Peter’s “Love” Problem

Did You Know?

After Peter denied Jesus three times, he ran away and wept bitterly.  However, after Jesus’ resurrection Peter proclaimed his “love” for Jesus three times—and then got sad!  Why is that?  The Greek helps us to understand this conundrum much better.

When Jesus and Peter are walking together, in the last chapter of John, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?”  Jesus uses the word agape, which is a sacrificial love, a willing love, a higher love.  Peter answers back, “Lord, you know I love you.”  The problem is that Peter doesn’t use the same word that Jesus does.  Peter uses the word phileo (where we get “Phil-adelphia), which means like, or friendship, or warm affection.  In essence, Jesus says, “Peter do you love me,” and Peter’s response is, “Lord, you know I’m your friend.”

Jesus again asks the same question, using the same word as before, and Peter’s response is the same—still not willing to use the word agape to express his level of commitment to Jesus.

But the third time’s the charm, so to speak.  The third time Jesus asks the question, He says, “Do you like [phileo] me?”  Jesus uses Peter’s own word, and asks if Peter’s commitment is even that strong.  And the inspired Scripture tells us, “Peter was sorrowful, because [Jesus] said the third time, ‘Do you phileo me?’” (John 21:17).  Twice Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and the final time, He basically asks Peter, “Are you really even my friend?”  No wonder Peter was sad.

-Bradley S. Cobb

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