June 14, 2009

A New Take on John 21 (7)

Again, the main idea of the last two posts is that "phileo" was not necessarily a weaker form of love than "agape", but was often stronger, to actual Greeks. This also seems to hold up in John's Gospel. When Jesus wept for Lazarus, the Jews nearby said, "See how he ephilei him."

To the point of the last post - that John 15 is the appropriate textual background for John 21 - here are some more (crudely spliced) snippets reflecting the interplay between agape and phileo during Jesus' post-dinner chat on their way to Gethsemane. I want to keep stressing/admitting that I’m not a linguist, but the prevalence of this vocabulary says something, even to me. They're not simply interchangeable synonyms. Also, note the sequence:

v.9 – as the Father agapesen me, I also have agapesa you. Abide in my agape.
v.10 – if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my agape, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his agape.
v.12 – This is my commandment, that you agapate one another, as I have agapesa you.
v.13 – greater agape has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his philon
v.14 – you are my philoi if you do what I command you.
v.15 – I no longer call you servants… but I have called you philous
v.17 – these things I command you, that you agapate one another.

It seems pretty clear, according to Jesus in John 15, that the stated mission of a friend is to love. (Swords with-or-not-withstanding.) So even if John knew Paul's writings and believed “agape is the most excellent way”, John shows us here that phileo is also not beneath it. To the contrary, in John 15, the philos carries the chief responsibility for delivering agape. So even when we change philos (noun) to phileo (verb), can the relationship be any different in John 21? I think not.

That brings us at last to the major question of this series: If Peter was actually stepping up a rung in his expression of "love" for Jesus, then what do those word changes tell us about what Peter & Jesus were actually trying to say to each other?

(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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