John 21:15–17 (KJV 1900) — 15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [agapao (ἀγαπάω, 25)] thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love [phileo (φιλέω, 5368)] thee. He saith unto him, Feed [bosko (βόσκω, 1006)] my lambs [arnion (ἀρνίον, 721)]. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [agapao (ἀγαπάω, 25)] thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love [phileo (φιλέω, 5368)] thee. He saith unto him, Feed [poimaino (ποιμαίνω, 4165)] my sheep [probaton (πρόβατον, 4263)]. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [phileo (φιλέω, 5368)] thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest [phileo (φιλέω, 5368)] thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love [phileo (φιλέω, 5368)] thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed [bosko (βόσκω, 1006)] my sheep [probaton (πρόβατον, 4263)].
- Hidden in these 3 verses are three variances.
- [agapao (ἀγαπάω, 25)] / [phileo (φιλέω, 5368)]
- [bosko (βόσκω, 1006)] / [poimaino (ποιμαίνω, 4165)]
- [arnion (ἀρνίον, 721)] / [probaton (πρόβατον, 4263)]
25 – A willful love in the mind.
- agapao (ἀγαπάω, 25) and the corresponding noun agape (B, No. 1 below)
- In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant “love” and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential “love” in them towards the Giver, and a practical “love” towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver.
- “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments, John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6. Selfwill, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God.
- “Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all, Rom. 15:2, and works no ill to any, Rom. 13:8-10; love seeks opportunity to do good to ‘all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,’ Gal. 6:10. See further 1 Cor. 13 and Col. 3:12-14.”*
5368 – A passionate love in the heart.
- 2. phileo (φιλέω, 5368) is to be distinguished from agapao in this, that phileo more nearly represents “tender affection.”
- Phileo is never used in a command to men to “love” God; it is, however, used as a warning in 1 Cor. 16:22; agapao is used instead, e.g., Matt. 22:37; Luke 10:27; Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 8:3; 1 Pet. 1:8; 1 John 4:21. The distinction between the two verbs finds a conspicuous instance in the narrative of John 21:15-17. The context itself indicates that agapao in the first two questions suggests the “love” that values and esteems (cf. Rev. 12:11). It is an unselfish “love,” ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration. See also Trench, Syn., Sec.xii. Again, to “love” (phileo) life, from an undue desire to preserve it, forgetful of the real object of living, meets with the Lord’s reproof, John 12:25. On the contrary, to “love” life (agapao) as used in 1 Pet. 3:10, is to consult the true interests of living. Here the word phileo would be quite inappropriate.
- bosko (βόσκω, 1006), “to feed,” is primarily used of a herdsman (from boo, “to nourish,” the special function being to provide food;
- poimaino (ποιμαίνω, 4165), “to act as a shepherd”
- Note: In John 21:15, 16, 17, the Lord, addressing Peter, first uses No. 1, bosko (v. 15) then No. 2, poimaino (v. 16), and then returns to bosko (v. 17). These are not simply interchangeable (nor are other variations in His remarks); a study of the above notes will show this. Nor, again, is there a progression of ideas. The lesson to be learnt, as Trench points out (Syn. Sec.xxv), is that, in the spiritual care of God’s children, the “feeding” of the flock from the Word of God is the constant and regular necessity; it is to have the foremost place. The tending (which includes this) consists of other acts, of discipline, authority, restoration, material assistance of individuals, but they are incidental in comparison with the “feeding.”
- arnion (ἀρνίον, 721) is a diminutive in form [LAMB], but the diminutive force is not to be pressed (see Note under No. 3). The general tendency in the vernacular was to use nouns in -ion freely, apart from their diminutive significance. It is used only by the apostle John, (a) in the plural, in the Lord’s command to Peter, John 21:15, with symbolic reference to young converts
- probaton (πρόβατον, 4263), from probaino, “to go forward,” i.e., of the movement of quadrupeds, was used among the Greeks of small cattle, sheep and goats; in the NT, of “sheep” only (a) naturally, e.g., Matt. 12:11, 12; (b) metaphorically, of those who belong to the Lord, the lost ones of the house of Israel, Matt. 10:6; of those who are under the care of the Good Shepherd, e.g., Matt. 26:31; John 10:1, lit., “the fold of the sheep