Re: Jn 21:15-17 (and getting woollier..)

From: Paul S. Dixon (
Date: Sun Apr 19 1998 - 22:47:13 EDT

On Sun, 19 Apr 1998 wrote:
> I really do think that the text of John has an integrity that is
> self-supporting, and that if some section of it is giving us
> difficulty, we must seek resolution within the text itself, so I am a
> bit wary of heading off into the boonies outside the text to solve
> those difficulties. The suggestion that these three questions balance
> the three denials seems reasonable. I think there is much more...
> And I really don't know what it is.
> If it is a counterbalance to the three denials, then the meanings of
> both can be elucidated referentially to each other, and possibly even
> the orders of the denials and the affirmations will have relevance.

Ok, let's stick with the Johannine text (though going off into the
boonies can result in the discovery of nuggests once in a while).

Two matters strike me about the text. First, Christ twice asks Peter,
AGAPAS ME; Each time Peter responds, "yes, Lord" (NAI KURIE). If he had
not added anything else, we would undoubtedly conclude that Peter meant,
yes, he does AGAPEI Christ. By adding FILW SE, however, does he somehow
mean to say, "no, I do not AGAPW SE, but I do FILW SE," or that he is
saying, "no, I do not say I AGAPW SE, but am saying I FILW SE." Either
way, Peter would seem to be contradicting himself, for he first says, yes
he does, then says no he doesn't (if he understands AGAPAS and FILEIS

Second, in verse 17 Christ uses FILEIS instead of AGAPAS, but John seems
to view this as the third time that Christ said FILEIS (hOTI EIPEN TO
TRITON FILEIS ME;). This seems to be possible only if John understands
the two terms for love as being used interchangeably here. Is it really
a plausible alternative interpreation to say, "because He spoke the third
time and said FILEIS ME," as though FILEIS ME was not the third time this
had been spoken?

On our walk last night, I shared the "synonymous" interpretation with my
beloved wife. I also tried to explain the reasons for it. She is no
dummie, but it was obvious she was locked in a rut and for at least 10
minutes or so, seemed to have no ears to hear. It became evident to me
she had this fixation on the idea that different words in Scripture,
though very close in meaning at times, must always be interpreted
differently. Isolated and taken out of context, that may be so, but in
context it is quite evident that poetic license, style (who would want to
belabor one word repeatedly when a synonym may be a welcomed relief?),
whatever, often render different words synonymously. Part of her
thinking was that doing something like this seemed to cast aspersions
upon the authority of Scripture. We both have a very high view of
Scripture and I assured her that such was not the case. Our walk did
prove profitable in more ways than one, as they often do.

To wrap up, I do see this interchange as a kind of reversal of the 3 fold
denial by Peter. But, as he thrice demonstrated his lack of love for the
Lord by denying Him, so Christ is here showing Peter how he can
demonstrate his love for the Lord. Three times, certainly for emphasis
and teaching, he is instructed that his love for the Lord will be proved
by Peter's feeding and caring for the Lord's flock. Listen up, pastors.

Paul Dixon

If one of the two latter scenarios is the case, then we have Peter
contradicting himself. Christ asks, AGAPAS ME, and Peter responds,
"yes," but then

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