The Peter I Never Knew

Pretty much every sermon I’ve heard about the apostle Peter describes him as someone who got into trouble primarily because he was a headstrong, impulsive, know-it-all. I’ve come to view that description as a very bad rap. I now believe that Peter got into trouble much of the time because he loved Jesus so intensely. Impassioned devotion to the Savior was the motivation behind most of his major blunders.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

That Peter loved Jesus is evident in the gospels. But, his love was filled with mixed motives, an overestimation of the degree of his love, and contained distorted expectations of Jesus. I think that we can all learn from this, lessons which get missed if we try to just show how devoted Peter was.

I really disagree with this conclusion. Peter’s thoughts of protecting Jesus were tied to the protection of the Messianic dreams that he and all of Jesus’s followers nurtured, and that were a characteristic of second temple Judaism’s zeitgest. The Romans would be vanquished in a holy war led by the promised messiah, the Davidic king to come. This would inaugurate the age to come. Self preservation, and the preservation of his nationalistic and religious dreams, were certainly involved here.

Peter’s thinking and hopes, as well as that of all the disciples and many Jews of the time, were apparently drenched in these expectations. When Jesus told the disciples of his coming death at the hands of the Romans, after Peter had identified Jesus as messiah, Peter rebuked Jesus for such a thought. The messiah would be victorious over the hated enemy, not die at their hands! Jesus then called him Satan…an adversary. Peter seemingly wanted and was in love with his version of the king and the kingdom…not with Jesus’s.

When James and John came to Jesus asking for seats of power in the kingdom, Peter had been part of the constant back argument…who would be the greatest in the kingdom? He was in love with his version of the king and the kingdom, projecting that onto Jesus. Jesus tried to disabuse him and the disciples of this constantly, it seems.

That sets up what happened the night in the garden and beyond. Peter showed courage, and was willing to die for Jesus, as he said he would, but for the wrong reason and cause. That sword stroke was to begin the holy war. His expectation was for Jesus to powerfully and miraculously leap into action…not to heal one of those traitors aligned with the enemy. Red Sea type deliverance was the anticipation. It was Passover! It didn’t come.

Peter’s subsequent denials of Jesus spring from this seedbed of disillusionment, whose beginnings were laid well before the garden. When Peter denied Jesus afterwards, he was in a sense speaking truth…he really didn’t know who Jesus was…and had to learn all over again. He, as the rest of the disciples, had to learn who the king and what his kingdom was truly about. It was only the crushing defeat for them of the cross, and then the shock to them of Jesus’s resurrection, that caused their eyes to be opened. Especially Peter’s.

Peter’s love was of one who still had scales on his eyes, that needed to fall. Like Mark’s story about the man healed by Jesus in stages…he could first see men like trees walking, and then could see clearly only after the second healing from Jesus. It was like that for Peter, and the rest. Yes, he sought Jesus, he fought for Jesus, but he truly didn’t see Jesus for who he was, until his eyes were fully opened upon and after Easter Sunday.

This speaks more to me of Jesus’s patience, grace, and love, than it does of the magnitude of Peter’s. And, we all need this reassurance, because we can all be just as foggy visioned and headed as he was.



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In his excellent article, Kim Allan Johnson offers a vivid description of Peter as swordsman:

“Peter rushes forward, raises a sword above his head, and lunges at the nearest assailant, the servant of the high priest. The victim sees moonlight glint off the blade just in time to shift his head to the left. The blade misses the center of his skull and slices off his right ear.”

Mark does not specify which ear was severed, nor who was the swordsman.

John identifies Simon Peter as the swordsman, and Malchus as his victim. He also specifies loss of the right ear.

The “beloved physician,” Luke, was not a witness to this assault but, perhaps quoting John, also mentions only the right ear.

I am not a forensic pathologist, only an ophthalmologist, and my speculations may be no more accurate than others.


If Peter used his sword in a downward skull-cleaving blow, it would not have stopped after slicing off the ear. The weapon would continue its swift journey to strike Malchus again, somewhere between the base of his neck and his right shoulder. The results would be far worse than loss of an external ear: There would be severe destruction of the brachial plexus, with instant paralysis of the right arm.

No reporter mentions any damage to the victim’s right arm.

So let me propose a different path for the sword:

We could assume that Peter was right-handed, and deployed his sword in a strong horizontal backhand. Or maybe he used a dominant left hand, with a forehand sweep. But I agree that Peter did not intend to cleanly excise an ear. I think he sought to remove his victim’s head.

Wanting to keep his head, Malchus ducked, tilting sharply to the left.

Missing its primary target, Peter’s horizontal sword sliced off the right ear, but caused no further damage.

That’s how I imagine it.

“But then,” as Carl Sagan used to say, “I could be wrong.”

Thanks to Mr. Johnson, for his stimulating description.


Bob Wresch

[References: Mark 14:47, John 18:10 and Luke 22:50; Colossians 4:14.]

Robert R. Wresch, M.D. is an ophthalmologist in the Adventist Clinic on Guam.

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Malchus would have been an armed bodyguard, which would be the very reason for the attack by Peter. If his purpose was to defend the Master, (which it indeed was), Peter would not have tried to kill an unarmed man. Bodyguards wore armour, such as chain-mail vests, in preparation for possible conflict. Such armour could have turned aside a blade, and have prevented damage to the shoulder. I agree that Peter’s actions, being performed right in front of Jesus and the others, could very well have been self-aggrandizing efforts to “get the ball rolling” and start the Revolution against the Roman occupiers. This may have also been a motive for Judas. It was illegal for Jews to own a sword, and Malchus could have felt that his helmet was unneeded. Peter’s bravery, though unnecessary, is hereby noted. Perhaps this bravado would ensure him a kingdom-seat position above that of the avaricious Sons of Thunder. Note also that his water-walking feat was also accomplished before the eyes of all. (EGW states that he sank b/c he looked back at his fellow boatsmen in order to witness their looks of admiration for his bravery, altho scripture states he ‘saw the wind’). He jumped out of the boat to have a private time w/ His Lord confess his threefold denial and B4 the others came ashore. We do not know. We do know that the “leader of the pack” apostle was a much different man from the one writing the gospels bearing his name.

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