Q. I have a question about John 21:15-17. Jesus asks Peter two times, do you love (agapeo) Me? And Peter responds, Yes Lord, I love (phileo) You. The third time Jesus asks Peter do you love (phileo) Me, Peter responds, yes Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You. So my question is why did Peter respond that he loved the Lord with phileo love? And why the third time Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him with phileo love not agapeo love?
A. This is one of those places where the meaning of the passage totally escapes us if we only look at the English version. Agapeo is one of four Greek words that can be translated love. It’s the highest form of the word and means to be totally given over to another person regardless of their response. It’s the way the Lord loves us. Phileo is a brotherly kind of love, something less than a wholehearted devotion, but still a strong feeling. It indicates a bond exists between the two.
Peter knew the Lord could tell if he wasn’t being truthful. Because of his sin nature he couldn’t honestly say he was totally devoted to the Lord, but he did love Him like a brother. In the end Jesus agreed that to be loved like a brother was sufficient for Him.
This can bring great comfort to us because our problem is the same as Peter’s. We also have a sin nature that prevents us from obeying the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). It’s reassuring to realize that the Lord understands and accepts this.