Matthew 16:16—Why does Peter’s confession here differ from that recorded in Mark and Luke?

Problem: Peter’s confession of Christ in Caesarea Philippi is stated differently in the three Gospels:

Matthew: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Mark: “You are the Christ” (8:29).

Luke: “The Christ of God” (9:20).

If the Bible is the inspired Word of God, why are there three different reports of what Peter said? What did he really say?

Solution: There are several reasons why the Gospel accounts of Peter’s statements differ. First, Peter probably spoke Aramaic, while the Gospels are written in Greek. So, some changes come naturally as a result of translating the words differently. Second, the Gospel writers sometimes paraphrased the essence of what people said, much like the way journalists do today. Third, other writers selected and abbreviated what was said to fit the theme of their book or the emphasis they wished to make.

What is important to notice is that the Gospel writers never created these sayings, rather, they reported them. Further, their reports were in accordance with journalistic standards of the day (and even today for that matter). Also, whenever there are multiple reports, they all give the essence of what was said. For example, all three reports note that Peter confessed that Jesus is “the Christ of God.” Sometimes, all the reports can be put together as a whole, giving what may have been the word-for-word original statement of Peter. For example, Peter may have said exactly what Matthew reported, and the others may have reported the important parts of Peter’s confession, as illustrated in the following:

Matthew: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Mark: “You are the Christ [the Son of the living God].”

Luke: “[You are] the Christ [the Son] of [the living] God.”

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.