. . . . .do you love me more than these?


As I read this from Jn 21:15, I have always interpreted this as “. . . . . do you love me more than (you love) these?” Verses 16 and 17 seem to give this context.

However, I’ve been curious at times if this verse could be interpreted ", , , , , do you love me more than these (love me)?



The Greek for “more than these” is pleon toutwn, which is ambiguous. However, the context comes from prior to the Passion, when Peter was boasting about how much he loved Jesus and how he was willing to fight for Him. From that context, I think that the second interpretation is actually the most likely: “Do you still think you love me more than the rest of these guys do?”


What’s really going on in these three questions is generally lost in English translations, since these translations usually translate two distinct words as ‘love’. So, the conversation in English makes little sense:

Do you love me more than these? (Yes, you know I love you.)
Do you love me? (Yes, you know I love you.)
Do you love me? (You know that I love you.)

However, that’s not at all what’s going on here: in the first two questions, Jesus is asking the question using one word for ‘love’, and Peter answers using a different word. The third time He asks, Jesus uses the word Peter has been using. Peter is not grieved that Jesus has asked the same thing three times – he’s aggrieved because in the third time, Jesus asked what Peter had already answered.

The words used are ἀγαπᾷς (a form of the word ‘agapē’) and φιλῶ (a form of the word ‘philía’). The questions that were really asked, then, were:

Do you agapē-love me more than these? (Yes, you know I philía-love you.)
Do you agapē-love me? (Yes, you know I philía-love you.)
Do you philía-love me? (You know that I philía-love you.)

The question for the exegete, of course, is how we interpret the significance of the difference in these terms as Jesus & Peter used them here, and what significance there is behind Jesus’ change in the question being asked. (I’ll leave that one an open question, although I’ll note that Dave’s appeal to Peter’s denial seems to be spot-on.)

As far as the meaning of “greater than these”, a word search of the ways that similar constructions are used throughout the Bible would tend to lead us to the conclusion that what is meant is “do you love me more than these (love me)?” That leads us directly back to Peter’s assertions, seen literally at Matthew 26:33 (and referenced indirectly in John, through the notion of ‘scattering’ in John 16:32). Peter claims he will not stumble, even though all others might. So, again, the notion that Jesus is referring back to Peter’s assertion of faithfulness and his triple denial – by asking him three times to affirm his love for Him – makes perfect sense here.


You’re forgetting that this passage is a Greek translation of a conversation that was spoken in Aramaic.


Not sure how this is particularly relevant here. First off, it’s not a ‘translation’, per se. At best, it’s a rendering of a conversation, not a translation from one text into another language. In other words, the original language of the inspired text itself is in Greek. So, if you want to argue that there’s some ambiguity, you’d be arguing against the inspired text itself. (Hic sunt dracones… :wink: )

But, let’s suppose that this is precisely what you’re arguing. Are you suggesting that John’s use of two distinct words – in the particular way that he does – is either sloppy, unintentional, or erroneous? If so, then you have to defend against the ‘inspired text’ argument. If not, then you still have to answer the question, “what did John intend by his word choice here?”

A similar argument can be made with the choice of the ambiguous “more than these?”. If you want to raise the issue of the Aramaic discussion, you have to stake your claim: is this an assertion of error? Or, perhaps, that the original discussion was itself ambiguous at this point? Or, perhaps, that John specifically chose this particular phrasing deliberately? If the first, then you have to deal with the dragons again. If the second or the third, then we have to ask how John uses phrasing – and the comparison with other passages is a reasonable way to address the issue.

In any case, the “oh noes! Aramaic!” response seems not to introduce any helpful distinction. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your concern?


What I’m trying to say is that because 1) nobody had an iPhone there to record Jesus’ exact words in His own language, and 2) John didn’t provide footnotes explaining his use of the different Greek words, all we can do is guess. And because one person’s guess is just as valid as the next person’s guess, while at the same time just as likely to be wrong, perhaps we should just footnote this passage to the effect that John did use different words for “love,” and we don’t know why. As a language geek I find guessing to be fun, but when it comes to Sacred Scripture, I prefer either to know or to wait until that time when I will know as I am known. Guessing is how false doctrines are introduced.


Yes, but… although we don’t have “exact words”, we do have inerrant, inspired Scripture. We have the wording that John was inspired to use. And we see that (unless we accuse him of being a sloppy writer), John does something distinct and peculiar in this passage…!

, and 2) John didn’t provide footnotes explaining his use of the different Greek words, all we can do is guess.

I think we can do more than just ‘guess’. We can look at the way that John uses these words (and, since he was aware of the Synoptics, how he wrote his Gospel in light of the way that the Synoptic evangelists used these words), and discover how the difference plays out in those passages. It’s not just ‘guesswork’ – it’s scholarly Scriptural exegesis.

And because one person’s guess is just as valid as the next person’s guess

I guess you’re talking about me and you here; but, as a general case, that’s just not true. After all, unless there’s no difference between a specialist and someone who just happened to stay at Holiday Inn last night, then I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind having your open-heart surgery performed by the butcher at the local supermarket? :wink:


Great stuff!! Thanks fellas!!


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