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Bible Commentaries
John 21

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Supplementary chapter in which Jesus again manifests Himself after the resurrection .

[There is no reason why this chapter should be ascribed to a different hand. The style is the same as that of the gospel, and although the gospel closed at the end of chap. 20, this supplementary chapter must have become an integral part of the gospel at a very early period. No trace exists of a gospel without it. It is by no means so certain that John 21:25 is Johannine. It seems an inflated version of John 20:30 . The twenty-fourth verse is also rejected by several critics on the ground of οἴδαμεν . This may be valid as an objection; but it is in the manner of the Apostle to testify to his own truthfulness, John 19:35 ; and the use of the plural instead of the singular is not decisive.]

Verse 1

John 21:1 . Μετὰ ταῦτα , John’s usual indefinite note of time, ἐφανέρωσεν ἑαυτὸν , cf. John 7:4 , John 13:4 ; Mark 16:12 ; πάλιν , over and above the manifestations in Jerusalem, at the Sea of Tiberias; see John 6:1 .

Verse 2

John 21:2 . ἧσαν ὁμοῦ , seven of the disciples had kept together, Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, further designated as ὁ ἀπὸ Κανᾶ τῆς Γαλιλαίας , not to remind us of the miracles wrought there (Reynolds), nor “without any special design” (Meyer), but to emphasise the ὁμοῦ by showing that even though not belonging to the lake-side Nathanael remained with the rest. John indicates his own presence with his usual reserve, οἱ τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου .

Verse 3

John 21:3 . As the disciples stand together and see boat after boat put off, Simon Peter can stand it no longer but suddenly exclaims, Ὑπάγω ἁλιεύειν , “I am off to fish”. This is a relief to all and finds a ready response, Ἐρχόμεθα καὶ ἡμεῖς σὺν σοί , At once they embark, and as we watch that boat’s crew putting off with their whole soul in their fishing, we see in how precarious a position the future of Christianity hung. They were only sure of one thing that they must live. But ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ νυκτὶ ἐπίασαν οὐδέν , “during that night they took nothing”. Ἁλίσκονται δὲ μάλιστα οἱ ἰχθύες πρὸ ἡλίου ἀνατολῆς καὶ μετὰ τὴν δύσιν Aristotle, Hist. Animal. , viii. 19, quoted by Lampe. [On ἐπίασαν , see John 7:30 and Revelation 19:20 .

Verse 4

John 21:4 . πρωΐας δὲ ἤδη γενομένης , “but early morning having now arrived,” i.e. , when all hope of catching fish was past, ἔστη ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς [or ἐπὶ ] τὸν αἰγιαλόν , “Jesus stood upon the beach”; for ἔστη , cf. John 20:19 ; John 20:26 . It seems to indicate the suddenness of the appearance, οὐ μέντοι … ἐστί , “the disciples, however, were not aware that it was Jesus”.

Verse 5

John 21:5 . λέγει οὖν … ἔχετε ; The οὖν is not merely continuative, but indicates that what Jesus said was in some respect prompted by their ignorance of His identity. This is neglected by Lücke when he says that παιδία is not Johannine, and that τεκνία is the regular term used by Jesus in addressing the disciples. Yes, when He openly addresses them; but here He uses the word any stranger might use, and the rendering “children” retained even in R.V [98] is wrong. It should be “lads”; παιδίον being the common term of address to men at work, see Aristophanes, Clouds , 137, Frogs , 33; Euthymius, ἔθος γὰρ τοὺς ἐργατικὸς οὕτως ὀνομάζειν . Jesus appeared as an intending purchaser and cries, μήτι προσφάγιον ἔχετε ; “Have you taken any fish?” (R.V [99] : “have ye anything to eat?” misapprehends both the words and the situation). προσφάγιον , as its composition shows, means anything eaten as seasoning or “kitchen” to bread; being the Hellenistic word used instead of the Attic ὄψον or προσόψημα . Athenaeus and Plutarch both tell us that fish was so commonly used in this way that προσφάγιον came to mean “fish”. ἔχετε has its quasitechnical sense, “have ye caught?” For this sense, see Aristophanes, Clouds , 705 (723, 731), where Socrates asks Strepsiades under the blanket, ἔχεις τι ; on which the Scholiast remarks, χαριέντως τὸ ἔχεις τι , τῇ τῶν ἀγρευτῶν λέξει χρώμενος · τοῖς γὰρ ἁλιεῦσιν ἢ ὀρνιθαγρευταῖς οὕτω φασὶν , ἔχεις τι . So that the words of Jesus are: “Lads, have ye caught no fish?” ἀπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ , “ Οὔ ”. “They answered Him, ‘No,’ ” without any Κύριε or Διδάσκαλε .

[98] Revised Version.

[99] Revised Version.

Verse 6

John 21:6 . Ὁ δὲ εἶπεν … καὶ εὑρήσετε . “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find.” They supposed the stranger had been making observations from the shore, had seen a shoal or some sign of fish, and unwilling to come in empty, ἔβαλον οὖν … ἰχθύων . “They cast therefore, and were no longer (as they had been before) able to draw it [ ἑλκύσαι , not ἑλκῦσαι , see Veitch’s Irreg. Verbs , seems here to be used as we use ‘draw’ in connection with a net, meaning to draw over the side of the boat so as to secure the fish. Contrast σύροντες in John 21:8 ] for the multitude of fishes”; ἀπό often means “on account of” in Dionysius Hal., Plutarch, and even in Thucydides and Sophocles as shown by Kypke.

Verse 7

John 21:7 . This sudden change of fortune John at once traced to its only possible source, Ὁ Κύριός ἐστι . “Vita quieta citius observat res divinas quam activa.” Bengel. Σίμων οὖν … θάλασσαν . The different temperaments of the two Apostles as here exhibited have constantly been remarked upon; as by Euthymius, “John had the keener insight; Peter the greater ardour”. Peter τὸν ἐπενδύτην διεζώσατο . Some writers identify the ἐπενδύτης with the inner garment or χίτων , others suppose it was the outer garment or ἱμάτιον . And the reason assigned, ἦν γὰρ γυμνός , they say, is that he had only the χίτων . That one who was thus half-dressed might be called γυμνός is well known (see Aristoph., Clouds , 480); but it was not the outer garment round which the belt was girt, but the inner. And besides, Peter must often have appeared before Jesus in their boat expeditions without his upper garment. And to put on his Tallith when about to plunge into the sea was out of the question. He was rowing, then, with as little on as possible, probably only a subligaculum or loin-cloth, and now picks up his ἐπενδύτης , a garment worn by fishers (Theophylact), and girds it on, and casts himself into the sea.

Verse 8

John 21:8 . The rest came in the little boat, οὐ γὰρ ἦσαν … ἰχθύων . Bengel correctly explains the γάρ , “Celeriter hi quoque venire poterant”. They were not far from the land, ἀλλʼ ὡς ἀπὸ πηχῶν διακοσίων , “about one hundred yards”. πηχῶν , says Phrynichus, is δεινῶς ἀνάττικον ; we must use the form πηχέων . Observe the unconscious exactness of the eye-witness. For the Hellenistic construction with ἀπό . cf. John 11:18 . The others came σύροντες … ἰχθύων , “hauling the net of the fishes,” or “netful of the fishes”; genitive of contents, like δέπας οἴνου , a cup of wine. It is needless, with Lücke, to complete the construction with μεστόν , cf. John 21:11 .

Verse 9

John 21:9 . Ὡς οὖν … ἄρτον . “When, then, they got out upon the land, they see a fire (or heap) of coals laid and fish laid thereon, and bread”; or, possibly, “a fish” and “a loaf,” but see John 21:13 . For ἀνθρακιά , see John 18:18 . The disciples were evidently surprised at this preparation.

Verse 10

John 21:10 . But miracle is not gratuitously wrought; indeed, Weiss maintains there is neither miracle nor the appearance of one in this preparation. Accordingly Jesus says, Ἐνέγκατε … νῦν . And in compliance ἀνέβη … δίκτυον . “Simon Peter went on board and drew the net on shore full of large fishes, 153, and though there were so many the net was not torn.” Mysteries have been found in this number. In Hebrew characters Simon Iona is equivalent to 118 + 35, i.e. , 153. Some of the Fathers understood that 100 meant the Gentiles, 50 the Jews, 3 the Trinity. Jerome cites the authority of naturalists to prove that there were exactly 153 species of fish, and he concludes that the universality of the Gospel take was thus indicated. Calvin, with his usual robust sense, says: “quantum ad piscium numerum spectat, non est sublime aliquid in eo quaerendum mysterium”. Peter never landed a haul of fish without counting them, and John, fisherman as he was, could never forget the number of his largest takes. The number is given, because it was large, and because they were all surprised that the net stood the strain. The only significance our Lord recognises in the fish is that they were food for hungry men.

Verse 12

John 21:12 . λέγει … ἀριστήσατε , Jesus takes the place of host and says, “Come, breakfast,” make your morning meal. οὐδεὶς … Κύριός ἐστιν , not one of the disciples ventured to interrogate Him; ἐξετάσαι is “to examine by questioning”. Each man felt convinced it was the Lord, and a new reverence prevented them from questioning Him.

Verse 13

John 21:13 . When they had gathered round the fire, ἔρχεται … ὁμοίως . “Jesus approaches and takes the bread and gives to them, and the fish” (used here collectively) “in like manner.” Evidently there was something solemn and significant in His manner, indicating that they were to consider Him as the Person who supplied all their wants. If they were to be free from care as His Apostles, they must trust Him to make provision for them, as He had this morning done.

Verse 14

John 21:14 . A note is added, perhaps indicating no more than John’s orderliness of mind, explaining that this was the third manifestation given by Jesus to His disciples after rising from the dead. For the form of expression, τοῦτο ἤδη τρίτον , see 2 Corinthians 13:1 .

Verse 15

John 21:15 . Ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν , “when, then, they had broken their fast,” a note of time essential to the conversation following. Peter had manifested the most ardent affection, by abandoning on the instant the net of fish for which he had been toiling all night, and by springing into the sea to greet his Lord. But was not that a mere impulsive demonstration, “the wholesome madness of an hour”? Therefore He lets Peter settle down, He lets him breakfast and then takes him at the coolest hour of the day, and, at last breaking silence, says, Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ [better, Ἰωάνου ] ἀγαπᾷς με πλεῖον [better, πλέον ] τούτων ; “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these?” So far as grammar goes, this may either mean “Lovest thou me more than the other disciples love me?” or “Lovest thou me more than this boat and net and your old life?” It may either refer to Peter’s saying, “Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I,” or to his sudden abandonment of the boat and fishing gear. If the former were intended, the second personal pronoun would almost necessarily be expressed; but, as the words stand, the contrast is not between “you” and “these,” but between “me” and “these”. Besides, would the characteristic tact and delicacy of Jesus have allowed Him to put a question involving a comparison of Peter with his fellow-disciples? The latter interpretation, although branded by Lücke as “eine geistlose lächerliche Frage,” commends itself. Difference of opinion also exists about the use of ἀγαπᾶς and φιλῶ , most interpreters believing that by the former a love based on esteem or judgment is indicated, by the latter the affection of the heart. The Vulgate distinguishes by using “diligis” and “amo”. Trench ( Synonyms , 38) uses this distinction for the interpretation of this passage, and maintains that Peter in his reply intentionally changes the colder ἀγαπᾶς into the warmer φιλῶ . It is very doubtful whether this is justifiable. The two words are used interchangeably to express the love of Jesus for John, see John 13:23 , and John 20:2 ; also for His love for Lazarus, John 11:3 ; John 11:5 ; John 11:36 . And that the distinction cannot be maintained at any rate in this conversation is obvious from John 21:17 ; for if the words differed in meaning, it could not be said that “Peter was grieved because Jesus a third time said, φιλεῖς με ”; because Jesus had not used these words three times. The words seem interchanged for euphony, as in Aelian, Var. Hist. , ix. 1, where Hiero is said to have lived with his three brothers, πάνυ σφόδρα ἀγαπήσας αὐτοὺς καὶ ὑπʼ αὐτῶν φιληθεὶς ἐν τῷ μέρει . In Peter’s answer there is no sense of any discrepancy between the kind of love demanded and the love felt. It comes with a ναί , Κύριε . Why need He ask? σὺ οἶδας .… In this appeal to Christ’s own knowledge there is probably, as Weiss suggests, a consciousness of his own liability to be deceived, as shown in his recent experience.

Verses 15-18

John 21:15-18 . Jesus evokes from Peter a confession of love, and commissions him as shepherd, of His sheep .

Verse 16

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. λέγει … μου . 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.

Verse 17

John 21:17 . But to him who had uttered a threefold denial, opportunity is given of a threefold confession, although Peter at first resented the reiterated inquiry: Ἐλυπήθη … He was grieved because doubt was implied, and he knew he had given cause for doubt. His reply is therefore more earnest than before, Κύριε … φιλῶ σε . He is so conscious of deep and abiding love that he can appeal to the Lord’s omniscience. The σὺ πάντα οἶδας [or πάντα σὺ οἶδας with recent editors] reflects a strong light on the belief which had sprung up in the disciples from their observation of our Lord. And again he is commissioned, or commanded to manifest his love in the feeding of Christ’s sheep. The one qualification for this is love to Christ. It is not for want of time no other questions are asked. There was time to put this one question three times over; and it was put because love is the one essential for the ministry to which Peter and the rest are called.

Verse 18

John 21:18 . To this command our Lord unexpectedly adds a reflection and warning emphasised by the usual ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι . It had been with a touch of pity Jesus had seen the impulsive, self-willed Peter gird his coat round him and plunge into the sea. It suggested to Him the severe trials by which this love must be tested, and what it would bring him to: ὅτε ἦς νεώτερος , “when thou wert younger” (the comparative used not in relation to the present, but to the γηράσης following) “thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest,” i.e. , your own will was your law, and you felt power to carry it out. The “girding,” though suggested by the scene, John 21:7 , symbolises all vigorous preparation for arduous work. ὅταν δὲ γηράσης … θέλεις . The interpretation of these words must be governed by the succeeding clause, which informs us that by them Jesus hinted at the nature of Peter’s death. But this does not prevent us from finding in them, primarily, an intimation of the helplessness of age, and its passiveness in the hands of others, in contrast to the self-regulating activity and confidence of youth. The language is dictated by the contrasted clause, and to find in each particular a detail of crucifixion, is to force a meaning into the words. ἐκτενεῖς τὰς χεῖρας σου is not the stretching out of the hands on the cross, but the helpless lifting up of the old man’s hands to let another gird him. δοξάσει τὸν θεόν . “Magnificus martyrii titulus.” Grotius. “Die conventionelle Sprache der Märtyrerkirche klingt an in δοξ . τὸν θεόν ; weil der Zeugentod zu Ehren Gottes erlitten wird.” Holtzmann. The expression has its root in John 12:23 ; John 12:28 . καὶ τοῦτο … μοι . It is very tempting to refer this to John 13:36 , ἀκολουθήσεις δὲ ὕστερον , and probably there is a latent reference to this, but in the first instance it is a summons to Peter to accompany Jesus as He retires from the rest. This is clear from what follows.

Verse 20

John 21:20 . Ἐπιστραφεὶς … σε . Peter had already followed Jesus some distance, but hearing steps behind him he turns and sees John following. The elaborate description of John in this verse is, perhaps almost unconsciously, introduced to justify his following without invitation. On the word ἀνέπεσεν , see Origen, in Joan. , ii. 191 (Brooke’s edition).

Verse 21

John 21:21 . Peter, however, seeks an explanation, Κύριε … τί ; “Lord, and this man, what of him?”

Verse 22

John 21:22 . To which Jesus replies with a shade of rebuke, Ἐὰν … μοι . Peter, in seeking even to know the future of another disciple, was stepping beyond his province, τί πρός σε ; σύ ἀκολούθει μοι . Your business is to follow me, not to intermeddle with others. Cf. A Kempis’ description of the man who “neglects his duty, musing on all that other men are bound to do”. De Imit. Christi , ii. 3. Over-anxiety about any part of Christ’s Church is to forget that there is a chief Shepherd who arranges for all. This part of the conversation might not have been recorded, but for a misunderstanding which arose out of it.

Verse 23

John 21:23 . Ἐξῆλθεν … πρός σε ; “There went forth this saying among the brethren, that that disciple should not die”. John himself, however, has no such belief, because he remembers with exactness the hypothetical form of the Lord’s words, Ἐὰν αὐτὸν θέλω μένειν … Another instance of the precision with which John recalled some, at least, of the words of Jesus.

In John 21:24 , the writer of the gospel is identified with the disciple whom Jesus loved, and a certificate of his truth is added. The whole verse has a strong resemblance to John 19:35 , and it seems impossible to say with certainty whether they were or were not written by the evangelist himself. The οἴδαμεν might seem to imply that several united in this certificate. But who in John’s old age were there, who could so certify the truth of the gospel? They could have no personal, direct knowledge of the facts; and could merely affirm the habitual truthfulness of John. Cf. too the οἶμαι of John 21:25 where a return to the singular is made; but this may be because in the former clause the writer speaks in the name of several others, while in the latter he speaks in his own name. Who these others were, disciples, Ephesian presbyters, friends, Apostles, it is vain to conjecture. τούτων and ταῦτα refer to the whole gospel, including chap. 21. Besides the things narrated ἔστι δὲ … Ἀμήν . The verse re-affirms the statement of John 20:30 , adding a hyperbolical estimate of the space required to recount all that Jesus did, if each detail were separately told, ἐὰν γράφηται καθʼ ἕν .

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 21". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/john-21.html. 1897-1910.
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