Agape or phileo, love or friendship?

Love or Friendship?

QUESTION: "When Jesus confronted Peter and thrice asked "Do you love me?" he used two different words in Greek, why wasn't this captured in the English translation? Of the two occurrences which do use the same word, does the "voice" change or is it constant."

RESPONSE: The passage is found in John 21:15-17 which reads as follows.

"So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep."

There are two different Greek words translated as love in this passage. One is "agape" and the other is "phileo." According to the Greek text (and this is true of all Greek texts) the first two times Jesus uses the word love He uses the Greek word agape. Both of these times Peter responds with phileo. On the third time, when Jesus speaks the word love, the word phileo is used by Christ. To this, Peter responds with phileo. Some suggest that the Greek word agape means a deeper love, while the Greek word phileo means friendship or affection.

The King James Bible is not alone in translating both words the same way. The standard Spanish translation is the Valera. What the KJV is to the English-speaking world, the Valera is to the Spanish-speaking world. Each time the Lord asks, "me amas?" to which Peter replies, "Si, Senor; tu sabes que te amo." In every case, the Spanish word for love is used, not two different words.

The standard French Bible is the Louis Segond. All three times the Lord uses the word, "m'aimes-tu," and Peter replies with "t'aime." It is the same French word for love.

The Italian Bible is the Giovanni Diodati. In the gospel according to Giovanni (John), the Italian word "amo" is used throughout the passage.

And, of course, Luther's German Bible uses the German word for love, which is, "lieber."

Even the NIV, NASV, RSV, NRSV, TEV, and NEB translated both Greek words as love in this passage. So the KJV is not at all alone in its translation. Leaving the Greek to use two different words.

Or, is it? Most scholars teach the two different Greek words agape and phileo, mean two different things, or at the very least, two different types of love (such as, "I love my wife" and "I love pizza"). However, this does not bear itself out in the Greek New Testament. The simple fact is that these two words are used interchangeably, both meaning love. If phileo means friendship and not godly love, then why does Christ use it in Revelation 3:19? "As many as I love, I rebuke".

Read John 20:2. Is it agape or phileo? How about John 16:27? Is this agape or phileo? How about John 5:20 or 11:3,36? Reading the context of these passages and being told that agape means godly love one might think this is the Greek word used in these passages. However, the word phileo is used in all. Both words mean love and are used interchangeably.

There is also another dimension of this argument which most scholars and Bible teachers ignore. We do not know that this passage was originally spoken in Greek. It may have been spoken in Hebrew or Aramaic. And, for that matter, we do not know what the original Greek manuscript had. We only know how the copies read.

Finally, the real issue here is not the change of Greek words. Peter was not grieved because Christ had changed Greek words. He was grieved because he asked three times. It was not the change in words or tense that disturbed Peter. It was, "because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?" Does not this passage in John 21 prove the point that agape and phileo are interchangeable? Jesus asks, "lovest (agape) thou me" (vs. 15), "lovest (agape) thou me" (vs. 16), and "lovest (phileo) thou me" (vs. 17). When Christ asks this last time, the texts states, "He saith unto him THE THIRD TIME" (vs.17). This is true only if these two words are interchangeable. If they are not interchangeable and carry different meanings, the text is in error, for it was not "the third time." If the two words carry the same meaning, the text would be correct as it stands in the Greek manuscripts.

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