Re: Coming up for air "the third time" (was AGAPAW in John 21)

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Tue Feb 18 1997 - 01:31:12 EST

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> I'm not sure that this view of close synonyms is quite or at least
> necessarily valid. Perhaps the language of love may serve as a useful
> comparison: what is the difference between saying "I love you" and saying
> "I care for you"? My guess is that this probably depends upon the persons
> speaking and spoken to; I can readily imagine "I care for you" sounding
> altogether inadequate to a woman who wants to hear "I love you," but on the
> other hand, I can just as readily imagine someone avoiding the phrase "I
> love you" precisely because that verb has been so trivialized and therefore
> preferring to say "I care for you," believing that to be a much warmer
> expression of authentic love. This is not a case of a word borrowed from
> another language but rather it is a matter of the associations that speaker
> and listener bring to their speaking and hearing of these two expressions.
> Eliza Doolittle can readily fling at Freddy her indignant: "Don't talk of
> love! Show me!"
> My impression, Paul, is that you disagree fundamentally with Gary here and
> are not really talking about "minor differences" between FILEW and AGAPAW;
> I think you are insisting that the difference is major. And I have to agree
> with Gary: you're not gettng that from the text itself--it's the assumption
> with which you're reading the text. But let me go on to other items in your
> argument.

Carl, I am responding to you, not because I hope to convince you or Gary
or anyone to adopt my point of view, but because you point out a couple
areas where I did not come across clearly. My discussion on close
synonyms was made because I acknowledge that these *are indeed* close
synonyms. In many cases I acknowledge that they are used
interchangably. But, just because they are used interchangagly in one
place or even many places does not mean that they are without
distinction in all places. I realize that etymology is out of favor
this year, but this conclusion seems to me as if we are swinging the
"usage" pendulum too far the other way.

If we were to limit our focus only to this passage in John 21, then
perhaps you might have the correct impression that I see a clear
distinction between the two. You make the claim that this is at best
predisposition and at worst eisegesis, yet I find it more substantiated
by what is actually found here in this passage than I do a reference
back to the denials. If the "third time" is so important, then what
precludes us from any of the other times "three" is found in the life of
Peter: the three tabernacles he wanted to build on the Mount of
Transfiguration, the three disciples who slept instead of watching in
the Garden, to name a couple. Of course, I'm being facetious. But,
Carl, any reference to any other event in the life of Peter must be
*read into* this. It just isn't expressed, no matter how many sermons
our fathers have preached with this as the conclusion.

> The passage is loaded with "synonyms," real or imagined. You, Paul, insist
> on the fundamental importance of AGAPAW in relation to FILEW. Gary says
> that the shift from ARNIA to PROBATA could also be said to be significant,
> and you say this could support the "progressive nature of the passage." But
> note that the shift from ARNIA to PROBATA takes place in the second
> question-and-answer pair, and PROBATA is also in the third imperative
> following on Peter's third response. Well, which is the superior item?
> PROBATA or ARNIA? Older animals? I'm not so sure; a few weeks ago we were
> noting that Matthew's preferred term for members of the believing community
> is "little ones." This is John, not Matthew, so maybe that doesn't matter,
> although I would point out that this chapter is an appendix to John's
> gospel and it appears intended (some, like Raymond Brown and certainly
> Rudolf Bultmann, would say, at least, and I would agree) to bring the
> teaching of the gospel of John more into harmony with the Synoptic gospels.
> Be that as it may, there's another alternation: the first command in
> response to Peter's claim to love Jesus is BOSKE TA ARNIA MOU, the second
> is present in the third as it was in the second, but the imperative verb
> BOSKE present in the first has returned in the third. I fail to see any
> significant difference between the verbs POIMAINW and BOSKW, and although
> PROBATA and ARNIA aren't exactly the same, is the difference really quite
> so significant?

Carl, I really don't know the significance. I have my guesses. The
point I was trying to bring out is that the commands are not just a
chorus, a repetition of the same words. There are changes, and I don't
see how we can just dismiss these changes as being insignificant.
Perhaps the reason why AGAPAW and FILEW are so often pointed out is
because the three-step progression is more logically clear.

> And what is the point of the admonition "Feed/pasture my lambs/sheep"?
> Someone, I don't remember who, suggested that this was "penance" for
> Peter's denial. But surely it is church leadership, Peter's assumption of
> the role of shepherd of the flock of believers. I do believe very strongly
> that chapter 21 has to be read not only as a sequel to the first 20
> chapters of John but as a sequel to the Synoptics as well.
<Much great stuff cut>

I confess that I introduced the word "penance" as a guess, a suggestion,
for the significance that Gary might have been putting on the
imperatives. I did not mean to imply it was the only interpretation
that could be given, although it is one "scriptural basis" for penance
that has been proffered.

I wrote:
> >I guess I would be more shaken in my position, which I admit is
> >mere opinion, if you, Carl, or someone could show me where my
> >interpretation of Jn 21:17b is wrong, that the Greek would actually have
> >been different if John meant to say, as I see this case, that Peter
> >grieved because Jesus' third question was, "FILEIS ME;"
Carl replied:
> I personally think that this translation of Jn 21:17b is tendentious. Of
> course such a meaning is POSSIBLE, given the Greek text, although I don't
> think it is especially probable. If the author had meant to say just
> precisely that and nothing else, he might have written, ELUPHQH hO PETROS

True. I guess the author didn't see this argument coming, or he would
have been more clear. ;^>

> ME?' In my judgment the "natural" way to understand this sequence is,
> "Peter was hurt because Jesus had said to him for the third time, 'FILEIS
> ME?'" That is, the hurt comes not from the form of the verb used but from
> the fact that the same question has been asked for the third time. Surely
> this is the signal of Peter's EPISTREYAI, his "recovery" as pointed to in
> Lk 22:32; henceforth he will proceed to STHRISAI TOUS ADELFOUS, to be their
> shepherd. And that, I think, is where the center of gravity in this
> narrative lies, NOT in the subtle wordplay between FILEW and AGAPAW.

And one of these days we'll know for sure. Thanks, Carl, for putting up
with my frequently not-too-scholarly comments.


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