After Jesus had been arrested, Peter was confronted by people who identified him as a follower of Jesus. When confronted, Peter denied that he even knew who Jesus was. It is during these interactions that an alleged contradiction takes place.
Matthew 26:69-75, Luke 22:54-62, and John 18:17, 25-27 tell us that after Peter denied Christ three different times a rooster crowed. After hearing the sound, Peter remembered what Christ had said and he then broke down and wept bitterly. However, Mark 14:72 records that after Peter’s third denial the rooster crowed for a second time. So, did the rooster crow once or twice? First, let’s look at what Jesus originally told Peter:
Matthew 26:33-35 – Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Mark 14:30 – “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today–yes, tonight–before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
Luke 22:34 – Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
John 13:38 – Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!
How do we explain the difference?
There are a few different ways that this contradiction can be explained. First, Matthew, Luke, and John do not mention how many times any rooster crowed during the events that transpired. They seem to concentrate on the fact that it was the sound of a rooster that made Peter think about what Christ had said. The reader should take note that none of the three authors say that the rooster crowed only once. They just mention that a rooster crowed at the right time.
It is interesting to note that it is Mark that includes the extra detail about Peter. Peter is given much more attention in Mark’s gospel than any of the other apostles or in the other gospels. This is significant because Mark received the information he recorded in his gospel from Peter. It would be normal for Mark to include more details about Peter.
Essentially, in this scenario, Mark was being the most detailed of the gospels when it came to the rooster. In contrast, the other three gospels were not concerned with the rooster’s first crow. This is not a contradiction. If Matthew, Luke, and John had said that the rooster had crowed only once then we would have a contradiction. The gospel writers were being selective with the materials that they were presenting and were acting within the perimeters of how an ancient author would have written.
This is how all historians and biographers write. They cannot include every little detail imaginable, and even when they are writing about the same event in history or in a person’s life they will often include, exclude, or emphasize different details depending on the purpose of their writing (this would include why Mark quotes Jesus differently about the rooster as this was normal in ancient biography).
Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor summarize:
“Far from representing a contradiction, this variation rather illustrates the Gospel authors’ freedom to include different levels of detail. Mark provides the most detail, while the others note, in more general terms, that at the crowing of a rooster, Peter recalled Jesus’s words, broke down, and fled the scene.”
A second explanation for the alleged discrepancy is that Jesus was referring to the hours of night that were referred to as “the time that the rooster crows.” In Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus says that Peter would deny him before the “rooster crows.” Night time, according to Jewish reckoning during Christ’s life, was divided into four sections, called watches. For example, Mark 13:35 tells us, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.” The watches, were as follows:
- Evening – 6pm to 9pm
- Midnight – 9pm to 12am
- Rooster Crows – 12am to 3am
- Morning – 3am to 6am
We do not use the term “rooster crows” in America today, especially since very few people live on farms and raise chickens. Instead, we might use the phrase “early morning” in place of it if we had divided the night into similar “watches.” It is possible that Matthew, Luke, and John had in mind that Peter’s third denial would occur before the third watch of the night. Mark, in contrast, was actually referring to two crows by an actual rooster.
Although this explanation is possible, I believe that the first one presented above is the most likely. Mark seems to point out that Jesus was referring to the crows of an actual rooster instead of the watch during the night. Although Matthew, Luke, and John could be speaking about the watch, the fact that they also refer to the crowing of an actual rooster, and not the watch, in my opinion, better fits the explanation that the gospel writer are emphasizing different details.
From Mark we can conclude that the rooster crowed twice. Mark gives us the most details about the incident. The other three gospels do not go as in-depth as Mark, and concentrate on the fact that Peter remembered Christ’s words after a rooster’s crow just like Jesus said would happen.
What do you think? Do you believe that this is an actual contradiction, or do you think that it is a simple variation in detail? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
 James Patrick Holding. Trusting the New Testament (Xulon Press, 2009). 157.
 Bodie Hodge. “Cock-a-doodle, One or Two?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Volume 2. Ed. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, and Tim Chaffey (Green Forest: Master Books, 2011). 125-126.
 Andreas J. Kostenberger and Justin Taylor. The Final Days of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014). 117-118.
 Kostenberger and Taylor, 142.
 Hodge, 123-124, 126-127.