John 21 again

From: Gary S. Shogren (
Date: Mon Feb 17 1997 - 22:29:04 EST

Thanks, Carl, Paul, Eric, Randy, others - for your good input on PHILEO and
AGAPAO in Jn 21. As the interchange is getting a bit much to copy and
respond to, I'll just put in my didrachma.

Re: the scientific method, etc. One of the things that helps in exegesis is
taking a longer look - broader context than just a single passage. For
example, Randy (I think!) says that AGAPE is the preferred term for God's
own love throughout the NT, and that certainly is true. But AGAPE is also
the preferred term for just about any sort of affection. "Love for the
world" doesn't just turn up with AGAPAO with the Demas episode in 2 Tim.
4:10 - it's the way the NT speaks roughly half the time when it speaks of
loving the world (1 Jn. 2:15). So my appeal to broader context may be
similar to someone saying "65% of women voted for Bill Clinton," a statistic
that one has to put into a context by asking, "Well, what percentage of men
voted for Clinton? Was it more, less, the same? etc."

Re: synonymity. This was discussed quite well, but it needs to be kept in
mind that absolute synonymity is pretty rare, and that no-one means that two
synonyms always have the same meaning no matter the context. Even two words
that have precisely the same meaning may carry different cultural baggage,
etc. The issue in Jn. 21 is how closely synonymous they were in
contemporary usage. I am arguing that they're close enough to be thought to
be interchangeable in this context...but not in a context where only one or
the other would be appropriate (eg, if "kissing" were the referent).

Re: Preaching on John 21. Earlier I mentioned that I thought the synonymity
question tended to take on a life of its own in preaching on Jn. 21. I too
like exegetical preaching the best, but even a good method can be done
poorly. This is my subjective impression, but I can hardly think of a
sermon I've heard on Jn. 21 that didn't focus on the synonym issue, to the
overshadowing of the pastoral focus of Peter's work, or, of all things, what
it looks like to have love for Christ. IMHO, good exegetical preaching not
only takes the small bits into account, but it also helps the listener have
a sense of the proportions of the issues in a passage...which, in Jn 21,
means that the synonyms issue is minor (if one takes the words as having
slightly different flavors) or minute (if one takes the words to be
virtually interchangeable).


Gary S. Shogren
Biblical Theological Seminary
Hatfield, PA

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