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How Many Times Did the Rooster Crow? (PETER'S DENIAL IN MARK'S GOSPEL)
This post concerns a detail of Peter’s denial – how many times did the/a rooster crow? Was it twice, as Mark records? Or once, as some allege that the other three gospels record?
BACKGROUND TO THE PROBLEM
Early tradition identifies Peter as Mark’s main source for his gospel. For example, the early church historian Eusebius (260-340 AD) wrote that “Mark writes these things, and through him Peter bears witness, for the whole of Mark is said to be a record of Peter’s teaching (Proof of the Gospel 3-5).” Mark is sometimes seen as the closest work we have to a “Gospel According to Peter.”
In Mark’s account found at 14:26-31, Jesus is speaking to his disciples as they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew confirms this location in 26:30).
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Mark records in 14:30 that Jesus predicted Peter would deny him three times before the night is over. Mark 14:66-72 focuses on Peter’s three denials of Jesus (vv. 68, 70, 71).
Before we go too far, we should realize that we do have good reasons to conclude that Peter is Mark’s primary source for his gospel account. One internal reason is that Mark’s account often includes details regarding Peter sometimes not found in the other three gospels. The rooster crowing twice in Mark 14:68 and 14:72 is an example of this. In The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John D. Grassmick wrote that “Mark was simply more specific than the other Gospels, probably because of Peter’s vivid recollection.”This is a straightforward enough reason for the differences (not contradiction but difference) of detail.
Since only Mark includes the extra detail about the rooster crowing twice, some readers of Mark felt they detect a potential contradiction between Mark’s account of Peter’s denial of Jesus and Matthew, Luke, and John’s account of the same event.
THE ACCOUNT … AND THE SOLUTION
Peter denied Jesus three times and then the rooster crowed. Luke 22:61 records that Jesus immediately looked at Peter. This look apparently caused Peter to recall Jesus’ words: “before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” At this point, Peter realized what he had just done, and, “he broke down and wept.” John Chrysostom commended Mark for not hiding Peter’s foibles (The Gospel of St. Matthew 85.1):
“In this respect we most marvel at Mark, because not only did he refuse to hide Peter’s fault, but wrote the account of it in greater detail than the others. And it is for this very reason that he is called Peter’s disciple.”
This commendable characteristic will come up again later.
Here is the problem some people see: Matthew, Luke, and John did not record anything about a rooster crowing two times (see Matt 26:74; Luke 22:60; John 18:27). Mark does. Both in the prediction in 14:30 and in the fulfillment in 14:72, where it reads alektōr ephōnēsen deuterou (“the second time a cock crowed”). Is there a contradiction here? Before we go on, examine the side-by-side comparison of the four accounts below.
What do you observe? Hopefully, you noticed that nowhere does the text say the rooster will crow only once! Even if the other accounts used an equivalent of “the rooster will crow once”, even this would not necessitate a contradiction. Dr. Jason Lisle calls this mistake the Subset Fallacy:
This is the error of claiming that A and B are contradictory when in fact A is a subset of B, or B is a subset of A, and the two are therefore perfectly consistent. For example, five is a subset of ten - it is not contradictory to ten.
So, the statement "I have five fingers" is not contrary or contradictory to the statement "I have ten fingers" since five is a subset of ten. That is, anyone who has ten fingers necessarily has five fingers (and five more).
Meaning, if you have two cock-a-doodle-dos, you also have one cock-a-doodle-do, as a smaller subset. Of course, if the non-Markan accounts said something like “the rooster will crow ONLY once,” then we would have a legitimate problem in Mark’s account. The short version to rectify this is to simply understand that Peter’s third and final denial occurred in less than an hour or so after his second denial. Peter’s third and final denial was immediately (euthys) punctuated by a rooster crowing, for at least the second time. Peter denied Jesus more than once and the rooster crowed more than once – it’s that simple. But let’s explore this a bit more.
THE ROOSTER CROWING SITUATION
“Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—”.
In Mark 13:35, four watches of the night are listed:
- “in the evening”
- “or at midnight”
- “or when the rooster crows”
- “or in the morning”
This means “when the rooster crows” is not a singular event but rather a period of time. The third watch of the night, per Roman reckoning. Historians note this time would span from about midnight to about 3 AM (see especially D. Brady’s 1979 article in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 4, pages 46–52). The late Dr. Larry W. Hurtado wrote the following on Mark 14:72:
“Reports of the crowing habits of roosters in Palestine indicate that the first crowing occurs at about 12:30 a.m., the second at about 1:30 a.m., and the third about an hour after the second. The period of the night from midnight to about 3 a.m. was known as cockcrowing in the watches of the night observed by the ancient military in Palestine. Thus, the time involved between Peter’s first and final denials is described as about an hour at most.”
Understand this: since the third watch was known as “when the rooster crows,” multiple roosters could and would have crowed multiple times during this time. In our own day, people who live on chicken farms will confirm this fact. They speak of repeated crowings during the hours before dawn. In a non-chicken farm context, sometimes people call this time frame “early morning.”
Focusing on the larger narrative, we discern a touch of Markan irony in the account. Jesus was on trial, on the inside. His accusers challenged him to prophesy in 14:65. At that moment, on the outside, a prophecy of his just came true: Peter denied Jesus three times.
BUT WHERE DID THIS HAPPEN THOUGH?
There are a few other details in the account that critics sometimes point to as problems. For example, where did these denials take place? “Matthew and Mark agree that the second denial is at the entryway/gateway, Luke does not specify the location of the second denial, and John says it occurs while Peter is still in the courtyard by the fire”. So which one is it, they ask?
Regarding one element of this question, Bruce B. Barton commented:
“Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that Peter’s three denials happened near a fire in the courtyard outside Caiaphas’s palace. John places the first denial outside Annas’s home and the other two denials outside Caiaphas’s home. This was the same courtyard. The high priest’s residence was large, and Annas and Caiaphas undoubtedly lived near each other.”
A friend of mine, who was working through these passages, once wrote me this:
“All accounts seem to have some disagreement on who accused Peter the 2nd time: in Matthew it was a different servant girl front the 1st accusation, in Mark was the same servant girl as the first time, in Luke it appears to be a man, in John it is ambiguous.”
Please forgive me for the long quote in advance. But for this ending section of the article, I feel I can do no better than to include an excerpt from Bodie Hodge’s article in Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Volume 2:
Another resolution to the alleged contradiction is realizing that the second crow mentioned by Mark was likely the same crow mentioned by Matthew, Luke, and John and was separated by enough time to be considered a single significant crow by the latter authors. Peter’s first denial was in response to a servant girl (Mark 14:66–67). After the servant girl told others who stood nearby, and Peter again denied Christ—his denial was likely directed to one man in particular (Mark 14:69; Luke 22:58). The final denial was made approximately one hour later (Luke 22:59) in front of a crowd who stood near Peter (Mark 14:69–70; Matthew 26:73) This crowd included a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter had sliced off earlier in the night (John 18:26). It is rather obvious by the context that Matthew, Luke, and John all reference the second rooster crow.
The crowing in Matthew is the same as the second crow in Mark. Notice that both accounts mention Peter’s cursing and swearing, which occurred at the third denial and the second crowing in Mark (Mark 14:71–72; Matthew 26:74).
The crow that Luke mentions is the second crow in Mark because Luke 22:60–61 indicates the cock crowed after the third denial, which corresponds to the second crow in Mark.
The crow that John discusses is also the second crow in Mark. It occurred immediately following his third denial, but John also indicates that the first denial was separated from the second and the third denials by the length of the Lord’s trial before Annas. Luke reveals that about one hour had passed between the second and third denials.
CRITERION OF EMBARRASSMENT
As your read Mark start to finish, you’ll quickly watch the disciples misunderstand Jesus. Of course, one of them (Judas Iscariot), even betrays Jesus. But Peter’s thrice-repeated renunciation is the first explicit DENIAL of Jesus from the disciples in the Gospel of Mark. In fact, all four of the Gospel writers record Peter’s three denials. Mark Bailey points out the following:
What is unique is Mark’s record of the cock crowing twice (14:30, 72). Mark’s honesty in dealing with the failure of such a noted leader as Peter testifies to the veracity of the Scriptures in revealing the failures and not just the successes of the early saints. 
This is an example of what is sometimes called the “criterion of embarrassment” by some scholars. Here are some examples from the literature (shout to Michael Jones of IP for the images):
PETER AS MARK’S SOURCE
New Testament scholar RT France’s comments on this passage serve as fitting conclusion:
Why then does Mark have the cock crowing twice, and later make a point of mentioning both crowings in his narrative at vv. 68, 72? The simplest explanation, particularly for those who take seriously the tradition that Peter was himself the source of much of the material in Mark’s gospel, is that Mark preserves the account in its fullest and most detailed form (as Peter himself would have remembered and repeated it), but that the vivid personal memory of the double cockcrow was omitted as an unnecessary additional detail in the other accounts. There is after all nothing improbable in a repeated crowing: even a single cock would be unlikely to crow once and then stop, and if there were others in the neighbourhood they would take it up.
NOTE: Luke and John show that Jesus had already said this to Peter specifically in the Upper Room. This means he told Peter first, before they left, then, he told the larger group once they arrived at Mount of Olives. This would be on the heels of Jesus telling all his disciples they would abandon them.
 Mark Bailey et al., Nelson’s New Testament Survey: Discover the Background, Theology and Meaning of Every Book in the New Testament (Nashville: Word, 1999), 95.
 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 579.
ed. Walvoord and Zuck, Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985, p 184.
Larry Hurtado, Mark: Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. NOTE: See p. 543 in W. L. Lane. The Gospel of Mark. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974, for references to the literature.
NOTE: R. Alan Cole suggests that ‘second cock-crow’ is a definite point of time, denoting true dawn, whereas the first cock-crow was around midnight:
“‘Second cock-crow’ is a definite point of time in the early morning, very distinct from the sleepy first cock-crow at midnight; but whether Jesus meant this, or just two cock-crows in quick succession, it is idle to speculate.” 
Commentators who agree say that Mark 15:1, ‘as soon as it was morning’, supports this understanding. Nonetheless, I take second cock-crow as the second rooster crowing during this period of time. Taking second cock-crow as Cole does seems a bit wooden to me. Although the basic point is in agreement: roosters crowed multiple times during this general time. R. Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 301.
NOTE: I HAD SOME PROBLEMS FORMATTING THE FOOTNOTES! THEY ARE OUT OF ORDER UNTIL I CAN FIGURE OUT HOW TO MAKE SUBSTACK DO WHAT I NEED!