RE: John 21:15-17

From: Patrick J. Brennan (
Date: Sat Nov 11 1995 - 18:49:38 EST

On Nov. 8th, 1995 Eric Vaughan wrote:

I was discussing this passage with someone a good while ago, and I'd like
to know what you think. Jesus asks Simon, "AGAPAS ME" But Simon answers,
"FILW SE" This happens twice and then Jesus finally asks the question
Simon had been answering, "FILEIS ME;" Is this a deliberate refusal to
answer Jesus' question on Simon's part (and why) or do you think that
John's recount of the story is not very careful and this difference has
little significance? I understand the symbolism of Simon's three
confessions of love after denying Christ three times, but why would he only
half answer Jesus' question? Is the difference John's fault or Simon's?

I also have the same question about "BOSKA/POIMAINE TA ARNIA/PROBATA MOU"

Eric Vaughan

On Nov. 9, 1995 Jeff Walker wrote:

My interpretation/understanding of this passage is that John / Peter chose the
words very carefully. Apart from the symbolism of three confessions of love
after three denials, Peter is here acknowledging that it is not possible for
him to attain the kind of love for Jesus that he had once boldly expressed.
It appears that this is Jesus' way of finally getting through to Peter, and
Peter finally realizing, that he is not supernatural in his faith.

I think it is also important to note here that Jesus is actually asking three
separate questions. First he asks Peter "agapas me" "more than these" (my
interpretation being "more than you love the rest of these"), to which Peter
replies that he loves Jesus more than the others but that he cannot rise to
the higher level of love. Next, Jesus appears to focus on the kind of love
that Peter has for him. He asks again "agapas me" to which Peter responds
honestly "filsw se", that he no longer feels that his love rises to the
higher level. Finally Jesus ask "fileis me" which I take as "do you
really love me even at this level or are you overstating your love again", to
which Peter replies emphatically that he is at least sure of this level of

Hope this helps. Please direct all flames and/or comments to JTWALKER@UALR.EDU.

Jeff Walker

The words under consideration "AGAPAW" and "FILEW" have substantial overlap
in meaning. The concept of "God's unconditional love" expressed by "AGAPAW"
(or "AGAPH") is a good example of the "root word" fallacy (the idea that a
specific meaning is connected to the root of a word). This is also true
for "FILEW". The concept of "brotherly love" is not inherently tied to the
root of this word either. Both words are synonymous and to read "special"
meaning into them based on the root itself is incorrect. Concepts like
"unconditional love" and "brotherly love" can only be taken from context.
(See D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, pp. 26-32; 51-52 Baker Book House, 1994)

Kittel (Volume IX, page 135) states that the reason for using a synonym may
be just to relax the strict parallelism in the 3 questions by Jesus and the
answers by Peter. John uses the words "AGAPAW" and "FILEW" synonymously
throughtout his gospel. (See Kittel, Volume IX, page 130, note #167)

Other examples of the overlapping useage of these words can be seen in the
following examples also:

(a) II Samuel 13 (LXX) - "AGAPAW" and "AGAPH" refering to Annon's incest
and rape of Tamar. This definitely is not an example the word meaning
"unconditional" or "higher level" of love.

(b) II Timothy 4:10 - Demas loved this present, evil world. Verb used is
AGAPAW. Another example of AGAPAW not inherently conveying the idea of
"unconditional" love.

(c) John 3:35 (AGAPAW) and John 5:20 (FILEW) - the idea of the Father's
love for the Son is stated with different verbs without differences in

(These examples are taken from D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p. 30,
Baker Book House, 1994)

These examples I think show that John's choice of "AGAPAW" and "FILEW" were
synonyms and nothing more.

May I offer the following analogy as to what I think was going on with
John's choice of words in the conversation with Jesus and Peter:

        Pat asks Eric if he has a dozen eggs.
        Eric replies that he has 12 eggs.

        Pat asks Eric a second time if he has a dozen eggs.
        Eric replies that he has 12 eggs.

        Pat asks for the third time if Eric has 12 eggs.
        Eric answers that he has 12 eggs.

The change of "dozen" with "12" does not alter the meaning of this
conversation. It is only an example of the word "dozen" being replaced by
a synonym, "12".

One last coment. The phrase "LEGEI AUTW TO TRITON", "for the third time",
supports parallel meaning. Jesus is saying that he is saying the same
thing (not something different) for the third time.

This is my first posting on this digest. I am a self taught student of
Biblical Greek. My knowledge of this subject is lacking greatly, but my
desire to learn more than makes up for it. I pray that with this knowledge
comes the sharing of it with those that do not know our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ.

(Can anyone help me with keyboard equivalents of the Greek fonts. I know
w=omega and o=omnicron, but what about sigma and final sigma? Thanks)

In His love,
Pat Brennan

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