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Exegetical Commentary on John 21

OUTLINE:

    5 A The Epilogue: further post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (21:1-25)

      1 B The risen Jesus appears to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) (21:1-14)

      2 B The risen Jesus speaks to Peter about his ministry and his future (21:15-23)

        1 C Jesus restores Peter to fellowship and commissions him (21:15-17)

        2 C Jesus tells Peter of his future (21:18-23)

      3 B The Conclusion to the Gospel (21:24-25)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ackroyd, P. R., “The 153 Fishes in John XXI.11—A Further Note,” Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1959): 94.

Agourides, S., “The Purpose of John 21,” in Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament —in Honor of K.ennethWillis Clark, Ph.D., ed. B. L. Daniels and M. J. Suggs, Studies and Documents 29 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1967), 127-32.

Bacon, B. W., “The Motivation of John 21.15-25,” Journal of Biblical Liturature 50 (1931): 71-80.

Besobrasoff, S. [Bishop Cassien], “John xxi,” New Testament Studies 3 (1956/57): 132-36.

Boice, J. M., Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John, Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970).

Camaldolese, T. M., “The First and the Last Encounter (Joh 1 and cap. 21),” Bible Today 42 (1969): 2893-97.

Chapman, J., “‘We Know That His Testimony Is True’,” Journal of Theological Studies 31 (1929/30): 379-87.

Dodd, C. H., “Note on John 21, 24,” Journal of Theological Studies 4 (1953): 212-13.

Emerton, J. A., “The 153 fishes in John XXI, 23-25,” Theology 20 (1930): 229.

Grant, R. M., “One-Hundred-Fifty-Three Large Fishes,” Harvard Theological Review 42 (1949): 273-75.

Lee, G. M., “Joh xxi, 20-23,” Journal of Theological Studies 1 (1950): 62-63.

McDowell, E. A., Jr., “‘Lovest Thou Me?’ A Study of John 21:15-17,” Review and Expositor 32 (1935): 422-41.

McEleney, N. J., “153 Great Fishes (John 21, 11)—Geatriacal Atbash,” Biblica 58 (1977): 411-17.

Marrow, S. B., John 21—An Essay in Johannine Ecclesiology (Rome: Gregorian University, 1968).

Romeo, J. A., “Gematria and John 21:11—The Children of God,” Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978): 263-64.

Scott, J. A., “The Words for ‘Love’ in John 21, 25ff.,” Classical Weekly 39 (1945/46): 71-72; 40 (1946/47): 60-61.

Shaw, A., “The Breakfast by the Shore and the Mary Magdalene Encounter as Eucharistic Narratives,” Journal of Theological Studies 25 (1974): 12-26.

Shaw, A., “Image and Symbol in John 21,” Expository Times 86 (1975): 311.

Sheehan, J. F. X., “‘Feed My Lambs’,” Scripture 16 (1964): 21-27.

Smalley, S. S., “The Sign in John xxi,” New Testament Studies 20 (1973/74): 275-88.

Thomas, W. H. G., “The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel: John 21,” Bibliotheca Sacra 125 (1968): 254-62.

DETAILED EXEGETICAL NOTES:

    5 A The Epilogue: further post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (21:1-25)

A Note on the role of chapter 21 within the structure of the Fourth Gospel:

There seems to be a perfectly adequate conclusion to the Gospel in 20:30-31, coming immediately after the confession by Thomas in 20:28, which is the real climax to the narrative. 20:30 even seems to make essentially the same statement as 21:25. Yet on the other hand there is no obvious break in the narrative and no discernable difference in style, vocabulary, or grammar.

These observations have led to three different views on the relationship of chapter 21 to the remainder of the Fourth Gospel:

(1) It was written by the same author as chapters 1-20 (with the possible exception of 21:24, see discussion below on that verse) at the same time as chapters 1-20 were written;

(2) It was written by the same author as chapters 1-20 (again with the possible exception of 21:24) but at a later time (perhaps much later, near the end of the author’s life); or

(3) It was written by someone other than the author of chapters 1-20 and added to chapters 1-20 at some later time.

If chapter 21 was indeed a later addition to the Fourth Gospel by a different author, it must have been added very early, because no extant Greek manuscript lacks the last chapter, and there is no serious evidence in the manuscript tradition for later addition.

As far as stylistic and linguistic evidence is concerned, nothing absolutely conclusive can be said. Some, like Plummer, find similarities which point to identity of authorship. Others, like Moffatt, find indications of divergence of style. Bultmann offers perhaps the strongest argument on the basis of style against identity of authorship between chapters 1-20 and 21. Significantly, however, Barrett is not convinced by these stylistic arguments, although he does not hold to identity of authorship on other grounds. In Barrett’s own words, “These linguistic and stylistic considerations, when weighed against the undoubted resemblances between chs. 1-20 and ch. 21, are not in themselves sufficient to establish the belief that ch. 21 was written by a different author.”169

Most scholars, including Barrett, make the decision for or against identity of authorship not on the basis of stylistic or linguistic evidence, but content and logical argument flow. S. Smalley demonstrates that chapter 21 is not as much of an addendum as some believe, and that it does in fact provide a necessary conclusion to the Fourth Gospel, which does not merely end with Thomas’ confession, but has repeatedly emphasized that the disciples will continue Jesus witness to the world after he has departed (15:27) and will carry on his mission in the world.170

Although it is impossible to be dogmatic about such a conclusion, it seems best to regard chapter 21 as an integral part of the original composition of the Fourth Gospel in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.

      1 B The risen Jesus appears to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) (21:1-14)

21:1 MetaV tau'ta The time reference here is indefinite, in comparison with the specific “after eight days” (meq= hJmevra" ojktwV) between the two post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in 20:26.

ejpiV th'" qalavssh" th'" Tiberiavdo" The sea of Tiberias was another name for the sea of Galilee (cf. the Notes on 6:1); this designation occurs only in the Fourth Gospel. We are not told how or why the disciples came to be back in Galilee after the events of the passover week in Jerusalem. In spite of the commissioning of the disciples by Jesus in 20:21-23, they do not appear to have had a clear purpose in mind at this time. This is something that would come after their empowerment by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost some weeks later.

21:2 The disciples who were together in Galilee are specified: Peter, Thomas (whose mention forms a link with the climax of chapter 21, in verse 28), Nathanael (who is said to be from Cana), the sons of Zebedee (James and John), and two unnamed disciples. The two who are not named may have been Andrew and Philip, who are mentioned together in 6:7-8 and 12:22.

21:3 uJpavgw aJlieuvein It is sometimes suggested on the basis of Peter’s comment that he was proposing to return to his former career of fishing. However, this is probably to see too much significance in the present infinitive; all that Peter was proposing was a fishing trip, perhaps out of economic necessity. Peter’s attitude may also have been partly the result of despondency over his threefold denial of Jesus during the trials. In any case, the other disciples who were with him agreed, saying, “we also will come with you.”

kaiV ejn ejkeivnh/ th'/ nuktiV ejpivasan oujdevn Fishing on the Sea of Galilee was often done at night. This night, however, the disciples caught nothing at all. Perhaps we are to understand this as representing the unproductivity of mere human effort apart from Jesus. It is difficult to say with certainty, because when Jesus appears to them he does not explicitly censure their efforts (v. 5).

21:4 prwi?a" deV h[dh genomevnh"… Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognize him. Jesus’ appearance is somewhat mysterious; the Evangelist does not tell us how he came to be there. Just as in the two previous appearances recorded in chapter 20 (20:19-23 and 20:26-28) Jesus seems to have appeared unexpectedly, but the text here does not explicitly state this.

Some (including R. Brown) see the statement that the disciples did not recognize Jesus as difficult since they had already seen the risen Jesus twice in chapter 20.171 This is understood to indicate that chapter 21 was appended by someone other than the Evangelist, who was not too careful about the internal consistency. But there are other good reasons for the disciples failing to recognize Jesus, one of them mentioned at the beginning of this same verse: dawn was just breaking as the disciples were returning in their boat from the unsuccessful night of fishing, and they were within hearing distance of the shore but in the dim light they would not have been able to recognize the face of an individual at this distance.

21:5 paidiva, mhv ti prosfavgion e[cete… Jesus spoke to the disciples from the shore, asking, “Lads, you havent caught any fish to eat, have you?” The question, phrased with mhv in Greek, assumes a negative answer. This is the only time in the Fourth Gospel that paidiva is used as an address for the disciples. The word used in 13:33, tekniva, is sometimes said to be a word indicating more tender affection than paidiva, but in 1 John 2:12 and 14 the two appear to be used interchangeably. Perhaps Jesus used this form of address because he did not yet wish to reveal his identity to the disciples.

prosfavgion This is an unusual word. In Hellenistic Greek it described a side dish to be eaten with bread, and in some contexts was the equivalent of o[yon, “fish.”172 Used in addressing a group of returning fishermen, it is quite clear that the speaker had fish in mind. Here we have translated it “fish to eat” since some of the species of fish in the Sea of Galilee were not considered edible, and that is the point of Jesus’ question here.

21:6 bavlete eij" taV dexiaV mevrh tou' ploivou toV divktuon, kaiV euJrhvsete After the disciples indicated that they had caught nothing, Jesus instructed them to cast their net to the right side of the boat, and they would find (something). As is often the case the direct object (in this case of euJrhvsete) is omitted in Greek, but is easily supplied from the context. Implicit in Jesus’ directions to the disciples is his supernatural knowledge (here, of the location of the fish) and the importance of obedience on the part of the disciples.

kaiV oujkevti aujtoV eJlkuvsai i[scuon The Evangelist goes on to tell us that the result of the disciples casting their net where Jesus had directed is that they were not able to haul it in because of the size of the catch of fish. In verse 11 we are told the exact number of the fish in the net, one hundred fifty-three.

21:7 oJ kuvriov" ejstin As a result of the tremendous catch of fish, the Beloved Disciple realized that the stranger on the beach who had directed them where to cast the net was Jesus. He then said to Peter, “It is the LORD”. It appears that Peter was still not able to recognize Jesus visually, since his response came when he heard that it was the LORD. In all probability we are to understand that it was spiritual insight into the miracle itself which enabled the Beloved Disciple to recognize the stranger on the shore as Jesus, rather than eyesight superior to Peter’s.

toVn ejpenduvthn diezwvsato, h gaVr gumnov", kaiV e[balen eJautoVn eij" thVn qavlassan Peter’s behavior here has been puzzling to many interpreters. It is generally understood that gumnov" does not refer to complete nudity (as it could), since this would have been offensive to Jewish sensibilities. It is thus commonly understood that the meaning here is “stripped for work,” that is, with one’s outer clothing removed, and Peter was wearing either a loincloth or a loose-fitting tunic (undergarment). Believing himself inadequately clad to greet the Lord, Peter cast his outer garment (toVn ejpenduvthn) around himself and dived into the sea. C. K. Barrett offers the explanation that a greeting was a religious act and thus could not be performed unless one was clothed.173 This still leaves one with the improbable picture of a person with much experience on and in the water putting on his outer garment before diving in. R. Brown’s suggestion seems much more probable here: the verb used, diezwvsato, does not necessarily mean putting clothing on, but rather tying the clothing around oneself (the same verb is used in 13:4-5 of Jesus tying the towel around himself).174 The statement that Peter was naked (h gaVr gumno") could just as well mean that he was naked underneath the outer garment (toVn ejpenduvthn), and thus could not take it off before jumping into the water. But he did pause to tuck it up and tie it with the girdle before jumping in, to allow himself more freedom of movement. Thus the clause that states Peter was naked is explanatory (note the use of gavr), explaining why Peter girded up his outer garment (toVn ejpenduvthn) rather than taking it off: he had nothing on underneath.

Why did Peter respond so quickly by jumping into the water, rather than waiting for the boat to get to shore? Some have suggested that this was the first appearance of the risen Jesus to Peter. This would perhaps explain why Peter did not recognize Jesus until the Beloved Disciple identified him, and might also provide some insight into why Peter had returned to Galilee and begun fishing again. Furthermore it might explain the absence of any mention of Peter in the accounts of the two post-resurrection appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem (20:19-23 and 20:26-28).

In spite of this, however, Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to Peter first (which does not negate the presence of companions, so this may or may not have been a separate appearance) in 1 Cor 15:5, and Luke similarly indicates that Jesus first appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34). The location where this first appearance to Peter took place is difficult to determine; Luke’ evidence would point to Jerusalem, but some have argued the appearance took place on the road from Jerusalem to Galilee.

In any case, a sufficient explanation for Peter’s behavior here can be found in his emotional state resulting from his denials of Jesus. This despondency may have also been behind his proposal to resume fishing (cf. verse 3). It is not necessary to understand this as the first time Jesus had appeared to Peter in order to explain Peters behavior.

21:8 tw'/ ploiarivw/ elqon Unlike Peter, the other disciples came with the boat. It appears that the weight of the net loaded with fish was so great that they could not lift it into the boat (or perhaps they feared the net would tear if they lifted it out of the water), for they came towing the net loaded with fish (suvronte" toV divktuon tw'n ijcquvwn).

wJ" ajpoV phcw'n diakosivwn When they made this miraculous catch of fish and Peter lept into the water to swim to shore, they were not far from land. The Evangelist tells us they were about two hundred cubits from the land. A ph'cu" was about 18 inches or .462 meters, so two hundred phcw'n would be about 100 yards (92.4 meters).175

21:9 blevpousin ajnqrakiaVn keimevnhn kaiV ojyavrion ejpikeivmenon kaiV a[rton When they disembarked on the land they saw a charcoal fire prepared, and [a] fish placed on it, and bread. It is not entirely clear whether ojyavrion is to be read as singular or plural, since it is anarthrous. Some have seen in the mention of only one fish and one loaf a symbol of unity; others have suggested a miraculous feeding in miniature, where Jesus multiplies the one fish and one loaf to feed the seven disciples. The latter explanation seems unlikely, however, since such a miracle, following on the previous one (the catch of fish) would probably not be mentioned so indirectly. In light of the fact that Jesus asks the disciples to bring some of the fish they have just caught in the following verse, it seems that only one may have been on the fire, and more were needed. But these fish the disciples had just caught were just as miraculously provided as the one already on the fire!

21:10 ejnevgkate ajpoV tw'n ojyarivwn w|n ejpiavsate nu'n Jesus said to the disciples, “Bring some of the fish (ajpov is used as a partitive here) which you have just caught.” As mentioned above (in the preceding verse) it seems best to understand this request to mean that some of the fish caught by the disciples were to be used in the meal.

21:11 ajnevbh ou Sivmwn Pevtro" It was Peter who took the initiative in drawing the net to land in response to Jesus’ request. We are not told where he went up to, but the verb ajnabaivnw is used of boarding a ship, and that would be the logical explanation for its use here. Although we may recall that the net full of fish was not pulled into the boat, but towed behind it to land, it may well have been necessary for Peter to go up into the boat to loosen the net where it was fastened in order to bring the net to shore.

mestoVn ijcquvwn megavlwn eJkatoVn penthvkonta triw'n The Evangelist makes two further points about the catch of fish: (1) there were one hundred fifty-three large fish in the net, and (2) even with so many, the net was not torn. Many symbolic interpretations have been proposed for both points (unity, especially, in the case of the second), but we are given no explicit clarification in the text itself.176 It seems better not to speculate here, but to see these details as indicative of an eyewitness account. Both are the sort of thing that would remain in the mind of a person who had witnessed them firsthand. Perhaps we are simply to understand this as the abundance which results from obedience to Jesus, much as with the amount of wine generated in the water-jars in Cana at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (2:6).

21:12 deu'te ajristhvsate Jesus said to the disciples, “Come, have breakfast”. The verb ajristavw and the corresponding noun a[riston were normally used for the meal at the beginning of the day, as here. At this time there were usually two main meals per day for laborers; the other meal was the dei'pnon (cf. 12:2).

A Note on the Response of the Disciples to Jesus:

Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, Who are you? because they knew that it was the LORD. The response of the disciples in this situation is somewhat puzzling. On the surface it reads like a recognition scene, yet Jesus was already recognized by the Beloved Disciple in verse 7. This apparent awkwardness has led some, like R. Brown, to propose that two separate recognition scenes, one here and one in verse 7, have been blended together imperfectly, so that Jesus in effect is recognized twice in the same account.177 This is not necessary, however, and it overlooks the explanation given in the present verse for the disciples’ hesitancy in questioning Jesus: “because they knew that it was the LORD”. In verse 7 the Beloved Disciple had recognized from the boat that the stranger on the shore was the risen Jesus, but this appears to be a spiritual insight following the miraculous catch of fish rather than a visual perception based on the appearance of Jesus. In verse 7 Peter plunged into the sea after he heard that it was Jesus, not because of what he could see. It appears that the disciples were not actually able to get a good look at Jesus until they got to shore. We might suppose that this would have been enough to clear up any doubts, although it should be remembered that there was something about the appearance of the risen Jesus which was different enough to make immediate recognition difficult. Mary Magdalene (20:15) did not immediately recognize him, and when he appeared to the disciples (20:19-23) he had to show them his hands and side before they are said to have recognized him.

There is also another factor to consider, however. When the Evangelist gives the reason for the disciples’ hesitancy, he does not say it was because they knew that it was Jesus, but because they knew that it was the LORD. Mary Magdalene had announced to the disciples that she had seen the LORD in 20:18, and when Jesus was recognized by the disciples in 20:20 they rejoiced when they saw the LORD. The climax is reached in the recognition scene with Thomas (20:28) where he exclaims, “My LORD and my GOD”. As pointed out there, kuvrio" was used by the LXX to translate hwhy, and thus Jesus’ prophecy in 8:28 (“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM”) is being fulfilled in these post-resurrection appearances. The reticence of the disciples is understandable if they knew themselves to be in the presence of Deity.

21:13 kaiV lambavnei toVn a[rton kaiV divdwsin aujtoi'" Jesus came and took the bread and gave [some] to them, and the fish likewise. Is Jesus’ action here to be understood in light of similar actions in 6:11, where he also distributed bread and fish? Many have been led to see verse 13 here as a reference to the Eucharist, mainly in light of the suggested connection with 6:11. But such a conclusion is far from certain, and assumes that 6:11 itself alludes to the Eucharist.

21:14 tou'to h[dh trivton ejfanerwvqh =Ihsou'" The Evangelist has added a note explaining that this was the third time Jesus had manifested himself to the disciples after his resurrection. The first time was described in 20:19-23 and the second in 20:26-29. We should probably understand this as a reference to appearances to the disciples as a group, since at least one additional appearance is mentioned in the Fourth Gospel itself (in 20:14-17, to Mary Magdalene), and Luke and Paul both mention a prior appearance to Peter (which may or may not constitute a separate appearance, see the discussion above in the Notes on 21:7).

      2 B The risen Jesus speaks to Peter about his ministry and his future (21:15-23)

        1 C Jesus restores Peter to fellowship and commissions him (21:15-17)

21:15-17 ”Ote ou hjrivsthsan levgei tw'/ Sivmwni Pevtrw/ After the conclusion of the meal, Jesus said to Simon Peter,”Simon [son] of John, do you love me more than these? (ajgapa'/" me plevon touvtwn…)” Before considering the implications of the variation in vocabulary between ajgapavw and filevw, we must first attempt to answer the question, to whom (or what) does “these” (touvtwn) refer? Three possibilities are suggested:

(1) touvtwn should be understood as neuter, “these things,” referring to the boats, nets, and fishing gear nearby. In light of Peter’s statement in 21:3, “I am going fishing,” some have understood Peter to have renounced his commission in light of his denials of Jesus. Jesus, as he restores Peter and forgives him for his denials, is asking Peter if he really loves his previous vocation more than he loves Jesus. Three things may be said in evaluation of this view: (a) it is not at all necessary to understand Peter’s statement in 21:3 as a renouncement of his discipleship, as this view of the meaning of touvtwn would imply; (b) it would probably be more likely that the verb would be repeated in such a construction (see 7:31 for an example where the verb is repeated); and (c) as R. Brown has observed, by Johannine standards the choice being offered to Peter between material things and the risen Jesus would seem rather ridiculous, especially after the disciples had realized whom it was they were dealing with (the LORD, see above on verse 12).178

(2) touvtwn refers to the other disciples, meaning “Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?” The same objection mentioned as (c) under (1) would apply here: could the Evangelist, in light of the realization of who Jesus is which has come to the disciples after the resurrection, and which he has just mentioned in 21:12, seriously present Peter as being offered a choice between the other disciples and the risen Jesus?

This leaves option (3), that touvtwn refers to the other disciples, meaning “Do you love me more than these other disciples do?” It seems likely that there is some irony here: Peter had boasted in 13:37, “I will lay down my life for you,” and the synoptics present Peter as boasting even more explicitly of his loyalty to Jesus (“Even if they all fall away, I will not,” Matt 26:33; Mark 14:29). Thus the semantic force of what Jesus asks Peter here amounts to something like “Now, after you have denied me three times, as I told you you would, can you still affirm that you love me more than these other disciples do?

ajgapa'/" me plevon thouvtwn… What are we to make of the variation in vocabulary in verses 15-17? The variation between ajgapavw and filevw in these verses is as follows:

21:15

ajgapa'/" me plevon thouvtwn…

naiv, kuvrie, suV oida" o{ti filw' se

21:16

ajgapa'/" me…

naiv, kuvrie, suV oida" o{ti filw' se

21:17

filei'" me…

kuvrie, pavnta suV oida", suV ginwvskei" o{ti filw' se

In summary it should be noted that aside from Origen, who saw a distinction in the meaning of the two words, most of the Greek Fathers like Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, saw no real difference of meaning. Neither did Augustine nor the translators of the Itala (Old Latin). This was also the view of the Reformation Greek scholars Erasmus and Grotius. The suggestion that we should see a distinction in meaning comes primarily from a number of British scholars of the nineteenth century, especially Trench, Westcott, and Plummer. It has been picked up by others such as Spicq, Lenski, and Hendriksen. But most modern scholars decline to see a real difference in the meaning of the two words in this context, among them Bernard, Moffatt, Bonsirven, Bultmann, Barrett, Brown, Morris, Haenchen, and Beasley-Murray.

There are three significant reasons for seeing no real difference in the meaning of ajgapavw and filevw in these verses:

  • the Evangelist has a habit of introducing slight stylistic variations in repeated material without any significant difference in meaning (compare, for example, 3:3 with 3:5, and 7:34 with 13:33). An examination of the uses of ajgapavw and filevw in the Fourth Gospel seems to indicate a general interchangeability between the two. Both terms are used of God’s love for man (3:16, 16:27); of the Father’s love for the Son (3:35, 5:20); of Jesus’ love for men (11:5, 11:3); of the love of men for men (13:34, 15:19); and of the love of men for Jesus (8:42, 16:27).
  • If (as seems probable) the original conversation took place in Aramaic (or possibly Hebrew), there would not have been any difference expressed because both Aramaic and Hebrew have only one basic word for love, bha. In the LXX both ajgapavw and filevw are used to translate bha, although ajgapavw is more frequent. It is significant that in the Syriac version of the NT only one verb is used to translate verses 15-17 (Syriac is very similar linguistically to Palestinian Aramaic).
  • Peter’s answers to the questions asked with ajgapavw are ‘yes’ even though he answers using the verb filevw. If he is being asked to love Jesus on a higher or more spiritual level his answers give no indication of this, and we would be forced to say (in order to maintain a consistent distinction between the two verbs) that Jesus finally concedes defeat and accepts only the lower form of love which is all that Peter is capable of offering!

Thus it seems best to regard the interchange between ajgapavw and filevw in these verses as a minor stylistic variation of the Evangelist, consistent with his use of minor variations in repeated material elsewhere, and not indicative of any real difference in meaning.

bovske taV ajrniva mou Again we are faced with a variation in vocabulary in verses 15-17:

21:15 bovske taV ajrniva mou

21:16 poivmaine taV provbatav mou

21:17 bovske taV provbatav mou

There are some textual variants involved; it is understandable in such a case that scribal confusion would occur! The apparatus of the 27th edition of Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland) should be consulted for the existing variant readings.

As for the meaning, it is sometimes pointed out that bovskw describes a more restricted activity, that of feeding animals, than poimaivnw, which refers to guiding and protecting the flock as well as feeding it. This may be true, but taken comprehensively both terms form a general description of pastoral care. Again we are probably dealing with stylistic variation here on the part of the Evangelist. The Latin Vulgate translated both verbs with the same verb, pascere. And as for the different words for sheep, it should be noted that there are no less than three different words for fish in verses 5-13.

As for the significance of the entire scene in the narrative, it seems clear that it is intended to indicate Peters complete restoration to a position of apostolic leadership after his threefold denial. Three times Peter had denied Jesus; three times Peter now affirms his love for his Lord, and three times Jesus commissions Peter to care for the flock of God. There could be no question on Peter’s part or on the part of the other disciples that he had been completely restored.

        2 C Jesus tells Peter of his future (21:18-23)

21:18 ajmhVn ajmhVn levgw soi After restoring Peter to his former position of apostolic leadership, Jesus went on to tell him prophetically something of the fate that awaited him in his old age. Jesus told Peter that when he was young, he tied his own girdle, and went wherever he wished, but when he is old, others will bind him and carry him where does not wish to go. There are four elements that are being compared: (1) young—old; (2) tying his own girdle—being bound by others; (3) going—being taken; and (4) wherever one wishes—where one does not wish to go. For the stretching out of the hands in old age there is no corresponding element in the initial stage.

21:19 tou'to deV eipen shmaivnwn… The Evangelist inserts a parethetical explanation. Jesus’ words to Peter signified the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. This explanation makes it clear that the comparisons of the preceding verse ultimately related to Peter’s death, a meaning which is not immediately obvious without the following explanatory note.

The phrase shmaivnwn poivw/ qanavtw/ /doxavsei toVn qeovn almost certainly indicates martyrdom (cf. 1 Peter 4:16), and it may not predict anything more than that. But the parallelism of this phrase to similar phrases in John 12:33 and 18:32 which describe Jesus’ own death by crucifixion have led many to suggest that the picture Jesus is portraying for Peter looks not just at martyrdom but at death by crucifixion. This seems to be confirmed by the phrase ejktenei'" taV" cei'rav" sou in the preceding verse. There is some evidence that the early church understood this and similar phrases (one of them in Isa 65:2) to refer to crucifixion.179 Some have objected that if this phrase does indeed refer to crucifixion, the order within verse 18 is wrong, because the stretching out of the hands in crucifixion precedes the binding and leading where one does not wish to go. R. Brown sees this as a deliberate reversal of the normal order (hysteron proteron) intended to emphasize the stretching out of the hands.180 Another possible explanation for the unusual order is the Roman practice in crucifixions of tying the condemned prisoner’s arms to the crossbeam (patibulum) and forcing him to carry it to the place of execution.181

After these words to Peter concerning his martyrdom, Jesus said to him in summary, “Follow me.” Peter was to follow Jesus first in discipleship and later in death, as Jesus had just foretold.

21:20 =EpistrafeiV" Apparently Jesus had been doing what he had frequently done during his earthly ministry with the disciples: he was walking along as he spoke with them. After Jesus had finished speaking with him, Peter turned and saw the Beloved Disciple following too. The Evangelist adds an explanatory note that this was the disciple who had leaned back on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper and questioned him about the one who was to betray him (13:25).

21:21 kuvrie, ou|to" deV tiv… Peter thus asked Jesus concerning the future of this other disciple. It is natural to suppose that after Jesus had spoken of Peter’s future, Peter’s curiosity would be aroused concerning his fellow disciples. So Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, but what [about] this one?” The actual question is elliptical; various verbs may be supplied: “what about this one?,” “what is to become of this one?,” “what will this man do?,” etc.

21:22 tiv proV" sev… suv moi ajkolouvqei Jesus replied to Peter, “If I wish him to remain [mevnein] until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” In the context it seems clear that mevnw means “to remain alive” (cf. the use in 1 Cor 15:6). It seems less likely that we should attach to it the special Johnannine theological sense involving the permanent relationship between Jesus and the believer and/or the Father. Jesus does not answer Peter’s question. The point Jesus makes to Peter is that it is none of Peters business what will happen to Peters fellow disciples. Peter is rather to concern himself with following Jesus.

21:23 ejxh'lqen ou ou|to" oJ lovgo" eij" touV" ajdelfouV"… The Evangelist adds another parenthetical note to explain Jesus’ saying concerning the Beloved Disciple. This saying of Jesus circulated among the brethren that the Beloved Disciple would not die (but would remain until the Lords return). The Evangelist makes it clear, however, that this is not what Jesus had said. Jesus had not said the Beloved Disciple would not die. Jesus had asked a hypothetical question: what did it matter to Peter if Jesus wished this other disciple to remain until his return? The adversative used by the Evangelist (ajllav) indicates the strength of this distinction.

      3 B The Conclusion to the Gospel (21:24-25)

21:24 Ou|tov" ejstin oJ maqhthV" oJ marturw'n periV touvtwn kaiV oJ gravya" tau'ta The Fourth Gospel concludes with an authentication of the testimony of the one who both witnessed the events described and wrote them down. Many have understood this to be a conclusion written by someone other than the Evangelist. It is argued that the plural oi[damen indicates more than one person is involved in this statement of authentication, and thus it has been added by others after the completion of the Gospel. This may be so, but several points favoring authorship of these final verses by the Evangelist himself need to be considered:

(1) If this statement of attestation were added by a later writer we would expect it to stand at the very end of the Fourth Gospel, but in fact it is followed by verse 25, which resorts to the first person singular (oimai) again;

(2) Manuscript evidence for treating both verses 24 and 25 as a later addition to the Gospel is so slim as to be virtually nonexistent (verse 25 was omitted by the original copyist of , but the same copyist then added it as a correction; there is no manuscript evidence of any kind for the omission of verse 24);

(3) Jesus in 3:11 uses a plural verb where it is clear in context that only he is speaking;

(4) 1 John 1:1 uses plural verbs in the same way, in a context where authentication of testimony is concerned; and

(5) The author of 3 John, who elsewhere uses the first person singular, uses a plural verb and pronoun to refer to himself in verse 12 in a context where authentication of testimony is concerned: kaiV hJmei'" deV marturou'men, kaiV oida" o{ti hJ marturiva hJmw'n ajlhqhv" ejstin. In light of all this it seems probable that the Evangelist himself is the author of 21:24.

21:25 “Estin deV kaiV a[lla pollaV a} ejpoivhsen oJ =Ihsou'" The Evangelist concludes with a note concerning his selectivity of material. He makes it plain that he has not attempted to write an exhaustive account of the words and works of Jesus, for if one attempted to do so, “the world itself could not contain the books which would be written.” This is clearly hyperbole, and as such bears some similarity to the conclusion of the Book of Ecclesiastes (12:9-12). As it turns out, the statement seems more true of the Fourth Gospel itself, which is the subject of an ever-lengthening bibliography!

The statement in verse 25 serves as a final reminder that our knowledge of Jesus, no matter how well-attested it may be, is still partial. We do not know everything that Jesus did during his three and one-half years of earthly ministry. This supports the major theme of the Fourth Gospel: Jesus is repeatedly identified as God, and although we may know him truly, on the basis of his self-disclosure, we can never know him exhaustively. There is far more to know about Jesus than could ever be written down, or even known. On this appropriate note the Gospel of John ends.


169 Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 577.

170 Stephen S. Smalley, New Testament Studies 20 (1973/74): 275-88.

171 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1070.

172 BAGD 719, s.v. prosfavgion.

173 Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 580-81.

174 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1072.

175 BAGD 657, s.v. ph'cu".

176 For a summary of the symbolic interpretations proposed for the number of fish in the net, see Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1074-75, where a number are discussed at length.

177 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1077.

178 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1103.

179 For a detailed discussion of the evidence see Morris, The Gospel According to John, 876, n. 52.

180 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 1108.

181 W. Bauer as cited by O. Cullmann in Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 88.

Related Topics: Christology, Spiritual Life