Q.

Have I been wrong in assuming that the cock crowed three times, since Peter denied His Lord three times? Mark 14:72 indicates that the cock crowed only two times.

A.
A careful reading of this account in each of the Gospels reveals that nowhere does the Bible say that the cock would crow three times, although Christ said that Peter would deny Him three times. However, we need to resolve a potential question of why not all the Gospels say that the cock would crow twice. It always helps to be reminded that the writers of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) wrote their accounts from their individual vantage points.

Certain names, places, and events might have impressed one writer more than another. One of the Gospels might include certain details that the others do not. Yet all the writers wrote under the inspiration and superintendence of the Holy Spirit, and there are absolutely no contradictions in what they said. Those places where the accounts seem to contradict each other can be explained logically.

You may wish to place some book markers in these passages as we review what happened: Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:54–62; and John 18:15–18, 25–27.

By way of background, we must note that shortly before the soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter had boasted that he would never deny His Lord. Peter uttered this boast even though Christ had stated that the disciples would do just that (Matt. 26 33:35, Mark 14:27–31, Luke 22:31–34, John 13:36–38). Jesus’ prediction was in keeping with Zechariah’s prophecy, “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 13:7). Peter, in his typical brashness, followed the Lord and John at a distance and found himself in the court of Caiaphas, the high priest. Peter undoubtedly hoped that no one would notice him, but soon he came in contact with a maid, who frightened him with her statement, “Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee” (Matt. 26:69).

Peter replied, “I know not what thou sayest” (v. 70). This was Peter’s first denial.

All of the Gospels mention a maid. John mentioned a maid when Jesus appeared before Annas, the deposed but still popular high priest. That appearance would have taken place just before Jesus stood before Caiaphas, the official high priest. The encounter with the maid recorded by John may have been a different encounter from the others.

Next, Peter retreated to the porch, or gateway. There another maid came to him and said, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nanireth” (Matt. 26:71). Again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the man” (v. 72). It was after this denial that the cock crowed the first time, according to the Mark account (see Mark 14:68, KJV).

We need to note that the second recorded account in John is somewhat different. Apparently not only did the maids confront Peter, but at some point several other people also confronted him about his identity (see John 18:5–27). Some scholars have believed that Peter denied Christ a fourth time and perhaps even more than that. If this were so, it wouldn’t need to contradict Jesus’ words to Peter that he would deny Him three times. Jesus would have merely meant that there would be no less than three denials. There would definitely be three denials, in other words, but there were even more.

The third denial, which probably occurred about an hour later (see Luke 22:59), is portrayed by Matthew and Mark as Peter’s reply (or replies) to bystanders. The last denial that Luke and John mention involves a man whom John identified as “one of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off’ (John 18:26). Apparently while (or certainly close to that time) the group of people quizzed Peter, this man specifically asked Peter, “Did not I see thee in the garden with him?” The crowd of people with Peter must have detected Peter’s Galilean accent in his speech. At this accusation, Peter became frantic and extremely emphatic in his denial. Mark 14:71 reads, “But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.”

After this denial, the cock crowed the second time; and, as the Savior looked upon him, Peter remembered Jesus’ words. This reminder caused Peter overwhelming remorse, and he went out to a place and wept bitterly (see Matthew 26:74, 75; Mark 14:71, 72; and Luke 22:60–62).

So again none of the Gospels say that the cock crowed three times. Mark specifically mentioned the cock’s crowing two times, while Matthew and Luke state only that the cock crowed. This difference is not contradictory; if the cock crowed at least once, it crowed! Or Matthew and Luke could have been referring to a period of time marked by the crowings, while Mark was mentioning the actual crowings. In those days a “cockcrowing” was a designation of a particular period of time, the third watch of the night. The cock would crow around midnight. Then the cock would crow at daybreak. Matthew and Luke could have been referring to the fact that before this time period was up, Peter would have denied Christ three times, or perhaps we should say at least three times.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (April 1996).
© 1996 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.