Peter Denies Jesus Two More Times (18:25-27)

Jesus has stood up to this powerful leader, but when John's narrative switches back to Peter at the fire we find him continuing to deny that he is a disciple of Jesus. "They said to him, `You also are not one of his disciples are you?'" (v. 25). "They said" (eipon) refers either to an unspecified group or, as in the NIV, to an unspecified individual (cf. Wallace 1996:402-3). When this unspecified group or individual confronts him he denies any connection with Jesus. Then there comes a very specific accusation from a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off: Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove? (v. 26). Here an eyewitness testifies to what he has seen—the very thing Peter is supposed to be doing with regard to Jesus. Instead of bearing witness to Jesus, he will not even admit to being Jesus' disciple. Just then the rooster crows, bringing to fulfillment Jesus' prediction that "before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!" (13:38). John does not write of Peter's grief at this point (cf. Mt 26:75 par. Mk 14:72 par. Lk 22:62), waiting instead to recount the grief Peter experiences at his restoration later (21:17).

The main points of the story of Peter's denial are the same in all four Gospels, but the Gospels differ in detail (cf. Brown 1970:836-42). One main difference is the place of Peter's denials (Beasley-Murray 1987:235-36): the Synoptics have Peter in Caiaphas' courtyard (Mt 26:57-58 par. Mk 14:53-54 par. Lk 22:54) whereas in John it is Annas' courtyard. Unless one or more of the accounts is inaccurate, it would seem Annas and Caiaphas either lived in the same place or at least did official business in the same place (Alford 1980:888).

The other main difference is the timing of Peter's denials. In the Synoptics it is during the session with the Sanhedrin, yet in John it is earlier, in association with Jesus' meeting with Annas. Efforts to harmonize such differences have produced suggestions that Peter denied Jesus more than three times or that the two denials in our present passage are actually a complex account of the third denial, John having left out the second denial. Such solutions do not do justice to John's account, in particular to the prediction that speaks of three denials (13:38). Instead, these differences reflect the different emphases of the evangelists and their own form of precision, which differs from that of most North Americans, among others. In particular, their reordering of material in order to bring out nuances of significance—for example, the difference in the sequence of Jesus' temptations (cf. Mt 4:1-11 with Lk 4:1-13)—is jarring to some folk. It would seem, however, that the case at hand has John juxtaposing Peter's denials and Jesus' own response to Annas. "By making Peter's denials simultaneous with Jesus' defense before Annas, John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything" (Brown 1970:842). The foil Peter provides helps highlight Jesus' regal strength and authority, the hallmark of John's portrait of Jesus in his passion.

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