Simon Peter denounces Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 April 2021

Mark 14.66-72, Matthew 26.69-75, Luke 22.54-62, John 18.15-18, 25-27.

After dinner earlier that night, Jesus told his students they weren’t gonna follow him much longer; they’d scatter. At this point Jesus’s best student, Simon Peter, got up and foolhardily claimed this prediction didn’t apply to him.

Mark 14.29-31 KWL
29 Simon Peter told him, “If everyone else will get tripped up, it won’t include me.”
30 Jesus told him, “Amen, I promise you today, this night,
before the rooster crows twice, you’ll renounce me thrice.”
31 Peter said emphatically, “Even if I have to die for you,
I will never renounce you.” Everyone else said likewise.

And y’know, Peter wasn’t kidding. I’ve heard way too many sermons which mock Peter for this, who claim he was all talk. Thing is, he really wasn’t. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was packing a machete, and used it. Slashed a guy’s ear clean off. You don’t start swinging a work knife at a mob unless you’re willing to risk life and limb. Peter really was ready to fight to the death for Jesus.

But Jesus’s response was to cure the guy, then rebuke Peter: Jesus could stop his arrest at any time, but chose not to. Having a weapon was only gonna get Peter killed. Peter thought he was following God’s will, but he was in fact tripping up. And Jesus did say his students σκανδαλισθήσεσθε/skandalisthísesthe, “would be tripped up,” by the later events of that day. Despite his repeated warnings he was gonna die, his students kept expecting the Pharisee version of the End Times to unfold, where Messiah would destroy the Romans and take his throne… and instead Messiah got killed by the Romans.

This sort of turn of events would knock the zeal right out of anyone. Y’know how Peter later would up saying he didn’t know Jesus? At the time, he kinda didn’t. Thought he did; totally got him wrong. We all do, sometimes.

See, Peter was having a crisis of faith. Every Christian, if they’re truly following Jesus, is gonna have a point in our lives where we have to get rid of our immature misunderstandings about Jesus. And some of us fight tooth ’n nail to keep those misunderstandings. Even enshrine ’em. But in so doing, it means we’re not gonna grow in Christ any further. The Holy Spirit is trying to get us over that stumbling block, but we insist it’s not a block; it’s a wall.

To his credit, Peter didn’t scatter. He followed the mob, who took Jesus to the former head priest’s house, where Jesus had his unofficial trial before the proper trial before the Judean senate.

John 18.15-18 KWL
15 Simon Peter and another student followed Jesus.
That student was known by the head priest.
He went in, with Jesus, to the head priest’s courtyard.
16 Peter stood at the door outside.
So the other student, known to the head priest, came out and spoke to the doorman, who brought Peter in.
17 The doorman, a slavewoman, told Peter, “Aren’t you also one of this person’s students?”
Peter said, “I’m not.”
18 The slaves and servants stationed there had made a charcoal fire; it was cold.
They warmed themselves. Peter was also with them, standing and warming.

This’d be the first denial. But Jesus didn’t just say Peter would deny him, or pretend he didn’t know him, or pretend he didn’t follow him. Peter ἀπαρνήσῃ/aparnísi, “will entirely reject,” will renounce, his Lord. Mk 14.30 It’s not a white lie so he could merely stay out of trouble; Peter went overboard and publicly quit Jesus. Really.

Good thing he could take it back. As can we. But, y’know, don’t quit him, okay?

Denying him again.

Peter didn’t go into the house; he stayed in the courtyard. Roman-style houses are built in a U-shape, with a courtyard in the middle, which could either serve as an outdoor living space, or as a work area. You know, pretty much like American back yards. We use ’em for all sorts of things. So did Romans.

Peter didn’t go into the rooms of the house, where the pre-trial was; only the eyewitness who informed the author of John did. (Who might’ve been John himself; we don’t know/) Peter simply waited in the courtyard. Likely with a lot of the people in the mob that had arrested Jesus; likely even the guy Peter had slashed earlier.

Passover is in the spring, it gets cold at night, they had a fire pit, so the head priest’s slaves had started a fire. Peter might’ve been hoping to blend in and get warm… but the closer you get to the firelight, the more likely people are gonna recognize you. That’s exactly what happened, and Peter panicked and denied it.

Mark 14.66-68 KWL
66 While Simon Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the head priest’s slaves came.
67 Recognizing Peter as he warmed himself, she told him, “And you’re with the Nazarene, Jesus.”
68 He denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you’re saying.”
He left, going into the foyer. A rooster crowed.
Matthew 26.69-70 KWL
69 Simon Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard.
A slave came to him, saying, “And you’re with Jesus the Galilean.”
70 He denied it before everyone, saying, “I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Luke 22.54-57 KWL
54 They arrested him, led him away, and brought him to the head priest’s house.
Simon Peter was following at a distance.
55 A fire was kindled in the middle of the courtyard.
People were sitting together, and Peter sat among them.
56 A certain slave sitting by the fire, recognizing him,
staring at him, said, “This man was also with him.”
57 He denied it, saying, “I don’t know him, ma’am.”
John 18.25 KWL
Simon Peter was standing and warming.
They told him, “Aren’t you also one of his students?”
He denied it and said, “I’m not.”

The synoptic gospels present this as the first denial. John made it the second.

But in all the gospels Peter was first identified by a παιδίσκη/pedíski, a word which literally means “young girl,” which is how a lot of bibles translate it. But that’s not always what ancient Greek-speakers meant by it. It’s what they used to call their slave women; same as when American slaveowners used to call their slave women “girl,” regardless of how old they were, or how much respect they were due. They were called “girl” to remind them of their low status. Racists still do it.

So this “girl” was no girl, but a slave. Again, a lot of bibles translate δούλη/dúli as “servant woman,” not “slave.” Sometimes that’s because Greco-Roman slaves, and Hebrew-owned slaves under the Law, were treated way better than Americans treated their slaves. They were treated as convicts, not property. But they weren’t treated like employees or coworkers; we are still talking slavery. And no, the word δοῦλος/dulos doesn’t mean both slave and servant; a servant would be an ὑπηρέτης/ipirétis (KJV “officer”) or διάκονος/diákonos (KJV “deacon”).

Much is made of how this “little girl” threw Peter into a panic. Mostly to mock Peter: Look how nervous he was, how guilty he was, how easy it was for a little kid to make him stumble. But again, she’s not a girl: John points out this “girl” was the doorman; she’s ἡ θυρωρός/i thyrorós. If you know Greek you’ll notice John used a feminine article with a masculine noun; he didn’t know of a feminine form of thyrorós (like θυρωρή/thyrorí) because women weren’t doormen; men held this job. Among other things, the doorman had to keep people out, and not just anybody can be a bouncer. It’s not a job you give to a kid! But this woman was respected enough, or tough enough, to do the job; either way, not a kid. She was no insignificant slave.

So when the head slave, the person who can order all the other slaves to grab you and throw you out—or at least give you a serious beating first—says, “Hey waitaminnit, aren’t you…?” it’s pretty intimidating.

To be fair, maybe it wasn’t. Movies love to overdramatize this incident, as if Peter feared for his life—as if there were Roman soldiers in the courtyard just itching to pull their swords and behead him right there… and totally defile the former head priest’s house right before Passover. I suspect it far more likely Peter just didn’t want the hassle, so he told a little white lie to get ’em off his back.

But it escalated, as sins often do.

Denouncing him altogether.

This is usually how we stumble into big sins: We think they’re only small sins. Peter didn’t think it would get so far as to reject Jesus. He was just trying to cover his butt and pass unnoticed.

But the Galilean accent didn’t sound like the Judean accent, and Peter didn’t bother to fake a Judean one, so they immediately noticed the difference. Whether it’s for this reason, or because (as John tells it) someone who’d been to Jesus’s arrest identified him, Peter began to step up his denials.

Mark 14.69-72 KWL
69 The slave who saw him began to tell the bystanders again: “He’s from them.”
70 Peter denied it again.
In a little while the bystanders told Peter, “You’re really from them: You’re Galilean.”
71 Peter began to curse, to swear, “I don’t know this person you’re talking about!”
72 Immediately a second rooster crowed, and Peter remembered the word Jesus told him:
“Before two rooster crows, three times you’ll renounce me.” Mk 14.30
Pride broken, he was mourning.
Matthew 71-75 KWL
71 Upon going out to the gate, another person saw him.
He told those there: “He was with Jesus the Nazarene.”
72 Peter again denied it, with an oath: “I don’t know the person.”
73 In a little while, those who came to stand there told Peter, “And you’re really from them.
For your speech makes you obvious.”
74 Then Peter began to curse himself, to swear, “I don’t know this person!”
Immediately a rooster crowed, 75 and Peter remembered Jesus’s word he’d said:
“Before a rooster crows, three times you’ll renounce me.” Mt 26.34
Going outside, he mourned bitterly.
Luke 22.58-62 KWL
58 After a brief time another, on seeing him, said, “You’re also from him.”
Peter said, “Sir, I’m not.”
59 About an hour later, a certain other person leaned on him,
saying, “In fact this man was also with him, for he’s Galilean.”
60 Peter said, “Sir, I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Right as he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.
61 Turning, the Master stared at Peter, and Peter was reminded of the word Jesus told him:
“Before a rooster crows today, three times you’ll renounce me.” Lk 22.34
62 Going outside, he mourned bitterly.
John 18.26-27 KWL
26 One of the head priest’s slaves, a relative of Malchus whose ear Peter cut off,
said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
27 Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.

It started with, “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about; I don’t know him,” to Peter beginning καταθεματίζειν/katathematídzein, “to call down a curse upon” himself. Mt 26.74 Something like, “May God kill me and my entire family if I do know him.” Something horrible, and binding—there’s a command against taking the LORD’s name in vain, y’know, because God takes these kinds of oaths and curses seriously.

Now we’re not talking a little white lie anymore. We’re talking apostasy. Peter just publicly declared he’s no Christ-follower. Yes he did.

And it was only now Peter heard the rooster crow. Whether it was supposed to crow twice Mk 14.30 or the first time, Lk 22.34 Jesus promised him he’d renounce him three times. Mt 26.34 Peter may never have imagined these lies were renunciations—but that’s precisely what they were. There’s only one reason to claim we have no relationship with Jesus when we really do: We don’t truly believe him. We want something so much we’re willing to shove him away. He embarrasses us. We don’t want that relationship any more.

Bad enough Peter realized what he’d done, and finally did run away. Lk 22.62 But Jesus—though not in the courtyard, was in the building—and with that last renunciation, Jesus could actually turn and look at him, and watch his own prediction come true. Lk 22.61

The fact Peter mourned over this bitterly, Mt 26.75 means he was fully aware what he did, and was furious at himself for it. Sick about it. Felt awful. You wouldn’t mourn like this if you really renounced Jesus; you’d be off someplace going, “Well, guess now that I’m not a Christian anymore I can go do [ickiest sin I’ve always wanted to try],” and it’s orgies and heroin from now on.

But possibly he did remember Jesus saying something about if we renounce him before others, Jesus would renounce us to the Father. Mt 10.33 If you pulled a stunt like Peter just did, and weren’t strong on grace, you might think you could never take it back. And I’ve heard plenty of sermons which teach you can never take back apostasy; once quit always quit. It’s rubbish, but graceless people still spread this idea. Some of those Christians still haven’t forgiven Peter for it.

Anti-Catholics in particular. In denying Jesus, they insist Peter disqualified himself from leadership, which is why we see James leading the Jerusalem Council instead of Peter. Ac 15.13-21 Or the reason Paul was apostle to the gentiles instead of Peter. Or the reason Peter was crucified. They’re looking for any goofy reason why Jesus didn’t really mean it when he told Peter to pastor his sheep. Jn 21.15-19

A lot of us have done far worse than Peter, for far more petty reasons. But Jesus can forgive us like he forgave Peter. Let’s just not be foolhardy and think, as Peter did, we know ourselves better than Jesus does.

Oh yeah: Jesus’s suffering.

Same as with Judas Iscariot, Jesus knew this was coming. Still sucks to watch it unfold right in front of you.

As far as sins go, this is just as bad as Judas turning him in. Yes, even in deed. Our culture doesn’t worry too much about swearing to God. Politicians do it all the time: Swear to God to defend the Constitution, then bend the Constitution like crazy for political gain. Swear under oath to tell the truth, then haggle over individual words and claim they didn’t really mean what they clearly stated.

But Peter’s culture, and the LORD himself, took these things with great seriousness. You don’t curse yourself unless you really do mean it. Peter didn’t—but did it anyway. That’s how much he thought of himself, and how little he thought of Jesus. Looking out for number one, folks.

Christians still do this. Whenever one of us falls under scandal, the rest of us are so quick to pretend we didn’t know ’em, never listened to ’em, didn’t follow ’em, always suspected they were nutty or hypocritical or heretic. All their so-called “friends” evaporate. And someday, when we mess up really badly, that’ll be us whose friends all disappear on us. Even our favorites. It’s gonna be awful.

But I hope not. Jesus doesn’t abandon us like that, and surely some of his followers are gonna practice his character when that day comes. Well, we’ll see.