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Here’s the text with both Greek words agape and phileo which are normally translated as “love” shown in parenthesis:

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

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

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

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) me?”

He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep”.

Jesus uses the term "phileo" instead of "agape" at his third questioning of Peter. This is significant and cannot be a meaningless use of words. Agape appears to be the typical word for love, whereas Phileo appears to be love with physical affection or adoration.

Could the text therefore be translated in the manner below to resurface this grammatical significance?

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 adore you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

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

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I adore you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

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

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you adore me?”

He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I adore you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep”.

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    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 22 at 18:00

5 Answers 5

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It depends on translation purpose

Bible translations need to fit a specific purpose. I answer this from my own experience in two things:

Some translations seek to provide simple, specific words for the purpose of doing word studies. When I told Dr. Taylor that I preferred the NASB over his NLT, he said, "I agree with your analysis. If we are going to study the words, we need the words."

That is an endorsement from a translator himself to use multiple translations, each for their best purpose.

Your specific purpose

If you are attempting to translate this passage so that we can have a semi-proper, non-awkward way to express Greek's three different words for English's single word love...

adore = phileo is wonderful!

I thinks adore is about the best word choice for this passage.

Not only does adore reflect some of the same phonetic diversity as the Greek conversation would hold, it even starts with a. Though the word adore is from phileo and your love is from agape, it keeps some of the same overall "phonetic song".

Also, adore is quite positive and emphatic, but still not as radical as love. And, that is exactly what Peter is doing. He underlines and emphasizes his love for Jesus with so much energy, but he still can't bring himself to answer fully what Jesus is asking him.

Frankly, I think it is a loss that other translations don't employ this or something similar, at least in this passage because the contrast is so relevant to a proper interpretation. If we did more Bible translation with this mentality, we wouldn't need so much boring sermon time.

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There is no simple answer to this question, but what seems to fit the context and meaning of words is Peter wanted things back where they were with Jesus physically here on Earth leading his disciples with Peter among them.

The original meaning of pastor is shepherd. Jesus told Peter it was time for him to take leadership and teach what Jesus had taught him. He was not to go back to fishing fish but to fish for people.

See the following for the complexity of answering this question:

Is there any significance behind Jesus' use of the word "love" in "John 21:15-17"

Is there a connection between Luke 10:25-37 and John 21:15-17?

https://www.facebook.com/100064696956186/videos/3561755240736218/

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  • Not to entirely neglect the "love" aspect, your second paragraph gets to the most important aspect of John 21:15-17, + 1. Hope you didn't mind my edit. Commented Feb 19 at 11:47
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If you perform a search on BH for the world, phileo, you will see a significant number of answers to your question. For example, here's a recent answer on this question by dottard:

Agape and phileo

Hope this helps.

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  • But I need a specific answer for my question on John 21, however thanks for your input :)
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 18 at 6:10
  • Do you think Jesus and the Apostle John originally had this conversation in Greek or in Aramaic? If you believe it was in Aramaic, then the Greek words chosen for the translation approximated a difference between two Aramaic words for love. So, here's a more helpful link that considers the differences: chaimbentorah.com/2014/08/word-study-blood-thicker-water Unfortunately, we don't have specific words in English that can capture the essence of the words used without resorting to a paraphrase.
    – Dieter
    Commented Feb 18 at 19:48
  • Wouldn't "love" fit for agape and "adore" fit for phileo? It think these are proper terms for translation into English!
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 19 at 4:10
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    Joshua B, the word adore has a generally assigned meaning. If you have in mind a state of love coupled with abundant affection, adore is not the word for that. Now, compare the episode with the event where Peter disowns Jesus. He faces the same question thrice : Are you not an accomplice of Jesus ? The third time he curses and swears. It is now the turn of Jesus to make Peter confess his love, that is a mix of affection, adoration, brotherhood , guilt feeling and what not ! How could all those emotions be saturated in one word ? Commented Feb 19 at 14:26
  • Which is exactly why I think that "adore" fits the term perfectly. A state of love reinforced with abundant affection perfectly fits the word "adore", in my opinion.
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 19 at 17:18
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Read on to Verses 20 and 21:

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”.

< Here, the word 'loved' is used with a different intent. That Jesus loved John does not in anyway mean that He did not love the other disciples. Thus, 'loved'in Verse 20 only means that Jesus had special affection for John who is believed to have been the youngest Apostle and who stood by the Cross to take Blessed Virgin Mary home as his own mother. Peter knew these things and was right in doubting if he had been showing more love towards Jesus than had been shown by other disciples especially John. He was hurt because he had disowned Jesus not just once but thrice , at the time of the trial. To reward his declaration of love Jesus gives both responsibilities and a 'grim future' to Peter. Peter's query on the reward to be given to John in a way betrays his prick of conscience for having stated that he loved Jesus more than the others did.Thus, going by the key phrase "more than these" , the straightforward translation 'do you love me' is enough to describe the entire episode.

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  • Interesting, but that didn't really answer my question. I was just wondering why translations don't define the distinction between Agape and Phileo as "Love" and "Adore", respectfully.
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 18 at 13:57
  • Thanks, Joshua B. Kindly tell the readers as to from where you sourced those two words. Commented Feb 18 at 14:50
  • discoverthebible.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/… has a good write-up on the topic. Commented Feb 18 at 15:19
  • Sure, Agape and Phileo are Greek words in the Koine Received Text; the definitions for the English word "adore" were from the British dictionary, and these closely match the definition for the Greek word Phileo, just as the English word "love" closely matches the definition for the Greek word Agape.
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 18 at 16:24
  • Joshua B, the trouble is that Jesus did not speak Greek. The Aramaic words he used are not known to us. The Evangelist used Agape and Phileo in an interchangeable manner, as can be seen from the source I have quoted in my comments. Commented Feb 18 at 23:50
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Your question rests on the foundation of a different question. And it's a hotly-contested one. The question is this: To what extent do the distinctions between ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ (agape) and ⲫⲓⲗⲟⲥ (filos) hold as Greek moved from the Hellenic era to the Hellenistic era. To that question Andrew Das gives the best treatment:

In popular Christian thought, agape love is of a nobler, godlier character. than the other types of love expressed in the Greek language by words such as philos or eros." Unfortunately, such distinctions, despite their popularity, are on the whole artificial and misleading. The various Greek words for "love" must be considered within their own individual contexts and apart from some artificial, imposed notion about what different sorts of love "must be." The translators of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint (LXX) certainly preferred ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁⲱ (agapaò) over ⲫⲓⲗⲉⲱ (phileõ), which was the word for love in vogue among Classical Greek authors. Does that prove that the Septuagint's translators were trying to infuse the Greek word ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏ (agape) with a nobler sense that would eventually lead to the NT's concept of "divine love"? No. In LXX 2 Sam 13:15, ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁⲱ (agapaõ) is used for incestuous lust in the raping of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon! In Jn 3:19 people "loved" (ⲏⲅⲁⲡⲏⲥⲁⲛ [from agapaõ]) darkness instead of the light. They "loved" (ⲏⲅⲁⲡⲏⲥⲁⲛ [agapao]) praise from men (Jn 12:43). In 1 Jn 2:15: "Do not love [ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁⲧⲉ (agapaõ)] the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves [ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁ (agapaõ)] the world, the love of the Father is not in him.' ." Context must always remain the ultimate arbiter ofmeaning. So why did the Septuagint's translators prefer agapao? Word usage changes over time. In the classical period the Greek verb ⲕⲩⲛⲉⲱ (kuneo) was for "to kiss," the verb ⲫⲓⲗⲉⲱ (phileõ) was used for "to love," and the verb ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁⲱ (agapaõ) ordinarily meant something altogether different: "to be content with." Over time an evolution took place. Apparently since ⲕⲩⲛⲉⲱ (kuneo, "to kiss") clashed homonymically with ⲕⲩⲱ (kuò, "to impregnate"), ⲕⲩⲛⲉⲱ (kuneõ) as "to kiss" fell out of usage. By the Hellenistic period, "to kiss" would be expressed instead by ⲫⲓⲗⲉⲱ (phileõ), and ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁⲱ (agapaõ) came to mean "to love." The Septuagint's translators, in using ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲁⲱ (agapaõ) for "to love," were merely reflecting the common usage of their day rather than some "noble truth" about agapē love.

—Concordia Commentary. Galatians. A. Andrew Das, pp. 580-581

What Das writes about love in Galatians 5 seems to hold here. It seems that Peter is not as much shocked at the change of verb as the fact that Jesus asked a third time.

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  • Exactly, because Peter was hurt that Jesus questioned him a third time about if he loved him. However, it is significant that Jesus uses phileo upon his third questioning, which means that he escalated the questioning of his love to personal affection or adoration, matching Peter's phileo responses in the previous two questionings.
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 19 at 17:47

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