June 8, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (1)

I'm going to be blunt. I've never thought much of the typical interpretation about the "love conversation" in John 21. Jesus and Peter weren’t still hung up on Good Friday and it wasn’t all about restoring their personal relationship with each other. Also, Jesus wasn’t Aristotle, so it’s not about categorizing “agape love” as being better than “phileo love”. The tender aspects of Jesus talking with Peter are still all there – we’ve just messed up the understanding of what one of the words meant.

Before I give the new view, here are four problems I have with the old view:

First, the typical view is anachronistic by roughly two weeks! Cleopas left Emmaus on Easter day and told the other disciples that Jesus had already appeared to Peter. Such an implied one-on-one meeting - although not recorded in scripture - must have included the emotional reconciliation between Peter and Jesus, which probably also explains why the details of their personal time were kept private. Whatever it was like, Cleopas’ report shows that the fish fry in Galilee was two weeks too late to be Peter's personal reconciliation with Jesus over the rooster incident.

Second, the typical view ignores the context of the conversation. Jesus says, "Do you love me?" Seriously, married people all know what this means. "Will you do me a favor?" The favor, of course, is the point. Feed my sheep. Stretch out your arms and sacrifice yourself for my flock. Go back to Jerusalem and stay there so I can build my church. The context is corporate, so how can the interplay be merely individual? Jesus is after something else in the conversation, and Peter would have picked up on that.

Third, I never liked the idea that certain greek words were more “Christian” than others. I also don’t think "phileo" and "agape" were so frozen in meanings that one was always *better* than the other. I admit linguistics isn’t my forte, but the typical view of John 21 makes translating scripture seem like using a cereal box decoder ring. It’s not so simplistic. Something else has got to be going on, here.

Finally, I never bought into the idea that Peter knowingly offered some blatantly inferior response. Didn’t he just jump out of the boat with excitement? And if Peter was being mealy-mouthed, wouldn’t it make perfect sense that Jesus should challenge such a weak response? So why was he surprised at the challenge? For that matter, why wasn’t he already grieved at his own lukewarm response? Where’s the big shift? Either way, something doesn’t add up.

So what actually IS going on in John 21?

(To be continued…)

Series Update:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

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