowed a second time. ("And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, 'Before the **** crows twice, you will deny me three times.'") The next morning all the officials gather to plan their strategy; there is no evidence that Jesus was questioned further.
About an hour passes. Peter had not finished his third denial when the **** crowed. ("And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, 'Before the **** crows today, you will deny me three times.'") There is no hint that the **** crowed a second time. Luke actually tells us that the **** would not crow that day until the third denial! The next morning the chief priests and scribes gather and ask Jesus if he is the son of God. Jesus' answer causes one of them to ask, "What further testimony do we need?" The fatal question occurred that morning. Obviously, final judgment has not been pronounced before that moment.
Possibly only a few seconds have elapsed. The third accusation follows on the heels of the second, and it appears to challenge Peter's second denial. And, at once, the **** crowed.
The conflicting number of ****'s crows is just the tip of the iceberg! How many errors did you catch?
Check out these potholes if you will: Peter is standing near the gate (having just entered) when he made his first denial Re: Church question versus sitting at a fire in the middle of the courtyard Re: Church question. The first denial occurred before Peter warms himself by the campfire, before Jesus is really questioned Re: Church question versus after he has warmed himself by the campfire, after Jesus has been questioned at length Re: Church question. The morning after we find the officials getting together merely to plan their strategy Re: Church question versus gathering to question Jesus Re: Church question. The fatal question about Jesus' identity (followed by the dramatic claim that no further witnesses were needed) occurred that night Re: Church question versus the next morning Re: Church question. The second accuser speaks for those around the campfire Re: Church question versus an individual near the entrance to the courtyard Re: Church question. The second accuser is a man Re: Church question versus a woman Re: Church question. The time between the first two denials is enough to question Jesus about his teaching and his disciples Re: Church question versus the time to walk a short distance and be quickly spotted Re: Church question. The second accuser addresses Peter Re: Church question versus the bystanders Re: Church question. The same servant girl is responsible for the first two accusations Re: Church question versus two different girls Re: Church question. In some Bibles, including the King James Bible, the **** crows twice (with a matching prophecy) Re: Church question versus once (with a matching prophecy) Re: Church question. In answering his third accuser Peter states that he does not know Jesus Re: Church question versus he does not know what they were talking about Re: Church question. The third denial occurs at the campfire Re: Church question versus at the gateway Re: Church question. A few seconds probably elapsed between the second and third denials Re: Church question versus about an hour Re: Church question.
Note that the accusations and denials, where given, differ in every single Gospel!
Apologists are quick to offer excuses as to why the Gospel quotations all differ, but does not it strike you as odd that one must continually apologize for God's inerrant book? Is it asking too much of God's inerrant book, if the Bible be such, to get the quotes right?
As for the contradictions between the Gospels, I am fully aware that a small army of biblicists has worked overtime to harmonize each and every one. You will find their various excuses scattered here and there in the apologetic literature. Do weigh their arguments for inerrancy against the case for error, merit for merit and weakness for weakness, and you will find their defenses forced and contrived. Biblicists lean upon the ad hoc fallacy and find refuge in the dubious translation of a word. The improbable loophole is their fortress, begging the question commonplace.