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"Insights" from the New Testament Greek

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 "Insights" from the New Testament Greek

By Bob Jones, Northside Bible Church, Jacksonville Florida


  Peter and the other disciples expected Jesus to exert his authority to be king, and remove Israel from under Roman rule, and fulfil the Old Testament promises of a Millennial Kingdom on earth.

  They refused to believe Jesus when he would say he must die on the cross and be resurrected on the third day.

  After Jesus was raised from the dead and was beginning to show himself in his resurrection body to his disciples, we find in John 21:3 that Peter had said "I go a fishing". From the English, we would assume that Peter was just going to go to the sea for a day of fishing. But, the words "I go" are a translation of the Greek word "hupago" which means a final departure from being anotherís companion, and the Greek present tense of the verb translated "fishing" indicates continual fishing. Peter is saying that he is abandoning his relationship with Jesus and returning to the fishing business! The other disciples are also crushed by what they take to be the failure of their leader to bring in the Millennial Kingdom, and reply to Peter "we go with thee", meaning, since they donít have anything else to do, that they are going to join Peter in the fishing business.

  The disciples fished all night and had not caught a thing. When morning came, Jesus stood on the shore watching them. "Caught anything boys?", Jesus said. They replied "no, not a thing". Jesus said "cast the net on the right side of the ship". They did, and they fulfilled every fishermanís dream of catching so many fish they had to drag them to shore! When Peter realized it was Jesus on the shore, he couldnít wait for the boat to be rowed and jumped in and swam to shore.

  Jesus had a fire going, and cooked and served fish and bread to the disciples. When Jesus asked his disciples in John 21:12 to "come and dine", the Greek phrase means to "break a fast", and we get our English word "breakfast" from this very phrase.

  What a scene! The disciples reunited with the risen Lord, a miraculously successful fishing trip, and breakfast on the seashore around an early morning fire.

  After they had eaten, Jesus asked Peter, "Simon son of Jonas, do you love me more than these"? The Greek word for "love" in this question is "agape", the word for the unconditional love that comes from God.

  The Greek word for "these", in this Greek context, means "these things", indicating that Jesus is asking Peter "do you love me more than you love this big catch of fish and the fishing business?"

  Now, realizing that Peter had made a life choice of returning to the fishing business, the three questions from Jesus and the three responses of Peter are a very poignant narrative that has a tremendous impact on Peter.

  In the first question, Jesus says "Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest (agape) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my little lambs".

  The Greek word for "love" in Peter's response is the Greek word "phileo", or "friendship" that arises from a knowledge of and appreciation for someone or some thing. This is meaningful because "phileo" rises and falls, and comes and goes, according to how much the object is appreciated. Can you imagine the struggle in Peter's mind, when his Lord asks "do you love (agape) me more than this huge catch of fish and the fishing business"? Is Peter going to respond with "agape" or "phileo"? Peter must respond with "phileo", because his actions have proved otherwise.

  In the second question, Jesus asks "Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest ("agape") thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love ("phileo") thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep". Again, Peter responds "yes I am your friend".

  Then, in the third question, Jesus switches to Peter's word "phileo" and asks "Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest ("phileo") thou me?" Verse 16 states that Peter was "grieved" because Jesus asked him the third time, "Lovest ("phileo") thou me"?, or "are you my friend"? And Peter answered "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love ("phileo") thee. Jesus replied to him, "Shepherd my sheep".

  I am sure that Jesus asked three times because Peter had denied his Lord three times before the Crucifixion. Twice Jesus asked "do you have unconditional love for me", and once "are you my friend?", and Peter can only respond "yes, I am your friend". Peter cannot say "yes Lord, I agape you", because his return to the fishing business has disproved an unconditional love of Jesus.

  Imagine the soul searching as Peter struggles to answer each of these three questions.

  The Lord's point in asking these three questions is contained in the three statements of Jesus that follow Peter's three replies. All three statements of Jesus are in the Greek "present tense, imperative mood", which is a continuing command.

  The first command of Jesus is "Then feed ("booke") my little lambs" ("arnia"). The second command of Jesus is "Then shepherd ("poimane") my sheep" ("probata"). The third command of Jesus is "Then feed ("booke") my sheep" ("probata").

  To me, the richness of this narrative is how gentile and tactful Jesus is, as he turns Peter from the "fishing business" to become Peter the great Apostle that we see in the Book of Acts!

  There is much to be learned here. Jesus could have "chewed Peter out" royally. The goal of Jesus was to return Peter and the other disciples to being "fishers of men". The method was to give them monumental success as fishermen, cook and serve "breakfast" to them, and then to gently ask Peter three questions and state what He wanted Peter to do.

  I believe God is often just as gentile and tactful with us, as He turns us from temporal achievements, to achievements that edify His people (little lambs and grown sheep) and have eternal, rather than temporal rewards.

  A question for us: do we demonstrate that we love ("agape") God more than we love ("phileo" - appreciate) the "things" we have surrounded ourselves with?

  As a result of this tender and touching post-resurrection meeting between Jesus and his disciples on the seashore, Peter and the others became the great Apostles of the book of Acts, the writers of many New Testament books, and great ambassadors, teachers, and martyrs for Christ.

  Bob Jones