Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

John 21


The relation of this chapter to Luke 5 is also difficult to determine. "The net was not rent" seems a clear reference to a narrative similar to that of Lk. But it is very likely that the Lucan account has been influenced in details by the tradition of the event recorded here. This chapter shows no trace of dependence on the language of Lk.

Verses 1-14

John 21:1-14. The Appearance by the Lake of Tiberias.—As Josephus speaks of the lake as the "lake near Tiberias," the name used here cannot be pressed as a proof of late date. The verb used for "manifested" is not found in the gospel in connexion with the Resurrection appearances. There is also no mention of the sons of Zebedee. The last extant sentence of the Petrine Gospel shows that it contained a similar story. "I Simon Peter and Andrew my brother taking our nets went back to the sea, and there was with us Levi the son of Alphæus." Loisy and others believe that both accounts are based on a narrative of a first appearance after the Resurrection to Peter and (?) others in Galilee, which perhaps came from the lost ending to Mk. It is the Beloved Disciple who first recognised the Lord (cf. John 20:8). Where he sees, Peter acts. He casts himself into the sea and swims the hundred yards or so that separate the boat from the land. When the others reach land they find the results of his work (John 21:9). Meanwhile at the Lord's request for fish from their catch Peter returns to the ship (John 21:11), and he and they succeed now in bringing their net to land. Here as elsewhere the author does not keep to the strict order of incident, but his account seems to present a scene on the lines suggested. Various interpretations of the number of fishes have been suggested. We may notice (a) 50 x 3 + 3 = the Trinity; (b) the number of species of fishes was reckoned to be 153, hence a picture of the universality of the Gospel (Jerome); (c) the numerical value of the Heb. name Simon Jona (118 + 35); (d) 153 is a triangular number, the sum of the first John 21:17 units. It represents the faithful, inspired by the sevenfold Spirit, keeping the ten Commandments. No doubt to the author it was significant, though we cannot determine whence he derived it, or what significance he found in it. The language of John 21:13 closely resembles that of John 6:11, a fact made still more prominent in the Western text, which adds, "having given thanks." The Eucharistic character of both meals is emphasized by the author. The third "manifestation" (contrast the "coming" of ch. 20) takes no account of the appearance to Mary in its reckoning of manifestations to "the disciples." There is no need to find in it the traces of an earlier account, in which this story appeared as the third Galilean "manifestation of His glory" during the ministry.

Verses 15-23

John 21:15-23. Following and Tarrying.—According to the earliest Christian tradition, Marcan and Pauline, an appearance to Peter was one of the earliest if not the earliest event after the Resurrection. If this section is historical it must be interpreted as teaching the leaders, and especially Peter, in terms which clearly recalled his former failure, their duty to the whole body of faithful disciples, scattered by the Crucifixion. They cannot return to their former occupations and wait for the Parousia. The work of the Good Shepherd must be carried on. Lambs must be fed, sheep must be shepherded, and fed also. In early life young men can choose their calling. Later on they must follow it, wherever it leads them, even as the old man, who is getting to need assistance, lifts his hands and has his girdle arranged for him. So Peter must "follow." Later Christian thought found in the words a prediction of his martyrdom. In themselves the words point rather the lesson that advancing years bring greater need of obedience. With the language of John 21:18 cf. Psalms 37:25. Peter sees the Beloved Disciple, whom the author describes by reference to John 13:23 ff., "following," and asks "What of this man?" The answer is a rebuke of curiosity. The action of the moment showed the other disciple ready to "follow." For him, it is hinted, following may involve longer separation from the Christ than the following demanded of Peter. When this chapter was written, the interpretation of the saying, which had gained currency among Christians because of the long tarrying in the flesh of one to whom it was at least supposed to have been addressed, had clearly been falsified by the event. He had not tarried till the Lord came. The author reminds his readers that the Lord's eschatological teaching had ended with an "if." So far as martyrdom is hinted at for Peter, it is in the command to follow (cf. John 13:36) and the contrasted "tarrying," rather than in the saying itself, which Christian thought naturally interpreted in this sense, perhaps only after the event (cf. 2 Peter 1:13).

Verse 24

John 21:24 f. Conclusion of the Appendix.—In John 21:24 the disciple to whom this saying was addressed is said to be the witness of the events recorded in the gospel, and its actual author. The content of the gospel is his, even if he did not actually hold the pen, any more than Pilate actually penned the title on the Cross. Perhaps the solution of the question as to the authorship of the Fourth Gospel which leaves fewest difficulties is that it is the Beloved Disciple, probably to be identified with the son of Zebedee, whose teaching is set out in this gospel, the actual writer, whose thought and style have been moulded by his master's teaching, being the author of the Appendix as of the epistles. The "we" of this verse may be the circle to which the writer belongs, or if he himself had seen the Lord on earth, it may correspond to the use of the plural in the Prologue, the natural interpretation of which is that the writer speaks in the name of his former companions, the eye-witnesses of the ministry. But we cannot get beyond conjecture. The question of authorship is still an unsolved problem (pp. 743f.). The last verse, which is omitted by the first hand of one important MS., repeats the warning of the real ending of the gospel, that it contains only a selection from a whole too vast to be recorded.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on John 21". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.