In John 18, when Jesus is in the Garden on Gethsemane, Judas approaches with a mob of Pharisees and soldiers, coming to arrest Him.

4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

7 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

But suddenly, Simon Peter pulls out his sword and slices off a servant's ear.

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

The Question

It seems a bit impulsive of Peter to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Is this the case?

If so, why would/did Peter react so violently when he was seemingly unprovoked? Could it be, instead, that the Bible, or rather the translation thereof, simply doesn't record what was exchanged verbally between the two parties?

Why didn't any of the other disciples react in this way?

Are there any other passages of scripture that explain this behavior?

  • Welcome, and thanks for contributing. For these types of exegesis questions, it's helpful to know which tradition you'd like answers to come from. It may be that all traditions that consider the Bible to be inspired/inerrant will interpret this similarly, but perhaps not, and those that don't consider the Bible inspired may explain it differently. Could you clarify? When you get a chance, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 12:57
  • I've edited in another question to clarify that I'm looking for scriptural evidence to support why Peter/any other disciple reacted the way they did. @Nathaniel
    – Zach Gates
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:02
  • 1
    Does anyone believe Peter was trying to severe the ear? Swinging a sword at the head was an attempt to remove the head but he missed
    – 007
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:29
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    Whether Peter was aiming for the ear or the head, my question still persists of "why did he react so violently?" @Pam
    – Zach Gates
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:54
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    Unprovoked? You do understand that the mob, with the support of the oppressive occupying power, was coming to take Peter's master and best friend, who Peter had devoted his life to, away to mercilessly tortured and killed. Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


Simon Peter's reaction was inline with his previous self-trusting and impulsive nature, a tendency to rely on self to do what seemed right, rather than a faith that relied on God's promises. This cumulated to the point where he denied the Lord three times, having relied on his own abilities. It was not until the rooster struck that he finally recognized his sin and bitterly repented.

Again and again, Jesus had told His disciples that He was to be taken away and be killed, but they refused to believe, and the important significance of Jesus' sacrifice was not understood. Peter, not realizing the type of spirit that took over him, tried to even rashly rebuke the Lord for submitting Himself to such a fate.

(Matthew 16:21-23) From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Peter's impulsive nature was also seen at the Passover dinner when Jesus reminded them of His fate and warned them that they would all scatter. However, Peter, trusting in himself, declared without hesitation that he would never desert, that he was even ready to die with Him. Therefore it was not out of character for Peter to take the situation into his own hands and try to fight the group that came to arrest and to kill his beloved Lord.

(Matthew 26:31-35) Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.

We are all not without shortcomings, but the key is to recognize these flaws when revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and by grace seek to overcome. When Jesus returned after His resurrection, the extent of Peter's repentance and the change in his character was clearly seen. When Jesus tested him, asking whether he loved Him more than the others, the previously rash Peter did not make a grand statement of devotion, but with a truer estimation of self, responded "Yea Lord, you know that I love You". (John 21:15)


Peter had an operating category for "Messiah" and it didn't involve the Messiah getting crucified. Even though Jesus repeatedly spoke about dying in Jerusalem, rising again, and so forth, Peter and the rest of the disciples were not expecting him to waltz in, immediately be captured and crucified, and rise from the dead on the third day. Their category for "Messiah" involved a liberating king who literally freed them from the oppressive rule of Rome. We can see this same attitude in Thomas:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. (John 11:5-19 ESV)

Thomas expected to go to the outskirts of Jerusalem and die because there were people out there ready to stone them.

Likewise, the accusations of the Pharisees would normally not be the responsibility of the governor Pontius Pilate. The Jews filled up the category of "Messiah" with the one who would come and drive out the Romans, so they trumped up the charge that Jesus was essentially an enemy of Caesar because he would make himself king and so he should be crucified. Pilate saw through the charges, but did it anyway because of political expediency.

So the answer is that Peter was probably expecting crucifixion to be the outcome of their failure, and had some understanding that Jesus was going to become a real king at Jerusalem. Given the temple is in Jerusalem, and Jesus was crucified at Passover, if you were going to start a rebellion, the time that all the Jews are congregated in one place and whipped into a religious fervor is the time to do it. In fact, there were other Messianic hopefuls before and after Jesus who tried exactly this. So Peter saw everything culminating up to this point and all the Messianic expectations getting dashed without a fight because of an internal traitor. So he drew his sword and got ready to fight.

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