Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"
Wouldn't it be great if we could discover (maybe in the ancient sands of Egypt) a true, pure, honest, genuine "gospel" that told us a story about Jesus that we had never heard before? The Lord has seen fit to give us Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--four authentic ones. We don't want any apocryphal legend to confuse us; but there is a delightful little story totally authentic that doesn't come across in our modern Bibles; it's a vivid little picture of Jesus that gets lost.
It's in John 21:15-17. It's buried out of sight because we have only one word for "love" in our modern languages. But the Greek had more than one word, and here in the original story there are two contrasting words that Jesus and Peter both used. It's like a black and white picture suddenly becoming full color.
Jesus has been resurrected; now for the third time He meets with His disciples. He has especially invited Peter to come along (Mark 16:7), knowing that he is crushed and humiliated for having denied Christ three times. He feels so unworthy that he is ready to abandon all thought of being an apostle and go back to his fishing business (John 21:3). Never again can he preach!
Jesus asks him pointedly, "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me with that special kind of love known in Greek as agape, the kind that says 'God is agape'"? (That's the totally selfless kind.)
Peter's answer is empty unless you see what he said: "Lord, You know that my love for you is not agape, but philos." Philos is ordinary human family affection, the kind of love that everybody has by nature. But Jesus isn't done.
A second time He quizzes the disciple in front of all the others who knew he had denied Christ: "Do you love Me with agape?" Again Peter won't dare make such a claim: "My love for You is only philos." In other words, I have begun at last to understand how weak and unworthy I am. Now I can see that my goodness is no better than that of any of my fellow disciples!
But then "the third time" Jesus presses the thorn in deeper: "Simon, son of Jonas, do you even love Me with philos?" Now Peter bursts into tears. "Lord, You know the emptiness of my heart." Never thereafter, they tell us, were his eyes dry until he asked not to be crucified as Jesus was, but upside down.
It seems that some scholarship insists that Jesus and Peter conversed in Aramaic, which has only one word for love, so all this gets washed down the drain. But if true, then we really do have a problem: someone in translating all this into Greek "added" these details that were never in the original conversation. That would be terrible according to John's own command in Revelation 22:18. We know that Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a little town only 6 miles from the Greek city of Sepphoris; of course He knew Greek. And so did John, who told us the story in Greek. The biblical text rings true.
Don't look down on the repentant Peter; put yourself in his place. And be careful when you profess to love the same as God does, and as He is (1 John 4:8). Peter is a good teacher.
--Robert J. Wieland
From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: March 26, 2004.
Copyright © 2017 by "Dial Daily Bread."