Vol. 11 October, 1949 No. 5

What Did Peter Do?

The fourteenth chapter of Mark is a very long one, and when we reach the final verse, and the last clause, we come up against a statement, which, somehow, does not seem to read aright. The British Authorized Version reads, "And when he thought thereon, he wept." The margin puts, "and he wept abundantly," with the alternative, "And he began to weep." Nearly all versions read similarly, but it has long been, remarked that something seems to be out of joint in the statement that Peter first did some thinking, then wept. Matthew and Luke inform us that Peter went outside and lamented bitterly. On the surface, there does not appear to be time for any serious contemplation on Peter's part; nor does this appear to be a fitting occasion for Peter to cast things about in his mind, if that is the true meaning of the Greek term employed (epibalOn; ON-CASTING). Any mental process which only lasted for a second or two would hardly be recorded by a writer, especially in such terms. Before the statement that Peter wept, one looks for some action on his part which is positive. He "begins" to anathematize and swear, and was apparently in the middle of this when a cock again crows, and interrupts him. He is reminded of what the Lord had told him not long since. But a man, in an angry and violent frame of mind, suddenly interrupted, is not likely to proceed immediately with any quiet meditation or reflection. That can only take place after he has cooled down.

In his most valuable book, "Notes on Translation of the New Testament" (1881), a work indispensable to all who are engaged in Bible translation, Dr. Frederick Field, one of the Revisers of the Old Testament, devotes two and a half pages to this verse in Mark. Of the ordinary renderings of the Greek word, he says, "they are frigid and lifeless; they present no new idea; instead of enlivening the description, they rather enfeeble it." He says we are told that Peter "did something, and wept." He suggests that "He might have done many things to shew the intensity of his grief. He might have thrown himself on the ground (as Xenophon); he might have "turned himself about" like Joseph (Gen. 42:24); he might have covered his face, like David mourning for Absalom (II Sam. 19:4)." The suggestion that "he covered his head and wept," says Dr. Field, "may be shewn to be not unsupported on linguistic grounds." "The custom of covering the head in weeping is well known. Women did so, that they might indulge their griefs more freely. In the case of men there was an additional reason for so doing, tears in the sterner sex being considered as undignified, and even unmanly. There are many indications of this feeling both in sacred and profane writers. . ." He then proceeds to cite examples, and shews that Theophylact explains ON-CASTING by another expression, "ON-COVERING THE HEAD" (epikalup-samenos tEn kephalEn). He says that in I Cor. 11:4, "the phrase DOWN-HEAD-HAVING (kata kephalEs echOn; having something down the head) in connection with praying or prophesying, has never occasioned any perplexity." He quotes from Esther 6:12 in the LXX, "Haman returned unto his own, sorrowing, kata kephalEs," that is, having something down his head (A. V.  having his head covered). In Lev. 19:19, the word ON-CAST is actually used along with "garment," "And a mingled garment woven out of two things thou shalt not CAST-UPON thyself." In Joshua 7:6, Joshua and the elders CAST dust UPON their heads. At Isa. 3:22, the LXX uses a noun form, epiblEma, something ON-CAST, where the R. V. reads "shawls." Another noun, epibolaion, is rendered "mantles" at Judges 4:18, and "kerchiefs" at Ezek. 13:18. It will readily be noted that in Greek something called simply an ON-CAST was a garment of some kind.

For these reasons, a few versions have rendered Mark 14:72 as shewing that Peter, in his agony and grief, covered his head and wept. Charles Thomson, Secretary to Congress of the United States, brought forth a very original version of the N. T. and of the LXX in 1808, translated from the Codex Vaticanus, and published at Philadelphia. A fine reprint was made in England in 1929. His rendering is, "and covering his head, he wept." Farrar makes a similar suggestion. This may have been suggested by the grand version of Nathaniel Scarlett (London, 1798), which, one hundred and fifty years ago, always rendered the Greek word aiOnios as "eonian." Scarlett reads, "And covering his face he wept." The doctrine of the reconciliation of all is no new teaching. From early times it has endured somewhere in Britain, and Scarlett and his associates gloried in it. They believed, for example, in the "end rank" of I Cor. 15:22; that the Second Death would be destroyed, as the final enemy; that Christ "is the very God of the eons"; that God is eternal without the lame help of the aiOnios expressions; that God's throne is "for the eon and beyond"; and that the Greek aorist expresses "indeterminate time." And quite a few other fine doctrines which we are inclined to imagine are our exclusive property, or our own discovery.

The above facts regarding Mark 14:72 came to the ears of a critic; who retorted that I was adding to the text "two distinct objects" without authority. He stated that it was a prime principle in one version of the Scriptures, which is based upon an ideal system of translation, not to add any-thing to God's revelation. Yet it was admitted, very naively, that this rule had to be broken sometimes. Yet it was not I who had added two objects. I had only quoted the version of Ferrar Fenton, who rendered by "casting his mantle over his head."

Nevertheless, In the Concordant Version, at Acts 8:2, two nouns are added which do not exist in the Greek. "Yet pious men are Stephen's pall bearers." There is not one word, or suggestion, in the Greek, for pall or for bearers. What the Greek states is, Yet together-fetch the Stephen men pious, that is, Yet pious men together-fetch Stephen. The verb, sunkomizO, is only found here in the N. T. The simple verb, komizO, appears as "be requited with" or "recover." These pious men recovered the body of Stephen, and did so together. The idiomatic meaning is, to get back. These pious men must also have been very brave men. There had come to be a great persecution of the Jerusalem ecclesia, and they were dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria, not all "save the apostles," but "more than" even the apostles. That is the universal force of the Greek plEn, which means more, moreover, more-ly, but never however or save. Once does the verb occur in the LXX, at Job 5:26, where Bagsters render, "Thou shalt come to the grave. . . . . as a heap of the corn-flour collected in proper time. "

If, at Mark 14:72, ON-CAST is to be understood as meaning that Peter "reflected," would one be in order in asking for further examples of this rendering in Scripture? One might "cast about" in the mind, when uncertain what to do. Well; there is a Greek term like this, periballO, ABOUT-CAST. And there is a definition of it in the Concordant Version Concordance which is quite good. "ABOUT-CAST the body, clothes throw about, Ac. 12:8." This word is often used along with the name of a garment, but it can be used without any garment being named at all, as at Matt. 25:36, "naked and you ABOUT-CAST Me." The noun, ABOUT-CAST (peribolaion) is found twice, at I Cor. 11:15 and Heb. 1:12. In the former verse, a Greek could well grasp how in women long hair had been given them for an ABOUT-CAST. The C. V. reads, "tresses have been given her instead of clothing." But it would be much better to render the anti by "for," or read somewhat like Rotherham, "Because the long hair instead of a veil has been given to her." This gets rid of the impropriety of the C. V. rendering.

In Modern Greek this term is explained as meaning "that which is thrown round, a covering, a vesture."

At this point it will be interesting to ascertain whether there are any other terms in Greek which are used of dress and mean literally much the same as ON-CAST. If there are, then our case is strengthened. What kind of dress is a stole? It is a long garment, and the word is a pure Greek one. In the LXX it occurs fifty times, meaning a long robe. In the N. T. it occurs eight times. The scribes loved to walk about in robes (Mark 12:38). The uncountable throng in Rev. 7:9 is clothed in white robes. Yet the idea that a Greek bore in his mind when he used this term was nothing more than PUT, something PUT on. Women are to adorn themselves in a DOWN-PUT or raiment (katastolE) modestly (I Tim. 2:9). There is a garment often worn by men called nothing but a "pullover." But no one objects because we do not call it by a less literal designation. The action well describes the garment.

Another word used of dress in Greek is SLIP (dunO). IN-SLIP, enduO, is used of putting on dress, like IN-SLIP, SLIP, endiduslzO, and enduma, apparel, and ON-IN-SLIP, ependutEs, overcoat. DusmE is the West, into which the sun SLIPS, its vestment. Nowhere do the original Scriptures speak of the sun rising or setting, but always of its "going in" or "bursting forth." In English we can talk of a "slip," a garment easily put on; a "slip on," meaning a great-coat hastily thrown round the shoulders; a "pillow-slip."

Another term in current Greek is phorema, meaning dress. This means literally nothing more than that which is carried or worn.

Here an interesting suggestion might be put forth... The apostle is literally one who is FROM-PUT. Might we say he is the man who is invested, that is, clothed, with a certain authority?

All the above evidence goes to show that the idea that Peter whirled his garment round his head is far from being unreasonable or unlikely. An old custom in Britain among women, upon receiving bad news, was to hurl their apron over the head. Sensitive people tend to hide their grief. And Peter, the man who writes the finest and most sensitive Greek of the New Testament, was neither thick-skinned nor sophisticated.

Why should not Peter have acted as did Hebrews of old when suffering from great mental stress or shame? Says David, "Shame hath covered my face" (Psalm 69:7). Ezra was ashamed to lift up his face to God and blushed (Ezra 9:6), after rending his garments. Jehovah asked Jeremiah whether the people were not causing vexation to themselves, to the confusion of their own faces (Jer. 7:19). Daniel admitted that confusion of face had come over the people, the princes, and the kings (Dan. 9:7, 8). During famine and drought the people "were ashamed and confounded, and COVERED THEIR HEADS." The plowmen also, "were ashamed, they COVERED THEIR HEADS" (Jer. 14:3-4). "And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (Ex. 3:6). Elijah, who had put his face between his knees on the top of Carmel (I Kings 18:42), did something more in the cave on Horeb, when he heard the still small voice. "He wrapped his face in his mantle" (19:13).

And why should not Peter, his long nightmare made intolerable and maddening by a shrill yet natural sound, have done the same? How could he face up to that penetrating look, that look which went right into him (eneblepsen; in-looks), of which Luke tells us (22:61)? Peter had already done much hard thinking that long night. Did that look merely cause him to reflect a little more than he had already done? No wonder Dr. Field stigmatized such a rendering as "frigid and lifeless." Peter was only doing what was a common custom in Israel, during times of profound shame and humiliation, when even a great throng of people covered every man his head, and wept (II Sam. 15:23, 30).

If Peter did as has been suggested, nothing could so effectively have proved his deep contrition. And this must have brought the Lord some little comfort in His lonely combat with the forces of darkness. Peter's tears spoke of intense sorrow, but the other action spoke of a permanent change in his heart. The Man of Sorrows, just about to be led away to His death by one look has conquered.


Last updated 8.9.2007