RE: Was: "a question from a novice"

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 22 2000 - 06:36:13 EST

At 5:09 AM -0600 3/22/00, Eric S. Weiss wrote:
>Well, it could be that there is one Aramaic word (like our word "love")
>that covers all the range of meaning of both AGAPAW and FILEW (assuming
>there is semantic overlap but not total semantic identity - i.e., synonymy
>- between them), and the author of GJohn used two different Greek words to
>capture the fuller meaning of the Aramaic word that sufficed for both. But
>then, I think, we'd be stuck with the problem of deciding what shift of
>meaning he intended to convey by switching from AGAPAW to FILEW in Jesus's
>words. And because we can't show that there is a provable difference in
>meaning between AGAPAW and FILEW, we may not be able to do more than guess
>wildly about why the author made the switch where he did, or which way his
>shift in meaning went.
>And ... as was discussed a previous time when these verses came up, Peter's
>distress might not have been because Jesus switched from AGAPAW to FILEW,
>but because He asked Peter A THIRD TIME, i.e., as if He didn't think Peter
>was serious the first two times.

Quite frankly, I think the THIRD TIME is the real key to the passage and
that the author (late editor of John's gospel?) intended this dialogue to
be understood BOTH as a rehabilitation of Peter after the triple denial on
the night of the arrest AND as the Johannine equivalent to the appointment
of Peter as the shepherd of Jesus' flock (and as Eric notes below, there
are the alternative imperatives expressing that appointment: POIMAINE TA
PROBATA MOU and BOSKE TA ARNIA MOU--I suppose someone would want to draw
some distinction between the meaning of these two phrases, but that really
does seem like reaching to me.

>I know I mentioned it and I know no one has said anything about it - but is
>it not relevant to the discussion that there are several other terms in
>this passage (John 21:15-17) that the author uses two words for - in other
>words, he is likely being stylistic and not really changing meaning - and
>because that's the case, one should not focus on AGAPAW/FILEW without also

Certainly some may want to see whether Aramaic may throw some light on this
question. I personally rather doubt that further arguments that can be
adduced will sway those who hold them from their strongly-held convictions
on one side or the other of this question. Moreover, speaking only for
myself here, I have to say that I think this narrative is more
fundamentally literary in its mode of formulation--that it was composed in
Greek, than that it is a transposition into Greek of a well-remembered
dialogue in Aramaic. I'm not saying that I think there's no tradition
behind the story as told, but I think the story is told as it is for the
evangelist's/redactor's purposes in completing a book for the church that
is distinctly Johannine while nevertheless deliberately aligning itself
with important synoptic perspectives. (That is my own perspective; it does
have a bearing on how I understand the Greek, but it must fall into the
line of speculative literary criticism and is not an appropriate topic for
B-Greek discussion in its own right).


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 WWW:

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