A New Take on Peter’s Denial

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Everyone knows that Peter adamantly denied his association with Jesus, but no one examines why or how Peter found himself in his predicament. There was another disciple in the courtyard so why wasn’t denial an issue for him?

According to John 18:15-16, “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in.” After two denials, “a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?'” The man whose ear Peter had severed was named Malchus and was the servant of Caiaphas, the High Priest. (Jn 18:10).

Previously in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his [right] ear” (Jn 18:10). For this to happen, Peter actually attempted to cut off Malchus’ head but the man ducked and tilted his head left at the last split-second. Peter’s strike just barely caught the ear but missed the neck and skull. (see also Mt 26:51, Mk 14:47, Lk 22:50). The geometry thus indicates that Malchus stood facing Jesus and that Peter stood at Jesus’ left. Since there were two swords (Lk 22:38), there was probably another armed disciple to Jesus’ right.

Malchus
Peter | Jesus | [____]

It is not clear whether Peter swung to defend himself or to defend Jesus, but the fact remains that Peter attempted to kill Malchus!

Between the garden and the courtyard, Peter had to have shed his sword, likely entrusting it to his brother Andrew. Peter might even have switched cloaks with another disciple as he made the decision to follow the mob. Peter was ready to fight, Peter followed the mob, and Peter entered the courtyard. Peter was clearly no coward! In this light, Peter’s denials indicate not a fear of being swept up with Jesus but rather a fear of being prosecuted for attempted murder! Yes, when the rooster crowed he realized that he had denied Jesus and he was ashamed of his disloyalty. But Peter’s denial was never about being ashamed of Jesus.

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