Peter's Denials of Jesus
 How many times did Peter deny the Lord? Each of the 4 gospels records 3 denials each. So when you read each gospel separately, you think that Peter denied the Lord only 3 times.

When you compare all 4 gospels, some of the denials recorded in different gospels are the same, and others seem that they could not be the same. This, however, is not the major problem with there being only 3 denials, because it could be possible that 2 accounts of the same incident could appear to be different. The bigger problem with only 3 denials is the Lord's specific and emphasized prophecy.

Matt, Luke and John give the Lord's prophecy that the rooster shall not crow until after Peter denies the Lord 3 times. Then each of these 3 gospels record Peter denying the Lord 3 times that night before a rooster crows.

Mark, however, says that that the Lord told Peter that Peter would deny the Lord 3 times before the rooster crows twice. Then, Mark's account records that Peter denies the Lord once and a rooster crows. After the rooster crow, Peter denies the Lord 2 more times, and a rooster crows again.

Both prophecies given by the Lord must be true. Truly, truly, a rooster would not crow until Peter had denied the Lord 3 times. But Mark records that Peter denied the Lord only once before the first rooster crow, and then two more times before the second rooster crow. Therefore there must be at least 2 additional denials by Peter before that first rooster crow recorded in Mark. This requires that Peter denied the Lord at least 5 times. The accounts in the gospels also witness to this, with big differences between corresponding denials in the 3 gospels.

Another explanation is that the 1st rooster crow recorded in Mark wasn't a full rooster crow, so it didn't count in the prophecy recorded in Matthew, Luke and John, though it did count in the prophecy recorded by Mark.  I think this kind of explanation should be one of last resort.  If the accounts in the 4 gospels all recorded the same denials, then maybe it is the best explanation, but this is opposite to what we have here.

I think the reason the Lord gave the 2 rooster crow prophecy to Peter is His mercy, because Peter would not repent after only 1 rooster crow.

I will 1st go through the denials in the order that they appear in each gospel, comparing the 1st denial in each gospel with the 1st denials of the other 3 gospels, and so forth with the 2nd and 3rd denials.

The denials in the order they appear in each gospel 

1st denial in each gospel  - Matt, Mk and Lk record the same incident, but John's is very different. John's takes place at the door to Annas' palace, whereas the others take place sitting by the fire in the courtyard.

2nd denial in each gospel  - Matt's & Mark's should be the same incident, but John's and Luke's are different. In John, Peter is standing in Annas' palace by a fire, and those around him ask him if he was also Jesus' disciple.
In Matt & Mark, Peter had left the light of the fire to go to the porch so as not to be recognized. In Matt, a different female servant asserts to the others that he was with Jesus. In Mark it is the same female servant as in the 1st denial.
In Luke a male servant asserts to Peter that he is one of them. Luke's denial occured quite some time before Matt's & Mark's as shown by the next denial.

3rd denial in each gospel  - Matt, Mark and Luke record the same incident. John's is different.
Luke says this happened about 1 hr after the previous denial in Luke, but Matt & Mark say that it was "a little while" after their previous denials. I do not think that 1 hr is "a little while" in this context. In this context, 1 hr is a long time. This shows that the previous denial in Luke happened quite some time before the previous denials in Matt and Mark.

The denials in chronological order 

1st denial  - John's 1st denial - Only John tells us that Jesus was taken 1st to Annas (Jn 18:13) before being taken to the high priest Caiaphas where the chief priests, scribes and elders  were (Jn 18:24; Mt 26:57; Mk 14:53; Lk 22:54). John makes clear that this denial occurred at Annas' house before Jesus was taken to Caiaphas.
This maid was not antagonistic to Peter. She knew John, and John spoke to her to let Peter in. She asked Peter, Are you also one of Jesus' disciples? "Also" means in addition to John.
Why was John not afraid to let them know that he was Jesus' disciple, but Peter was? I think it was because Peter had cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. This was very serious, for which Peter could be put to death. This is why Matt, Mark and Luke do not mention who cut off the slave's ear, because if they did, Peter could be prosecuted. John wrote after Peter had gone to be with the Lord, so John writes plainly that Peter cut off the slave's ear (Jn 18:10), and mentions the relative of that slave in connection to Peter's denials.

John may have remembered the Lord's word that none of them would perish (Jn 18:9; 17:12).

2nd denial  - John's 2nd denial. Though this denial appears after v24 in which Jesus was sent to Caiaphas, it clearly happens while Jesus is being examined at Annas' because it continues verse 18.

These people do not seem to be antagonistic to Peter. They ask him instead of asserting. I think "also one of His disciples" means in addition to John.

3rd denial   - Matt, Mk & Lk's 1st denial.  In the previous denial Peter was standing by a fire, but now he is sitting. This happened close to morning because Mark records that a rooster crowed shortly afterward. This woman does not ask Peter if he is Jesus' disciple, but asserts that he is because she sees his face in the light of the fire and recognizes him from Jesus' ministry. It seems she was antagonistic because according to Luke she told others that Peter was also Jesus' disciple. All 3 accounts here use the word "also", so I think they knew that John was a disciple.

It is hard to say whether this denial took place at Annas' or Caiaphas' palaces.

4th denial  - Luke's 2nd denial & Jn's 3rd. After the previous denial, Peter became more careful, and moved out to the porch, away from the fire so he couldn't be seen clearly. However, the previous maid had told others, so this relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off, followed him out on the porch and confronted him.
John records that the rooster crowed immediately after this. In the previous denial, Mark does not say that the rooster crowed immediately after, so there was time for another denial.
John does not say that Peter repented after this rooster crow. It took another rooster crow before Peter would repent.

5th denial  - Matt's & Mark's 2nd denial. This happened after the 1st rooster crow, so it was after the previous denial. Peter was particularly troubled by this maid who had gotten a good look at him by the fire and now saw him on the porch and was telling others.

Though there are 2 differences between Matt's and Mark's denials, I think they are the same incident. (They could be 2 different denials. It is not important.)

The 2 differences are 1) Mark says it was the same maid as in Mark's & Matt's 1st denial, but Matt says it is a different maid. 2) Matt says that Peter denied with an oath, but Mark just says that Peter denied it again. These are the kinds of differences one would expect from 2 true accounts of the same incident by different people.

It may be that the 1st maid brought her friend, a 2nd maid,  who was louder than she was, to accuse Peter.  And it may be that Matt just gives more detail than Mark in saying that Peter denied with an oath.

The details of time and place, which would separate these into 2 different denials, are the same. Both are just "a little while" before the final denial, and both are on the porch.

If I were to consider these as 2 different denials, then  I would place Matt's after Mark's because Peter has deteriorated from just denying to denying with an oath, which he continues to do more so in the final denial.

All Peter's efforts to save himself were causing him to sink deeper.

6th denial - Matt, Mark & Luke's 3rd denial. Even though Peter was not near a fire, so people could not see him well, his Galilean accent gave him away. This was due to his previous denial to the 2 maids. His denying with an oath exposed his accent more than a simple denial would have.

If I am correct that Luke's 2nd denial = John's 3rd, then the time between the 1st and 2nd rooster crows was about 1 hr.

-copyright Steve Miller 2010
written 12/3/2010