A Confusion About Roosters Crowing
Question: In Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus tells Peter that before the cock crows once the next morning he will deny Him three times. Yet in Mark 14, Jesus just as clearly tells Peter that his denial will come before the cock crows twice. Can you help me resolve this apparent contradiction?
Response: This is one more of a number of seeming contradictions that skeptics and critics have exploited in attempting to discredit the Bible. However, a little investigation and clear thinking shows that they are not contradictions at all. Indeed, the fact that different language is used in the four gospels proves that the authors weren’t all copying from “Q” or some such document theorized by critics. It also shows that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit did not destroy the freedom of different witnesses to express themselves. And that very freedom of expression explains many of the apparent contradictions.
Let’s carefully compare the story as told in all four gospels. Matthew:26:34 says “before the cock crow,” while Luke:22:34 and John:13:38 use the negative form, “the cock shall not crow.” Obviously, Christ is not referring to a particular rooster crowing, nor to some rooster crowing once, but to that time in the morning known as “the cockcrowing.” Such is the expression used in Mark:13:35, for example, when referring to the time (“at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning”) when Christ might return. So Jesus warns Peter that before the usual cockcrowing the next morning he will have denied his Lord three times. In fact, all four gospels agree that this is what happened.
Far from contradicting the other gospels, Mark simply gives a further detail in Christ’s warning to Peter and thereby provides additional insight. He lets us know that Christ also told Peter: “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice” (14:30). This in itself was an unusual statement. When roosters start crowing, the first is followed rather quickly by a second, third, fourth, and many subsequent crowings building to a chorus if there are many roosters in the vicinity.
Mark then reveals (14:66–72) that although Peter’s first denial was long before the time of “cockcrowing” that morning, yet a rooster (or perhaps several) crowed immediately after the words were out of Peter’s mouth. How do we know this first crowing was long before the time of “cockcrowing”? Though we are not told how much time elapsed between the first and second denials, Luke does inform us that “about the space of one hour” (22:59) elapsed between the second and third denials.
A Gracious First Warning Unheeded
The unusual crowing of a rooster an hour or more before the normal time and immediately after Peter’s first denial should have brought him to repentance—which was no doubt why the Lord provided that special warning and unusual circumstance. Instead, though Peter had sworn he would die for Christ, he continued in denying his Lord two more times, at the end with extreme profanity (Mark:14:71). Immediately after the third denial, the morning’s chorus of roosters (the “cockcrowing”) sounded, and at last, repentant, Peter went outside to be alone and to weep bitterly (Matthew:26:75; Luke:22:62).
The honesty of the accounts is revealed in the fact that neither repeats the other but that each provides a piece of information that is necessary to the whole. And the inspiration of God guiding what each says, though from independent points of view, is seen in that this remarkable blending together of all four testimonies is necessary to provide us with the whole picture.
In probing deeply enough to reconcile what at first seemed like a contradiction, we have learned a valuable lesson. We see God’s grace to Peter, causing a premature crowing of one or more roosters immediately after his first denial to prevent him from going any further. And has God not given similar warning at times to each of us to call us back from the brink of shame and disaster? Sometimes we have heeded, while at other times, like Peter, we have gone headlong until, overwhelmed by remorse, we have wept in repentance.
— An excerpt from In Defense of the Faith (pp. 98-100) by Dave Hunt