In addition to my regular Bible reading schedule and my verse-by-verse translating of the Gospel of Mark, I’ve also been reading a Markan pericope a day each weekday. Today I was in Mark 14:43-52 and something struck me as really odd.
Jesus is in Gethsemane (14:32-42) with a few of his sleepy disciples when Judas and the gang approach. After the traitor calls Jesus “Rabbi” and kisses him, the guards move on him to arrest him. Then we read this:
But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear (14:47, NRSV).
Imagine for a moment that the Gospel of Mark was all you ever had. You could probably conclude from this passage that the phrase “one of those who stood near” is probably one of the disciples. And you might even deduce from 14:33 that it is likely that it is Peter, James, or John who was swinging their sword. But beyond that you probably couldn’t say for certain that it was this or that disciple.
Of course, the Gospel of Mark is not the only Gospel we have. The other two Synoptic Gospels – Matthew and Luke – both agree with Mark in making the identity of the one who lobbed off the ear of the slave indefinite (see Matthew 26:51 and Luke 22:50). But then we come to the Gospel of John.
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given men?” (John 18:10-11)
So whereas in the Synoptics the identity of the sword-slinger is indefinite, in John’s Gospel it is explicitly Simon Peter. Herein lies the problem:
If you want to believe that Peter stands behind the Markan Gospel, your options aren’t very good. Either 1) Peter forgot that he was the one who cut off the guy’s ear in which case Peter’s memory may be less than reliable (I mean, I’d remember if I cut off a guy’s ear) and thus making Mark’s Gospel less than reliable, or 2) Peter deliberately omitted that information in which case Peter is trying to save face and thus calls into question his reliability and thus the reliability of the Markan Gospel, or 3) Peter did tell Mark but Mark chose to omit it in which case we can call into question the Markan Gospel’s reliability, or 4) John got it wrong in which case we can call into question the reliability of John’s Gospel.
So yeah, I have my doubts Peter was behind the Gospel of Mark.