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Unlike the synoptics, John notes the name of the man whose ear was cut off during Jesus' arrest.

John 18:10 - Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Is this just one of those details that gets added to a story over time as it grows? Or is there some significance/irony that John intends his readers to see?

  • 3
    Perhaps he knew him, which may say something about who the author is. :) – user862 Jun 1 '13 at 17:08
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    Later in the same chapter we read that the relative of Malchus had been an eyewitness of Peter's act of violence (John 18:24-26), and therefore was credible to accuse him as a bona-fide disciple of Jesus. – Joseph Jun 1 '13 at 17:51
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Jesus says in John 18:36,

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.

But there's a problem with that statement. Peter has been fighting. And he attacked Malchus, a man who's name means king or kingdom.

Only John of the four gospel writers makes the connection between the one who drew the sword and Peter. In Mark, as well Matthew and Luke, cutting off the ear is symbolic of a lack of hearing and understanding (Mark 7:35, 8:18). In John it certainly has this connotation as John proceeds to interweave Jesus' bold confession with Peter's three denials.

Peter's attack is a symbolic depiction of Peter's fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus' kingship and kingdom.

This interpretation does not rule out Malchus from being a real historic human being that John knew. It only explains why he would have added this detail for his audience.

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    Also note John 18:24-26, as Joseph pointed out above. – Dan Jun 2 '13 at 6:13
  • @GoneQuiet It's a Hebrew/Aramaic name, not Greek. And very common in first century Israel. I think the meaning and its context is evidence that John knew at least a little Hebrew/Aramaic and that at least some in his audience did as well. – Matthew Miller Jun 2 '13 at 6:35
  • @DanO'Day I'm not sure what I'm missing. I think supplying the name of the servant and telling us that the man's relative witnessed Peter hack off the man's ear are very different issues. The later gives context to the relative identifying Peter while the former is apparently historical trivia apart from the meaning of Machus' name. – Matthew Miller Jun 2 '13 at 6:43
  • @GoneQuiet This might help. studylight.org/dic/hdn/view.cgi?n=1611 – Matthew Miller Jun 3 '13 at 6:01
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Notice that John mentions that it is the right ear, and that the slave's name was Malchus. Very specific. But why would he be so specific and yet not mention the healing of Malchus' ear ? I believe John did this entirely on purpose. Consider: if John mentions the identity and exact ear of Malchus,but goes on to report this miracle, would it carry the same weight as if people who knew Malchus, or even the high priest, saw Malchus and asked about his ear ? Malchus would be in a position to tell any inquiring that his ear indeed had been cut but was healed. John's method puts the burden of testimony on more politically credible people,as John knew that his own words would be doubted in the light of Jesus' arrest.

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Here's your irony:

"Malchus" is the Greek version of the man's Hebrew name "Melek" (http://biblehub.com/topical/m/malchus.htm). This word actually means "counselor" and "king"! Peter judged these men for failing to acknowledge Jesus as King, but in the process, attacked the man whose name was "king". Didn't Jesus say "what you do to the least of these, you do to Me"? Peter's attack on this servant was also a direct attack against the plan of God our King, which is why he was rebuked.

It is also important to note that in Leviticus, a priest is forbidden to serve in the temple if he has any physical blemish. Peter, having memorized the Torah as every Jewish boy would have, would know this. Peter is essentially judging the servant of the high priest (likely in-training to serve in that position) for rejecting the Kingship of Jesus by removing his ability to serve God in the temple. However, Jesus essentially restores the man's position to serve in the temple through his healing! Jesus then warns Peter that "those who live by the sword, die by the sword." Well, what is Peter about to do within the next couple of hours? He's about to deny Jesus publicly, thus committing the very same sin he was judging this servant for. By saying "live by the sword and die by the sword," Jesus set a precedent for Peter that "if you are willing to execute judgment on this man and permanently remove his service position for this sin, then someday, someone will do the same to you." But, Jesus taught Peter grace and forgiveness for the man's sin, and demonstrated the very same grace and forgiveness when He restored Peter to his own service position as a disciple in the same way that He restored the servant's service position through healing his ear. It's all a very fascinating exchange!

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I believe the correct answer, given already, is that using the servant's name adds substance and credibility to the account.

Theophylact, who synopsized the various Patristic commentaries on the Gospels, writes:

The miracle was so astounding that the Evangelist provides the name of the servant: if a reader of his Gospel doubted, he could investigate for himself and verify the facts.1

John Chrysostom, for example, wrote in the late 3rd/early 4th century:

The Evangelist adds the name of the servant, because the thing done was very great, not only because He healed him, but because He healed one who had come against Him, and who shortly after would buffet Him, and because He stayed the war which was like to have been kindled from this circumstance against the disciples. For this cause the Evangelist hath put the name, so that the men of that time might search and enquire diligently whether these things had really come to pass.2


1. The Explanation of the Gospel of John (tr. from Greek; Chrysostom Press, 2007), pp.269-270.
2. Homily LXXXIII on John (tr. from Greek)

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I have read a few sermons that I believe may be a sound reason as to why Malchus name was mentioned in the book of John. I believe that the 4 Gospels of the New Testament correlate to the depth of our relationship with Christ. Our spiritual walk, with John being the level in which we walk in the love and revelation that God desires we walk in. With the story of Malchus, he was healed by our Lord and Savior Jesus. He is considered the last miraculous healing act that Jesus performed before He was crucified. However, where else in the bible do you read of this man? Those healed by Jesus shared their testimony (outside of the nine leapers who took off and only one worshiped and praised the Lord for His healing). I think that Malchus was no different from the 9 lepers. He received the healing yet he felt no obligation, no desire to be openly grateful for what the Lord did for him. Perhaps these persons are representative of the world we live in today: the return of Christ is drawing near, yet there is an insensitivity to the things of God. Being blessed yet being ungrateful in action to the Lord for what He has done. This is prevalent in the world today. Sure there have always been those who live to experience amazing miracles yet do not honor the Lord with a heart of praise and worship. As one of the articles described, there is no mention of Malchus anywhere else in the bible, which makes it reasonable to conclude that he lived the remainder of his life in silence-knowing what Jesus did for him, yet choosing his way over God's eternal plan for mankind.

What a sad way to live. Living a life that is so consumed with self to deny the miracle working power of Jesus. His could have been one of the greatest testimonies resounding in the days of the formation of Christians. Just like the 9 lepers who also left without recognizing Who blessed them with healing. Self consumed and preoccupied. Like the world we live in now. And the last days.

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Unlike the others who were recruited in Galilee (and uneducated), the author of the Gospel of John appears to have been recruited in Jerusalem and educated. There are a host of books/articles about this citing such evidences as:

  • The Gospel of John treats the educated Pharisee crowd as familiar;
  • The Gospel of John focus's on a theological perspective of Yehshua;
  • The Gospel of John centres on the Jerusalem ministry; etc

If these observations are true, it could be that only the author of this Gospel knew that the servant’s name was Malchus because only this author was formerly of that crowd.

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An incensed Peter lunged at Judas, who was behind Malchus, and in his uncontrollable rage accidentally hurt the wrong man. To Peter the target must have been the reprehensible traitor. After all, what would he have gained from eliminating or maiming one member of a sizeable arrest squad?

  • Why must the target have been Judas — isn't it possible Peter was trying to prevent the arrest of Jesus? That's impression from Jesus rebuke of Peter afterwards. – Jack Douglas Nov 13 '18 at 15:12
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It is important to note that Jesus had specifically requested that they were to have a sword. This sets up the events Jesus knew were to follow and becomes a lesson for us. As explained by Adam in an earlier answer, the servant Malchus is restored to his position as servant and possibly as a future high priest. I wish to add that we must look into the lesson being given. Jesus is about to be taken away for horrendous abuse and death. He greets his betrayer as "friend." He then restores Malchus that leads the group to his capture. No anger, no resentment, nothing held back as he gifts this sinner with a miracle.

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    This post has been edited to remove prescriptive religious content. Please take our site tour and learn more about how this site works. We do not apply the text to modern religious groups nor assume a religious audience. – Dan Feb 23 '17 at 13:18
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Just to add another idea, i think as Malchus means king, which is derived from Melech, it speaks of the Melchezedek priesthood (Gnesis 14) Jesus is the only person aside from Melchezedek, who reigned as both a king and priest. So by cutting off the ear of Malchus, Peter isn't just taking a strike at the Kingdom of God, but also at the Melchezedek Priesthood that we are destined for (Priests + Kings). One of the perfected things Jesus modelled out for us, and with Peter symbolically taking a strike at this Priesthood, it would mean that the work on the cross would be in a way incomplete and Jesus couldn't allow us to not receive the full grace of the Melchezedek priesthood. Peter for a moment didn't realize the importance of his identity to the Corporate community of Christ, the Kingdom (kingship), and the church (priesthood). Thus he needed to be rebuked.

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