EHP17: Day 5

Peter Denies Jesus

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

This is a famous passage which is told simply and plainly. There is not a great deal here that is significantly different from the other gospels, but John’s version does contain a couple of quirks.

As in Mark’s gospel, the story of Peter’s denial is presented alongside Jesus’ interrogation by the senior priests. It isn’t clear whether Caiaphas or Annas is the high priest referred to in the middle passage, and the story seems jumbled and somewhat confused. This is reasonable to an extent if we remember that the narrator is not omniscient, but merely trying to make sense of movements that he knew about.

The focus of the story is Peter, however, emphasising how in Jesus’ hour of greatest need, his most trusted disciple sells him down the river. While Jesus is answering the high priests’ questions truthfully and frankly, Peter is lying to servants. Unlike other gospels, John does not describe Peter’s recognition of the cock crowing (breaking down and weeping bitterly in the other three gospels). The author feels he does not need to lay it on any thicker.

Meanwhile Jesus is being questioned, accused of being a terrorist leader. The striking of Jesus’ face goes alongside Peter cutting off the servant’s ear, demonstrating that the violence of Jesus’ final hours on earth has begun and is beginning to escalate. Jesus is far from portrayed as powerless, however, as his predictions begin to come true. While the cock crowing is damning for Peter, it is what Jesus predicted. He remains in control.

The final detail of significance in this passage comes early on in the description of where Peter is. He is warming himself by a “charcoal fire”. While this does not appear important now, it will become clear when we get to 21:9.