John 21:16
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.
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(16) He saith to him again the second time.—The question is repeated in exactly the same form, except that our Lord does not continue the comparison “more than these.” He uses the same word for the higher, more intellectual love, and Peter replies by the same declaration of personal attachment, and the same appeal to his Master’s knowledge of him.

Feed my sheep.—Better, be a shepherd of My sheep. The Vatican and Paris MSS. read “little sheep” here, and in the following verse. (See Note there.)

John 21:16-17. He saith unto him again the second (and even the third) time, Simon, &c., lovest thou me? — Doubtless with a view to impress the importance of the question with the greater force on his mind; and perhaps, also, to remind Peter of his having thrice denied him, and thereby given him cause to question the sincerity of his love. But at these two latter times, Christ leaves out the words more than these: because Peter, in his answer, had modestly left them out. Observe, reader, though we cannot say we love Christ more than others do, yet we shall be accepted if we can say we love him indeed. This Peter professes to do again and again, confidently affirming, Yea, or surely, Lord, I love thee. He had a high esteem and value for his Lord; a grateful sense of his kindness; and was entirely devoted to his honour and interest; his desire was toward him, as one he should be undone without; and his delight in him, as one he should be unspeakably happy in. And let it be remembered, those who can truly say that they love the Lord Jesus, may take to themselves the comfort arising from an assurance of their having an interest in him, notwithstanding their daily infirmities. It deserves our notice here, that Peter could appeal to Christ himself for the proof of his love, saying once and again, Thou knowest that I love thee; and the third time, speaking yet more emphatically, Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. He doth not vouch his fellow-disciples to witness for him; they might be deceived in him; nor doth he think his own word might be taken; the credit of that was more than shaken already: but he calls Christ himself to witness. Happy they that, on good grounds, can do the same! He saith unto him, Feed my sheep — The word rendered feed in the preceding verse, and in John 21:17 th βοσκε, properly means to give food; but the word here used, ποιμαινε, implies more largely to do all the offices of a shepherd, namely, to guide, watch, and defend the sheep, as well as to feed them. “From our Lord’s asking Peter if he loved him, before he gave him commission to feed his lambs and his sheep, it is justly inferred, that to render men duly qualified for the ministerial function, they must prefer the interest and honour of Christ to every other consideration whatever. This is the great qualification by which alone a minister can be animated to go through the labours and difficulties of his office, and be fortified against the dangers which may attend it. Moreover, Christ’s exhortation to Peter to feed his lambs and sheep, being the reply which he made to Peter’s declaration that he loved him, shows us that ministers best testify their love to Christ by their singular care and diligence in feeding his flock. Our Lord’s three-fold repetition of his commission to Peter, was probably in allusion to Peter’s three denials; and as it contains an oblique intimation that his repentance should bear some proportion to his sin, so it seems to have been intended by our Lord to convince the rest of the disciples of the sincerity of Peter’s conversion, and to prevent any slight which he might be exposed to from their suspecting the contrary. However, we are told that Peter was grieved at this repeated application to him: 1st, Because it seemed to him an intimation that Christ doubted the sincerity of his repentance; and to a person of his sanguine temper, nothing could have afforded a more sensible anguish than such a suggestion. 2d, It recalled his crime, with all its aggravating circumstances, into his mind; it renewed his grief for having offended, and it increased that grief from a consideration that he had given sufficient grounds for suspecting his fidelity, even after his conversion. 3d, It put him in fear lest his Master foresaw some further misconduct of his, which would be as great a contradiction to his professions of love to him as the former was. One would wonder that from circumstances so evidently humiliating to the mind of Peter, the Papists could have inferred a grant to him of supreme dominion over the church, clergy as well as laity; as if a charge to serve the sheep, gave a power to lord it over all the shepherds. The passage has doubtless a quite different meaning; for Peter, by his late cowardice and perfidy, having, as it were, abdicated the apostleship, was hereby no more than formally restored to his office, through the indulgence of his kind and merciful Master; and not raised to any new dignity above his brethren.” See Macknight, and Tillotson’s Works.

21:15-19 Our Lord addressed Peter by his original name, as if he had forfeited that of Peter through his denying him. He now answered, Thou knowest that I love thee; but without professing to love Jesus more than others. We must not be surprised to have our sincerity called into question, when we ourselves have done that which makes it doubtful. Every remembrance of past sins, even pardoned sins, renews the sorrow of a true penitent. Conscious of integrity, Peter solemnly appealed to Christ, as knowing all things, even the secrets of his heart. It is well when our falls and mistakes make us more humble and watchful. The sincerity of our love to God must be brought to the test; and it behoves us to inquire with earnest, preserving prayer to the heart-searching God, to examine and prove us, whether we are able to stand this test. No one can be qualified to feed the sheep and lambs of Christ, who does not love the good Shepherd more than any earthly advantage or object. It is the great concern of every good man, whatever death he dies, to glorify God in it; for what is our chief end but this, to die to the Lord, at the word of the Lord?Feed my sheep - The word here rendered "feed," as has been remarked, is different from the word in the previous verse. It has the sense of governing, caring for, guiding, protecting - the kind of faithful vigilance which a shepherd uses to guide his flock, and to make provision against their wants and dangers. It may be implied here that the care needed for the young in the church is to instruct them, and for those in advanced years both to instruct and govern them.

My sheep - This term commonly denotes the church in general, without respect to age, John 10.

16. He saith to him … the second time … lovest thou me, &c.—In this repetition of the question, though the wound was meant to be reopened, the words "more than these" are not repeated; for Christ is a tender as well as skilful Physician, and Peter's silence on that point was confession enough of his sin and folly. On Peter's repeating his protestation in the same words, our Lord rises higher in the manifestation of His restoring grace.


my sheep—It has been observed that the word here is studiously changed, from one signifying simply to feed, to one signifying to tend as a shepherd, denoting the abiding exercise of that vocation, and in its highest functions.

Ver. 16,17. Divines here raise a question, why our Saviour propounds this question thrice to Peter. The most of the ancients agree, that it was because Peter had thrice denied him. Some say, it was to show his great love to his church, which he could not commit to Peter but after three inquiries if he truly loved him, who was the Lord of it. Others refer it to the three ways by which good pastors ought to feed the church; prayer, preaching, and a holy life. Others think, that it hath reference to the three flocks that Peter was to feed; the Jews in Judea, the Gentiles, the dispersed amongst the Gentiles.

He saith unto him again the second time,.... Willing to have the expressions of his love repeated and confirmed;

Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? he leaves out the words, "more than these", though Nonnus expresses them; he saw Peter's heart, and observed the modesty of his answer, and would not urge him any more in that comparative way, only required a repetition of his sincere and hearty love to him:

he saith unto him, yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee; expressing himself in the same language as before; and it is, as if he should say, Lord, what can I say more? I can say no more than I have done, and by that I:abide:

he saith unto him, feed my sheep; both the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and his other sheep among the Gentiles, whom the Father had given him, and he had paid a price for, and must be brought in; these being called, he would have fed with the word and ordinances, with the bread of life, and water of life, not lorded over, and fleeced, and much less worried and destroyed; every instance of care and love shown to these, he takes as a mark of affection and respect to himself.

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.
John 21:16. To this confession, the Lord responds, Βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου, “Feed my lambs,” showing that Jesus could again trust him and could leave in his hands those whom He loved. “Lambs” is used instead of “sheep” to bring out more strongly the appeal to care, and the consequent complete confidence shown in Peter. λέγειμου. The second inquiry is intended to drive Peter back from mere customary or lip-profession to the deep-lying affections of his spirit. But now no comparison is introduced into the question, which might be paraphrased: “Are you sure that love and nothing but love is the bond between you and me?” This test Peter stands. He replies as before; and again is entrusted with the work in which his Lord is chiefly interested, Ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. No different function is intended by ποίμαινε: it repeats in another form the commission already given.

16. lovest thou me?] Jesus drops the ‘more than these,’ which the humbled Apostle had shrunk from answering, but retains His own word for ‘love.’ S. Peter answers exactly as before.

Feed my sheep] Better, Tend, or shepherd, My sheep. The word rendered ‘feed’ in John 21:15; John 21:17 (boskein) means ‘supply with food.’ Comp. Matthew 8:30; Matthew 8:33; Mark 5:11; Mark 5:14; Luke 8:32; Luke 8:34; Luke 15:15 (the only other passages where the word occurs in N.T.) of the feeding of the herd of swine. The word used here (poimainein) means rather ‘be shepherd to.’ It is used literally Luke 17:7; 1 Corinthians 9:7; and figuratively Matthew 2:6; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2. Comp. Judges 12; Revelation 2:27; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 12:5; Revelation 19:15. Tending implies more of guidance and government than feeding does. The lambs, which can go no distance, scarcely require guidance, their chief need is food. The sheep require both.

John 21:16. Ποίμαινε, feed) This verb Peter has repeated in his first Epistle, ch. John 5:2.—πρόβατα, sheep) The Latin Vulg. has, in the second answer, ‘agnos’:[407] although it comes to the same thing, as we shall presently see. By far the most frequent form in which this saying was quoted, was, Feed My sheep. Therefore more modern transcribers have introduced into John the formula which Ancient writers employed; and John seems to have written ἀρνία in this second place. [A different judgment is passed upon this reading in the margin of both Ed. and in Vers. Germ., wherein the word ἈΡΝΊΑ is approved of only in the first place, John 21:15 : however, the subject itself, exhibiting as it does three periods, equally favours each of the two views.—E. B.]; (and the more recent Greeks seem to have laid hold of πρόβατα); so that thus there are three distinct sentences in John 21:15-17, ΒΌΣΚΕ ΤᾺ ἈΡΝΊΑ ΜΟΥ· ΠΟΊΜΑΙΝΕ ΤᾺ ἈΡΝΊΑ ΜΟΥ· ΒΌΣΚΕ ΤᾺ ΠΡΌΒΑΤΆ ΜΟΥ. In these three sentences the flock that is committed to Peter is distributed into three ages; and the flock of the first age comes under the appellation, lambs; that of the third age, under the appellation, sheep (which, however, are never without lambs growing up to maturity); therefore the flock of the second age fall under the appellation of sheep still somewhat tender, or of lambs already become somewhat hardy. The distinction between the nouns, which the Greek language hardly admitted of, is compensated for by the distinction of the verbs, βόσκε and ΠΟΊΜΑΙΝΕ: ΒΌΣΚΕΙΝ is a part of ΠΟΙΜΑΊΝΕΙΝ. And, though the Hebrew language did not admit of these distinctions in the words, it does not follow that John could not have expressed the sense of our Lord by the convenient propriety of distinctions which the Greek words afforded. It is with this meaning that the Syr[408] Version puts, in John 21:15-17, after the verb, Feed, three different nouns, to which lambs, little sheep (‘oviculæ’), sheep, correspond. And similarly Ambrosius writes on Luke 24., “In fine, in the third instance Peter is desired to feed, not the lambs, as in the first instance, nor the little sheep (oviculas), as in the second instance, but the sheep; i.e. that having become more perfect himself, he should govern the more perfect.” Maximus says, in his discourse concerning SS. Peter and Paul, that the little sheep were commended to Peter, as also the sheep. Neither of these writers, indeed, reads in John 21:16, προβάτια, as Bellarmine contends in his B. I. concerning the Roman Pontiff, ch. 16., whilst seeking to find marvellous classes of sheep, subject to the Pope: but at all events those ancient writers acknowledged the gradation in the three sentences, which most delightfully accords with 1 John 2:13-14, “Fathers—young men—little children.” Between this discourse and the death of Peter there elapsed thirty-six years: and this discourse itself divides that space of time into almost three equal periods. During the first. Peter fed the tender age of the Christian Church, or in other words the lambs; the appellation of which is in consonance with that appellation which is found in Acts, viz. disciples, to which afterwards the appellation, brethren, succeeded. See on Matthew 10:1-2. [The Apostles were often called disciples before Pentecost; after it never, but apostles. In Acts, those who either had learned with, or were learning from the apostles, were called disciples. After Acts 6:1; Acts 21:16, the term disciples does not occur in the New Testament, but they are called brethren, Christians, believers, saints, etc.] In the second period, he brought to him, ruled, and gathered together, the sheep. In the third, he fed the Church collected out of Jews and Gentiles up to the time of his martyrdom.

[407] b has ‘oviculas.’ But ABacd support πρόβατα.—E. and T.

[408] yr. the Peschito Syriac Version: second cent.: publ. and corrected by Cureton, from MS. of fifth cent.

Verse 16. - He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas (John), lovest thou me? Here our Lord omits, as Peter had done, the "more than these," but he again, with perhaps deeper meaning, uses the word ἀγαπᾶς. Dost thou render me even more in one sense, though less in another, of thy heart's reverence? Dost thou treat me with the confidence and esteem, submission and admiration, which are my due? Again Peter, with his heart bursting with personal affection, feels that he can and must say, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee (φιλῶ ere; i.e. love thee dearly). The commission that follows is the second stage of pastoral office. He saith to him, Tend ("act the part of shepherd") my sheep. Christ is the "good Shepherd," and, as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 5:4, the "chief Shepherd." He has laid down his life with a view of taking it again, and ever after discharging the functions of the Shepherd. He means to bring all the "sheep" into one flock. They shall all hear his voice, and receive from him everlasting life. Meanwhile the leader of the apostles is made to appreciate that love is the condition of all healthy guidance. Faculty for rule is part of the very nature of the pastoral care. The sheep will need this even more than the "lambs;" the old disciples will require, even more than the young converts, both direction and command In this respect the subsequent career of Peter was more conspicuous than that of the rest of the apostles (see Revelation 2:27; Revelation 7:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2 for the use of the word). But the shepherding of the sheep is an essentially necessary and integral portion of every pastor's care. When assailed by the wolf of heresy, by the hostile marauder, by new conditions of any kind, by special danger, unless he can in self-forgetting love pilot and protect his flock, he is no true shepherd. John 21:16Lovest (ἀγαπᾷς)

Again the colder word, but more than these is omitted.

I love (φιλῶ)

Peter reiterates his former word expressive of personal affection.

Feed (ποίμαινε)

A different word: tend, as Rev. See on 1 Peter 5:2.

Sheep (πρόβατα)

Some of the best texts read προβάτια, diminutive, little sheep.

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