I have really been struggling a lot over this one… I believe that the
Bible is the inspired word of God, and thus does not contain obvious error
and contradictions that would make it untrustworthy. Yet upon reading the
gospel accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus, there seems to be a glaring
contradiction here. In both Mark and
Matthew, we see that a servant girl (or ‘maid’ depending on your
translation) confronts Peter during the first denial. In Mark, it seems
that the same girl confronts him again (most translations have her saying
again) whereas the Matthew account has ‘another’ servant girl approaching
him the second time. How can these two accounts possibly be harmonized?

Let me begin by making a comment on the parallel accounts in the
gospels in general. The evidence from these accounts are that they
represent different eye-witness accounts or different people reporting
what an eye witness said to them. I was called to serve on a jury this
past summer and observed an interesting phenomenon. The eye witness
accounts of the crime in question differed quite a bit in details, but the
sum of the eyewitness accounts taken together gave more of a whole picture
of the events. The sum was of more value than the parts. If we as the
jurors had been given identical testimony by the witnesses we would have
been suspicious that they had discussed their testimony together ahead of
the trial and made sure their stories were identical. It is the
differences between the gospel accounts which show that they are truly
independent descriptions of the events recorded. If the details in Mark,
Matthew and Luke were in obvious agreement, it would decrease the value of
the three gospels, not increase them. You would be well advised to begin
such an inquiry by giving the benefit of the doubt to the Bible text that
there is not a contradictions but that you are being given different
details because every eyewitness has a different perspective on which
facts are most significant (please do not take this comment as a lecture
from me. I assume that this is more or less your attitude already). From
my experience on a jury this summer, despite the fairly glaring
differences in the details we were given, I did not feel that the
witnesses were being dishonest, but that due to the emotional impact of
the crime, each remembered significantly different aspects of the crime.

Let me get to the specific case you bring up. I believe the
appearance of a contradiction which you perceive is created by the way
that Mark is translated into the English. I am looking at my Greek
interlinear which has the Greek words in the original with the English
translation of the word directly below the Greek. In the Greek text of
Mark 14:68b,69, the original words are “And he went forth outside into the
forecourt and the maidservant seeing him began again to say to the [ones]
standing by, “This man of them is.” The sense I get from Mark is that
when Jesus went into the forecourt there was another maidservant on duty
in there who began again saying to him that Jesus was one of “them” as had
the servant girl working outside. I will admit that if I had never read
Matthew, but only Mark, I might have at least considered the possibility
that the maidservant inside was the same one as outside. The English
translation would have pushed me more strongly in that direction than the
Greek original. However, when I hear the parallel witness, I learn that
the two women were actually different servants. Like I said, unless you
are presented with a glaring contradiction, which I believe is not the
case here, you should do what we did as jurors this past summer. You
should look for the common thread in the witnesses and ask yourself how
their seemingly contradictory testimony man actually be a different but
complimentary account of the same events. That is exactly what I see
going on in this case.

On a personal note, I notice, Michael, that you live in Athens
Georgia. I believe you may know Dr. Douglas Jacoby (www.douglasjacoby.com
) who is also on the board of this web site. He will be a great resource
for you to get face-to-face answers to your questions!

John Oakes, PhD

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