Deny or Confess?

When Jesus warns that the disciples are going to fall away, Peter confidently asserts, “I will not.” He believes he is ready to follow Jesus to prison or to death. But he is further warned “before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

Peter strikes the first blow in defense of Jesus at the arrest, but Jesus commands him to put away his sword. Still, Peter follows at a distance and enters into the courtyard of the high priest.

I don’t know how Peter imaged his bravery in the face of arrest or death, but reality finds his first denial of Jesus at the challenge of a slave woman: “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” It is not much of an accusation. It is guilt by association, but Peter denies: “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” Peter begins his physical retreat. He moves from the courtyard to the gateway (or forecourt).

The second encounter is a bit more challenging. Again, the accuser is a slave woman, but this time, she also speaks to the bystanders: “This man is one of them.” Again, Peter denies. The risk is greater with bystanders now involved. If an officer in charge finds out, an arrest might follow.

Finally, the bystanders make the accusation: “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” It would appear that his Galilean accent betrays him as not being local. The Babylonian Talmud (b.’Erub. 53b.) has a section that makes fun of the Galilean accent:

A certain Galilean went around saying to them, “Who has amar” [which can be pronounced so as to yield wool, with an ayin, a lamb, with an alef, an ass, with a het, or wine, with a het but a different accent].

They said to him, “Idiot Galilean, do you mean an ass for riding, wine to drink, wool for clothes, or a lamb to kill?”*

The danger threat is greatest now, and Peter’s response is with curses and an oath. The object of the curses in Greek is unspecified, but likely they are on himself, if his oath is not true. The rooster crows the second time, and Peter breaks down and weeps.

Why are we told this account? Christians will always face situations where we will face the temptation to deny or confess Jesus. Peter’s story is a warning example. It is also an encouragement for us to follow Peter in moving from failures to faith. Will you deny or confess?

*Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 261.

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