Re: Jn 21:15-17

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Apr 17 1998 - 06:41:52 EDT

At 8:28 PM -0500 4/16/98, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>First, what is your take on the AGAPAS/FILEIS interpretation? Is there a
>difference in meaning between the two words here, or should we see them
>as being virtually synonymous, at least in this context?
>I am tending towards the latter interpretation because of v. 17 where it
>says Peter was grieved hOTI EIPEN AUTWi TO TRITON, FILEIS ME;
>Technically, Christ had said FILEIS only once, and AGAPAS twice. Thus,
>John would be wrong, unless he understood AGAPAS and FILEIS to be
>synonymous here.
>Second, if the same question is being asked three times, should we also
>expect the resultant charges to be synonymous? Do they all mean the same
>Is this just an emphatic way of driving home the point, i.e., if Peter
>really loved Christ, then he would tend His flock, which includes feeding
>and caring for the entire flock, young included?

Paul, you may want to consult the archives on this one. We've had more than
one discussion on this passage, the longest, if remember rightly, was in
August of 96 (I wouldn't remember except that it was just before I left NC
to return to St. Louis for the academic year). My recollection is that
there was a fairly strong argument put up for reading AGAPAW and FILEW as
synonymous and for reading the three charges to Peter as synonymous in
intent; I should add that there was nevertheless some serious opposition to
equating the two verbs for love. For my part, there was a time when I
thought there was a strong opposition between the two verbs, but
examination of their usage seems to show that both are used in at least
overlapping senses even if not fully equivocally, nor can one argue from
any real consistency of usage in John's gospel--and there's some reason to
think that John's gospel deliberately uses synonymous verbs. Finally, I
think there's some degree of consensus on the propositions that (1) the
threefold question and response exchange between Jesus and Peter
constitutes a rehabilitation of Peter in recognition of his three-fold
denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest, and that (2) the
three-fold charge to Peter to be a Pastor is the Johannine equivalent of
the Matthaean giving of the keys of the kingdom to Peter, and finally that
(3) this passage supplements the rather strange account of the coming of
Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the tomb in chapter 20 of the gospel (the
BD arrives first and sees the tomb is empty but does not enter; then Peter
arrives, enters, and believes); if Raymond Brown is right, these passages
"seal" the reconciliation between the Petrine and Johannine communities in
that the Johannine community acknowledges the primacy of Peter as Shepherd
of the church, yet maintains the strong authority of its own witness and
tradition of the Beloved Disciple. To me this seems a very reasonable
construction of the intent of this passage, although I'm sure that it won't
satisfy all readers.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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