Re: Synonyms in John 21

From: Randy Leedy (
Date: Mon Jun 24 1996 - 13:00:56 EDT

I have enjoyed reading the great variety of posts regarding the
synonymy of AGAPAW and FILEW in John 21. Those who will refer back to
my initial post will find that I anticipated most of the verbiage
that has flowed in response. I will not take the time to repeat those
anticipatory comments. To me, the most intriguing aspect of the
responses has been their almost utter neglect of what I presented as
the heart of the issue. I will take the trouble to repeat that
portion of my original post.

<<Finally, Jesus questions that attachment by asking Peter whether he
loves (FILEW) him, and this question grieves Peter. Now here comes
the Greek-grammar/immediate context argument: "the third time" in
Greek uses the definite article, twice. But the "second time" is
anarthrous. I believe this usage of the article shows that Jesus
asked essentially a different question the third time. He asks, He
asks a second time, but the third time He asks something different.
Peter's grief is not that Jesus questioned him three times, but that
the third time, unlike the first two, He directly challenged what
Peter knew to be the bedrock of his soul. I have done some
exploration throughout the New Testament looking at the usage of the
article with ordinal numbers. The support for this view seems to be
there: without the article the ordinal seems to indicate another
instance of the same sort as previous ones; with the article it seems
to point an additional instance that differs from the previous ones.
In other words, I suggest that the use of the article is positive
evidence that the context DEMANDS us to understand Jesus' third
question as different from the second. Since the only difference is
the verb, the two verbs must mean something different here; therefore
this is not an instance of free variation.>>

No one has addressed the force of this argument. Until it is refuted,
I will maintain that the two words are different in this passage. I
do not wish to argue at this point that one kind of love is higher or
more valuable than another; simply that there is a difference. (One
can hardly do better on this question than to consider carefully what
C.S. Lewis wrote in "Four Loves.") As I recall Trench's argument, by
the way, it differs from Wilkins' (I hope I spelled that right) in
that Trench spoke of cold vs. warm rather than high vs. low.

I have compiled a listing of New Testament occurrences of DEUTEROS
and TRITOS, with and without the article. The list really should be
expanded to include all the ordinals (though perhaps "first" would
demand separate treatment); I've done what my time allows at the
moment. As I analyze these instances, I find no clear counterexample
to refute the claim I made above. I would like to challenge others to
examine these passages, or to adduce passages from extra-biblical
writings, and to comment on their bearing upon John 21. Since these
are not theologically loaded terms, the validity of extra-biblical
usage contemporaneous with the NT should be indisputable.

Articular ordinals (DEUTEROS and TRITOS only):
Mt 16:21 17:23 20:19 21:30 22:26 27:64
Mr 12:21 14:41
Lu 9:22 12:38 13:32 18:33 19:18 20:30,31 24:7,46
Joh 2:1 21:17
Ac 7:13 10:40 13:33 27:19
1Co 15:4,47
2Co 13:2
Heb 9:3,7 10:9
Jude 1:5
Re 2:11 4:7 6:3,5 8:7,8,9,10,11,12 9:15,18 11:14 12:4 16:3
16:4 20:6,14 21:8,19

Anarthrous ordinals (DEUTEROS and TRITOS only):
Mt 20:3 22:39 26:42,44
Mr 12:31 14:72 15:25
Lu 20:12 23:22 24:21
Joh 3:4 4:54 9:24 21:14,16
Ac 2:15 10:15 11:9 12:10 23:23
1Co 12:28
2Co 1:15 12:2,14 13:1
Tit 3:10
Heb 8:7 9:28
2Pe 3:1
Re 14:9 19:3

A few general observations: 1) Some of the anarthrous instances have
the ordinal as the object of a preposition; this factor may lessen
the significance of the absence of the article. 2) An ordinal
modifying the word "hour" frequently lacks the article; I hesitate
about what conclusion to draw from this fact (I examined all NT
instances of ordinals so used, not just "second" and "third"). 3)
Ordinals indicating a fraction (e.g. one-third in Revelation) are
articular. 4) Usage when modifying a noun may differ from the neuter
accusative used adverbially. I am especially interested in how the
article is used when the ordinal is adverbial, as it is in John 21.

While I could comment on the usage in many individual passages, I
will cite just a few here. Pilate having spoken twice, asks "a third
time" (anarthrous) why Jesus should be crucified. It is a third
instance of the same question, in contrast to John 21, where the
third question (I maintain) is different and the ordinal is
articular. Another interesting pair is in Hebrews. Compare 8:7 ("if
the first covenant had been faultless, a place for a second would not
be sought"--anarthrous) with 10:9 ("He takes away the first in order
that he may establish the second"--articular). In chapter 8, the
difference between the two covenants is not essential to the
argument; the mere fact of a second is enough to make the point,
regardless of any comparison of their provisions. In chapter 10,
though, the difference is important, justifying the inclusion of the

I find all the other arguments that have been flying around to be
secondary in importance compared with this one. Until someone can
refute me on this point (and I AM willing to be refuted), I will
maintain my position as having, IMHO, stronger support than the other
positions I've encountered so far.

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC

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