Was Peter Really Cursing Or Swearing?

A querist once asked, “In Mark 14:71, was Peter really cursing and swearing when he adamantly denied ever knowing Christ?”

The text in Mark 14:71 reads: “But he began to curse and swear, I do not know this Man of whom you speak!“ When we first read a text of Scripture without studying that text, we can sometimes “assume” something in the text that is not actually being taught. For example, In Mark 14:71, there are those who say that when Peter denied Christ and “began to curse and to swear” that he was probably using God’s name in vain and using what we call “swear words.”

The Greek word for “curse” that is used in Acts 23:12 and Acts 23:14 when the Jews bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul, is the same word that is used in Mark 14:71 when we are told that “he began to curse and to swear, saying I know not this man.

The Greek term being used for “curse” in Mark 14:71 is “anathematizo” (Strong’s 332), and it means “to declare anathema,” i.e., “devoted to destruction, accursed, to curse,” Mark 14:71, or “to bind by a curse,” Acts 23:12, Acts 23:14, Acts 23:21 (see Vine’s Expository Dictionary). In fact, in the margin of the King James Bible in Acts 23:12, it reads: “Or, with an oath of execration.” The same type of oath these vengeful Jews bound upon themselves in Acts 23:12,21 ESV.

In today’s terminology, Peter could have said, “I hope to fall over dead if I know him” or “I swear I do not know him.” Similarly, the curse (or oath) of the Jews in Acts 23:12 ESV would have been, “We will not eat or drink until we kill Paul.” Or in other words, “We hope to die if we do not kill Paul.” This was a curse they wished upon themselves, and Peter could have done likewise (cf. Mark 14:71 ESV).

Let us note that when Jesus cursed” the fig tree (Mark 11:20-21), he simply said, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again” (Matthew 21:19). Thus, neither Peter nor Jesus “cursed” in the sense of using curse or swear words.

Mike Riley, Gospel Snippets