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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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DENIAL.—The verb ἀρνεῖσθαι, ‘to deny,’ is used in contrast with ὁμολογεῖν, ‘to confess’ (Matthew 10:32 f. || Luke 12:8 f., where ἀπαρνεῖσθαι is also employed; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12, where ἀρνεῖσθαι is used specially of the verbal denial of Christ, due to fear of suffering). As confession of Christ (wh. see) is the outward expression of personal faith in Him, so denial of Him is (1) the withholding, (2) refusing, or (3) withdrawing such confession. In the first of these categories are included those who, like some members of the Sanhedrin (John 12:42), believed on Christ, but did not confess Him; in the second, those who did not believe on Him, and as a natural result did not confess Him; and, in the third, those who have confessed Him, but, through fear of men, deny Him in times of persecution. It is the third class to which reference is made in Matthew 10:33 ‘Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.’ Open disavowal of faith in Christ (‘before men’) is taken as a clear indication of the offender’s attitude towards Him, and eventuates in his exclusion from the blessings of the perfected kingdom in heaven. Such disavowal must be deliberate and persistent, and is to be distinguished from a momentary lapse of personal weakness, like that of Simon Peter, which by timely repentance became the means of strengthening his character, and enabling him to strengthen others (Luke 22:32). In the narrower and stricter sense, therefore, denial means public apostasy from faith in Christ, the guilt of which is visited with a punishment in exact correspondence with it.

1. The discourse in which the great warning against denial is found (Matthew 10:17-33), and which was addressed to the Twelve in view of their Apostolic mission after the Resurrection, evidences its lateness by the serious situation depicted, in which exposure to the severest forms of persecution is contemplated, including punishment in the synagogues, arraignment before Gentile tribunals, and death itself. It must belong at earliest to the period of growing opposition, and has been assigned to as late a date as the close of the ministry. The Second Evangelist places a portion of it in the eschatological discourse spoken on Olivet to the four disciples on the Wednesday or Thursday of Passion-week (Mark 13:9-13). Christ no doubt foretold almost from the outset of His ministry that His disciples would be exposed to reproach and obloquy (Matthew 5:11 f.), but the first intimation of serious opposition synchronizes with the first plain intimation of His own death (Mark 8:34 f.). It was in prospect of the undisguised hostility awaiting them in connexion with their Apostolic mission that Christ cautioned His disciples against the danger of denial. If He suffered death for claiming to be the Messiah (Mark 14:61-64), it is evident that those who afterwards proclaimed Him as such must run the risk of sharing a fate like His.

2. Due stress must be laid on the fact that the object of denial is the person of Christ, not simply His message or His words, which in any case derive their ultimate authority from His person. It is admitted that ‘His earlier demand that men should fulfil the condition of participation in the Kingdom of God by repentance and trust in the message of salvation, became narrowed down afterwards to the demand that men should unite themselves to Him as the Messiah, and cleave fast to Him in trust’ (Wendt, Teaching, ii. 308). But the force of the concession is quite destroyed by the further representation that ‘union to the person of the Messiah is nothing else than adherence to the message of the Kingdom of God brought by Him’ (p. 310.) This is to reduce the person of the Messiah to a compendious formula for His teachings, and ignores the fact that, after the great confession at Caesarea Philippi, Christ grounded on His Messiahship a claim to absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice (Mark 8:34 f.). Devotion to Himself is henceforward made the supreme test of discipleship, and the withdrawal of such devotion seals the doom of the offender hereafter. We are in a region where personal relations and obligations are everything; where the injury done by denial is not measured by the rejection of a message merely, but by the wound inflicted on One who has rendered unparalleled services.

3. It is the rupture, though but for a moment, and without deliberate intention, of tender, intimate, personal ties by the act of the disciple, that renders the great denial of the chief Apostle so affecting an incident (Matthew 26:69 ff., Mark 14:54; Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54 ff., John 18:15-18; John 18:25-27). His fall is the more surprising by reason of Christ’s clear announcement of it beforehand, and Peter’s strong protestations of fidelity (Matthew 26:34 f., || Mark 14:30 f., Luke 22:33 f., 61, cf. John 13:37 f.). Deep as the fall was, however, care must be taken not to exaggerate its criminality. That the thrice-repeated denial was due to want of faith or devotion on the Apostle’s part, there is nothing to show. It was indeed ardent attachment to Christ that led him, after his hasty retreat, to follow at a distance, and seek admission to the house of Annas, before whom the preliminary examination of Christ took place. He was determined to keep near his Master, and it was doubtless this very determination that betrayed him into sin. When challenged in the porch by the maid who kept the door, he gave an evasive reply (John 18:17, Mark 14:68), fearing that to own his discipleship would lead to his exclusion from the premises. When taunted later on with being a disciple by the rough servants gathered round the fire in the courtyard (John 18:18; John 18:25), he denied it in more categorical fashion, hoping thereby to evade further remarks, and avoid the summary ejection which would have followed the detection of his previous falsehood. Having travelled so far on the downward path, it became well-nigh impossible to turn back, and on being charged by one of the kinsmen of Malchus with having been with Christ in the garden at the moment of the arrest, overcome by fear that he might be called to account for his rash act, he denied his Master for the third time, and backed up his denial with oaths and curses (John 18:26 f., cf. Matthew 26:74). It has been suggested that his falsehoods would sit lightly on his conscience, on the ground that he felt justified in giving no kind of information about himself or his Master which might compromise a movement which he imagined was but temporarily arrested. He probably experienced no scruples in deceiving his Master’s enemies, especially as this seemed the only way of carrying out his purpose to keep as near to Christ as possible without risk of detection. But when all due allowance is made for the excellency of his motives, his conduct is utterly indefensible. When he affirmed so confidently that he was ready to go to death, what he thought of was a public testimony to Christ, for whom he eounted no sacrifice too great. ‘A great deed of heroism is often easier than loyalty in small things,’ and Peter, who had courage enough to defend his Master at the cost of his life, displayed lamentable weakness in a minor emergency. The sound of cock-crow, announcing the approaeh of dawn, was a painful reminder that he had proved lacking in genuine fidelity, and false to the pledges so recently given. But that his love to Christ still remained the same, was abundantly evidenced by his subsequent act of sincere contrition.

W. S. Montgomery.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Denial'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​d/denial.html. 1906-1918.
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