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

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.

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).