Odd Gospel Greek: love me three times
Love me one time
I could not speak
Love me one time, baby
Yeah, my knees got weak
But love me two times, girl
Last me all through the week
Love me two times
I’m goin’ away
— Jim Morrison, and The Doors
Ἐλυπήθη ὁ Πέτρος
ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον,
Peter was grieved
because he said unto him the third time,
Lovest thou me?
— odd gospel Greek, and the KJV translation of John 21:17
When we come to the end of the non-syn-optic yet canonical gospel of John, we have already read about lots of love. What is notable in John 21:17 is there is a concentrated amount of it. There is love questioned and love repeated. The writer is telling, or rather is showing, the reader that Jesus had already asked Peter, and three times, “Lovest thou me?” The way the Greek reader gets it is Φιλεῖς με;
And, sure enough, the reader goes back to see what Jesus asked, three times:
λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με πλεῖον τούτων; – 21:15
Λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον, Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με; – 21:16
Λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον, Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, φιλεῖς με; – 21:17
And Peter’s consistent reply is “You know ὅτι φιλῶ σε.”
Now, if the writer had Jesus asking Peter, just two times, then that would have been something. And maybe a single word for the two times of love asking, and answering, would have sufficed. But here it’s “love me three times.” Doesn’t the style, the show of the questions of love, three times, go better with two different synonyms for love? Should I ask it again? And again and again?
Well, I’m really glad that some time ago at another blog, my BLT co-blogger Suzanne asked:
Should agape and philia be translated differently in the scriptures? Should we have a different translation for the two verbs in the exchange in John 21?
Her questions got me rereading a couple of other questions, ones asked in the Odyssey:
Why, my beloved child, has this intention come into
your mind? Why do you wish to wander over much country,
you, an only and loved son?
The answers, of course, are found elsewhere. Pardon me if I send you away to those other places, but, if you’re asking such questions about the three questions of love in John, and the question of two loves, and the question of the style of odd gospel Greek, then you’ll want to read more here, and perhaps here.