So in our family study recently about the atonement and crucifixion of Jesus, using the Come, Follow Me Study Guide, we read about Peter denying the Savior three times. I’ve always felt sad thinking about Peter doing this. This time though, after reading it, my husband mentioned he remembered a talk from Pres. Kimball about this event with an alternative explanation. I wondered about that but didn’t do any searching for it.
Then when I was randomly reading old issues of the Ensign magazine, which I do a little of every day using my LDS Gospel Library app on my phone, if I’m having a hard time falling asleep, I came across a reference to it! The August 1979 Ensign features a talk that Elder Bruce C. Hafen gave at then Ricks College, which is now BYUI. Here is an excerpt:
Consider also the case of Peter on the night he denied any knowledge of his Master three times in succession. Some of us commonly regard Peter as something of a weakling, whose commitment was not strong enough to make him rise to the Savior’s defense. But I once heard President Spencer W. Kimball offer an alternative interpretation of Peter’s behavior. In a talk to a BYU audience in 1971, President Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said that the Savior’s statement that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed just might have been a request to Peter, not a prediction. Jesus just might have been instructing his chief apostle to deny any association with him in order to insure strong leadership for the Church after the crucifixion. As President Kimball asked, who could doubt Peter’s willingness to stand up and be counted when you think of his boldness in striking off the ear of the guard with his sword when the Savior was arrested in Gethsemane. President Kimball did not offer this view as the only interpretation, but he did suggest there is enough justification for it that it should be considered. So what is the answer—was Peter a coward, or was he so crucial to the survival of the Church that he was prohibited from risking his life? We are not sure. This is a scriptural incident in which there is some ambiguity inhibiting our total understanding.
Here is a link to the talk, in audio format only.
Then here is what David Butler and Emily Belle Freeman say about the incident, in the video above. You can skip to where they talk about him, at the 26 minute mark approximately. This all gives us a lot to ponder. Obviously we don’t have all the answers. It’s a wonderful thing to know though that Jesus has enough grace for all of us and because of that we can extend grace to others, especially when we don’t know all the facts in a situation when it would be easy to be hurt and offended.
So this is one of those cases where we get to deal with ambiguity in the scriptures. That’s OK. It’s one of those things to put on a shelf and wait for further light and knowledge. Overall, I feel comforted and awed knowing that Heavenly Father and Jesus love us and allow ambiguity because it is best for our growth and happiness.