NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 73-74a: A short time later those standing there went to Peter and said, “We know you are one of them. It’s clear from your accent.” Then Peter began to curse. He said, “I swear to God, I don’t know that man!”
Peter wasn’t fooling anyone. Those standing around him noticed that when he spoke, he did so with a Galilean accent. We could say, this was Peter’s shibboleth moment.1 But having an accent wasn’t all there was to it. We know that later when some of these same religious leaders heard Peter and John teaching with such courage and eloquence, they found it hard to believe because they knew them as being illiterate Galileans by their accent.2
Of course, it would be natural for those who looked at Peter as the founder of the church and the successor of Christ to find some alibi for such a terrible act of denial. Jerome has this to say: “Not that Peter spoke a different language or belonged to a foreign nation … but since each province and region had their own characteristics and vernacular, one could not help having a certain sound to his speech. For instance, the Ephrathites in the book of Judges cannot pronounce the word synthema.3 In the other Gospel we read that after Peter’s denial and the crowing of the cock, the Savior looked at Peter and, by His very gaze, aroused bitter tears in him.4 It was not permissible that Peter, on whom the light of the world had gazed, should remain in the darkness of denial.”5
Even Jewish tradition tells us that Galileans were not a well-spoken people. Rabbi Judah once said: “The Judeans who cared for the beauty of their language retained their learning, but the Galileans who did not care for the beauty of their language did not retain their learning.”6
Verses 74b-75: As soon as he said this, a rooster crowed. Then he remembered what Jesus had told him: “Before the rooster crows, you will say three times that you don’t know me.” Then Peter went outside and cried bitterly.”
By this time, Peter was all but lost in his confusion and bewilderment. But then something hit him like an arrow out of the dark, it was the crowing of a rooster. Some skeptics have dismissed a rooster crowing near the high priest’s house early in the morning because their verbal teachings forbid keeping chickens inside Jerusalem.7
We read that the Rabbis established ten special regulations that apply to anyone living in Jerusalem, and number nine reads, “That no chickens should be raised there.”8 And, another revered Rabbi adds this: “We may not raise chickens within Jerusalem, because they may cause ritually pure articles [to become impure]. Similarly, a priest may not raise chickens throughout the Land of Israel, because they cause ritually pure articles [to become impure].”9 But then, Jewish scholars tell us: “We have learned: Rabbi Judah ben Baba gave testimony concerning a chicken that was stoned in Jerusalem.”10 As with anything, there are always cracks in the floor and privileges are given to a few.
Origen gives us his input on how he sees Peter’s denial and the consequences: “Upon examining Peter’s denial, we note that ‘as yet the Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet glorified.’11 For this reason, neither was it possible for Peter at the time to profess belief in Jesus nor was he to be criticized for not professing belief in Him, since it is said to those who profess belief: ‘It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’12 We, however, since the Spirit of the Father has the power to speak in us and since it is in our power to ‘make room’ in us for the Holy Spirit and not ‘for the devil,’13 if we should deny Christ, we would have no excuse.”14 It appears that Origen is making the case that before Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, it was impossible to believe in Him as Lord and Savior because the work of redemption had not been completed.
Origen then goes on to make this point: “Perhaps all people when they deny Jesus … seemingly deny Him before the crowing of the cock, when the sun of justice has not yet risen for them and its rising is not yet at hand. But if upon the rising of the sun for the soul ‘we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries.‘15”16 Although Origen finds cause not to accuse Peter of treason, no such excuse will be given to anyone who comes to know Jesus as the true Son of God and their Savior. But what do we do then with Peter’s earlier confession based on a revelation from the Holy Spirit, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?”17
Although nine of the disciples fled the scene while John accompanied Jesus to this meeting at the high priest’s house, with Peter following far behind, after His resurrection our Lord still went in search of them. First, to Mary Magdalene just outside the borrowed tomb.1 Then the two followers on the road to the village of Emmaus.2 Later on in the upper room in Jerusalem where the disciples were hiding, minus Thomas.3 But then He came back a second time for Thomas’ sake.4 And finally up in Galilee where He told them they were to meet Him.22
This fits in with two parables Jesus told about a shepherd who left his flock of 99 sheep and went out in search of one that was lost.1 Then, of the woman who lost one of her ten coins but did not stop until she found it.2 However, there is also the story of the father who waited for his prodigal son, who had taken his inheritance and wandered off into a life of immoral living, to come back home in a spirit of repentance.3 What does this mean for those to whom God sends out His Spirit to find and lead back to Him? Did not Jesus tell His disciples early on in Matthew that whoever was willing to acknowledge Him as their Lord while here on earth, He would proudly acknowledge them before His Father in heaven? But if they failed to acknowledge Him, then He too would deny they were His before the Father.4 What a serious warning this is, and perhaps, more than the rooster’s crow, is what brought Peter to tears when he realized what he had done by denying Jesus as his Lord before these people in the high priest’s courtyard.
1 Cf. Judges 12:6
2 Acts of the Apostles 4:13
3 Judges 12:6. Synthema is in reference to the word Shibboleth in Hebrew
4 Luke 22:61-62
5 Jerome: Ibid.
6 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Erubin, folio 53a
7 See the Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Bava Kamma, Ch. 7:7
8 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Baba Kamma, folio 82b
9 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Sefer Avodah, Tractate Beis Habechirah – Ch. 7, Halacha 14
10 According to the Jerusalem Talmud, Second Division, Tractate Eribin, Ch. 10:1, [I:2 S], Neusner Edition
11 John 7:39
12 Matthew 10:20
13 Ephesians 4:27
14 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 114
15 Hebrews 10:26-27
16 Origen: ibid.
17 Matthew 16:16-17
18 John 20:11-18
19 Luke 24:13-32
20 John 20:19-25
21 Ibid. 20:26-29
22 Ibid. 21:1ff
23 Matthew 18-12-14
24 Luke 15:8-10
25 Ibid. 15:11-32
26 See Matthew 10:32-33; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26