John 21:16

viviana's picture

In John 21:16, Jesus asked Simon Peter "Do you love me more than these" and Peter replied 3x that "Yes, Lord; You know that I love you." Why did Jesus asked Peter same question 3x? What kind of love Jesus is asking to Peter?

ElderDad's picture

Slight correction and further detail


The first two times, Jesus asked "Do you "agape" love me?" Peter responded, "Lord, you know I "phileo" love you." The third time, Jesus asked "Do you [only] "phileo" love me, Peter?" Peter was grieved that Jesus had dropped the intensity of the love question.

There will be others who may dispute the follow explanation in the contemporary world of theology, because "modern" scholars are buying into the idea that the Greek words "agape" and "phileo" don't have that much significant difference. However, I am of the old school that makes a major distinction between agape and phileo.

"Agape" is the love of God which loves without cause other than the fact that God loves us. It is the love that sent God the Son to the cross to be crucified for our sins. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." It is also the love which God infuses in believers as we become more Christ-like as a result of salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

"Phileo" is the love that results from a response to the "worth" of another person. It is also referred to as "brotherly love." Philadelphia comes from the Greek, suggesting that Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. I don't live there, so I don't know how well they meet up to the expectation.

Jesus asked twice if Peter loved Him unreservedly, unguardedly, wholly, and regardless of what Jesus would require of him or do to him. Peter could only respond, "I love you because of Who You are and what You do." The third time, Jesus basically asked Peter, "Peter, can you only love me with responsive love and not unreserved love?" Keep in mind that Peter was sometimes a slow learner. He moved on from here and eventually loved Jesus with agape love. He loved Jesus Christ no matter what Jesus expected of him, and no matter what it cost him. The same Peter who denied Jesus at the cross is said to have died upside down on a cross, because he would not be crucified in the same manner as his Savior. Indeed, he followed through on the command repeated in this narrative to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ. [As a side note, the cross of Peter became in the late 20th Century the "peace symbol." Figure that one out.]

Speaking of slow learning, Jesus had to also repeat Himself later, as recorded in Acts, when Peter was shown the net full of "unclean" animals and repeatedly told to eat. The lesson there was that those sheep and lambs of which Jesus spoke in John were not just Jews, but also from the Gentiles.

I hope this helps your understanding of the passage.

Submitted as a poster,

Dave S.
Senior Moderator, Volunteers for Proofreading
2 Tim. 3:16--All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.