Agape and Philia Loves

christ's love
Lost in translation: Reflections on John 21:15-17 
 It is important to note that the first two times Christ inquires of Peter, “Do you love Me?” He uses a form of the word agape, which denotes the highest form of sacrificial and self-emptying love, the kind of love God has for man and that man can develop only through maturing in God’s grace. Each time, however, Peter is unable to claim such a lofty love.
When Peter answers, “You know that I love You,” he uses the term philo, which is a lesser form of love, akin to brotherly affection. When the Lord asks the third time, “Do you love Me?”He has changed to the term philo, condescending to Peter’s weakness and accepting whatever love Peter is able to offer. Nevertheless, Christ knows that Peter will develop agape love for Him, as Peter will eventually accept martyrdom for His sake (vv. 18, 19). Peter was grieved both that the Lord had to condescend to his level of love and that this was a clear, though gentle, reference to his three denials.

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15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

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Ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν, λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με πλεῖον τούτων; λέγει αὐτῷ· ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. (Ιω. 21,15 )

λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον· Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με; λέγει αὐτῷ· ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. (Ιω. 21,16 )

λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον· Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, φιλεῖς με; ἐλυπήθη ὁ Πέτρος ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον, φιλεῖς με, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Κύριε, σὺ πάντα οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου. (Ιω. 21,17 )

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