In John 18:10 (as well as the other gospels), Peter cuts off the ear of the slave of the high priest (NRSV):

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.

Josephus, in Antiquities 14.13.10 (366), has a similar story about Antigonus cutting off Hyrcanus's ears to disqualify him from high priesthood.

but being afraid that Hyrcanus, who was under the guard of the Parthians, might have his kingdom restored to him by the multitude, he cut off his ears, and thereby took care that the high priesthood should never come to him any more, because he was maimed, while the law required that this dignity should belong to none but such as had all their members entire.

This is in accordance with the law (Leviticus 21:17-20):

Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles

Did Peter, like Antigonus, cut off Malchus's ear to disqualify him from serving as a priest?

The two events clearly share something very specific in common (the cutting of an ear); but unlike the case of Hyrcanus, there seems to be no obvious motivation: why would Peter care if Malchus is able to serve or not? It also isn't clear from the text if Malchus is a priest himself.

  • Wow, that's an intriguing question!
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 12:45

4 Answers 4


I cannot find anything in the text of John 18:3-10 (or Luke 22:49, 50) linking this incident to Malchus and the priesthood. The facts that we do know include the following:

  • Malchus was a slave or servant of the High Priest and so would NOT have ambitions for the priesthood
  • Peter was a fisherman and probably good with a small knife and fish but quite inexperienced with a sword. In all probability, Peter was intending to decapitate the servant or just cause as much injury as possible. Machus dodged and Peter managed only to sever the ear. Jesus then immediately healed the ear (Luke 22:50)

The intention of the incident appears more to contrast the earthly intentions of Peter and the mob with the heavenly kingdom of Jesus whose gentle rebuke and miraculous healing would have both embarrassed Peter and awed the mob of soldiers, if they cared. The fact that despite this, they still arrested Jesus served to highlight how blind they had become to Jesus real intention and mission.

This was not the only display of Jesus divinity that night. Only moments before when the mob approached in the garden Jesus asked them who they sought. They replied "Jesus of Nazareth". He then replied "I AM" and the crowd fell back, dazzled and overcome. (John 18:4-6) There could be little else that Jesus could have done to better identify Himself as the Lord Jehovah, Messiah than by:

  • A divine act of healing
  • An act of forgivingness implied in this act
  • Being meek and submissive like the Passover Lamb
  • His declaration of being the great "I AM" (see Ex 3:13-15, John 8:58, etc)

Hope this helps

  • This is a reasonable interpretation, but it seems to rest on your first two points, both of which aren't supported by the text, even if it doesn't contradict them: The text doesn't say that Malchus wasn't a priest by birth, and it doesn't say that Peter wasn't aiming explicitly for the ear (the fact that he was a fisherman doesn't seem significant; why would he be carrying a sword if he didn't know how to use it?)
    – b a
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 8:08
  • Also, why is this the purpose of the story any more than, for example, contrasting Peter's vengefulness with Jesus' forgiveness (Peter tries to prevent Malchus from service, Jesus tries to restore it)? His I AM is one item in your list unrelated to forgiveness, but it appears often across the whole gospel of John, and in the other gospels it doesn't appear in connection to the cutting of the ear
    – b a
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 8:15
  • Your list of "proofs of divinity" set quite a low bar for being "fully God"! Healing is a commonplace in scripture. Forgiveness is required of all his disciples and is not unique to Jesus. Ditto for meek and submissive. Also note that he did not say "egw eimi 'o wn" but just the common and unavoidable "I am (he)", given the question. The falling down backward is common with angels: Num_22:27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 12:54

A few thoughts that have to some extent already been mentioned:

1) The high priest was determined by direct lineage, therefore only a relative of the high priest, not his slave, could become the next high priest.

And the anointed priest that shall be in [Aaron's] stead from among his sons shall offer it, it is a due for ever; it shall be wholly made to smoke unto the LORD (Lev 6:15, cf. the lineage in 1 Chron 5:27ff)

2) I'm not sure it's possible to aim a sword well enough to cut off the ear of someone trying to dodge your sword.

I take this truth to be self-evident. If anyone can prove otherwise, please upload the proof to youtube and send me the link.

3) The emphasis of the text, as b a rightly points out in his comment, is to contrast Peter's violence and failure to understand Jesus' purpose, with Jesus' obedience to God. Jesus' answer to Peter indicates that Peter was not trying to disqualify Malchus from high priesthood, but trying to prevent Jesus' arrest.

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (Jn 18:11)

  • Regarding #1, a blemish also disqualifies regular priests, not just high priests. In any case, at this particular time, the high priest's office was often not transferred by direct descent, due to Roman intervention
    – b a
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 20:05
  • @ba The Romans did intervene, but did not choose a high priest outside the former high priest´s family - thus a servant of the high priest still would not be chosen to be the next high priest. As for your first point, a blemish disqualifies a priest from certain priestly duties, but not from priesthood itself (cf Lev 21).
    – Niobius
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 18:51


The tale of Antigonus cutting off Hyrcanus may well have been around and might have provided the framing of the story. However the more important messages are:

  • Jesus (pictured beneath the hologram of the geocentric universe) is in control of the situation
  • he submits willingly
  • he does not want military intervention

And the amazingly significant contemporary events that provide the context are:

  • the Jews are increasingly miserable and discontent with the Roman occupation
  • the Jews have an ever growing, formidable army
  • Jesus has predicted that Rome will slaughter the Jews and destroy the city
  • John the baptizer has amassed a large group of penitent and semi-penitent Jews who are being baptized or rather "mikvehed" in preparation for arrival of the kingdom of God and the judgment (what Christians call "baptism" they called "mikveh", more or less)

Now, John's baptism/mikveh was essential because in the kingdom every Jew will be a king and a priest. IE: a "kingdom of kings and priests". And mikveh/baptism was a requirement. This is why Peter's gospel is "believe and be baptized".

So it would not be the denial of being a priest in this life but also in the next (which could be any minute)!


Jesus CANNOT use violence or resistance in any way. It is impossible for him to resist. Peter is impetuous and still cannot understand this nonresistance. The sword that Jesus has brought has nothing to do with physical violence.

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