Peter’s Denial – Prediction or Command?
July 29, 2011 12 Comments
When discussing the final days of Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry, we often reference the fact that nearly everyone left Him. As Elder Jeffery R. Holland noted, “Thus, of divine necessity, the supporting circle around Jesus gets smaller and smaller and smaller, giving significance to Matthew’s words: “All the disciples [left] him, and fled. (Matthew 26:56)” “None Were with Him,” (April 5, 2009)
When we consider a prime example of betrayal, we talk first of Judas but a close second has to be Peter. After all, Peter said he would never deny Christ (Matthew 26:31, 33) only to do so, as prophesied, three times. (Matthew 26:69–75) At the very least, we use the scripture to show how spiritually clueless the remaining apostles were.
In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
There is another theory to the “why” of Peter’s denial. In order to protect the Chief Apostle, Christ himself commanded Peter to deny knowing Him. When we read the account in Matthew, what we perceive as a prophecy could, in fact, be a command.
One of the first to teach this alternative interpretation was a modern-day president of the Twelve Apostles, Spencer W. Kimball. In a talk given at BYU, President Kimball explained that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge Peter. It was Peter who quickly drew his sword and cut off an ear of the soldier only to be stopped by the Savior. It was Peter more times than not, who over reached in his zeal. President Kimball asserts that the denial was out of character for the Chief Apostle:
“If Peter was cowardly, how brave he became in so short a time. If he was weak and vacillating, how strong and positive he became in weeks and months. If he was unkind, how tender and sympathetic he became almost immediately.” Spencer W. Kimball, Peter, My Brother, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (July 13, 1971), 5.
Andrew Skinner, a BYU professor and one of my favorite scholars agreed with President Kimball and explains:
“In sum, it is apparent that Jesus knew of Peter’s fearlessness in defending him. He had seen several manifestations of Peter’s unswerving, almost reckless, commitment to prevent any physical harm to the Savior. And this was something Jesus knew could get Peter into trouble if it were not tempered. It would put the chief apostle in grave physical danger. Therefore, it is possible that when Jesus told Peter he would deny him thrice before the cock crowed twice, it was not a prediction—it was a command.”
Bro. Skinner furthered the investigation by showing that this alternative theory can be grammatically supported by the Greek translation. He explains:
“This is, in fact, a possible reading of the Synoptic texts, according to the grammatical rules of Koine Greek, which is the language in which early manuscripts of the New Testament were written. In their accounts of this episode, Matthew (26:34, 75), Mark (14:30, 72), and Luke (22:34, 61) all use the same verb and verb form, aparn¯se, which can be read either as an indicative future tense or as an imperative (command) tense.” Andrew C. Skinner, Golgotha (2004), 47.
If this alternative theory were true, why would Peter weep so bitterly at the last denial? (Matt 26:75) Could it be that what was asked of him, the command given him, was the hardest, most bitter of all commands the Savior gave to him and that it was finally done? Could it be the enormity of what had just transpired and what was yet to come? A realization that his Savior, his Brother, his Friend would no longer be with him?
We don’t really know which interpretation is accurate and scriptures don’t seem to give too many more clues. What really happened? Why did Peter do what he did? As Elder Holland explained, “We don’t know all that was going on here, nor do we know of protective counsel which the Savior may have given to His Apostles privately, but we do know Jesus was aware that even these precious ones would not stand with Him in the end, and He had warned Peter accordingly.” “None Were with Him,”, (April 5, 2009)
All these questions will have to be answered in another time, in another place.
NOTE: As with everything on this blog, the thoughts and insights are mine and mine alone.