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‘When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"’ ~Jn21:15-19



In the quoted passage, Jesus asked Peter thrice, “Do you love me?” Bible interpreters had given various explanations to this passage and the most common one was based on the use of the two different Greek root words for “love.” The first word was “agapao” which meant a divine sacrificial love, and the second “phileo” meant brotherly love. When the Lord asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” He referred to “agapao” in the first two times and “phileo” on the third. Peter replied the Lord three times with the word “phileo.” It was said by some Bible scholars that Jesus used “agapao” initially because He wanted to encourage Peter to respond with an unconditional, sacrificial love (agapao). However, from Peter’s replies, he showed that he could only love Christ with a brotherly love (phileo). Thus, the Lord accepted that Peter was only able to love Him with a “phileo” love and not with an “agapao” love. Therefore, the Lord on His third attempt, lowered His expectation and asked Peter if he could love Him with a “phileo” love.

Based on the above interpretation, it created some issues. Even language experts of the original Greek text held different views on the intended meaning of the root words. Some felt that “phileo” as compared to “agapao” was a more excellent love, a love of a higher degree. Another concern was how the two root words were often being used interchangeably in the original Greek bible. The clearest example could be seen in the Gospel of John 3:35 “The Father loves (agapao) the Son” and later in 5:20 “The Father loves (phileo) the Son.” Both verses described precisely the same love that the Heavenly Father had for the Son, yet different Greek words “agapao” and “phileo” were used. Hence, it is not possible to draw a conclusive answer to the reason why Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” simply by interpreting the Greek root words for “love.”

The bible is never vague or ambiguous in its meaning. By studying the whole passage carefully, we will be able to understand why the Lord had to ask Peter the same question three times.