translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 18: 12
So the band of armed men and their commander and the Judaean police took Jesus and secured him. Firstly they led him off to Annas, as he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest for that year. (It was Caiaphas who had advised the Judaeans that it would be beneficial for one man to die for the people.)
Simon Peter with another disciple, followed Jesus. Since the other disciple was known to the high priest, he went in with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the doorway, outside. So the other disciple who was known to the high priest went out and spoke to the woman who was guarding the door and brought Peter inside. The woman at the door said to Peter, “Aren’t you also one of this man’s disciples?” He said, “I am not.”
Now the slaves and police standing there had made a charcoal fire because it was cold. They were warming themselves and Peter stood with them to warm himself.
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.. Jesus answered him, “I’ve spoken openly to all the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple where all Judaeans gather – I’ve said nothing in secret. So why are you asking me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.”
When he had spoken these words, one of the police standing there gave him a smack on the face, saying, “Is that the way to answer the high priest?”
Jesus replied to him, “If I have spoken wrongly, point out the wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why are you hitting me?”
Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
We left Peter standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had lopped, said, “Didn’t I see you in the orchard with him?” Again Peter denied it and at once a rooster crowed.
The gospels agree in using a folktale motif to emphasise Peter’s denial of Jesus. The three denials and the crowing of the cock are not historical fact -it’s unlikely that any disciples were present in any of the places where Jesus was questioned – but they emphasise that the cowardice of the disciples should not be excused; faced with danger, they denied Jesus. Peter is used as leader and representative of the Twelve. Here in this Gospel the author tells us that another disciple, perhaps a priest who knew the high priest, was also present. This is probably part of the author’s presentation of the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” traditionally identified as John son of Zebedee and author of this Gospel. These traditions are simply derived from the Gospel and are almost certainly mistaken, but it may be that the “disciple loved by Jesus” is meant to be seen as the founder of the church communities for whom this Gospel was composed.
The author uses his storytelling skill to contrast Peter’s cowardice with Jesus’ open courage and plain speaking. Again he has Jesus use the Greek word “parresia” = bold or open speaking, which expresses his view of Jesus’ mission as “showing the father to the world”. The prologue to the gospel declared Jesus to be the “creative wisdom made flesh” and emphasised that the only Son has made known the invisible God. In his arrest and suffering Jesus continues to do this, while his disciples fail.
We can note other details of storytelling skill. The guard at the door is a woman bold enough to accuse Peter. The slaves and the police who have to wait about while important people take decisions, light a fire to warm themselves. One of them is a relative of the unfortunate fellow who lost his ear to Peter’s sword. The reader remembers that he was named as Malchos perhaps because he was known as a believer. The casual brutality which excuses itself by demanding respect for unjust authority, is well portrayed.
The picture of Jesus, subjected to the well-known indignities of “enemies of the state” in all times and places, reminds me to read my Amnesty emails and to take action.