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Bible Commentaries
John 21

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1

Verse John 21:1. Jesus showed himself again — After that our Lord had appeared several times to the women, and to the apostles at Jerusalem, and at the tomb, he bade them go into Galilee, giving them the promise of meeting them there: Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7. This promise we find he fulfilled in the way John relates here. This was the seventh appearance of our Lord after the resurrection. Matthew, Matthew 28:16, has but just mentioned it: of it the rest of the evangelists say nothing, and this is the reason why John gives it so particularly.

Verse 3

Verse John 21:3. Peter saith - I go a fishing. — Previously to the crucifixion of our Lord, the temporal necessities of himself and his disciples appear to have been supplied by the charity of individuals: Luke 8:3. As it is probable that the scandal of the cross had now shut up this source of support, the disciples, not fully knowing how they were to be employed, purposed to return to their former occupation of fishing, in order to gain a livelihood; and therefore the seven, mentioned John 21:2, embarked on the sea of Tiberias, otherwise called the sea of Galilee.

That night they caught nothing. — God had so ordered it, that they might be the more struck with the miracle which he afterwards wrought.

Verse 4

Verse John 21:4. Knew not that it was Jesus. — Probably because it was either not light enough, or he was at too great a distance, or he had assumed another form, as in Mark 16:12; otherwise his person was so remarkable that all his disciples readily knew him when he was at hand: see John 21:12.

Verse 5

Verse John 21:5. Children — παιδια, a term of familiarity and affectionate kindness: it is the vocative case plural of παιδιον, which is the diminutive of παις, and literally signifies little children, or beloved children. How the margin has made sirs out of it I cannot conceive.

Any meat — προσφαγιον from προς, besides, and φαγω, I eat; any thing that is eaten with bread, or such like solid substances, to make the deglutition the more easy: here it evidently means any kind of fish; and our Lord seems to have appeared at first in the character of a person who wished to purchase a part of what they had caught: John 6:9; John 6:9.

Verse 6

Verse John 21:6. And ye shall find. — The AEthiopic, three copies of the Itala, and St. Cyril, add, They said therefore unto him, we have laboured all the night and caught nothing, nevertheless at thy command we will let down the net. This is borrowed from Luke 5:5.

For the multitude of fishes. — This was intended as an emblem of the immense number of souls which should be converted to God by their ministry; according to the promise of Christ, Matthew 4:19.

Verse 7

Verse John 21:7. His fisher's coat — Or, his upper coat. επενδυτην, from επι, upon, and ενδυω, I clothe; something analagous to what we term a great coat or surtout.

He was naked — He was only in his vest. γυμνος, naked, is often used to signify the absence of this upper garment only. In 1 Samuel 19:24, when Saul had put off his ιματια, upper garments, he is said to have been γυμνος, naked; and David, when girded only with a linen ephod, is said to have been uncovered, in 2 Samuel 6:14; 2 Samuel 6:20. To which may be added what we read in the Sept. Job 22:6, Thou hast taken away the covering of the naked; αμφιασιν γυμνων, the plaid or blanket in which they wrapped themselves, and besides which they had none other. In this sense it is that Virgil says, Geor. i. 299: Nudus ara, sere nudus, i.e. strip off your upper garments, and work till you sweat. See more examples in Bp. Pearce.

Cast himself into the sea. — It is likely that they were in very shallow water; and, as they were only two hundred cubits from the land, (about one hundred and thirty-two English yards,) it is possible that Peter only stepped into the water that he might assist them to draw the boat to land, which was now heavily laden. It is not likely that he went into the water in order to swim ashore; had he intended this, it is not to be supposed that he would have put his great coat on, which must have been an essential hinderance to him in getting to shore.

Verse 8

Verse John 21:8. Dragging the net — It is probable that this was that species of fishing in which the net was stretched from the shore out into the sea; the persons who were in the boat, and who shot the net, fetched a compass, and bringing in a hawser, which was attached to the other end of the net, those who were on shore helped them to drag it in. As the net was sunk with weights to the bottom, and the top floated on the water by corks, or pieces of light wood, all the fish that happened to come within the compass of the net were of course dragged to shore. The sovereign power of Christ had in this case miraculously collected the fish to that part where he ordered the disciples to cast the net.

Verse 9

Verse John 21:9. They saw a fire, c.] This appears to have been a new miracle. It could not have been a fire which the disciples had there, for it is remarked as something new besides, they had caught no fish, John 21:5, and here was a small fish upon the coals, and a loaf of bread provided to eat with it. The whole appears to have been miraculously prepared by Christ.

Verse 12

Verse John 21:12. Come and dine. — δευτε αριστησατε. Though this is the literal translation of the word, yet it must be observed that it was not dinner time, being as yet early in the morning, John 21:4; but Kypke has largely shown that the original word is used by Homer, Xenophon, and Plutarch, to signify breakfast, or any early meal, as well as what we term dinner. It might perhaps appear singular, otherwise it would be as agreeable to the use of the Greek word, to have translated it, come and breakfast.

Durst ask him — Ever since the confession of Thomas, a proper awe of the Deity of Christ had possessed their minds.

Verse 13

Verse John 21:13. And giveth them — Eating likewise with them, as Luke expressly says: Luke 24:43.

Verse 14

Verse John 21:14. This is now the third time — That is, this was the third time he appeared unto the apostles, when all or most of them were together. He appeared to ten of them, John 20:19; again to eleven of them, John 20:26; and at this time to seven of them, John 21:2. But, when the other evangelists are collated, we shall find that this was the seventh time in which he had manifested himself after he arose from the dead.

1st. He appeared to Mary of Magdala, Mark 16:9; John 20:15-16.

2ndly, To the holy women who came from the tomb. Matthew 28:9.

3dly, To the two disciples who went to Emmaus, Luke 24:13, c.

4thly, To St. Peter alone, Luke 24:34.

5thly, To the ten, in the absence of Thomas, John 20:19.

6thly, Eight days after to the eleven, Thomas being present John 20:26.

7thly, To the seven, mentioned in John 21:2; which was between the eighth and fortieth day after his resurrection. Besides these seven appearances, he showed himself,

8thly, To the disciples on a certain mountain in Galilee, Matthew 28:16.

If the appearance mentioned by St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:6, to upwards of 500 brethren at once - if this be not the same with his appearance on a mountain in Galilee, it must be considered the ninth. According to the same apostle, he was seen of James, 1 Corinthians 15:7, which may have been the tenth appearance. And, after this, to all the apostles, when, at Bethany, he ascended to heaven in their presence. See Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:3-12; 1 Corinthians 15:7. This appears to have been the eleventh time in which he distinctly manifested himself after his resurrection. But there might have been many other manifestations, which the evangelists have not thought proper to enumerate, as not being connected with any thing of singular weight or importance.

Verse 15

Verse John 21:15. Simon lovest thou me — Peter had thrice denied his Lord, and now Christ gives him an opportunity in some measure to repair his fault by a triple confession.

More than these? — This was a kind of reproach to Peter: he had professed a more affectionate attachment to Christ than the rest; he had been more forward in making professions of friendship and love than any of the others; and no one (Judas excepted) had treated his Lord so basely. As he had before intimated that his attachment to his Master was more than that of the rest, our Lord now puts the question to him, Dost thou love me more than these? To which Peter made the most modest reply - Thou knowest I love thee, but no longer dwells on the strength of his love, nor compares himself with even the meanest of his brethren. He had before cast the very unkind reflection on his brethren, Though all be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended, Matthew 26:33. But he had now learned, by dreadful experience, that he who trusteth his own heart is a fool; and that a man's sufficiency for good is of the Lord alone.

The words, more than these, Bishop Pearce thinks refer to the provisions they were eating, or to their secular employments; for says he, "It does not seem probable that Jesus should put a question to Peter which he could not possibly answer; because he could only know his own degree of love for Jesus, not that of the other disciples." But it appears to me that our Lord refers to the profession made by Peter, which I have quoted above.

It is remarkable that in these three questions our Lord uses the verb αγαπαω, which signifies to love affectionately, ardently, supremely, perfectly - Matthew 21:37; and that Peter always replies, using the verb φιλεω, which signifies to love, to like, to regard, to feel friendship for another. As if our Lord had said, "Peter, dost thou love me ardently and supremely?" To which he answers, "Lord, I feel an affection for thee-I do esteem thee-but dare, at present, say no more."

There is another remarkable change of terms in this place. In John 21:15; John 21:17, our Lord uses the verb βοσκδω, to feed, and in John 21:16 he uses the word ποιμαινω, which signifies to tend a flock, not only to feed, but to take care of, guide, govern, defend, c., by which he seems to intimate that it is not sufficient merely to offer the bread of life to the congregation of the Lord, but he must take care that the sheep be properly collected, attended to, regulated, guided, c. and it appears that Peter perfectly comprehended our Lord's meaning, and saw that it was a direction given not only to him, and to the rest of the disciples, but to all their successors in the Christian ministry for himself says, 1 John 5:2: Feed the flock of God (ποιμανατε το ποιμνιον του Θεου) which is among you, taking the oversight (επισκοπουντες, acting as superintendents and guardians,) not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Every spiritual shepherd of Christ has a flock, composed of LAMBS-young converts, and SHEEP-experienced Christians, to feed, guide, regulate, and govern. To be properly qualified for this, his wisdom and holiness should always exceed those of his flock. Who is sufficient for these things? The man who lives in God, and God in him.

To the answer of Christ, in John 21:16, the later Syriac adds, If thou lovest me and esteemest me, feed my sheep.

Verse 17

Verse John 21:17. Peter was grieved — Fearing, says St. Chrysostom, lest Christ saw something in his heart which he saw not himself, and which might lead to another fall; and that Christ was about to tell him of it, as he had before predicted his denial.

Verse 18

Verse John 21:18. Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands — Wetstein observes that it was a custom at Rome to put the necks of those who were to be crucified into a yoke, and to stretch out their hands and fasten them to the end of it; and having thus led them through the city they were carried out to be crucified. See his note on this place. Thus then Peter was girded, chained, and carried whither he would not - not that he was unwilling to die for Christ; but he was a man - he did not love death; but he loved his life less than he loved his God.

Verse 19

Verse John 21:19. Should glorify God. — Ancient writers state that, about thirty-four years after this, Peter was crucified; and that he deemed it so glorious a thing to die for Christ that he begged to be crucified with his head downwards, not considering himself worthy to die in the same posture in which his Lord did. So Eusebius, Prudentius, Chrysostom, and Augustin. See Calmet.

Follow me. — Whether our Lord meant by these words that Peter was to walk with him a little way for a private interview, or whether he meant that he was to imitate his example, or be conformed to him in the manner of his death, is very uncertain.

Verse 22

Verse John 21:22. If I will that he tarry till I come — There are several opinions concerning this: the following are the principal.

1. Some have concluded from these words that John should never die. Many eminent men, ancients and moderns, have been and are of this opinion.

2. Others thought that our Lord intimated that John should live till Christ came to judge and destroy Jerusalem. On this opinion it is observed that Peter, who was the oldest of the apostles, died in the year 67, which, says Calmet, was six years before the destruction of Jerusalem; and that John survived the ruin of that city about thirty years, he being the only one of the twelve who was alive when the above desolation took place.

3. St. Augustin, Bede, and others, understood the passage thus: If I will that he remain till I come and take him away by a natural death, what is that to thee? follow thou me to thy crucifixion. On this it may be observed, that all antiquity agrees that John, if he did die, was the only disciple who was taken away by a natural death.

4. Others imagine that our Lord was only now taking Peter aside to speak something to him in private, and that Peter, seeing John following, wished to know whether he should come along with them; and that our Lord's answer stated that John should remain in that place till Christ and Peter returned to him; and to this meaning of the passage many eminent critics incline. For neatly eighteen hundred years, the greatest men in the world have been puzzled with this passage. It mould appear intolerable in me to attempt to decide, where so many eminent doctors have disagreed, and do still disagree. I rather lean to the fourth opinion. See the conclusion of the Preface to this Gospel.

Verse 24

Verse John 21:24. This is the disciple — It is, I think, very likely that these two verses were added by some of the believers at that time, as a testimony to the truth of the preceding narration; and I allow, with Bishop Pearce and others, that it is possible that John may mean himself when he says WE know, c., yet, I think that it is very unlikely. It is certain that this Gospel loses no part of its authority in admitting the suffrage of the Church of God: it rather strengthens the important truths which are delivered in it and in the mouths of so many witnesses the sacred matters which concern the peace and salvation of the world, are still more abundantly established. See the last note on the preceding chapter. John 21:25.

We know — Instead of οιδαμεν, we know, some have written οιδα μεν, I know indeed; but this is mere conjecture, and is worthy of no regard. It is likely that these verses were added by those to whom John gave his work in charge.

Verse 25

Verse John 21:25. Many other thingsBefore his disciples, is added by two MSS. The Scholia in several MSS. intimate that this verse is an addition; but it is found in every ancient version, and in Origen, Cyril, and Chrysostom.

Could not contain, c.] Origen's signification of the word χωρειν is to admit of, or receive favourably. As if he had said, the miracles of Christ are so many, and so astonishing, that if the whole were to be detailed, the world would not receive the account with proper faith but enough is recorded that men may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that in believing they may have life through his name: John 20:31.

We have already seen that this apostle often uses the term world to designate the Jewish people only; and if it have this sense here, which is possible, it will at once vindicate the above exposition of the word χωρειν. As if he had said, Were I to detail all the signs and miracles which Jesus did among his disciples, and in the private families where he sojourned, the Jewish people themselves would not receive nor credit these accounts; but enough is written to prove that this Christ was the promised Messiah.

Bishop Pearce has a very judicious note here, of which what follows is an abstract, with a few additions.

Even the world itself, c. This is a very strong eastern expression, to represent the number of miracles which Jesus wrought. But, however strong and strange this expression may seem to us of the western world, we find sacred and other authors using hyperboles of the like kind and signification. In Numbers 13:33, the spies who returned from the search of the land of Canaan say that they saw giants there of such a prodigious size that they were in their own sight as grasshoppers. In Daniel 4:11, mention is made of a tree, whereof the height reached unto the heaven and the sight thereof unto the end of all the earth. And the author of Ecclesiasticus, in 47:15, speaking of Solomon's wisdom, says, Thy soul covered the whole earth, and thou filledst it with parables: so here, by one degree more of hyperbole, it is said that the world would not contain all the books which should be written concerning Jesus's miracles, if the particular account of every one of them were given. In Josephus, Antiq. lib. xix. c. 20, God is mentioned as promising to Jacob that he would give the land of Canaan to him and his seed; and then it is added, οἱ πληρουσι πασαν, ὁσην ἡλιος ὁρᾳ, και γην και θαλασσαν. They shall fill all, whatsoever the sun illuminates, whether earth or sea. Philo in his tract De Ebriet, T. i. p. 362, 10, is observed to speak after the same manner, ουδε γαρ των δωρεων ἱκανος ουδεις χωρησαι το αφθονον πληθος, ισως δ' ουδ' ὁ κοσμος. Neither is any one able to contain the vast abundance of gifts; nor is the world capable of it. And in his tract De Posterit. Caini, T. i. p. 253, l. 38, he says, speaking of the fulness of God, Ουδε γαρ εις (ει) πλουτον επιδεικνυσθαι βουληθειη τον ἑαυτου, χωρησαι αν, ηπειρωθεισης και θαλαττης, ἡ συμπασα γη. And should he will to draw out his fulness, the whole compass of sea and land could not contain it."

Homer, who, if not born in Asia Minor, had undoubtedly lived there, has sometimes followed the hyperbolic manner of speaking which prevailed so much in the east, as in Iliad, b. xx. he makes AEneas say to Achilles: -

We may define hyperbole thus: it is a figure of speech where more seems to be said than is intended; and it is well known that the Asiatic nations abound in these. In Deuteronomy 1:28, cities with high walls round about them are said to be walled up to heaven. Now, what is the meaning of this hyperbole? Why, that the cities had very high walls: then, is the hyperbole a truth? Yes, for we should attach no other idea to these expressions than the authors intended to convey by them. Now, the author of this expression never designed to intimate that the cities had walls which reached to heaven; nor did one of his countrymen understand it in this sense - they affixed no other idea to it, (for the words, in common use, conveyed no other,) than that these cities had very high walls. When John, therefore, wrote, the world itself could not contain the books, c., what would every Jew understand by it! Why, that if every thing which Christ had done and said were to be written, the books would be more in number than had ever been written concerning any one person or subject: i.e. there would be an immense number of books. And so there would be for it is not possible that the ten thousandth part of the words and actions of such a life as our Lord's was could be contained in the compass of one or all of these Gospels.

There is a hyperbole very like this, taken from the Jewish writers, and inserted by BASNAGE, Hist. des Juifs, liv. iii. c. 1, s. 9. "Jochanan succeeded Simeon - he attained the age of Moses - he employed forty years in commerce, and in pleading before the Sanhedrin. He composed such a great number of precepts and lessons, that if the heavens were paper, and all the trees of the forest so many pens, and all the children of men so many scribes, they would not suffice to write all his lessons!" Now, what meaning did the author of this hyperbole intend to convey? Why, that Jochanan had given more lessons than all his contemporaries or predecessors. Nor does any Jew in the universe understand the words in any other sense. It is worthy of remark that this Jochanan lived in the time of St. John; for he was in Jerusalem when it was besieged by Vespasian. See Basnage, as above.

There is another quoted by the same author, ibid. c. v. s. 7, where, speaking of Eliezar, one of the presidents of the Sanhedrin, it is said: "Although the firmament were vellum, and the waters of the ocean were chanced into ink, it would not be sufficient to describe all the knowledge of Eliezar; for he made not less than three hundred constitutions concerning the manner of cultivating cucumbers." Now, what did the rabbin mean by this hyperbole? Why, no more than that Eliezar was the greatest naturalist in his time; and had written and spoken more on that subject and others than any of his contemporaries. This Eliezar flourished about seventy-three years after Christ. It is farther worthy of remark that this man also is stated to have lived in the time of St. John. John is supposed to have died A. D. 99.

Hyperboles of this kind, common to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south, may be found every where; and no soul is puzzled with them but the critics. The above examples, I trust, are sufficient to vindicate and explain the words in the text. It is scarcely necessary to add that the common French expression, tout le monde, which literally means the whole world, is used in a million of instances to signify the people present at one meeting, or the majority of them, and often the members of one particular family. And yet no man who understands the language ever imagines that any besides the congregation in the one case, or the family in the other, is intended.

Amen. — This word is omitted by ABCD, several others; Syriac, all the Arabic, and both the Persic; the Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, Armenian, Syriac Hieros., Vulgate, and all the Itala but three.

The word amen, which has passed unaltered into almost all the languages of the world in which the sacred writings are extant, is pure Hebrew; and signifies to be steady, constant, firm, established, or confirmed. It is used as a particle of affirmation and adjuration. When a person was sworn to the truth of any fact, the oath was recited to him, and he bound himself by simply saying, אמן אמן amen, amen. See an instance of this, Numbers 5:22. In Deuteronomy 27:15-26, it is to be understood in the same sense; the persons who use it binding themselves, under the curse there pronounced, should they do any of the things there prohibited. It is often used as a particle of affirmation, approbation, and consent, examples of which frequently occur in the Old Testament. When any person commenced a discourse or testimony with this word, it was considered in the light of an oath; as if he had said, I pledge my truth, my honour, and my life to the certainty of what I now state.

Our Lord begins many of his discourses with this word, either singly, Amen, I say unto you; or doubled, Amen, amen, I say unto you; which we translate verily: as Christ uses it, we may ever understand it as expressing an absolute and incontrovertible truth. Instances of the use of the single term frequently occur: see Matthew 5:18, Matthew 5:26; Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:5, Matthew 6:16; Matthew 8:10; Matthew 10:15, Matthew 10:23, Matthew 10:42, c., c. but it is remarkable that it is doubled by St. John, see John 1:51; John 3:3, John 3:5, John 3:11; John 5:19, John 5:24-25; John 6:26, John 6:32, John 6:47, John 6:53; John 8:34, John 8:51, John 8:58; John 10:1, John 10:7; John 12:24; John 13:16, John 13:20, John 13:21, John 13:38; John 14:12; John 16:20, John 16:23; John 21:18; and is never found iterated by any of the other evangelists. Some have supposed that the word אמן is contracted, and contains the initials of אדני מלך נעמן Adonai Malec Neeman, my Lord the faithful King; to whom the person who uses it is always understood to make his appeal. Christ is himself called the Amen, ὁ Αμην, Revelation 1:18; Revelation 3:14; because of the eternity of his nature and the unchangeableness of his truth. In later ages, it was placed at the end of all the books in the New Testament, except the Acts, the Epistle of James, and the third Epistle of John, merely as the transcriber's attestation to their truth; and, perhaps, it is sometimes to be understood as vouching to the fidelity of his own transcript.

The subscriptions to this Gospel, as well as to the preceding Gospels, are various in the different versions and manuscripts. The following are those which appear most worthy of being noticed.

"The most holy Gospel of the preaching of John the evangelist, which he spake and proclaimed in the Greek language at Ephesus, is finished." - SYRIAC in Bib. Polyglott.

"With the assistance of the supreme God, the Gospel of St. John the son of Zebedee, the beloved of the Lord, and the preacher of eternal life, is completed. And it is the conclusion of the four most holy and vivifying Gospels, by the blessing of God. Amen." - ARABIC in Bib. Polyglott.

"The four glorious Gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are completed."-PERSIC in Bib. Polyglott.

Other subscriptions are as follow:-

"The end of the holy Gospel of John - delivered thirty years - thirty-two years after the ascension of Christ - in the Isle of Patmos - in the Greek tongue at Ephesus - under the reign of Domitian - written by John when he was an exile in Patmos - under the Emperor Trajan - and delivered in Ephesus by Gaius the host of the apostles. John, having returned from his exile in Patmos, composed his Gospel, being 100 years of age and lived to the age of 120." - SUIDAS.

In an AEthiopic MS. in the royal library in Paris, at the conclusion of this evangelist are these words: - "Now the sum of all the clauses of the four Gospels is 9700. - By the grace of the Lord, here are ended the four Gospels. The sections of the four Gospels are 217. The clauses of the holy Gospel, even from its beginning to its end, namely, the writing of St. John, are completed."

It may be just necessary to inform the reader that the most ancient MSS. have scarcely any subscription at all, and that there is no dependence to be placed on any thing of this kind found in the others; most of the transcribers making conclusions according to their different fancies. See the concluding note of the preceding chapter; and see the preface to this Gospel, where other subjects relative to it are discussed.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 21". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/john-21.html. 1832.
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