The Other Disciple


I recently preached a sermon about Peter’s denial of Jesus, as recorded in John 18:15-27. In my study of that passage I saw something I never noticed before—something which I think highlights the blessing of doing ministry in the company of fellow disciples.

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and brought to the high priest for interrogation, we read that Peter “and another disciple” followed him (verse 15). Presumably, this other disciple was John himself, who was known to the high priest and could therefore follow Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. Peter was left behind outside the door but when the other disciple came back to speak to the servant girl Peter also gained entrance into the courtyard.

The interesting thing to notice here is not so much the privileged access that John was given due to the connections he had with the high priest. There was something else the high priest’s servant girl knew about this other disciple that is worth pointing out: she knew that John was a disciple of Jesus. How do we know she knew that? It’s hidden in the question the servant girl asks Peter, which leads to the first of his three denials.

In the NIV, John 18:17 records the girl asking Peter: “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” As I discovered, that’s not the best way to translate this verse because it overlooks two little Greek words that are crucial to a proper understanding of what she is really asking Peter. Those two words are the words kai su, and they are translated into English as “and you.” It’s unfortunate that the NIV glosses over those two significant words. The servant girl wasn’t just asking if Peter was a disciple of Jesus—she, who knew John was a disciple of Jesus, was asking if Peter was also one of his disciples.

The ESV renders this verse more accurately when it translates John 18:17 as: “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” I smiled when I read the New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce’s take on the servant girl’s question to Peter.

In his commentary on John, Bruce suggests that when the girl saw John—whom she knew to be a disciple of Jesus—coming back to bring Peter into the courtyard, she said in effect, “Oh, no, not another!” Why is this so significant? For at least two reasons—one literary and one pastoral. The literary value of the “you also” component to her question lies in the way it sets up John and Peter as two very different disciples. John is not at all secretive about the fact that he is a disciple of Jesus—even the high priest’s servant girl knew this about him! The same could hardly be said of Peter, who vehemently denies any association with Jesus three times over the course of one evening.

But it’s the pastoral importance of the “you also” reference that is especially instructive. Those who follow Jesus never do so alone. We live and serve together in communities of faith—in families, among friends, within congregations, and in small groups. For pastors, ministry is sometimes lonely and exhausting, especially when we, like John, intentionally seek out those who have seen a door they had hoped to walk through closed in their face, or who believe they have walked with God as far as they are capable of doing.

Giving ministry is hard. That’s why it’s so important to identify with Peter as well and receive the blessing of another disciple’s ministry. As a pastor engaged in providing ministry to others, I am regularly blessed by the ministry of “another disciple,” someone whose faith is often more robust than my own! As far as giving and receiving ministry goes, both Peter and John have a lot to teach us.    

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Peter, it was great to read your piece.  I'm in chapter 21 this week and was struck by the scene where Jesus tells Peter, 'follow me' and the next thing Peter does is turn to look at John and ask, 'what about him?'  There appears to be an intriguing tension between Peter and John in the gospel.  I've never really looked for it or noticed it before.