“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” – John 18:10 (ESV)
Every Monday morning, the members of the Pre-Dawn Theological Society rise early to meet at 6:30am for Bible study. We started doing this in May 2011, with a study of the Gospel of John. Now, sixteen months later, we are still studying John. (We are in no particular hurry, relishing every chapter and verse of the fourth gospel).
One of the most astounding aspects of the Bible is its economy. There is not one wasted word. Not one trivial verse. Nothing is unimportant. Every word is significant. Even the ones we don’t quite understand, or for which we lack a historical background. This fact hit me square between the eyes as we studied John 18.
Sometimes we miss words in Scripture. We hit upon a portion that grabs our attention, and breeze past the remainder. Consider John 18:10. Everyone remembers that Peter lobbed off the ear of the high priest’s servant. How many people remember that the servant’s name was Malchus?
What do we know about Malchus? Only what we know from Scripture:
1. He was the high priest’s servant.
2. Peter performed an earectomy on the guy. (By the way, do you really think Peter was aiming for his ear? Evidently Peter was a lousy swordsman.)
3. Jesus healed Malchus’ ear.
4. John remembered the man by name.
In fact, the details seem to reveal themselves a bit incrementally. Mark tells us someone nearby swung the sword. Matthew reveals it to be one of Jesus’ followers. Luke adds that Jesus’ healed the servant’s severed ear. But John…
John does what makes his gospel so unique. He fills in the blanks. He gives the hitherto unrecorded details. It is John who tells us that it was Simon Peter – impetuous Peter – who was the swordsman. And, John tells us the name of the victim: Malchus.
So… why does John consider it so important to tell us the name of this otherwise unknown servant? Why does he give us such a meaningless detail while not informing us of Jesus’ miraculous reattachment of the ear? We must remember that John’s gospel was written much later than the other three “synoptic” gospels. John was most likely aware of at least one (if not all three) of the other gospels. As I mentioned in the paragraph previous, I firmly believe John’s purpose – at least in part – was to fill in the gaps, so to speak. John is telling us things the other three do not.
By the last decade of the first century AD, when John probably penned his gospel, the story of Jesus in the garden was most likely widely disseminated. To John’s original audience, the healing of Malchus’ ear by Jesus was probably well established fact.
Most likely, John is showing his original Greek and Jewish audiences that this is not merely a story. This is not allegory. This is a real event, and the name of the servant was Malchus. He had a name. He was a real man. Jesus really healed him. The Greeks would have appreciated the facts of the matter. The Jews would have now seen Malchus as a human being with a name, not just Caiaphas’ servant.
Perhaps Malchus was known to the early Christians because of the healing touch he received from the LORD. Maybe he was known as the guy who had his ear put back on by Jesus. Maybe Malchus, in the ensuing chaos of Jesus’ arrest and trial, managed to escape and spent his remaining days telling people how Jesus Christ miraculously healed him. Who knows?
The main point I’m trying to make is this: don’t speed through the Bible. Don’t cruise through the verses on auto pilot. Stop. Absorb. Question. When you read something that makes no sense or seems to have no real importance, stop and ponder it. Study it. There is more there than meets the eye.
Why did John feel the need to point out this servant’s name was Malchus, even some sixty years after the event took place? Because the scene is so important, so vital, so hopeful… it deserves to be recognized as the very real historical event it was. And it needs to be remembered as such.