What is the significance of the two Greek words for “love” in John 21:15-17?

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The Greek text of John 21:15-17 indicates that Jesus used ἀγαπᾶν (agapan) for the Greek verb "love," while Peter used φιλεῖν (philein) in his reply. The explanation often given is that the first word refers to a higher, truer love, whereas the second word means only "to be fond of."

Unlike Greek, Hebrew does not have two words for “love” that would differentiate between the love of Jesus for Peter and Peter’s love for Jesus. Assuming that Jesus and Peter spoke Hebrew to each other, this Greek distinction is one of myriad indications that the Gospel of John was originally composed in Greek.

See the related FAQ, “Why is your research focused on the synoptic Gospels? Why leave out the Gospel of John?”.

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