and immediately a rooster crowed (John 18:27).
Matthew, Luke, and John all indicated that Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster
crowed. Mark however, says otherwise. He recorded Jesus’ prophecy as follows:
“Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice,
you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30, emp. added). Following Peter’s first denial
of Jesus, we learn that he “went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed” (Mark 14:68).
After Peter’s third denial of Jesus, the rooster crowed “a second time…. Then Peter
called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will
deny Me three times’ ” (Mark 14:72).
Mark differs from the other writers in that he specifies the rooster crowed once after
Peter’s first denial and again after his third denial. But, do these differences represent a
legitimate contradiction? Do they indicate, as some critics charge, that the Bible is not from
God? Absolutely not!
Consider the following illustration. A family of three went to a high school football game
together for the first time. The father and son had been to several games prior to this one, but
the mother never had been fortunate enough to attend a high school game until now. After entering
the stadium, Ricky tells his 16-year-old son, Cary, that they will meet him right outside Gate 12
after the buzzer sounds. Having filed away the instructions, Cary races to the stands to
ensure that he sees the opening kickoff. Ricky’s wife, Vickie, who did not hear the
instructions he gave Cary, then asks him when they were going to see Cary again. He responds,
“We are going to meet him right outside the gate we just entered after the fourth
buzzer.” After the fourth buzzer? But he told Cary after the buzzer sounded they would
meet him. Did Ricky contradict himself? No. At this particular stadium, the time keepers normally
sound a buzzer after each quarter. But, when we say “at the buzzer,” or when we speak of
“a buzzer beater” (such as in basketball), usually we are referring to the final
buzzer. Cary was familiar with sports lingo, and thus Ricky told him they would see him “
after the buzzer sounds.” Vickie, on the other hand, having never attended a football game in
her life, was given different instructions. In a more precise way, Ricky instructed her that Cary
would meet them, not after the first, second, or third buzzer, but after the fourth and final
buzzer that marks the end of regulation play. Ricky knew that if he told Vickie, “Cary will
meet us after the buzzer sounds,” she would have expected to meet him after the first buzzer
sounded. Thus, Ricky simply informed Vickie in a more detailed manner. Surely, no one would claim
that Ricky had contradicted himself.
In a similar way, no one should assume that, because three of the gospel writers mentioned
one crowing while Mark mentioned two crowings, a contradiction therefore exists.
Realistically, there were two “rooster crowings.” However, it was the second one (the
only one Matthew, Luke, and John mentioned) that was the “main” crowing (like the fourth
buzzer is the “main” buzzer at a football game). In the first century, roosters were
accustomed to crowing at least twice during the night. The first crowing (which only Mark
mentioned—14:68) usually occurred between twelve and one o’clock. Relatively few people
ever heard or acknowledged this crowing (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary). Likely, Peter
never heard it; else surely his slumbering conscience would have awakened.
The second crowing took place not long before daybreak—likely around three o’clock (
Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary). [Please remember, biblical hours cannot be
translated exactly into our modern clock-hours.] It was this latter crowing that commonly was
called “the cockcrowing.” Why? Because it was at this time of night (just before
daybreak) that roosters crowed the loudest, and their “shrill clarion” was useful in
summoning laborers to work (McClintock and Strong, 1968, 2:398). This crowing of the roosters
served as an alarm clock to the ancient world. Mark recorded earlier in his gospel account
that Jesus spoke of this “main” crowing when He stated: “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” (Mark 13:35, emp. added). Interestingly, even
when workers were called to work via artificial devices (e.g., bugles), this time of the night
still was designated by the proverbial phrase, “the cockcrowing” (McClintock and Strong,
2:398). If you lived in the first century and your boss said to be ready to work when “the
rooster crows,” you would know he meant that work begins just before daybreak. If he said
work begins at the second crowing of the rooster, likewise, you would know he meant the same
thing—work begins just before daylight. These are not contradictory statements, but rather
two ways of saying the same thing.
When Jesus said, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew
26:34), it seems obvious that He was using “the rooster crows” in the more conventional
way. Mark, on the other hand, specifies that there were two crowings. In the same way that the
husband gives his wife more detailed instructions concerning a football game, Mark used greater
precision in recording this event. It may be that Mark quoted the exact words of Jesus, while the
other writers (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) saw fit to employ the less definite style to
indicate the same time of night (McGarvey, 1875, p. 355). Or, perhaps Jesus made both statements.
After Peter declared that he never would deny the Lord, Jesus could have repeated His first
statement and added another detail, saying: “[E]ven this night, before the rooster crows
twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30, emp. added). We cannot be sure why
Mark’s account is worded differently than the other writers, but by understanding that “
the rooster crowing” commonly was used to indicate a time just before daybreak, we can be
assured that no contradiction exists among the gospel writers.
“Animals” (1986), Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Electronic
“Cock” (1998), Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database:
“Cock-crowing,” McClintock, John and James Strong (1968), Cyclopaedia of Biblical
Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1961), The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN:
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight AR: Gospel Light).
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