Contradictions 2

This follow up to our previous series continues debunking even more supposed contradictions in the Bible.

The “Problem”

How can we resolve the apparent differences among the Gospels regarding the number of times the rooster would crow? A passage that sheds light on this question is Mark 13:35, which states the following:

Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning.

Jesus spoke these words in the context of teaching His followers to stay alert so they could be found watching “when the master of the house is coming.” He divided the night hours into four sections or “watches.” According to Roman practices during the time of Christ, “evening” lasted from about 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M., “midnight” was around 9:00 P.M. until 12:00 A.M., “the crowing of the rooster” continued from about 12:00 A.M. until 3:00 A.M., and “the morning” watch was approximately from 3:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M.1

We commonly use similar language in English to describe periods of the night, but we usually leave out “the crowing of the rooster,” as a minority of people (in the US anyway) live on farms and raise chickens. We commonly just use evening, midnight, and morning. Sometimes, we insert “early morning” to replace “the crowing of the rooster,” if events occurred in those hours.

Furthermore, from my experience on the farm, “the crowing of the rooster” timeframe is not restricted to a particular hour. Instead, it lasts for several hours as the rooster crows off and on for several hours in the early morning. So roosters crow periodically during a big portion of the night. Sometimes, they crow once, and other times, they crow two or three times in a row—one right after the other.

Typically, roosters crow, not because the sun is coming up, as some have been led to believe, but because of changes in temperature, noise, wind, etc.

This was a long introduction to get to the “meat” of the issue, but it will come into play. Let’s now analyze the verses in question.

Matthew

Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” (Matthew 26:34)

Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:74–75)

Mark

Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” (Mark 14:30)

But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. (Mark 14:68)

A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And when he thought about it, he wept. (Mark 14:72)

Luke

Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:34)

But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” (Luke 22:60–61)

John

Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38)

Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed. (John 18:27)

All four Gospels record a prophecy about a cock (rooster) crowing at the time of Peter’s third denial. Matthew, Mark, and Luke also record that this sound triggered Peter to remember the prophecy. Matthew, Luke, and John were not being specific about how many times the cock crowed nor did they make the case that it was the first time or the only time the cock crowed. It seems they were making the point of significance; that is, when Peter heard a particular cock crowing, Christ’s prophecy would come to mind.

Mark adds a detail not found in the other accounts—that Peter would deny Christ before the cock crowed twice. We should expect Mark to include extra details about Peter, because Mark was likely a sort of scribe for Peter, as early church fathers attest. He recorded what he learned from Peter. So if any of the Gospel writers were to fill in an extra detail about Peter on this event, Mark would be the one.

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There are several plausible ways to show that Mark does not contradict the other three Gospel writers. Keep in mind that a contradiction is “A and not A in the same relationship at the same time.” So a legitimate contradiction would be if a Gospel writer claimed the rooster crowed and then a writer said a rooster did not crow at the same time in this situation or if they claimed that only one rooster would crow and that more than one would crow—but that is clearly not what the Bible says. All four Gospels attest to a cock crowing at the time of Peter’s third denial. Although Mark specifies that this was the second crow, the other three Gospels do not say the crow at the third denial was the only crow. So our goal is to show these accounts are complementary.

The first step in dealing with these supposed contradictions is to check the context of the passages. In this case, we find something very interesting. Matthew and Mark place Jesus and His disciples on the Mount of Olives during the giving of this prophecy. Also in these two passages, Jesus stated that all of the disciples would be made to stumble that night. Then Peter spoke up and pledged his allegiance to Jesus. At this point, Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. On the other hand, Luke and John tell us that Jesus was already specifically talking to Peter in the Upper Room before they left for the Mount of Olives.

So is this another point of disagreement among the Gospel writers? Not at all! The best solution to this dilemma is that Jesus told Peter about his coming denials while they were still in the Upper Room. Then when they went out to the Mount of Olives, Jesus told all of the disciples that they would stumble that night. At this point, Peter reiterated his promise to stand by Jesus no matter what the consequences. Jesus once again told Peter that he would deny the Savior three times “before the rooster crows” (Matthew 26:34).

With that point of clarification, we are still left with the supposed differences between Matthew and Mark. Did Jesus say the cock would crow once or twice? Some commentators, such as Dr. John Gill, have appealed to a copyist mistake. Beza’s ancient copy that was given to Cambridge University does not have “twice” in Mark 14:30 nor does the Ethiopic version. If these accurately represent the original texts on this verse, then the difficulty disappears.2 A copyist mistake would not affect the doctrine of inerrancy, since that doctrine only applies to the original manuscripts. However, since Mark 14:72 also mentions that Jesus had said to Peter that the cock would crow twice, this explanation is unlikely.

Nevertheless, as we have already seen, the cock crowing can refer to both a specific action of a rooster and a certain time period during the night. Since the third watch of the night was known as the cock crowing, this could include multiple crows. As such, the alleged contradiction dissolves when one understands more about the cultural setting in which Jesus spoke these words.

Another resolution to the alleged contradiction is realizing that the second crow mentioned by Mark was likely the same crow mentioned by Matthew, Luke, and John and was separated by enough time to be considered a single significant crow by the latter authors. Peter’s first denial was in response to a servant girl (Mark 14:66–67). After the servant girl told others who stood nearby, and Peter again denied Christ—his denial was likely directed to one man in particular (Mark 14:69; Luke 22:58). The final denial was made approximately one hour later (Luke 22:59) in front of a crowd who stood near Peter (Mark 14:69–70; Matthew 26:73) This crowd included a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter had sliced off earlier in the night (John 18:26). It is rather obvious by the context that Matthew, Luke, and John all reference the second rooster crow.

  1. The crowing in Matthew is the same as the second crow in Mark. Notice that both accounts mention Peter’s cursing and swearing, which occurred at the third denial and the second crowing in Mark (Mark 14:71–72; Matthew 26:74).
  2. The crow that Luke mentions is the second crow in Mark because Luke 22:60–61 indicates the cock crowed after the third denial, which corresponds to the second crow in Mark.
  3. The crow that John discusses is also the second crow in Mark. It occurred immediately following his third denial, but John also indicates that the first denial was separated from the second and the third denials by the length of the Lord’s trial before Annas. Luke reveals that about one hour had passed between the second and third denials.

Conclusion

The fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecies about Peter’s denials is recorded by all four Gospel authors. The context of the fulfillment in Matthew, Luke, and John is not in reference to the first crow but clearly refers to the second rooster crow, which was the significant crowing of the cock that caused Peter to remember the Lord’s prophecy. The two crows were separated by about an hour, so the second crow can rightly be described by the words “the rooster crowed” (Luke 22:60). These accounts are not contradictory; rather, they are complementary.

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Footnotes

  1. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, general editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), § Mark 13:34–47. The Jews had divided the night into three four-hour watches, but Mark used the Roman system for the benefit of his readers. Back
  2. John Gill, Commentary on the Bible, notes Matthew 26:34, as adapted from Online Bible, by Larry Pierce. Back