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.

10 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

Also see "Bible Errors" by Dave E. Matson which points out the range of questions raised by the differing Gospel stories of Peter's denials and the cock's crows.

GordonBlood said...

To be clear I dont not accept either biblical infallibility or inerrancy, so dont try to paint me as such on this very brief response.

"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."

No textual scholar would agree with that statement. Are there edits? Yes. But are they "heavily editted" made "centuries" after the events they report. No. My God if you're going to post on this site I would have thought you wuld have read "Misquoting Jesus by Ehrman, but even he makes it clear that almost all the edits with afew exceptions are unimportant. Again, I dont have a dog in this race in terms of defending biblical inerrancy or whatnot.

Jason Long said...

gordonblood,

First, I have raid Ehrman's book twice, but I fail to see your point. Ehrman does not argue for inerrancy, so of course many of the changes are going to be relatively unimportant. Of course whether the cock crowed once or twice is irrelevant to the meaning of the story. However, it is highly relevant to the errancy debate.

Second, you seem to have misinterpreted what I wrote. I did not say the edits were centuries after the reports (even though this is actually the case for the sinaiticus - I would expect you to know this before responding), but rather that the reports were centuries after the events. There can be no doubt that the Vaticanus and especially the Sinaiticus are heavily edited documents made centuries after the events they report. It is stupid to argue for inerrancy in the original documents when this is the case.

GordonBlood said...

Ah, I see where I mis-read you. I thought you were suggesting the earliest gospels were written centuries after the events they describe. Clearly you are referring to later codexes that had extra additions and reports that were indeed centuries after the events.

Rachel said...

Jason,

When all else fails, he claims that the Bible says something God did not want it to say.

"When all else fails"? I'm not sure how you get that. It was noted that the ancient mss are not unanimous about the verse, so it's hardly some sort of desperate stretch. The rest of your comments in that paragraph assume that Holding just made up the possibility that Mark 14:68 was not in the original, which is completely false.

Later, you say,

The apologist has to omit part from one version without any justification whatsoever,

What?! Again, Holding clearly said that there is a signficant lack of unanimity about this verse. You yourself noted that it is not in either the Codex Sinaiticus OR the Codex Vaticanus. You may not agree with his "justification", but to say there isn't any at all is simply false.

Your "note" on this point is at best confusing and at worst full of errors. First you say that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are "the two oldest (currently) discovered manuscripts from the fourth century." Surely you don't mean that these two are the oldest mss of any text in the Bible. Do you mean the oldest of the NT, or even Mark? Both of those are wrong too. The only way this could be right is if you mean they are the oldest mss containing the verses in question. But later in your endnote you say, referring to Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, "the closest documents we have to the originals are heavily edited copies made centuries after the events they report." So do you really think that these two Codices are the oldest extant documents we have of the NT? Because that is obviously wrong. Or do you have some qualification to your statement that would make it correct? Beyond that, the mss that do predate Aleph and B are extremely similar to them, showing that they aren't as "corrupt" as you and the KJV Onlyists try to make them out to be.

Of what relevance is the second crowing, and why is it worth mentioning?

As Holding suggests later, if Mark is in fact reporting the event more precisely (which would make sense if he got it from Peter himself), then he tells about the second crowing because that's how it happened. Perhaps it is tied to the later point about roosters crowing all day. Just one crow might not come to Peter's attention, it may have seemed like "background noise". But two crows might have been more of an attention-getter to remind Peter of Jesus' words. In any event, it doesn't change the fact that, as Holding said, "strictly speaking, there is no contradiction". If Peter denied before one crowing, he denied before two.

and offered a weak explanation for the mention of two crowings instead of one,

What explanation are you referring to, specifically, and how is it weak?

we must consider whether Jesus actually said that the cock would crow once or twice in the other three Gospels.

Matthew is ambivalent, Jesus simply says "before the rooster crows". John says "a rooster will not crow" until Peter denies him. Luke says that "a rooster will not crow today" until Peter denies him. If we take Holding's comment that the "second" crowing was usually associated with the dawn, Luke's version makes perfect sense and helps us interpret John's version. If roosters were crowing frequently, then such a thing probably wouldn't stand out. But if it was the second/dawn crowing, i.e. a "special" crowing, then Matthew's version makes sense as well, where he has Jesus saying that Peter will deny him before "the" rooster crows.

not one of the four Gospels registers the accurate account of the alleged two consecutive crowings after the third denial,

Where does it say they had to be consecutive crowings, or that both crowings had to be AFTER all 3 denials?

but did fall victim to simplified oral tradition when recording the actual crowing.

Not quite, because Mark 14:72 says, "a rooster crowed a second time". The first crow may not have been recorded as to when exactly the crow happened relative to Peter's 3 denials, but Mark DOES recorded it as having happened.

So why did the author mention two crowings in the prediction when the detail was not important enough to include in the occurrence

But he did include it in the occurrence. See above.

and not important enough for the other three authors to include in the prediction or the occurrence?

As has already been stated, probably because Mark was getting his info directly from Peter, who would obviously have remembered the event very precisely. The others remembered the basic facts, so they wrote what they remembered, which was accurate.

the telephone game

*eyeroll*

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

Huh? Matthew, Luke, and John are in fact "fully consistent with the actual events". There is no inconsistency. Beyond that, all of the Gospels are "modified and simplified" from Jesus' time on earth. Clearly none of them wrote down every single word and deed of Jesus. But none of it was "modified" or "simplified" inaccurately. If a reporter gives the highlights of an Obama speech w/o quoting the entire speech verbatim in the exact same tone and manner as Obama did, is that reporter being "inconsistent with the actual events" or inaccurately modifying and simplifying the speech?

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,

Yes, we all agree that God used fallible people/instruments/methods to write the Bible. That doesn't necessitate that the Bible is fallible. And how did a second rooster crow become a "crucial detail"?

the earliest manuscripts, which he has never seen,

*eyeroll again*

much later in this book,

What book?

Jason Long said...

Rachel,

I have made note of my careless wording on what you speak of in the first two paragraphs and the close to last paragraph. And it was indeed my intent to say that the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are the oldest surviving records that contain these particular verses.

Regarding your objections on the corruption of the texts, one can hardly object to the fact that there are hundreds of variants among the papyrus manuscripts - and that the vaticanus can hardly be cited as an untouched, reliable codex.

Your "attention-getter" argument for the second crowing would seem acceptable to me if the second crowing wasn't plainly in the text already. Furthermore, this "dawn" crowing is fairly representative of a how-it-could-have-been scenario.

Where does it say they had to be consecutive crowings

It only makes sense that the second crowing wouldn't have taken place much later, otherwise there would be no reason to mention it.

or that both crowings had to be AFTER all 3 denials

Matthew can perhaps be interpreted loosely in your favor, but the intent should be clear. Luke 22:34 and John 13:38 are more than clear that there would be no crowings until there were three denials.

And yes, I did seriously err by stating that the resolution contained only one crowing if the first were removed (even though technically it does) because it does mention that the crowing in 14:72 was the second crowing. Still, the text in 14:72 clearly states that the second crowing took place. This only makes sense if there was a first crowing (14:68).

I plan to comment more on this later.

Jason Long said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Long said...

One more thing: Matthew, Luke, and John are explicit that the crowing took place immediately after the third denial. In the exact same place in Matthew, the author mentions the second crowing (implicit in its immediacy). This second crowing can only be the same crowing that the other three mention. If the second crowing took place immediately after the third denial, the first crowing must have taken place before the third denial, which would contradict what Jesus said would happen in Matthew, Luke, and John. What am I supposedly missing here? That the first crowing was understood to be a middle-of-the-night crowing that the other three Gospels did not need to mention? This is wild speculation, is it not?

Dave Armstrong said...

I gave it a shot, offering a possible explanation:

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2008/07/st-peters-denials-and-cocks-crows.html

Shane said...

That the first crowing was understood to be a middle-of-the-night crowing that the other three Gospels did not need to mention? This is wild speculation, is it not?

It's hardly wild speculation, but a perfectly reasonable thought. It by no means can be proven, per se, but it cannot be discounted as "wild speculation." As linked by Dave Armstrong in his article, this explanation goes over the reasoning as to why this would be suggested (scroll down or search for "“FACTUAL” CONTRADICTION #56"). It provides historical information regarding the point. It also mentions at least one other Scriptural passage which seems speak in the language of ignoring the first nightly crowing of the rooster.

That being said, I find Augustine's explanation, also linked by Mr. Armstrong, to be the "best" - placed in quotation makrs because of what I mean by the word in this particular case.

You see, there are at least two ways to approach the Bible (and probably more - only two are important for my point). One is to approach it with faith, and the other to appproach it with skepticism. Now I do not intend here to argue for "blind faith," or to try to consider how one chooses which approach to take. In other words, I'm not trying to tell you, "oh, you just need to look at the Bible with faith." I think that would be a bit absurd of a statement to make to one who is not Christian or at least theistic in his beliefs.

What I am trying to do is simpler. Let us simply assume for a moment that the Bible is indeed not of Divine origin. Now if this is the case, then it would almost certainly be riddled with errors, and this may as well be one of them. Of course, there are countless other arguments one would make to oppose to this position - that is, to attempt to show the authenticity of the Christian faith - but this is not the place for that. For now, let us simply say that if the Bible is merely of man, this could easily be an error.

However, let us now assume for a moment that the Scriptures are of divine origin. Now one approaching the Bible with faith is going to look at the cock's crowing not as a difficulty, but as a mystery to be dwelt on. A monk noticing this "discrepency" will see it as something to meditate upon - as something to draw him into deep thought, and to delve deeper into the revelation of God. Such a person will end up like Augustine - learning something profound from it (in Augustine's case, the concept that one's sins are already festering in his heart before they manifest themselves in action). Now if the Bible truly is of God, then it makes perfect sense that such passages as this would exist. If the Bible truly was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and given for our edification, enlightenment, and for our prayerful reflection - if it was truly given as a means for God to speak anew to the heart of each individual ever to live - then such "discrepencies" as this would make perfect sense because they would be there for this very purpose. This does not mean they are actually inconsistent, but that to seek the true meaning behind the veil of the apparent will reveal the true meaning of the words.

In other words, where a skeptic sees a seeming contracition, a person of faith sees a question: what is God trying to tell me here? The skeptic misses this message altogether, for he sees the "contradiction" and stops there, whereas the believer doesn't, but moves forward asking, "why?" It reminds me a bit of the sciences. So often, Christians have been accused of answering seeming contradictions between the sciences and the Bible by rejecting the science. Now if believers had always done this, so much of our scientific knowledge as we have it would not have come to be known. It was those who looked past the mere surface of these issues and plowed forward to make the discoveries which we take for granted today.

I mention this in the hopes of showing a bit of a hypocrisy in the approach the skeptic takes towards the Bible - or at least in his ruling out of others taking this approach. Physicists did not stop pursuing quantam mechanics when they found contradictions with Newtonian physics, and we are much the more knowledgeable for it. They did not simply say, "these contradict, so they cannot be so." Rather, they said, "these do not seem to fit - why? What does this mean?" So too, the man of faith looks at two seeming contradictions in the Bible and asks, "What is God trying to tell me?"

Peace, and God bless