June 13, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (6)

This blog series so far can be said to turn on a simple question, which I will restate from the end of my last post. What if the key to understanding the conversation in John 21 is to suppose Peter thought “phileo” was a step up from “agape” when he said it?

Building on the last five posts, there are reasons to think this makes the most sense of any interpretation. If “phileo” means, roughly, “I love you like a friend”, then Peter was most likely referring to the promotion Jesus made after the Last Supper – from servants to friends. And just like John 16 is fulfilled in John 20, John 15 prepares the textual ground for John's use of agape/phileo in chapter 21. In fact, it does this in more ways than one.

When Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants… now I have called you my friends”, Peter was wearing a sword. (Lk 22:38) John did not refer to the sword, but it was probably not lost on his audience that this friendship promotion was very King-like. John’s overall narrative had already brought the King motif from Nathaniel’s proclamation in Ch.1 to the rabble’s demand in Ch.6 to the triumphant entry in Ch.12. And now, for a greek audience, this official promotion of his students into a tight circle of “friends” makes a definite parallel with the practice of Hellenistic Kings.

At least from Alexander on, Greek style Kings always had circles of friends. In extant literature, I suspect this has to be one of the most common repetitive uses of the word philos – the “friends of the King”. At any rate, there was certainly no higher honor for a non-royal in the ancient world, than to be a friend of the King. So Peter, holding his sword, who still mostly saw Jesus as the head of God’s coming Kingdom… must have relished being named with such a magnanimous title. He could hardly have done better than “friend of Jesus”.

The friends of the King aren’t just his drinking buddies. They act as his strong right arm. They are loyal servants of his needs, and of his kingdom’s needs. The King’s friends are the ones who do the most work for the King. They hold high positions. They run things.

In other words, they ‘phileo’ the King.

(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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