The Passion of Christ

The Denial of Peter

    This episode is described in all four gospels, with only minor variations. The narrative needs to be read in two parts: Christ's prediction of Peter's denial at the Last Supper, and the denial itself, at the house of Caiphas. (Or Annas according to John.)
Here is Matthew's version from chapter 26, starting with the prediction at the Last Supper.
Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.  Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples. (v33 - 35)

   Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.  But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.  And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.  And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly. (v 69 - 75)

 Luke adds a subtle detail. He places Peter inside, in the presence of Christ, rather than in a porch.

  And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 62 And Peter went out, and wept bitterly. (Ch 22 v 61 - 62)

From a storytelling point of view, this event works brilliantly. It's a trick all story writers learn - create situations where the reader is more aware of what's going on than the protagonist. The reader will remember what Christ said at the Last Supper earlier in the chapter, but Peter has forgotten it. It's sometimes called a 'look behind you!' moment - the readers wants to let Peter know what he has forgotten and what is about to happen (the crowing cockerel) but they can't. 

The denial in art.

Two mosaics from Sant'Apollinare Nuovo Ravenna.

Christ predicts the denial of Peter

Peter's denial

Scenes from Duccio's Maesta, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena. The ever-reliable Duccio offers what is almost a graphic novel version.  In the lower left, Peter denies Christ (enlarged to the right.) Above him, Christ faces Annas.  In the bottom right scene, Peter waits outside the house of Caiaphas and denies Christ for the second time. Above this, he denies Christ for the third time, and the cockerel above him crows. 

Giovanni Canavesio : Sanctuaire Notre-Dame des Fontaines, La Brigue

This painting shows the denial, and Peter's tearful response to the crowing of the cockerel.

Caravaggio: Metropolitan Museum, New York

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