Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

Peter’s Denials

The variations among the Gospel accounts of Peter’s three denials of knowing Jesus are a common example of biblical contradictions. Actually, it is a fascinating exercise in seeing how the Gospels vary in some of the details in ways that are complementary but are wholly consistent in the core of the story. What these passages highlight is how we tell stories. We don’t include all the same details; we condense and summarize. That’s just the way we tell stories. It also illustrates how the biblical writers never claim to reproduce the exact words used, but certainly the core ideas. In this passage specifically, we cannot make common assumptions. There is no reason to believe that only one person asked each time if Peter was with Jesus; it explicitly says that a crowd was there, and presumably different people in the crowd were asking the same question. And we cannot also assume that Peter uttered only one-sentence answers. These variations are all reflected in the four Gospels.