Are you really my friend?

by Steven P. Wickstrom

John 21:1-17
(1) After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way.
(2) Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.
(3) Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
(4) But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
(5) So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.”
(6) And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.
(7) Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.
(8) But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
(9) So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread.
(10) Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.”
(11) Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
(12) Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord.
(13) Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.
(14) This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
(15) So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
(16) He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
(17) He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

This may be one of those passages of scripture where you have wondered what on earth was going on. Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked Peter the same question three times in a row? You may have wondered why Peter gave the same answer three times in a row. If you find these verses to be confusing, you are not alone. The reason that these verses are a little confusing is because they not translated accurately. The problem is not because you are unable to understand these verses; the problem is because the translators chose not to translate the verses accurately. I wish I knew why the translators made that choice, but I do not. What I can do however, is to rectify this situation.

Here is the problem: the word “love” is incorrectly translated four times in these verses. While that may not seem like much, it makes it almost impossible to understand the message at the core of these verses. To understand the questions by Jesus and the responses by Peter, it is imperative that we understand the different variations of the word love and how they are used. We therefore need to learn about the three Greek words for love.

There are three main words in the Greek language for love; they are agape, phileo, and eros. Agape is a self-sacrificing, giving type of love. It is something you do with all your heart. Phileo is a friendship type of love. The word denotes the type of love felt and given between family members and friends. Eros is the passionate, romantic type of love. The word eros can apply to dating relationships as well as marriage.

In verse 15, Jesus asks Peter, “do you agape me more than these?” The word agape is correctly translated as “love.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked that question? Have you ever pondered about what exactly was Jesus asking Peter? I personally have wondered whether or not Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Him more than the other disciples. I have come to new conclusion: I don’t think so. Let me explain why. Let’s back up to the beginning of this chapter and see what is happening.

c o n t i n u e . .

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