Re: Love me more than these?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Jun 25 1996 - 07:44:53 EDT

At 12:59 AM -0400 6/25/96, Wes Williams wrote:
>Dear Grammarians on the list....
>This is an excerpt from a brief article I found addressing the "these" of John
>21:15. My grammar question regards point #2. What grammatical
>difficulties are
>involved that the implied verb [do] is absent in the Greek? I realize the
>interpretive aspects involved, but here I'm only interested in the grammatical
>Wes Williams
>Consequently, scholars have suggested three possible meanings for Jesus'
> 1. Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?
> 2. Do you love me more than these disciples love me?
> 3. Do you love me more than these things, such as the fish?
>Let us reason on these three to see which is the most probable.
>Number 1. <<snip, since this was not debated in this thread>>
>Number 2. What about the possibility that Jesus meant, 'Peter, do you have
>love for me than the other disciples have?' Many commentators have
>espoused this
>view, since Peter earlier professed that he was more loyal to Jesus than the
>others. (Matthew 26:33-35) Yet, understanding John 21:15 in this way requires
>that an unstated verb be implied, such as "Do you love me more than these
>But such an extra verb is not in Jesus' question, and it presents grammatical
>difficulties. Moreover, it would seem out of place for Jesus to ask Peter to
>compare the amount of his love to the amount of love that others might
>have. Did
>not Jesus correct the apostles when they fell into rivalry?Mark 9:33-37;
>10:35-44; Luke 22:24-27.
>Could it be, then, that Number 3 was what Jesus was asking, 'Do you love
>me more
>than these things, such as the fish?' This possibility fits the way the
>is phrased in Greek, for Peter was being asked to choose between two things
>(between Jesus and "these"). Such a question would also be appropriate in view
>of Peter's past. He had been one of the first disciples to follow Jesus. (John
>1:35-42) Apparently, though, Peter did not immediately follow Jesus full-time.
>Rather, he returned to his fishing. Thus, some months later Jesus called Peter
>away from that substantial business to become a 'fisher of men.' (Matthew
>4:18-20; Luke 5:1-11) Nonetheless, after Jesus' death, Peter initiated a
>to this career, telling some of the disciples: "I am going fishing."John

An interesting disquisition. The Greek says simply, AGAPAiS ME PLEON TOUTWN?

I've always thought that "than these" refers to the other disciples--but
there certainly is the possibility that the question is "Do you love me
more than you love them?" The latter possibility is interesting (as
understanding "than they love me" is also) in view of the pastoral
responsibility implicit in the command, BOSKE TA PROBATA MOU, which is, I
take it, the (deutero-) Johannine equivalent of the Mt 16 keys of the
kingdom authorization of Peter's leadership in the church (Raymond Brown is
wonderfully undogmatic in dealing with the question of Petrine primacy in
John!). If the question is "Do you love me more than you love them," we
might theoretically have a question here regarding a mystical devotion to
Jesus that excludes committed love for the flock. Is that a possibility
perhaps worth pondering?

On the other hand, if TOUTWN refers to "fish," two questions arise in my mind.

(1) Translation: I think English prefers the singular for the indefinite
neuter plural preferred by Greek--"Do you love me more than (you love)
THAT"? Whether this interpretation is right or wrong, it certainly isn't
the usual way of understanding it (which is irrelevant to whether it's
right or wrong).

(2) The other question strikes me as more serious: would one really be
likely to use _either_ FILEW _or_ AGAPAW with an implicit "fish" or
"things like that" as an object to express a PREFERENCE? Even assuming
AGAPAW involves a "valuation" of its object, is the word used of a
relationship toward "things" or only of a relationship with people? And if
FILEW refers to either friendly afection or to familial love, is it the
appropriate word to express a greater commitment to fishing than to Jesus?
Somehow the verb seems wrong to express this meaning.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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