Re: Synonyms in John 21

From: Randy Leedy (
Date: Mon Jun 24 1996 - 14:21:39 EDT

It seems infallible that the best way to bring back to mind what you
were trying to remember to say in an e-mail or what you meant to do
before sending it is to press the "Send" key. In my case, I had
intended to consult a recent acquisition for its help on John 21:
Ceslaus Spicq's "Agape in the New Testament" (3 vols., St. Louis: B.
Herder, 1963, 65, 66). I really should have done this before posting
my first message on the topic.

I was delighted to find that Spicq reflects very closely my reading
of the passage (vol 3, pp. 94ff). He interprets "lovest thou me more
than these" in light of Peter's promise to remain true regardless of
the others' failure, and he writes, "He [Peter] was grieved to the
heart that Jesus had changed the wording of his question when he
asked it the third time...." Spicq does not explicitly mention the
usage of the article, however. His work in general does not delve
into the particulars of Greek constructions; rather his interest lies
in the semantics of the words within a passage's thought flow.

As a Catholic, of course, Spicq sees in this conversation something
for Peter that Protestants deny. But I cannot see that his treatment
of the semantics of the passage has in any way been affected by his
beliefs about Peter's position in the church.

Spicq's work deserves some attention. It would be easy to conclude,
for example, that because John records Jesus' saying "The father
loves the Son" using both AGAPAW and FILEW, he uses the two verbs
interchangeably. But Spicq shows that a careful examination of the
contexts reveals differences that support a semantic differentiation
between the two verbs, even though they are used with the same
subject and object (p. 86f). He is similarly insightful regarding the
semantics of the words in the account of the raising of Lazarus (pp.

I have one more question to ask: Can anyone cite a point of
methodology in Silva's "Biblical Words and their Meaning" or in
Barr's "Semantics of Biblical Language" that Spicq's methodology
contradicts? I am not intimately familiar with either of these books
(though I have read them both), but as best I can recall, the
analytical methods they set forth can be used to support a difference
in meaning between these two verbs in this passage. If Barr and Silva
maintain that the passage is an example of free variation, I believe
the problem is that they did not follow their own methodology with
adequate care, that they jumped to conclusions without adequate
contextual analysis.

I'm quite content to rest my case at this point, unless something
arises of a nature that demands a response. Those who simply restate
points that I have already anticipated and commented on will be
correct if they picture me nodding silently.

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

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