Greek in John 21

Today’s Gospel reading and the subsequent homily in my parish today brought up a question I have. In John 21:15-19 Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” three times, to which Peter responded, “You know I love you.”

The English text is here:

‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

Now, I’ve heard different things from different sources over the use of the word “love” by Christ and Peter. I won’t get into all the detailed explanations I’ve heard, instead, I’ll just ask those who are familiar with the original Greek:

What Greek word for “love” did Christ use those three times and which word did Peter use?

This is a very important question. Jesus asks Peter of he ἀγαπᾷς (agape) and Peter responds that he φιλῶ(philo). A second time Jesus asks do you agapas me and Peter responds philo (brotherly affection). The third time, Jesus asks Peter do you have φιλεῖς for me? Peter is grieved, and says yes, I have φιλεῖς for you.

Was Peter grieved because he had only brotherly affection, and not agape love? Was Peter grieved that Jesus asked him three times?

It turns out that phileo was sufficient for Peter to have the feeding and care of the flock. He would grow into agape later.

As a PhD candidate in theology who had to learn ancient Greek, I can tell you the words were used interchangeably. For more clarification, see this posting:

reddit.com/r/Christianity/comments/1m3x6r/john_21_and_the_greek_words_for_love_and_how_they/

And please consider that Jesus and Peter were not speaking Greek. The conversation was no doubt held in Aramaic.

As an undergraduate, I asked one of my theology professors the same question you have asked here. The interchangeability can get confusing at times.

Jesus asks “Do you love me?” twice, not three times.

The first time he asks, “Do you love me more than these?”

-Tim-

Although the words were somewhat synonymous, they weren’t identical. I think you’re correct in asserting that we can’t make too fine a theological point here, but to disregard word choice entirely makes a completely different (and, IMHO, invalid) point: namely, that John was just throwing around words willy-nilly.

To see the progression in the conversation, one gets the impression that something was going on:

“Do you [agape] me more than these?”… “Umm… I [phileo] you…?!!”
"Do you [agape] me? “Umm… I [phileo] you!”
"Do you [phileo] me? “You know everything! You know I [phileo] you!”

To say that there’s nothing going on here flies in the face of common sense. If you told your sweetheart “I love you, baby!” and s/he replied “I adore you”, would you feel affirmed? Would you think that s/he feels the same about you… or would you wonder why s/he was being evasive in his/her response? :wink:

And please consider that Jesus and Peter were not speaking Greek. The conversation was no doubt held in Aramaic.

Undoubtedly. Yet, the inspired Gospel was written in Greek. Therefore, we conclude that the author of the Fourth Gospel was trying to communicate something about the conversation, regardless what language he was using!

It’s true that this cannot be blithely considered to be a verbatim translation of an Aramaic conversation… but yet, the evangelist – who uses words carefully! – must be considered to be trying to say something to us here, by his choice of words… isn’t he? :sad_yes:

It’s all Greek to me:)

“do you love me?” - “you know I have affection for you”
“do you love me?” - “you know I have affection for you”
“do you have affection for me?” - Peter was upset that the third time Jesus asked “Do you have Affection for me?”

Charity (agapao) is a virtue
having affection (phileo) is a movement of emotion, a reaction.

Peter was upset by the verb change, not by the repetitiveness of the questioning, which is what you think when you hear it in English.

1 Like

Thanks John, especially for the that last point which gets lost in the English.

See the web site below for the important connection of the Greek word

**“charcoal” - ANTHRAKIA.
It is only used twice in the Gospel.

Keep reading to see the** commentary of Fulton J. Sheen in his book LIFE OF CHRIST pages 450-453

at

defendingthebride.com/mc/love.html#peter

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