John’s redaction of Peter’s denial against its Synoptic parallel

B. J. Oropeza argues that Peter committed apostasy by denying the Lord Jesus but was restored by his repentance (Apostasy in the New Testament Communities, 3 vols). Gundry also contends that Peter forfeited his salvation by his denial of the Lord (Matthew, 548), but an in-depth exegesis of the relevant text in the Gospel of John reveals evidence to defy these views. In fact, John’s account of Peter’s denial is noticeably different from its Synoptic parallels. Unlike the Synoptics, John records Jesus’s examination before Annas in place of the Jewish trial of Jesus. In addition, John seems to reverse the order of Peter’s first two denials, and this reordering presents the three denials in such a way that Peter’s tone diminishes in intensity with each successive denial. In John’s account, the form of the servant girl’s first question is far from an accusation but merely a simple question, posed out of curiosity about Peter’s relationship to the other disciples of Jesus. Moreover, the particle μὴ in the first question anticipates a negative answer, and καί with σύ indicates the spontaneous nature of her remarks (John 18:17). But, as Michaels points out, in the Synoptics, the first question is “not even a question but an outright accusation” (John, 901). In the Synoptics, the formula of Peter’s denial is “I don’t know him”—a formula of apostasy uttered under the threat of death in a court of Roman authority (Justin, Apol. I.31.6). Matthew includes this formula three times in his account of the denial, Mark and Luke two times, but John none. According to Matthew and Mark, in his denial of Jesus, Peter swears an oath and invokes a curse on himself, whereas in John these strong words are removed from Peter’s denial (Matt 26:74; Mark 14:71). In addition, the words that John puts in Peter’s mouth for his denial are “I am not,” a phrase that echoes John the Baptist’s words when he denies that he is the Messiah (John 1:20–21). Lastly, John omits Peter’s bitter weeping after the rooster’s crow that the Synoptics include. Why then does John redact the material of Peter’s denial in a noticeably different way from the Synoptic accounts? Carson argues that “the differences in the reports of the denial cannot adequately be accounted for on redactional grounds” (Matthew, 558). Sabbe argues that John omits Peter’s cursing, swearing, and weeping because the main purpose of his narratives was to describe the rivalry between Peter and the Beloved Disciple and to contrast the victorious Jesus with the cowardly disciple (“The Denial of Peter in the Gospel of John,” 239). However, a clue to uncovering the answer to this question may lie in John’s omission of the Synoptic passages relative to the theme of apostasy. John omits both the Synoptic account of the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Jesus’s warning against the believers who were denying him in public (Matt 10:32–33). I suggest that John depicts Peter as not committing the sin of apostasy and as a model of a faithful disciple who followed Jesus to the point of death (John 21:19).

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