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Our readers asked:

Why does Jesus ask Peter “do you love me?” three times?

Joe Paprocki Answers:

Jesus did not ask Peter this question 3 times because he was hard of hearing or slow to comprehend Peter’s answers! The fact that Jesus asks Peter this question – “do you love me?” – three times is very significant.

First of all, the number 3 is one of those “good” numbers in the Bible. Numbers are often used in the Bible to make a point and to express meaning. For example the number 40 represents a significant period of time during which one’s faith is tested. The number 12 represents wholeness or fullness. Well, the number 3 also has some significance. It is on the 3rd day that God saves: Jonah is released from the belly of the whale on the 3rd day. Saul, soon to be known as Paul, regains his eyesight on the 3rd day. Of course, Jesus is raised from the dead on the 3rd day. Thus, 3 is a “good” number. Unfortunately for Peter, he denied knowing Jesus 3 times just before Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 26; Mk 14; Lk 22; Jn 13). Upon appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection, however, Jesus brings forgiveness, not retribution. To those who deserted him before his crucifixion, Jesus says, “Shalom” which means “Peace.” To Peter, Jesus offers a three-fold opportunity for forgiveness, as is described in John 21:15-19. Peter is hurt when Jesus asks him a 3rd time, most likely because it made him recall his own three-fold denial of Jesus. This story emphasizes the prominence of Peter among the Apostles and demonstrates how, despite his denial, Peter is restored – reconciled with Jesus – through Jesus’ forgiveness of sins.

The Author : Joe Paprocki
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Jonathan ‘Soudy’ Massoud

    Actually Christ was increasing the levels of love each time He asked peter. In english we only have 1 word that means love in greek there are 4. thee romantic love (eros) doesn’t apply here but the other three are the ones Christ used. 1st time He used the word storge and the second time He used the word Phillia or philos both different types or levels of love… now by the third time Christ used the word AGAPE meaning unconditional and sacrificial love peter was upsett because he knew he was incapable of this love since he had just told Him he would lay down his life for Him but then denied him 3 times. c’mon hhe cant lie to Christ

    • Patrick Sorensen

      Actually, Jesus used Agape the first two times and Peter responded with phillia, effectively saying, yes Lord, I love you, but only as a brother.
      The third time Jesus used phillia and Peter also said phillia.

      • Marietta Alexander

        Sad, so sad, that “unconditional and sacrificial love” was not within Peter to return to Jesus. Only Jesus, has that kind of love given freely to us.

  • TshepiFreely

    i believe Jesus was able 2 see that peter is going 2 betray him, He betried Jesus when Jesus was alive and even after his death. Jesus concern was his sheep, and he definately knew that Peter is not telling the truth by saying yes Lord i love u. The reason Peter said Lord you know everything ( even if i am lying u can tell). Peter is the same person that Jesus called him a devil ( Matthew 16:23)Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”, Jesus knew that Peter will scatter sheep of the flock. when Peter was crucified he choiced the upside down cross become he definately knew that he was ( Matthew 16:23). The st Peter cross is treated as unti christian cross or satanic cross. Peter said Jesus Christ was cruisified on a tree, 1 aspect that Peter astray, Peter was amongst them when Jesus said everybody must carry his cross, even during his cruisification he said his cross must not but like the one of Jesus. My conclusion Peter fall down along the way.

  • David

    Actually, the significance of whats being said here is lost in translation. there are many different forms of our word for “love” in the Greek, however, when this verse got translated to English, the translation got simplified to our one word. If you would like to know the true significant, i would suggest doing a simple study of this verse in Greek and the different meanings of the Greek words for love. Its not hard, there are loads of websites dedicated to this type of study, and specially this verse.

    • gs

      but does jesus say this to paul in greek?

      • Jonathan ‘Soudy’ Massoud

        no they spoke hebrew, but the greek translation offers a better understanding of what the dialog really went like

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chanah-Robinsky/835990237 Chanah Robinsky

    Peter denied JESUS 3 times so JESUS aske Peter 3 times

  • Alex Robi

    Jesus, i’m a despised person in front of many people. I may not be feel glad in my life. I don’t know what I shall do it next day. Before I tell all these things, I know that You have know it. some people can’t know this feeling, Jesus.

    • apply faith

      Mathew11:28-30 Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and i will give you rest.

      Mathew5:45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

      Mathew5:11-12 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.Vs12.Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
      If you are being despised because of Jesus Christ, don’t worry Christ will handle them as long as you confess your sins and pray continually.

  • rommel encontro

    I imagine that a great burden was lifted from Peter’s shoulders as he surrendered all to the Lord. These were most important words of Peter’s life. “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.”

    Peter, from that wonderful day forward, became one of the most firm and unwavering of all the apostles, and thus fully lived up to his name of being a “Petros” rock. Peter became a solid and stable believer able to be greatly used of the Lord.

    The irony is that after Peter had just made an bold declaration of his love and commitment for the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus tells Peter of the consequences of his dedication would be that he would give his life for Christ.
    In reflection great things have Great Price but no matter what if our heart is one with Jesus and we are motivated by our love for Him, what this world sees a path for failure is a believer roadway to SUCCESS!

  • Tra’ Byrd

    He asks probably because He probably wanted to him to know how intense there Love is. Just one of those personal things. The guy probably almost cried when Jesus asked him a 3rd time. I would.

    • Jonathan ‘Soudy’ Massoud

      Actually Christ was increasing the levels of love each time He asked peter. In english we only have 1 word that means love in greek there are 4. thee romantic love (eros) doesn’t apply here but the other three are the ones Christ used. 1st time He used the word storge and the second time He used the word Phillia or philos both different types or levels of love… now by the third time Christ used the word AGAPE meaning unconditional and sacrificial love peter was upsett because he knew he was incapable of this love since he had just told Him he would lay down his life for Him but then denied him 3 times.

  • Ed Trizzino

    Missed a very important issue that Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior had to leave in order for the Helper to come. It was only after the Pentecost that Peter was given the supernatural/superspiritual powers of the Holy
    Spirit. The fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:25-27 As repentant sinners we are given all these gifts we did not earn or deserve, It allows us to have an agape relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is now a consequence of this new relationship through Jesus that I am obedient to God’s commandment because I can agape love.

  • Ed Trizzino

    Here is an excerpt from a paper i wrote on “Identity”

    What is the Biblical meaning of “Love” in Matthew 22:37-39, “Love the Lord your God with my whole heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”. Is it important that it says the same thing in the Old Testament? Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” and Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”. How can we possible fulfill God’s greatest commandment (not an optional request) if we do not know the true biblical meaning of love (agape)? The Greeks had many different words describing different kinds of love (Eros, Philia, Storage, Thelma and Agape). This potentially can cause a huge problem when translating scripture from Greek to English. English just does not have that kind of variety to choose from. Individual translators have “Love” and maybe “Charity” to pick from. There fore without even knowing we may accept very much water down English definition.

    Hellenic Communication Services defined Agape as; “deeply devotional, loyal, self sacrificing and total commitment. To the Greeks Agape was the highest expression of love. It is unrelenting; it cannot and will not fail, even at the expense of his own life. Love is more about an outcome then what I do.”. What do we learn about the definition of love from, 1 Corinthians, 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”? Are we not told in Romans 13:10 “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law”. Could comprehending the meaning of “God is love” in 1 John 4:8 “8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” be the cornerstone of our faith? Have we truly comprehended the significance of what it states in 1 John 4:19, “We love him, because he first loved us.”?
    Sorry I know that was a long response. I submit we should do more word studies so that we are able to better understand the full meaning of the living word of God. Believe (verb pistevo) faith (noun pistis) and flesh (sarx) are great starting places. In Him

  • One_Truth

    Amanda, the most factual explanation was given the first time (by Catholic). He pointed out the same thing Ryan later pointed out (that Peter’s response was not matching Jesus question when it came to the word used for the type of love).
    Catholic, however, also provided the exact difference on the words Jesus and Peter used: Jesus-agape (self-sacrificial love for the sake of another’s soul), Peter-philo/phileo (affection or brotherly love).
    Neither Ryan nor Catholic went far enough, however, in understanding the 3rd time Jesus asked, and what followed. Jesus, the 3rd time, lowered his expectation of agape love, and asked if Peter loved in the phileo sense, which Peter knew Jesus knew the answer to (of course). But Peter then expressed regret for disappointing Jesus, because he understood what Jesus was asking the first two times.
    Agape (the noun) refers to a self-sacrificial love for the soul of another. But Jesus used the word in verb form that means to prove one’s love with action. Proving the self-sacrificial love could mean to sacrifice oneself for another. The first two times, Jesus asked if Peter loved Him in such a way that he would sacrifice himself.

    In the end, Jesus prophetically stated that Peter would eventually be able to love Him in the agape sense, and would ultimately lay his life down.
    Ryan stopped short of this by saying Peter was incapable of this Divine type of love. However, this is only correct for the moment, and Christ pointed out that he would be capable later…

  • Amanda

    THANKS RYAN FOR YOUR ANSWER!!!! So much more factual than any other reason given here. Please look at the translation before you go on about the number three as being so meaningful, you don’t need to look for the a meaning, just look at what was lost in translation!!!

  • narine

    The reason why Jesus asked Peter that question was to show him that he can’t love God until he knows how much God loves him first. Earlier, he denyied Jesus because he had boasted his love for him instead of taking Jesus’ love first.

  • Dan

    Dan, your comment represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholic teaching. It is impossible for an individual to earn salvation, though when we come to Christ, we are still expected to do certain things, as Christ teaches in Matthew 25:31-46.

  • Dan

    The bigger lies is Peter was the Catholic church first Pope . Sadly the catholic church follows opposite of what scripture say.The whole catholic church is built on works based salvation which Romans 7 and Romans 8 clearly says is good work are worthless to gain salvation.

  • patrick

    Why do we as people feel so led by not the Spirit to make Jesus and Jwh out to be of caucasian?, we must lead people but why lead wrong. We as those created in Gods likeness cannot began to describe all his biblical as most sadly Jesus our Lord as one of caucasian ancestry,is there biblical basis for this… “graven image” idolatry. Especially in the catholic church, thank you.
    In The Lords Service,

    • Suzanne LaSalle Fralick

      and why does it matter whether he was caucasian or not? I never even let different races enter my mind. I don’t need an image – it’s a feeling. The fact that color ever mattered was man-made, created to cause chaos. It worked. WHAT IF all these different races was a test to see how patient and all accepting our love really is? If that was/is the case, based on my observation, we have failed ourselves.

  • Kathy Myers

    While in Israel last year, our tour guide told us that the Jews in Biblical times repeated something three times to signify that an action is legally binding. Comments?

  • faithful

    Jesus asked Peter 3 times “do you love me” / this verse came to my mind recently; when I was told I sometimes tell a friend I care too often; send 3 cards on occasion instead of just one.

    I think our Lord kept asking Peter “do you love me?” because in addition to just a verbal response; ‘Yes, Lord I love you’ Lip service. Our Lord, who responded ‘feed my sheep’… wanted
    Peter to see the connection of LOVE to
    ACTING IN LOVE. Our Lord was GOD and
    didn’t really need any help, yet HE who loves us; asked HELP of us. THAT’S THE
    SIGN of HIS LOVE for us…to ask for help, and our response of helping another, draws us to share in GOD LOVE.
    for ‘to help’ can only be done IN GOD
    in LOVE.

    So, I suppose the reason I speak my
    care and show my love for a friend with more than one card, is with the hope the friend responds with asking me to help her. That she responds to ‘the words’ spoken ‘in Christ’ by showing she loves not just with a word, but by asking for me to help her in her needs.

    How’s that interpetation.

  • Ryan

    The reason for Jesus asking Peter three times sin’t to frustrate Peter, but rather the original scripture is written in Greek. Unlike the English language, the greek language has different words for love. In the original scriptures, each time Jesus asks Peter he uses a different word for love, ultimately the third time he asked he knew it was a love Peter was incapable of, a Divine type of love.

  • W T Graves

    Why does GOD tell Peter to “rise kill and eat” three times in Acts chapter 10.

  • Catholic

    We also learn that in the original Greek that Greek has several different words to describe love. In this passage, Jesus asks Peter the first two times if he “agape” loves Him, and Peter says, yes, I “philo” love you.

    Peter’s frustration has been described as a combination of Mr. Paprocki’s explanation, combined with Peter not “getting” what Jesus was saying by using the word “agape.”

    Agape love is described as the love one has for God. It’s not the same as “philo” love between brethren.

    So the third time, Jesus asks Peter, he uses the word “philo” – which brings Peter peace. It’s an incredible passage to pray and meditate upon.

    Also rewind back to the Gospel of St Matthew 22:36-40

    “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

    He said to him, ”You shall love (agape) the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. You shall love (agape) your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

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