A Distinction without a Difference, Or a Distinction to Die For? Wrestling with the Subtleties of John 21:16 – Peter Do you Love Me

One of the great indoor sports of New Testament Biblical Scholarship is how to interpret the subtleties in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel. It is the classic interaction wherein Jesus asks, “Peter do you love me?” And Peter responds “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” This exchange occurs three times. But to us who read the passage in English some of the subtle distinctions in vocabulary are lost. There is an interplay between two Greek words for love, Agapas and Philo. Jesus asks of Peter’s love with one word, but Peter responds with another. There is also a subtle shift in the use of another verb meaning “to know.” Peter moves from odias  to ginoskeis. Both can be translated “you know” but again the question is why the shift and how should this be interpreted?

No one disputes these  facts about the Greek text. Allow me to reproduce the well known dialogue with the distinctions stitched in:

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapas) me more than these?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, You know (oidas) that I love (philo) You.”
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapas) me?”
Peter: “Yes, Lord, You know (oidas) that I love (philo) You.”
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileis) me?”
Peter: “Lord, You know (oidas) everything; You know (ginoskeis) that I love (philo) You.”

But there are the facts. But here is where the debate begins. The central questions are these:

  1. Is there any real distinction to be made between agapas and philo? Or is it a distinction without a difference?
  2. Although modern Christians make a sharp distinction between agape love and filial (philo) love, was such a distinction operative in ancient Greek or where these words merely synonyms that were simply interchangeable?
  3. If so, why does John and the Holy Spirit record these different words for love? Is there really no purpose at all?
  4. And why does John shift from using the verb odias (you know) to ginoskeis? the same questions would prevail.

The answers to these questions admit of many possible answers. Now if you put three Greek scholars (or three scripture scholars) in a room together you’re going to have at least 17 opinions. But for the sake of brevity let me set forth two basic opinions or interpretations:

1. The use of different words for love is highly significant. Jesus is asking Peter for agape love. Agape love being  the highest and most spiritual love wherein Peter is called to Love Jesus above all things and all people, including himself. But Peter, finally being honest says to Jesus in effect, Lord you know that I love you (only) with brotherly love (philo se).  Jesus is not disappointed for entrusts the role of chief Shepherd to Peter anyway. But again he asks for agape love and Peter answers the same. A third time Jesus asks, but this time he comes to Peter’s level and says, in effect, “OK Peter then do you love me with brotherly love (phileis me)?”

And this all makes Peter sad who now becomes more emphatic and says  Lord, You know (oidas) everything; You know (ginoskeis) that I (only) love with brotherly love (philo). Note here that Peter’s exasperation includes a shift in the verb “know.” He shifts from the verb oidas (meaning more literally “you have seen”) to the verb ginoskeis (meaning a deeper sort or perception that includes understanding).

So perhaps the final sentence translated with these distinctions in mind would read: “Lord! You have seen everything; and you understand that I (only) love you with brotherly love.”  The Lord then goes on to tell Peter that one day he will die a martyr’s death. Almost as if to say, “Peter I DO understand that you only love me now with brotherly love. But there will come a day when you will finally be willing to die for me and you will give over your life. Then you will truly be able to say that you love me with Agape love.”

This first opinion obviously takes the distinctions in the Greek text as very significant and interprets them to the max. It results in a beautifully pastoral scene wherein Jesus and Peter have a very poignant and honest conversation.

2. The second opinion or interpretation is there is no significance in the use of different Greek verbs for love or know. The main reason for this opinion is rooted in the view that among Greek speakers of the First Century there is no evidence that they used these verbs to mean significantly different things. It is claimed that Agape was not understood in the early Centuries of the Church as God-like, unconditional love. That meaning came only later and then only among Christians, not among pagans.

There seems to be a scriptural basis for the fact that the early Christians had not reserved apape and philo for the exclusive meanings they had later. For example “agapao” is sometimes used in the New Testament  for less God-like loves. Two examples are the Pharisees loving the front seats in the synagogues (Luke 11:43) and Paul’s indication that Demas had deserted him, because he loved this world (2 Tim 4:10). Further, God’s love is sometimes described using “phileo“, as when he is said to love humanity (John 16:27) or even once when the Father is said to love Jesus (John 5:20).

More evidence is also deduced from the silence of the Greek speaking Fathers of the Church who do not make mention of this distinction in the verbs for love when they comment on this passage. One would think that had the subtle distinctions been significant they would surely have dwelt upon it.

 Hence, rooting itself in historical data this second opinion and interpretation sees little significance if any in the fact that Jesus and Peter are using different words for love.

So there it is. The great indoor sport of Scripture Scholarship: understanding and interpreting the subtleties of John 21:15ff. For myself I will say that while number 2 seems a compelling argument against opinion 1, I will also say that I cannot wholly reject that,  if opinion 1 isn’t true,  it OUGHT to be. I find it strange that these different verbs are being used and that we are to conclude absolutely nothing from it. The subtle details of John’s Gospel are almost never without purpose. SOMETHING is going on here that we ought not ignore. Peter and Jesus are subtly interacting here. There is a movement in their conversation that involves a give and take that is instructive for us.

It also remains a fact that not all Greek Scholars accept that Agape and Philo were simply synonyms in the First Century.

The silence of the Greek speaking Fathers is surely significant. But it also remains true that Scriptural interpretation did not end with the death of the last Father. Further, I have found that I, who speak a little German am sometimes better able to appreciate the clever subtleties of German vocabulary than the those for whom  it is the mother tongue. At a certain point we can become rather unreflective about the subtle distinctions of the words we use and it takes an outsider to call them to our attention. I never really appreciated the more subtle meanings of English words until I studied Latin.

Hence, for me it is still helpful to see the distinctions in this text even if some historical purists find no room for them. I simply cannot avoid that a key message is available to us in the subtle shifts in vocabulary here. As always, I value your comments and additions to this post. Do we have here a distinction without a difference, a distinction to die for or something in between? Let me know what you think!

50 Replies to “A Distinction without a Difference, Or a Distinction to Die For? Wrestling with the Subtleties of John 21:16 – Peter Do you Love Me”

  1. ANother possiblity. John was merely trying to avoid using the same word over and over and chose the synonem; but, the Holy Spirit’s intent was to make the distinction that would only be understood later much as prophecy. Just a thought.

    1. Yes, I agree as to the last point. There is the tendency to think that if the early Church didn’t see something then it is false.Cleary the thoughts and beliefs of the early Church are of high importantance and normative. However we also have to leave room for later developments.

  2. The translators of the Greek into Latin used different words too. Augustine says that Amo means more than Diligo…. which I think is the opposite stress of the greek. So Peter would be claiming to love more than everyone else. However, Augustine also says they are the same meaning in this verse to counteract that idea. So either Peter is bragging or he is super humble or the words mean the same thing. Personally, I like the how Pope Benedict described it in Deus Caritas Est. (Option 1 above)

    One interesting note is that Chrysostom does hint at a difference between the greek words. In his homily he says:

    “The question asked for a third time disturbed him…He was afraid perhaps of recieving a reproof again for professing to love him more than he did”

    So this kind of hints that Peter was using a lesser love in his statements. This is compared to his bragging profession of sacrificial love(Jn 13:37-38) when the Lord sobered him up by telling him he would he would deny him 3 times before the cock crowed. This is probably why he had 3 confessions of love in reconciling his 3 denials.

    1. Monsignor explained this much better than I could have, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway.

      Peter wasn’t doubting who Jesus was, because he had already received divine inspiration in Caesarea Phillipi. Jesus went so far as to declare that he is the rock upon which he will build his Church, and that he had given him the keys to the kingdom of heaven which had authority both in heaven and on earth. What Peter was doing, in my opinion, was admitting his own humility. Previously, he had declared that he loved Jesus to the point of dying with him. Jesus knew this wasn’t true, although perhaps Peter in his zeal thought it to be so. After he denied Christ three times, he knew of his own failings and no longer trusted himself as complacently as he did before. When Christ asked him if he loved him (with Agape), Peter replied with humility that he loved him (with Philo.) He didn’t claim divine love, because he felt contrition over his grievous sin of denying him in his darkest hour. But Christ responded the third time with Philo, meaning that it was enough. The One who could turn water into wine, and turn death into life, could certainly term Philo into Agape.

      1. This is how I too understand this conversation and the language. What I especially appreciate in your explanation is the addition ‘But Christ responded the third time with Philo, meaning that it was enough. The One who could turn water into wine, and turn death into life, could certainly term Philo into Agape.”

        I especially like is this comment–‘it was enough’-which gives me hope.


  3. If this were Matthew or Mark, I would be much more inclined to think it was an insignificant variation in the Greek: Matthew and Mark were clearly not native speakers of Greek. For example, Matthew and Mark will exhibit such philological howlers as introducing a sentence with a genitive absolute whose subject is Jesus, and then make Jesus the object of the verb “follow” (which takes the dative), the subject being “disciples”. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about (Mt.8.1): καταβάντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοί. The howler is this: Jesus as the object of ἠκολούθησαν (“[many crowds] followed”) is expressed again in the pronoun αὐτῷ. A native speaker of Greek would have omitted the αὐτῷ and made the participial phrase (the genitive absolute καταβάντος αὐτοῦ) dative (viz. καταβάντι αὐτῷ).

    Whether Luke and John were, their Greek can stand alongside the works of contemporary native speakers of Greek as if they had been. Luke was a physician, and that alone is enough evidence of his facility with Greek (stronger, philological arguments from his actual writings could be made). And John’s Greek was at least as good as Luke’s.

    So I would expect the distinction to be intentional. Recall John’s “he loved them until the end” (13.1): εἰς τέλους ἠγάπησεν αὐτούς. This is similar to the way Jesus uses ἀγαπάω (agapáo) in reference to the Pharisees and Paul in reference to Demas. The subject would be willing to die for the object of ἀγαπάω.

    On another note, I think it is interesting that Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics 8 and 9 (on φιλία or friendship/love) consistently uses φιλέω and cognate forms instead of ἀγαπάω, *and* he is talking about love that is grounded in self-love (self-love properly understood to motivate beneficence to others, but self-love all the same). Of course this is about four centuries earlier and not really so relevant.

    But I don’t think we can make an argument from silence to say that the Fathers (if they didn’t comment on this) didn’t think it significant.

    1. Thnaks J for a thorough repsonse. I too an inclined to say that almost nothing is insignificant in John and that if hr and the Holy Spirit included the distinction it must somehow be significant for us. I like too your observation that an argument from silence is usually not very strong.

    2. I like your comments, and would like to go further along this line. Jesus went on to tell Peter how he would die (John 21:18-19). By his martyrdom, Peter would love Jesus more perfectly than he had before, and love both Jesus and the Church ‘to the end’ (agap–). We must all be willing to love ‘to the end,’ for Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment… that you love (agap–) one another just as I have loved (agap–) you.’ (John 13:34). I use agap– for the sake of those who do not know Greek endings.

  4. Peter denied Jesus three times after claiming even if everyone denied Jesus he would not. Jesus asking him three times if he loved Him was perhaps Jesus’ way of confronting Peter and Peter responded with humility and was restored to his place as leader of the apostles.

  5. p.s. “It also remains a fact that not all Greek Scholars accept that Agape and Philo were simply synonyms in the First Century.”

    Count me in that group. Even if it could be said truly (that ἀγαπάω and φιλέω) were synonyms in the first century, it could only be said about specific texts. Even the same author may distinguish between them at one time, and fail to do so at another. Whether they were synonyms or not, they could only be said to be so on a case-by-case basis. Of course, if the evidence started to pile up in favor of the synonym position, we could start to make generalizing remarks about the first century, but that proposition is contrary to the facts.

    Another problem with the generalization is that early XPians were redefining Greek words left and right: διάκονος (deacon used to mean “minister” in the sense of “waiter”), πρεσβύτερος (presbyter simply “elder”), ἐκκλησία (ecclesia), &c. This would be a perfect opportunity to redefine a word that was mundane or simply a synonym for a mundane word.

    1. Excellent points. I would also add that we in English can also shift back and forth from a rather strict and distinctive use of words to a rather vague and general use of them. For example I heard some one say today: “Become what you are.” Here there is a rather strict distinction made between being and essence. Usually however we are not so precise in our variations of the verb “to be”

  6. Why has no one noted that Jesus and Peter almost certainly were not speaking Greek, but Aramaic.There are two questions here, what Jesus was trying to convey and what the Greek speaking author was trying to convey. I know that there are the two words for love in Greek, (actually a third, eros which does not apply here), but I know nothing about Aramaic. Could someone with knowledge of Aramaic help here?

    1. You are right in noting that they did not likely speak in Greek. However the text we have which is inspired is the Greek Text. Hence the question might be more adequtely stated: “Why did God the Holy Spirit inspire this distinction to be recorded in the Greek text?”

      I might be helpful to speculate what the Aramaic would have been and if there were different words for love in that language but it still would not answer the questions as to why the inspired text contains the distinction.

      Thanks for your helpful reminder as to the original conversation being spoken likely in aramaic

      1. (Sometimes remembering that the original conversation was in Aramaic can hold solve disputes such as the petros/petra in Matthew 16)

    2. The Greek matters because the text is Greek. If you would like to interpret an Aramaic Gospel you would first need an Aramaic Gospel.

    3. p.s. There are actually more than three words for “love” in Greek. At least four. C.S. Lewis has some charming essays on “The Four Loves” if you’re interested in learning about them.

      1. Yes, as I recall Agapas, philos, eros and was the fourth storge? I think some Greek scholars question Lewis’ work as reflecting distinction that first Century Greek did not always have, even among Christians. I would tend to side with Lewis though I do so for pastoral reasons. I cannot claim to be a Greek scholar enough to assess when and how Greek made these distinctions.

        Thanks J for your important contributions to this article.

  7. First a quibble. “… filial (philo) love, …” I question the idea that philo love is “filial.” “Fraternal,” which is used elsewhere, seems more apt to me. I would even suggest that philia is the love of deep friendship, rather than filial love. Maybe this is a typo?

    Second, another quibble, perhaps more important. It is my impression that John’s gospel is the most carefully crafted of the gospels. Unless he were reporting an event with the minutest details of which he was very familiar, I cannot think that he would have not chosen his words very carefully. It may be that most people or the average Koine speaker did not distinguish between agapao and philio, but I’m betting John did.

    The distinction between oido and cognosco is one common in many languages, so, again, I would be surprised to think that John was not paying very careful attention to his diction.

    1. I think I used the term “brotherly love” in the article for philo though I may ahve slipped and said filial at some point.

      As to your second point I agree rather strongly with it.

  8. Christ ‘s mission started out forty days in the wilderness after being baptized in the Holy Spirit at the river Jordan. It was there the Father gave Him a similar question when the devil tempted Jesus three times, at which He demonstrated Agape love over self, material and brotherly love. It would only seem prophetically reasonable that the risen Christ bring such attention to Peter by asking three times until Peter understood without a doubt what Peter’s mission, teachings and objective were in fulfilling Christ’s message to the world. Peter had to pick up Christ’s cross and bear it. If you want to sing the blues, you’ve got to live it.

  9. The whole problem here is Greek scholars do not agree as to the difference between the words philo and agapo. If we were to find, for instance, that there were two words in Aramaic for love, and if scholars agreed that there was significant difference between them, it would support those
    Greek scholars who maintain that these words as used in the gospel had significantly different meanings, rather than just two words meaning essentially the same thing. If you know any Aramaic scholars, please ask them.

    1. I think it would add credibility to the notion of the Greek distinction. However it would all be based on speculation since we do not have the Aramaic text. I still think the real question before us emerges from wrestling with the Greek text. We consider it inspired and thus, even if Aramaic doesn’t support different words for love, we still have the question as to why the Greek text makes the distinction. Further, the Church does not argue that these text necessarily reflect an exact conversation as if a tape recorder where running. Jesus and Peter actually said these things, but they were written down later in another language and the final product may not be a word for word reproduction of the original. It DOES however report the interaction in a way protected from error due to the fact that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of Scripture.

      1. Having been put in the mood for Messiah, when we had dinner I pulled up Rhapsody via our TiVo. I picked the first “Messiah” that came up.

        This version, much to my husband’s dismay, was in German. (We’ve both sung in church choirs for most of our adult lives, and have thus frequently sung Messiah or various parts thereof.)

        Him: This ISN’T RIGHT.
        Me: Handel was German (or was it Austrian?)
        Him: It’s supposed to be in ENGLISH.
        Me: So?
        Him: King George was paying for it to be in English. Therefore it should be in English.
        Me: It’s nice to hear it in Handel’s native language.
        Him: *wail* but I don’t know the words in German!

  10. The NETBible here: http://bible.org

    comments at length on this passage:

    Translators’ Note 4 argues for no distinction.

    I have one quibble with the argumentation used: appeal is made to style and usage elsewhere in John. However, there is a more or less general consensus among today’s scholars that Ch. 21 is an epilogue added to the Gospel some time after the Gospel was originally penned, with Ch. 20 being the original ending.

    This may have been done to clarify the role of Peter in the community versus that of the beloved disciple (presumably John). Whatever the reason, if it is a later addition it was likely composed by the Johannine community rather than John himself and one cannot argue for or from precedents if we are comparing the writings of different authors. Indeed, factors leading scholars to suspect different authorship are disparity of style and word usage.

    Note 4 also states that there would be no such distinction in Aramaic or Hebrew, as both have only one word for “love”. The problem with that argument is that it suggests that there was only one *meaning* for that word.

    If, as in English, the Aramaic word is “overloaded” to convey different experiences then it is the task of the hearer to interpret which of the various meanings is intended, The introduction of the different Greek words when committed to writing may convey explicitly what John or the Johannine community *understood* the dialogue to convey – and may reflect an apostolic-era tradition of the nature of that dialogue.

    In short, I find the arguments *against* significance unconvincing. The pattern of the exchange is too precise, too laden with meaning, to be simply a casual indifference in word choices.To quote Pope Benedict XVI in his book “The Apostles” (p.53): “John the Evangelist recounts the conversation between Jesus and Peter in that
    circumstance. There is a very significant play on words.”

    Amen, amen, dico vobis …

    1. Thanks Wayne. I am inclined to agree with what you say here. Thanks too for referring us to a footnote that does set forth that Hebrew and Aramaic have only one word for Love. Again I am inlcined to agree with your setting aside of the univocal quality of the Aramaic in fovor of the fact that it is the Greek text that the Holy Spirit has delivered to us. Trying to recreate an Aramaic conversation is not only speculative it also ignores the fact the the Holy SPirit has desired to give us these texts in Greek.

  11. I had already noted the difference between the (agapas) and the (philo) some time ago. I am not an expert in the Greek but can struggle through it. I compared the Greek and the Latin of the Vulgate. Where (agapas) is used by John, Jerome used (diligas) and where John used (philo) Jerome used (amo). In what I wrote down for my friends on this subject, I acknowledged that both Peter and Jesus were speaking Aramaic and I know nothing of that language.
    But I would like to make a point which has not been made so far, and that is in the commission which Jesus gave each time to Peter after each reply. The first says (Boske ta arnia mou) which Jerome translates as (Pasce agnos meos). The second commission is (poimaine ta probata mou) which Jerome translates as (Pasce agnos meos) Why?
    Those who, like myself, have a Knox version of the Bible, will see that there is a footnote there about this Greek. Mgr. Knox notes that there is/was an early Greek text which would have read (poimaine ta probata micra mou) so the modern versions of the Greek have lost that word (micra) and that, probably is the reason that Jerome translated “my little sheep” as “my lambs”, not as *my sheep* for he maintains (pasce agnos meos). Monsignor Knox has his English version as “Shepherd my shearlings” as his translation of (poimaine ta probata micra mou).
    Thus, following the Knox version, Jesus tells Peter to a)tend my lambs; b) shepherd my shearlings; c) feed my sheep. In other words, the three commissions to Peter are all different. Lambs need different tending from Shearlings, who themselves need different tending from Sheep. Peter has to bear in mind each stage in the development of mankind. For me, this makes more sense than simply, as some say, that Peter was asked three times about his love for Jesus to counter his three denials of Jesus.

  12. Wow! As with so much of John, there’s so much to unpack in this dialogue. I have to admit that I’d been interested in the exchange mostly from the standpoint of apologetics; i.e. the laying on of a task rather than a simple affirmation of forgiveness. But while I agree that John was very sensitive and nuanced in his writing, and that almost nothing he says is a throwaway line, it’s precisely that sensitivity and nuance that keeps me from being convinced (rather than merely persuaded) that he differentiated philos and agape. For Peter’s response is not given as a qualification but as an affirmation or agreement: “Yes, Lord”. I guess what tips the balance is that Jesus’ questions are given in a step-down approach: “If your love for me isn’t greater than these (the rest of the disciples’ love? or Peter’s love for the others?), then is it at least agape? If not, then is it truly philos?”

    1. Your argument is well stated. It does seem that Peter’s intenet was to affirm Jesus question. I cannot say it entirely answers the question but does cast into further doubt that Peter or Jesus or John for that matter meant anything by these differences.

      Still it seems odd. If you were to say to me, “Didn’t you love that movie?!” and I were to respond , “Yes, Tony I liked it.” Textually I am affirming your answer and the yes, by itself is is affirming not qaulifiying. But my subtle shift to “like” is not without significance. However 2000 years from now, someone might say that that I meant nothing in my shift since “21st Americans used “love” as a synonym for “like.” The scholars might go back and forth over whether this were true. They too might say, as you did, “See he said “Yes” and then said “like” so love is the same as like.” However if they were to get in a time machine and come back and ask me I would probably say, “Tony liked the movie and so did I but I think Tony did like it more than me and my use of “like” is meant as a subtle distinction to indicate that. We both liked it but he seems more enthusiastic than me.”

      Anyway, just a thought.

  13. I have always found this passage to be a major climax in the Gospel of John. As for the Greek fathers not taking notice of it, I find it hard to understand how they didn’t. However, that being said, as someone who has studied two foreign language and taught language, I also understand that we take many things for granted in our own languages. Only when teaching and when students ask questions are we forced to look at deeper meanings, perceptions and subtle messages conveyed in language.

    1. Yes I agree with you. We natives take many things for granted in our language. Sometimes it is an outsider who notices the querky things. A frined of mine came to the USA. He spoke English but Arabic was his mother tongue and he did not understand all the idioms and expressions of English. When he came to the USA there expression “What’s up” was in vogue and at first, each time someone said to him “What’s up” he looked up! 🙂

      More seriously though I am always telling people things about the true meanings of English words that escape them. I too am fascinated when an etymology is made clear to me.

  14. Another thought: although this Gospel was presumably written in Greek, the words spoken in the conversation between Jesus and Peter would have taken place in Aramaic. I wonder what the 1st Aramaic might have been? Are any subtle distinctions in Aramaic to suggest the possibilities in Greek?

    1. This question has gone back and forth here a couple of time so you might look further up in the comments. I think J above indicated that there was only one word for Love in aramaic. qccording to a commentary he cites. See above

  15. It might be true that the conversation between Jesus and Simon (He does not call him Peter in the exchange) was in Aramaic. But it is also true that the conversation between the Holy Spirit and John the author was apparently in Greek.

    If there had been a stenographer there on the beach, and we were able to find a transcript of that Aramaic discussion, it might very well have gone further than the English translation does, which is limited only to the use of the bare word “love,” and instead have gone further and more precisely described the love that Jesus and Simon each intended, e.g. Do you have a pure and total love for me? Of course, I love you like a brother!

    That would not render the Greek a mere paraphrase, but would instead be a more faithful translation. If the Greek does not accurately record what Jesus actually and truly meant, then the Gospel is false. But if the Gospel is true, as we must hold as a matter of faith, then the Greek version, with two separate and distinct uses of the word, and thus two separate and distinct meanings, is what Jesus meant in the exchange.

    But you don’t have to take the word of anyone here for that, Peter himself (i.e. the Pope) has confirmed that that is a true meaning of the passage.

    When one engages in too strict of a historical-critical method, when one treats the Bible as if it were a mere positivist history book, it is very easy to miss the real intended meaning. See DV 12.

  16. Going over the passage again, I noticed something. “Peter was grieved because he said to him the THIRD time, do you love (phileis)me. To me this would seem to indicate that the narrator saw the two words philo and agapo as having the same meaning. (The gospel has Jesus using agapas twice and phileis once) If the information is correct that there is only one word for love in Aramaic,then why the two in the gospel? Some scholars have suggested that the author used two words just for the sake of variety. Or, it is conceivable that the author wished to convey the broadness of the type of love that Jesus had in mind.

    1. dianne said:

      >To me this would seem to indicate that the narrator saw the two words philo and agapo as having the same

      Not necessarily. Peter may have been grieved because THE third time (not A third time) Jesus asked him if he loved Him *as a brother*, after Peter had already affirmed that twice.

      Peter’s distress may have been precipitated by Jesus’ questioning the veracity of Peter’s double claim to love
      Jesus in this more limited way, not by the fact that he was asked three times. To paraphrase:

      1st question: “Do you love me unreservedly (agapas me)?”
      1st answer: “No, I love you as a brother.”
      2nd question: “But do you love me unreservedly?”
      2nd answer: “No, I love you as a brother.”
      3rd question: “Are you sure you love me (phileis me) even that much?”

      Peter was grieved because the third time he was questioned, he was asked if he loved Jesus as a brother.

    2. Interesting that you emphasized the word third. When you did this a whole new thought jumped into my head. Perhaps Peter is grieved not that he was asked a third time, but that the third time he was asked, Jesus has changed the meaning of the word love to one of a lesser type? Peter then replies with the different words for know, indicating that he (Peter) now understands that Jesus fully understands the limitations of Peter’s current love for Jesus. Then, as Msgr. Pope says, Jesus goes on to basically say, “that’s ok, you will”. I understand that if they were speaking Aramaic the word would have been the same, but I think two native speakers would be able to pick up on the difference.

      1. Ted said:

        >if they were speaking Aramaic the word would have been the same,
        >but I think two native speakers would be able to pick up on the difference.

        Also, we mustn’t just *assume* that in the *actual* conversation the Aramaic word for love was used *without further qualification*. As with English, an adjective or adverb may have been added to convey the precise meaning of the type of love or act of loving. That conversation was preserved through oral tradition until it
        was committed to writing in Greek by the Evangelist (or a redactor, follower, etc.) Since Koine Greek had different words to express these different types of love, a single unqualified word would have sufficed to convey the meaning.

        If we then try to reverse the translation and go from Greek back to Aramaic, we would introduce an ambiguity which didn’t originally exist if we were to use the Aramaic word for love *without* qualification. Just as translating the passage into English without differentiating between the types of love expressed by the different Greek words obliterates the subtle differences.

        We have to be cautious to avoid thinking that the translation from Aramaic to Greek was a precise, word for word, substitution. What was written down in Greek was the *content*, *meaning* and *import* of the original conversation, not necessarily a “verbatim et literatim” conversion into another language.

    3. Well, it’s not a slam dunk since the Greek to triton is ambiguous as to the article. Is it “the third time” or “a third time”. If the article is defintite (the) then it could be understood to mean that Peter was greived that on the third ocassion Jesus merely said do you love me with brotherly love as opposed to the first two times where the Lord asked differently. However if the the article is indefinite (a) then I think your argument is stronger. As it is, the article is not supplied.

      As to the Aramaic, it is really not a pertinent part of the argument since Greek text we are using is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired this usage in the Greek and the question before us is why? SOme argue it is of not account. I and others suspect differently.

      I think Ted expresses the other possibility well.

  17. Im not a scholar by no means. I have been a Christian for a long time and married for 38 years. I love my wife with all my heart. Recently we were at dinner and out of the blue she took my hand and said “Jim, I am madly in Love with you”. Out of the blue I started to cry uncontrolably, as she and I looked into each others eyes. Wow, what a POWERFUL moment. Lets look now at Peter and Jesus. Jesus says, “Peter, I AM and I am madly in Love with you. Do you Agape me”? “Yes Lord but Ive let you down so many times how can I even LOOK at you let alone say Im madly in Love with you.” Jesus says, Peter I know you have let me down and I want you to know that Im still madly in Love with you”. Peter with his head down says, Lord I do Love you but there is no way that I can honestly say, becacuse of my behavior in the past…..that I am madly in Love with you….especially knowing who you are and what you have already done for me.” He goes on, “Iam this wretched man…….Jesus realizes the width and bredth and the deep of His questioning so by His graceful nature He still wants to send Peter out with POWER so he meets Peter where Peter is now and says “my GOOD friend I know we love each other terribly, knowing that Peter will at some point be MADLY IN LOVE with Him, “take my Love that I have for you, that you know in your heart and give that Love to others. It is a wonderful thing to be married 38 years and to be able to say I am madly in love with my wife…a Love that she CALLED me to. TY for putting up with this non schlor…….wish I had spell check….His Love is sooooo “MAD”

  18. I think what is beeing made clear is that Jesus expects agape love. Even in John 14:15, John chose the greek word agapate. Obviously Jesus and peter werent speeking in greek. So what might be going on is that the spirit is making clear that Peter didn’t or couldn’t honestly tell Jesus he loved him the way he should love him. Peter was with him from the start, he knew the standards better than we do. I think Peter might be swallowing his pride here. Because peter is acknowledging where his love is at for Jesus, Jesus is forgiving him by stating three times in between those verses to feed his sheep. Jesus would not entrust a disciple with that task if he knew he couldnt do it. I think Peter was acknowledging his lack of love, because of the reality of what he just did. Jesus was just giving him the amazing opportunity to be forgiven, while entrusting him with a huge task. Thats what JI think what is beeing made clear is that Jesus expects agape love. Even in John 14:15, John chose the greek word agapate. Obviously Jesus and peter werent speeking in greek. So what might be going on is that the spirit is making clear that Peter didn’t or couldn’t honestly tell Jesus he loved him the way he should love him. Peter was with him from the start, he knew the standards better than we do. I think Peter might be swallowing his pride here. Because peter is acknowledging where his love is at for Jesus, Jesus is forgiving him by stating three times in between those verses to feed his sheep. Jesus would not entrust a disciple with that task if he knew he couldnt do it. I think Peter was acknowledging his lack of love, because of the reality of what he just did. Jesus was just giving him the amazing opportunity to be forgiven, while entrusting him with a huge task. That’s how being forgiven by Jesus works for everbody.

Comments are closed.