cock crowing contradiction

Perhaps more than any contradiction in the Bible, the cock crowing contradiction has attracted its share of how-it-could-have-been-scenarios. This is my response to one apology. Comments are welcome.

Shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus tells Peter that he will choose to disavow any knowledge of Jesus on three occasions. After these events manifest, a cock will crow to remind him of Jesus’ words. In the books of Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus warns Peter that all three of his denials will take place before the cock crows. In these three accounts, the situation unfolds exactly how Jesus predicted. The cock crows after, and only after, Peter’s third denial is made in accordance with what Jesus states, “the cock will not crow until you have denied me three times.” However, the details are different in Mark. Here, we see Jesus warning Peter that he will deny their friendship three times before the cock crows twice. Of course, this is exactly how the events play out in Mark. The cock crows after the first denial and again after the third denial. This is an undeniable contradiction without a rational explanation. If Mark is correct, the cock must have crowed after the first denial – even though Jesus said, in the other three Gospels, that it would not crow until after the third denial. If these three Gospels are accurate, Mark is wrong because the cock could not have crowed until after all three of Peter’s denials. How does the apologist handle this one?

What it runs down to, in terms of weight of evidence, is that 14:30 and 14:72 are likely to have been part of Mark originally, whereas the key verse in 14:68 (“and the cock crew”) is not, and was likely added to make the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction more exact.

In other words, someone added a crowing at a later date. Mark 14:68, which takes place after the first denial but before the next two denials, reads, “But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.” The apologist asserts that the last part of the verse, “and the cock crew,” was “added to make the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction more exact.” When all else fails, he claims that the Bible says something God did not want it to say. If a phrase gives him trouble, the apologist throws it out and internally justifies his best reason for doing so.[see note at bottom] This is confirmation bias in its finest hour. The apologist does not thoroughly scrutinize the Bible before drawing a conclusion on its infallibility; he begins with the premise of its infallibility and subsequently makes excuses for its errors in order to remain consistent with his premise. What book could we not hold as infallible by employing such disingenuous methods? Practices like these render the idea of an inerrant text meaningless.

That said, what of the fact that the other gospels do not say “twice”? Strictly speaking, there is no contradiction in action, since of course if Peter denied before the cock crowed once, he also did it before the cock crowed twice!

And the same would be true if the cock had crowed three, four, five, or seventy-two times, but does it make any sense for the author to say that the cock would crow twice (or three, or four, or five, or seventy-two times) if the three denials all took place before the first crow? Of what relevance is the second crowing, and why is it worth mentioning? The passage in Mark says it would crow twice for an obvious textual reason, but this is the rationalization that we receive after the apologist has removed the part from the other verse that is not convenient to his cause. Now that the apologist has made the first crowing disappear from existence and offered a weak explanation for the mention of two crowings instead of one, we must consider whether Jesus actually said that the cock would crow once or twice in the other three Gospels. We will let the apologist tie his own rope…

In that light, I would suggest that Mark offers the original verbiage of the prediction (as might be expected, if Mark is recording from Peter), while the other gospels contain a modified and simplified oral tradition that follows the usual oral-tradition pattern.

Does the apologist not see that he just admitted that the divinely inspired text, in addition to being contradictory at face value, is not fully consistent with what happened? How convenient is it that not one of the four Gospels registers the accurate account of the alleged two consecutive crowings after the third denial, even though one Gospel specifically registers two crowings in the prediction? Apparently, the author of Mark made it only half way. He did not fall victim to simplified oral tradition when he remembered to include the second crowing in Jesus’ prediction but did fall victim to simplified oral tradition when recording the actual crowing. Since the apologist removed the second crowing in Mark because it was “added” in the wrong place, the author apparently had the cognizance to include specifically two crowings in the prediction but only one crowing in the occurrence. So why did the author mention two crowings in the prediction when the detail was not important enough to include in the occurrence – and not important enough for the other three authors to include in the prediction or the occurrence? Why did the declaration of two crowings survive the telephone game when the resolution, just a few verses later, fell victim? It appears that the apologist did not bother thinking ahead.

If we are to simply brush the textual connotations off as a disparity due to the simplified oral tradition found in seven out of the eight Gospel occurrences, why not just say that the story details themselves are different due to the same shortcomings of oral tradition? Mark is internally consistent. Matthew, Luke, and John are internally consistent and consistent among each other. The only problem is that Mark is not consistent with the other three. The simplest answer is that Mark made a simple error. The apologist, on the other hand, would have his audience believe that three of the Gospels are modified and simplified oral traditions that are not fully consistent with the actual events – and that the fourth account is partly affected by oral tradition and partly tampered with after God inspired a perfect record of what actually happened. He readily admits that oral tradition is fallible, played a role in the formation of the current text, and was responsible for crucial details being left out, yet the apologist will not allow the skeptic to use the same reason, the fallibility of oral tradition, to explain the error already in the text – simply because the apologist predetermined that the earliest manuscripts, which he has never seen, were free from error.

Within this context, this is not considered a “contradiction” or “error” – no ancient reader would have thought this!


A different apologist once offered me this explanation for why Gospel writers attributed Old Testament sayings to the wrong prophets. Since other readers of the day thought the misattributions were factually correct, and since no ancient reader would have called the authors on their mistakes, no errors were apparently committed. I hope even the most novice of readers can appreciate the absurdity of such an argument. It does not matter what ancient readers reach as a consensus. What matters is whether the recorded facts are consistent with reality. If they are not, they are in error.

I do not care whether ancient readers would have considered the cock crowing stories contradictory; I care whether we can regard all four as consistent with reality. The apologist has to omit part from one version without any justification whatsoever, declare that the other three versions are missing a key detail because they were products of a “modified and simplified oral tradition,” and still has to explain why Mark considered the second crowing important enough to mention in the prediction but not in the occurrence. I ask again, what book could we not hold as infallible by employing such disingenuous methods? Inerrancy would lose all meaning.

A cock’s crowing lasted as long as five minutes and occurred at all hours; as Cicero wrote: “Is there any time, night or day, that cocks do not crow?” The “second” cockcrowing was usually associated with the dawn.


And this is relevant, how? Jesus specifically stated that the cock would not crow until the third denial. Regardless of whether the cock had been crowing all day and night, it is only reasonable to assume that it would not be crowing once the denials started, hence the statement that it would not crow. Otherwise, Jesus was wrong by suggesting that it would not. So why would the apologist even mention this bit about a cock typically crowing all day? Was it with the hope that it would further complicate the issue and prevent the audience from thinking critically about the issue? I can only suppose that the desperation of his predicament drove him to offer such worthless evidence for his position. But I suppose that once you naively accept the existence of a genocidal god who can read your mind and punish you for not believing in him, the rest just makes sense.

[note]Since the apologist argues by assertion instead of argumentation, I will have to speculate on his reasoning. The duplicate crowing in Mark 14:68 (along with segments of dozens of other verses) do not appear in one of the two oldest (currently) discovered manuscripts from the fourth century. This manuscript, Codex Vaticanus, stands in contrast to other early extant manuscripts that contain the duplicate crowings as well as all major English translations that chose to include them. As it stands, God apparently lets the majority of the world think for centuries that Mark had two crowings. We will discover an enormous problem for Christians, much later in this book, if they wish to appeal to the inerrancy of the Codex Vaticanus manuscript. In short, the apologist is not arguing for weight of evidence, but obviously for the sake of maintaining inerrancy. The apologist would probably like to appeal to the other oldest (currently) discovered manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus, since it omits all three duplicate crowings in Mark 14, but he likely knows that it is greatly corrupted. Furthermore, we begin to see the stupidity in arguing for biblical inerrancy when the closest documents we have to the originals are heavily edited copies made centuries after the events they report.

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