Peter: Feed My Sheep, A Group Bible Study — John 21:15-17

I’d like to try something new. I’m not sure if I’ve got nearly enough commenters on this blog, or if enough of them are former or current Christians. But hopefully we can get started. I want to think about the rather odd passage in John 21:15-17, where a ressurrected Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and each time, when Peter agrees that he does, Jesus tells him some variation on ‘feed my sheep’.

The passage is:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

– John 21:15-17 (NIV)

Christ 's Charge to Peter by Raphael

Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael 1515-1516. Currently in the Victoria and Albert museum, London. This stunning piece is a combination of two scenes: Matthew 16:18-19 (giving Peter the keys to the kingdom), and our John 21:15-17 (pointing to a flock of sheep to feed).

I haven’t used my translation of this. I’m using the NIV translation because I don’t want to introduce my bias onto the text at this point (although I did select the translation to use, so I’m not entirely innocent).

So the question I want us to answer is this: what does this mean? What is Jesus saying, what are the significant elements to the story? Is there an explanation of why it is in this format (why three times, why sheep, why Peter emphasizes Jesus’s knowledge, why love, why ‘Simon son of John’, etc). No explanation will cover more than one or two of these features, but I’m interested to see the gamut of interpretations.

Please add in the comments, but can I ask you to state carefully whether your response is a personal intepretation, or one you’ve been taught (if the latter, can you say where: a sermon, a bible study, sunday school). You can add as many comments as you like with as many interpretations.

Anyone is welcome to contribute and your intepretations will not be ridiculed (not by me, anyway – comments are always free to disagree). There is no correct answer I’m looking for, and I don’t have any bombshell to undermine the text. You don’t need to know the original greek, or be a bible scholar or theologian. Simple explanations are as welcome as complicated ones. I am curious because I know of several different ways of reading this passage, and I suspect there may be many, many more. If you are a believer and lurk here, please contribute.

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102 Comments

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102 responses to “Peter: Feed My Sheep, A Group Bible Study — John 21:15-17

  1. Why start with such a simple passage. It is obvious, Jesus had a bit too much wine.

  2. Xander

    I think many things are being addressed in the passage. I have gotten these from various teachings and then independent reading.

    First, you have Jesus calling him Simon. While it is his name, Jesus began calling him Peter once he began following Jesus. Here, without the Peter it could symbolize that Peter has blasphemed his way out of the kingdom of God.

    Second, you have the word sheep which indicates a flock. A shepherd is dedicated to protecting the flock even to the extent of giving their own life. It could symbolize the level of commitment that is expected from him, given that he already rejected Jesus without his life being directly threatened.

    Third, you have the two different words for love being used. Twice Jesus uses agapaō for love when asking Peter with the response from Peter being phileō. On the third time Jesus asks, he switches love to phileo at which point Peter breaks into tears. Jesus is possibly stressing the type of love that is required to do the work. Do you love divinely and not just a fondness of. The third time he asks, it comes off that he is questioning Peter on if he even loves him in a phileo manner.

  3. Ian

    @Xander, thanks for all three of these points. And a big welcome, and I love the gravatar!

    In your second point, about sheep, do you put any meaning in the use of slightly different terms to talk about the sheep each time?

    In your third point, do you look at the three questions as being of decreasing force? “agapas me more than these ones (pleon tauton)?”; then just “agapas me?”; then “phileis me?”. Or do you just distinguish between the agape and phileo?

    @sabio Not much to say about that theory!

  4. Ian

    NB: I said you didn’t need to know any greek to take part, so apologies if it looked like I broke into greek at the first chance – but Xander did start it…

  5. Two different words are used. The later words are broader — gee, we could run to a more universalist Christianity with this progression !

    15 ἀρνίον (lamb) Lamb

    16 & 17 πρόβατον (sheep)
    whatever goes forwards, that is moves its limbs forwards in going; hence, quadrupeds, as distinguished from things creeping, flying, or swimming: especially tame animals; hence, generally, beasts, cattle. In Attic and NT usage, only of sheep.

    ( Coincidentally, my next post contains this distinction ! Or is it God speaking to us ?? )

  6. Below little background for folks who don’t have the resource on the Greek words translated “love”.
    It seems to say that Jesus was just moving the argument up to “I want little kiss” — why is everyone making this so complicated? And gee, what does this say about the sheep?
    So:
    “If you prefer me, sure, you can take care of a few folks, but if you are passionate about me, you can take care of the world.”

    Verses 15 & 16
    ἀγαπάω (agape)
    ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25)
    1. love [verb] -ed, -edst, -est, -eth
    to regard (Latin, diligere) esteem (the principle of internal feeling of delectation and kindliness), to acquiesce with satisfaction, to cherish with reverence, to love, considered in reference to the tendency of the will (elsewhere translated beloved).
    2. beloved
    to love, it denotes the deliberative exercise of the judgment; the giving of a decided preference to one object or person out of many. It frequently implies regard and satisfaction, rather than affection. A higher word therefore than φιλέω (phileō 5368), which denotes greater strength of feeling, as between brethren in blood.

    Verse 17: φιλέω (love)
    1. love [verb] -ed, -edst, -est, -eth
    to kiss, to love (Latin, amare), used of the more direct demonstration of regard; (hence, φίλος (philos 5384) a friend, is from φιλέω (phileō 5368) from φίω (phiō) or from πίλω (pilō) to press; φίλος (philos 5384) is he whom we embrace, or kiss. Again, φιλία (philia 5373) is friendship between men, but love when between the sexes), to love, considered in reference to a natural inclination, or an emotion (that is to say the passion of love) (elsewhere translated to kiss).
    [Note. — These two words are not used indiscriminately. ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) never means to kiss; φιλέω (phileō 5368) never means to acquiesce or cherish with reverence. φιλέω (phileō 5368) denotes the sense or passion of love, but in ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) is implied the cause ο (o 3588)f φιλέω. ἀγαπάω (phileō. agapaō 25) is to make much of a thing, to admire for some good and sufficient reason, but φιλέω (phileō 5368) denotes the love which springs naturally from the thing loved, even where no just cause of love exists. ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) is never used of an improper love; φιλέω (phileō 5368) is. Hence, in the NT φιλέω (phileō 5368) is never used of man's love to God, but ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) always. Both words are used of God's love to man, ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) when He is said to "Love the world" (Joh 3:16, etc.) and when He wishes men good, and seeks their salvation; and φίλέω (phileō 5368) is affirmed of His love to His people who please Him (Joh 16:27, etc.) Again, φιλέω (phileō 5368) is used of Jesus' love for Lazarus (Joh 11:3,36); but in verse 5 the word is ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) because there the sisters are included, and therefore this word was more correct. Again, we are commanded to love our enemies, etc., but here ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) is used, never φιλέω (phileō 5368); love cannot be required in this case, though kindness and compassion are. Again, in Joh 21:15-17, in the first question Jesus uses ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25) but Peter uses the word φιλέω (phileō 5368) in his reply; this is repeated, and then Jesus uses Peter's word in the third question. Once more, to love (φιλέω (phileō 5368)) life, from an excessive desire to preserve it, and so to lose sight of the real object of living, is reproved by our Lord (Joh 12:25). "Whereas to love (ἀγαπάω (agapaō 25)) life, is to consult its real interest. Other examples may be traced out with much profit, for example Mar 10:21.]

  7. Ian

    Thanks for the Strongs, Sabio. I don’t want to get too absorbed in that particular interpretation as if it were the only one that this passage can provide. It is certainly one of the most famous. But from a linguistic and historical point of view it isn’t quite as simple as you suggest. But I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of biblical criticism on this verse, I’m more interested in the general families of interpretation the passage admits.

    > Or is it God speaking to us ??
    :)

    > why is everyone making this so complicated?

    You’re the only one I can see posting paragraphs of greek linguistic reference!

    > It seems to say that Jesus was just moving the argument up to “I want little kiss”

    So is your reading that the change in the wording for love suggests that initially Jesus is interested in Peter loving the world, but later it becomes more intimately about their relationship with one another? If so that is an interesting inversion of the usual exegesis which has Jesus increasingly compromising with Peter’s weak answers, rather than increasingly moving towards Peters point of intimacy.

    Also I think your sheep comment is a little bit odd. I wasn’t asking if there is any difference between a sheep and a lamb, just asking Xander if that distinction carried weight in this story. We all use synonyms all the time, but sometimes the particular choice is more significant than others.

  8. No, I was implying that the author may have been alluding to his belief that if we love Jesus passionately (deep in our hearts), we can reach the whole world and not just fellow believers.

    Thus the sheep-lamb issue is not trivial, nor the philo-agape issue. But, seriously, I was always bad in Literature classes at University — why can’t people just say what they mean like philosophers do (*said with wry smile).

  9. Ian

    Cool, thanks. I think that is a novel exegesis in my experience.

  10. Good discussion so far. Nice blog, Ian. I’m going to poke around and do some more reading.

  11. Xander

    Not only the different terms, but also the different functions associated with the sheep. Feed my lambs, I think holds to instruct the new believers. Lambs are young and need more attention as not to wonder away from the flock. In addition, they do not have the same experience with the voice of the shepherd as a grown sheep which would indicate that they are more likely to follow another. Tend my sheep, implies an overseer role for the flock as a whole. Tending to sheep is a full time job. He would not be just a hireling as they were not trusted to watch the flock, so this seems to be a greater calling than that. It also follows Peter returning to fishing after rejecting Christ. Feeding sheep meant going pasture to pasture. It was not static and meant walking and protecting them on the journey. It would mean leaving his old life and embracing this new life until death.

    I don’t think the questions were in decreasing force as more of addressing the heart.
    Jesus: Peter, do you love me unconditionally? In a self-sacrificing way more than these others proclaim?
    Peter: Of course, Jesus! I am very fond of you!

    Jesus: No, no Peter. Do you love me unconditionally, no matter how hard life might get?
    Peter: Of course, Jesus! I am very fond of you!

    Jesus: Peter, are you even fond of me?
    Peter: You know my heart Jesus. You know I am fond of you and I will become self-sacrificing to you.

    Jesus: Good, cause you are going to die in a painful and humiliating way.

    Paraphrased of course.

    I also find it interesting that it is asked three times and answered three times. I want to say that verbal contracts followed this process. Three times in front of witnesses to be certain beyond a doubt about what is occuring and that both parties are in agreement.

  12. here’s my take that is both a mix of my Jesuit upbringing and seminary training which i will hope to note where one stops and the other begins. i will then provide my own translation and all of this will be off the cuff so to speak with no reference to the stack of books i have sitting next to me. here we go:

    the RC tradition states that this is Peter’s welcoming back into Jesus’ flock and not only that, but putting him at the head of it as lead ‘pastor’ while Jesus is gone. Peter denied Christ three times, betrayed him metaphorically whereas Judas was literally. Judas killed himself, Peter was shamed and was deeply guilty, so the dogma states. Jesus no only forgives, but restores Peter to the head of the flock.

    i largely agree with that interpretation of the text, i’m all about forgiveness and restoration, where i differ is with the idea that there is to be “one” head of the flock. i’m protestant after all, and Jesus is it. Peter would do okay but not as good as the “good shepherd” would because Peter, after all, is a sheep in the metaphoric sense.

    what Jesus asks Peter is what every Christian is asked. here’s my interp:

    Jesus: Peter, are you loyal to me and my teachings? Are you willing to die for them?
    Peter: Of course, Jesus! I am very loyal!
    Jesus: No, no Peter. Do you love me unconditionally, no matter how hard life might get?
    Peter: Of course, Jesus! I am very loyal to you!
    Jesus: Peter, are you sure? like, for realizes?
    Peter: JESUS Dude! You know me. You know I am loyal and I was close to you during that whole “cross thing” and despite my lack of courage, I have found what it means to be radically loyal to you, to the point of self-forgetting.
    Jesus: Good, cause odds are, you’re going to die because of it. what happened to me will happen to you. but your example will be spiritual food to others who wish to find what it means to live as we do.

    hope that satisfies.

  13. if a more detailed reading is needed, i can supply sources, but for the sake of brevity both in my writing and your reading, this is what i make of it initially.

  14. Ian

    No, that’s perfect thanks Luke. I am more curious about the breadth rather than the depth. I like your paraphrase, thanks.

  15. I guess it goes unspoken but …
    If I really was curious (or cared) about what this passage meant, I would have to:

    Study the overall intent of John’s Author (JA) — to see what JA is trying to make his Jesus say by understanding his intended audience and his philosophy as opposed to other gospel writers. I wouldn’t try to mix it with some mythical Jesus conjured in my mind by blending all the Gospels stories together. I would also have to look at literary devices at that time (as Xander hinted with the 3 time thing). And much more. Ancient texts are tough. Hell, relatively modern literature is tough — I am reading William James and without knowing his setting and the styles back then and who his friends were etc, it is easy to read him and make him say hugely various things — I imagine.

    I am sure Ian knows that better than any of us, but I did want to mention it.

  16. Ian

    @Sabio, yes, I agree. But two things I’d want to say on that.

    a) You’re describing the quest to know what was meant by that story (i.e. authorial intent). That is important, and what I’m most interested in with biblical studies (as impossible as it is, even so). But that is slightly different from what the story means. From well before Jesus, the biblical texts were recognized as having many layers of meaning. In Jewish thought this process has taken on monumental scale, but it is part of normative Christian practice too. From a historical critical point of view these may be eisegetical meanings (meanings brought to and expanded by the text, rather than meanings derived from them). But from a confessional point of view they are valid meanings. I’m fine with that, as long as folks don’t attempt to convince me that their midrash is critically valid. In this case I have some understanding of the historical critical scholarship of John (though John is notoriously complex, and if pushed I’m really a synoptic guy), but I am interested in what the passage means outside of that focus.

    b) You’re fine to call John’s Author, John. As in John Doe, maybe. The question of which people in NT studies are the same and which are different is very complex, so most scholars just call the evangelists (gospel writers) by their conventional names, without there being any implication that they are the same individuals as their traditional authors. So John may not have been the beloved disciple, but we don’t have a better name for him, so we call him John.

  17. @ Ian
    I agree.
    But how about “F-John”, instead of John, in mimicing Lost’s “F-Locke”.
    You probably don’t get that TV show in Wales — but thought you may have heard of it.
    The potential parallels are astounding, actually.

  18. Ian

    @Sabio – F-John, neat suggestion. I don’t watch Lost (I don’t have a TV, actually, so I’m limited to watching shows online), but I watch it by proxy by reading James McGrath’s blog.

  19. Xander

    @Ian

    Most people, Christians, don’t really appreciate the complexity of John because they don’t take the time to understand the symbolism that is commonly present in Jewish writings. It can really be fascinating trying to figure out what all is being said instead of just taking it at face value and being moved by it.

    One reason I enjoy your blog so much is that you do enjoy the challenge of looking beyond the surface.

  20. Ian

    @Xander I agree, and I confess I struggle to really get my head around the literature on the Johannine community. And thanks for the compliment.

  21. Xander

    Just heard another take on it.

    The third time Jesus asked, He was coming down to the level of commitment that Peter was able to make. Not sure if I agree with it right now, but an interesting point of view.

  22. Ian

    Xander,

    Thanks for that. Yes, that’s a valid interpretation of the change in emphasis, I think. Jesus does seem to be diminishing the force of his verb each time, and Peter from the outset is using the ‘weakest’ form. In the third repetition they match.

  23. alright… like what xander is explaining here i would also like to point out that with greek language LOVE has its degree… Agape which means unconditional love, Phileo, brotherly love, Eros love for the opposite sex and Storge which is like an affection example is when a mother cuddles her baby to sleep at night. On that particular situation, correct me if i am mistaken… on the original Bible text which was written in Greek cause they say that Greek is the perfect language, that’s why Jesus chose that. the conversation goes like: Jesus was asking Peter if he Agape Him and Peter keep on answering, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” As what i have said earlier, agape is an unconditional love. Loving no matter who or what you are!

    Hope it helps!

  24. Ian

    Thanks for posting your views, Chris.

    “Greek is the perfect language”
    :D

  25. Xander

    I misspoke when I put agape as a divinely type of love. It is just not there in that context.

    John 3:19 And this is the basis for judgment: The light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light because their actions were evil.

    People agape the darkness more than the light. Not a very divine though.

    Maybe Jesus is stressing the non-emotional aspect of love that is required to follow Him.

    I see why this stuff interests you Ian. Even without ascribing to the religious beliefs, it provides so much in the way of mind puzzles.

  26. Ian

    Just wanted to add a comment here to say, its been several months since this discussion, but I am still interested in further or different viewpoints. There’s a steady stream of folk who land here via google. Please don’t let an old date put you off – there are quite a few people still subscribed to the comments on this post, and I for one am more than happy to read further ideas.

  27. Hello, I stumbled accross this blog while researching the word agapaō in Google. My wifes therapist/Church Sister said “To Love others you must first Love yourself”. My wife asked me what it means and I started looking at it. I realized I don’t really love myself. So Im going to go to therapy to help me to learn to Love myself so I can express the Love to Others so I can Love Jesus and God. I was wondering if Jesus could have been saying “do you love me because you love yourself (we should love the things God Loves). And Peter’s reply could have ment “I don’t love myself there fore I will love you because you are worthy of all my affection”. I noticed that Agapao uses the word Love in the diffenation where as Phileo does not actually use the word Love. Someone said to me to actually Love you must know Love.

  28. Ian

    Thanks for posting Robert, and bringing your understanding to the question.

    I haven’t come across that angle before – the idea of Jesus finding out from Peter what is the worthy source of his love. I struggle to fit it myself, but I’m grateful you took the time to add it.

    I noticed that Agapao uses the word Love in the diffenation where as Phileo does not actually use the word Love.

    I didn’t quite understand this. Phileo is normally translated ‘love’, as is Agapeo. Is that what you meant?

    Good luck with the therapy, Robert, I hope it does give you the space to understand and appreciate yourself more.

  29. I am so sorry for that bit of confusion. Bad mistake on my part. I have been digging into this question for about 3 weeks. When some people read their Bible’s they read like the buterfly. Others read like the bee. The buterfly touches each word savoring it. The bee digs deep into it to taste the word.

    The reference came from one of my notes. Agapaō is defined as To esteem, love, indicating a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something or someone.” (Complete Word Study Dictionary).

    Phileō is defined as “To have to have affection for someone, to be fond of, to like, indicating feelings, warm affection.” (Complete Word Study Dictionary)

    Like I said I have been searching it through google enough to basically answer a question i have about myself “why it’s been so hard for me to repent away from the things I know doesn’t show my love for God. Like doing the things God Commands 1 John 5:3. I came to the answer that I don’t love myself. Peter said basically I’ll learn to Love myself enough to Love Others the way you said when you said to Love your nieghbors as much as you love yourself.

    Matthew 22:37-39 NIV Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    The Love Jesus was refering to is Agapao

    Matthew 22:37-39 NASB+ And He saidG5346 to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVEG25 THE LORDG2962 YOUR GODG2316 WITH ALLG3650 YOUR HEARTG2588, AND WITH ALLG3650 YOUR SOULG5590, AND WITH ALLG3650 YOUR MINDG1271.’ (38) “ThisG3778 is the greatG3173 and foremostG4413 commandmentG1785. (39) “The secondG1208 is likeG3664 it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVEG25 YOUR NEIGHBORG4139 AS YOURSELFG4572.’

  30. Ian

    Got ya, thanks for the clarification. My best wishes again for the therapy!

    Please discount this if this isn’t helpful. But there’s a pattern that I’ve seen in many of my evangelical friends. The conversion experience is so charged, and the initial period of learning about God and learning about his will is so very exciting. During this period there is a genuine change in a person. You do see stuff differently, and can act differently. It isn’t a huge chore: you want to act that way

    But this is very difficult to keep up. The human mind just isn’t wired to keep exciting things feeling exciting. Any stimulus becomes boring: that’s the way we are.

    So the experience of many evangelicals is of periods of euphoria (of which the first is usually the best and most long lasting), followed by increasing dry spells. This isn’t a reflection of your spirituality, just of your psychology. In those dry spells it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make yourself go through the motions of doing the stuff that evangelicalism tells you you should. The stuff that might have been easy in the first few months after your conversion. So most people pretend. Admitting you aren’t that person feels like an insult to God, rather than an acknowledgment of reality.

    I think this a problem with the portrayal of Christianity by evangelical churches. It doesn’t match the actual experience of Christians through the centuries. It is, at base, a lie.

    I’ve seen people go through that roller coaster and end up in real trouble. If they’re lucky they can engineer a situation where they get another boost, and things are great for a while. But the boosts always get shorter and shorter. Even though those around them are lying and saying that of course everyone struggles, but it can be done: you can receive the transformation you crave. By will alone you can claim what you’ve been told is there for the claiming. Despite that, I’ve not found anyone (who I actually know well enough to tell) who genuinely could. Instead it can breed genuine mental illness: depression, anger, and horrible, horrible guilt. All of which can fester if, for example, you go for treatment to an evangelical therapist or counselor.

    So I would say, just from my experience (and it is only my experience – I’m not a therapist, pastor or Christian counsellor), don’t condemn yourself because you don’t live up to some ideal of what a Christian should be.

    Particularly one that is being fed to you through Evangelicalism. My experience over many years is that the people telling you that aren’t that way either.

    There are Christian traditions and groups who take a more honest approach to their struggles and the reality of their Christian faith. There are even evangelical churches and groups that don’t go in for the dangerous parts of the Christian subculture. Groups that are far more genuine and cause far less mental illness in their congregations.

  31. xiuxiu

    what this means is when you love someone sometines you need to show them, words are not enough. I learned this today from the missionarys and a church member. I am learning about faith and this is one of the examples they gave me. It confused me and im not sure if this helps you but I thought I’d share it anyway. Thank u

  32. Ian

    Thanks xiuxiu, that’s an interpretation that hasn’t been suggested here before. You might want to read back over the comments to see the different other ways in which the passage is understood.

  33. I do not believe that it should be complicated to understand what Jesus was doing. He was obviously testing Peter, to make sure that there was no pride in him..

    How often is pride seen in the children of God? Pride is a very dangerous thing, it can blind you from doing the will of God.

    Jesus had also told Peter that he would deny Him 3 times, but Peter did not believe it, and once again, Peter stood up and told Jesus that he will not let anything happen to Jesus.

    Jesus saw the pride in Peter and said, “Satan get behind me” That was the very beginning of when sin was found in Lucifer, it was pride..

    Pride goes before the fall.. We have to be broken inside, so Jesus can work in us and through us.. Pride gets in the way.. We can love Jesus with all our hearts and all our soul, but until we are ready to accept the truth of Jesus, then now in God’s name can we follow the plan Jesus has for us?

    Pride has to go, in order for us to do the will of the Father… When pride is in a child of God, then it’s easy to deny Jesus. Can a child of God have pride? Oh yes!! That’s why we need Jesus, our Lord and Savior to help us remove that pride. If we were perfect, than we don’t need a Savior, right? None of us is perfect, except Jesus, and He is the only one that can truly give us a new clean heart in Him.. No man has that power..

    I can put scriptures to back up everything I written.. But Jesus wants me to be real as He has always been real to me.

    2Timothy 3:16 ~ All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

  34. Ian

    Nilda, Thanks for commenting.

    “I do not believe that it should be complicated to understand what Jesus was doing. He was obviously testing Peter”

    Obvious to you, of course. But there have been many many different interpretations of this passage over the last 2000 years, many of them made by people who were as certain as you are that their interpretation was “obvious” and right, and by people who had plenty of bible passages to back up their opinion.

    Thanks for posting your view on this, I do appreciate another viewpoint.

    But I’d strongly suggest you lose the arrogance, and let yourself find out a bit more about this passage and others in the bible.

    Looking through the comments on this post, your comes out by far the most proud of all, proud of the sure and certain knowledge of God you have, and that others may not.

  35. Hello Ian, this is what you have written, and the reason why I shared what I shared.
    “Anyone is welcome to contribute and your intepretations will not be ridiculed (not by me, anyway”

    You saying that I will not be ridiculed by you.. That’s exactly what you did..

    Sorry for sharing on this site.. I only shared from my heart..

    My heart is really for Jesus.. I don’t want any pride in me, even when I share..

    May God’s blessings be upon you in all that you do in the love of our Lord and Savior..

  36. Hello Ian,

    Please excuse me, I need to correct myself.. When I read your description on ~John 21:15-17 (NIV)~ I did not read your profile.. I missed the part that you say that you’re an Atheist.. So, Jesus is not your Lord and Savior.. Please forgive me for thinking that He was..

    You sound more like Agnostic, not an Atheist.

    May God be with you in the answers you’re looking for..

    In Christ always,
    Nilda

  37. Ian

    Nilda,

    Yes…. I guess I was too forthright, sorry. But given that this post was about various people’s interpretation of the passage, I found it moderately insulting to everybody that you began your comment with how it was “obvious” what the writer of this passage meant by it.

    I didn’t ridicule your opinion, I think it is valid, it adds to the discussion, and it provides a new angle we haven’t seen before, so I sincerely thank you again for sharing it.

    But you would do better generally if you didn’t start from the position of claiming you know the answers to these questions, and that they are obvious (and therefore by implication that any folks who spend time trying to figure it out are just missing the obvious). I hope you can see why that is arrogant and prideful.

    My belief is pretty much irrelevant, since most of the people who’ve come before you in these comments *are* Christians, and not one of them so far has agreed that the interpretation of this passage is obviously about pride.

    On a side note, you’re not the first person to decide that I’m not a real atheist, I’m ‘more like’ an agnostic, or a seeker, or something. (That itself, a rather arrogant thing to say, you must agree, just as if I decided you weren’t a ‘true’ Christian on the basis of what you’d written). I suspect that some Christians find it strange that an atheist should be interested in the bible or early Christianity, maybe you’re the same. But it is normally nicer to find out why, rather than just label someone, or decide that you know they are looking for answers from God.

  38. Actually Ian,

    Please excuse me for my choices of words.. Yes, you are right when you said “Obvious” that it may not be obvious to others.. I understand that, that was my ignorance, that said that.

    When it comes to pride, Jesus often talked about pride in people’s hearts.

    Pride has gotten in the way, and it separated people from God.

    If you see fit to judge my heart, then do you know Who Jesus really is?

    Do you know who I really am?

    I happen to stumble across this site, because I do serve Jesus, and He is my Lord and Savior.. I was writing about pride, and I decided to read about Peter.. I am not a Theologian, I am not a teacher, I am nothing to anyone.. I am just a child of God, who is seeking to do His will not mine. You can think that I am being prideful and arrogant, but I have nothing to gain. I just love Jesus, and I want the whole world to know who He really is.

    But if pride is in our hearts before God, then how can we see Who He really is?

    I will leave you with this, you are more than welcome to watch my first live video, where I bear my soul.. And you can judge my heart all you want before God, and ask me then, if I have pride in me.. I don’t care what the world thinks of me, because of what I have been through. Jesus was with me through it all.. I am a writer for Jesus, and He’s the one that judges my heart by convicting my heart.. That’s why, I am drawn to Peter.. I don’t need a scholar, I need Jesus, He is all I need. And His grace is sufficient..

  39. Ian

    Nilda,

    Thanks for the response. And thanks for staying with this. I really believe there is value in these kinds of back-and-forth, where we allow ourselves to be accountable to folks with whom we disagree. From your touching video, and the write-up, I get the sense that pride is something that you often think about, it is something you often use to work out where you are and where others are. So it is totally valid, I’d say, that you see Peter and Jesus’s dialog in those terms too. Once again, I thank you for sharing that new angle.

    And I get the sense now that you weren’t necessarily trying that say that it was “obvious” what that passage should mean, but maybe it is just obvious what it means to you. If that was what you were saying, then I got the wrong end of the stick, sorry again.

    I’m not sure where to go from here.

    In all these things, I happy to be disagreed with. I’m genuinely interested in your faith, what makes it tick, and the shape and character of the God you worship. And if we can get past the barrier of you deciding I’m lost and need Jesus (and you have the answers) and get to a point where we can actually share from a point of humility (I think this, but I confess nobody could know for sure) then it could be a valuable dialog, I think. Several of the Christians who comment here regularly are happy to share their opinions, and to honestly look candidly at their beliefs, and I am happy to share where I’m at likewise and examine my presuppositions.

    But it isn’t a common skill. So its really up to you. Given that I’ve insulted you, that’s fine if you’d rather not.

  40. Dear Ian,

    Thank you for taking the time in discerning these things. I see that you are searching. I will pray for you, and I do hope you find the answers that you are looking for in your own life.

    Please visit me on my own channel, and read what I really am about. There is more to a person who gives their life to Christ, than what you only see on the surface.

    Here is another live video that I made on December 2010.. May this helps you understand more about Who Jesus really is, in the lives of others, such as me and my Team4Jesus partner, some really live for Him, as others learning about Him.. We are a work in progress for Jesus, we are growing in Christ, just like any child that are growing in their own lives.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlkbPJPHXXw&feature=channel_video_title

    Of course I think about pride, it exist.. I find myself from time to time in being prideful, and I see how I become in my thoughts, may God help me, that I don’t want any pride in me..

    I am not ashame in who I am in Christ.. He is my true reason for living. I have no reason to live without Him.. He has given me pure joy and love..

    When I read about Peter, he was a very good example to why Jesus kept asking him, if he love Him.. I mean, all you have to do is really look around in these large ministries and see the pride in that..

    I am not trying to judge anyone, I am just merely bringing out what is going on..

    If you read my description, I wrote about pride, in that video.. This is something Jesus put in my heart, that pride has a life of its own.. People do not have a clue, unless that pride is literally taken away from them.. This is why in scriptures it does say that pride goes before the fall..

    So, look at the part when Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loves Him? Then read up, during the last supper, when Jesus told Peter that he will deny Him 3 times before the rooster crows.. Now it all leads the night at Gethsemane, when Judas betray Jesus and the soldiers were taking Jesus, while the disciples were sleeping and then finally thye wake up, and Peter took his sword and cut off the soldier’s ear.. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword.

    Now, do you think at that moment, there was pride in Peter? Of course there was. Even though it was Peter’s natural reaction to protect Jesus, but, Peter did not understand what was going on..Because pride was in Peter. That’s why Jesus was teaching Peter something, that he needed to be humbled..

    Now more pride comes in with Peter, when he denies Jesus 3 times, even though he was afraid, but it was his pride that blinded him that he could not see the truth.. When the rooster crowed, that was the beginning of fall for Peter, realizing what he has done.. Peter wept and became broken..

    When pride is in the child of God, we can easily fall. This is why Jesus does test us.. That is what I believe with all my heart and soul, as Jesus taught me this, through my personal walk with Him, and what He teaches us in Scriptures.. We are called to spiritually discern these things.

    I hope this helps a little.. May you be blessed in your own journey as you seek the truth in Who Jesus really is..

    God bless you,
    In all things Jesus,
    In Christ always,
    Nilda :)

  41. Ian

    ” I see that you are searching.”

    See, there you go again.

    If you see that I’m searching, then you’re most definitely not seeing very well. I’ve *very* much found. I was once where you are and I discovered things beyond. I didn’t lose my faith, I discovered what was beyond it, what I couldn’t have imagined for one minute when I stood where you are. What I would have ridiculed, or condemned or ignored or just plain misunderstood. I found the good news.

    Don’t jump to conclusions about where others are just because you don’t understand them (or worse, because you think you understand them). You’ve been sold a lie about what atheism is, I suspect, certainly about the kind of atheism I hold, because I’ve heard those lies preached often.

    You might want to stick about and see what I’m talking about. There are Christians here who’ve also found the light, and who still call themselves Christians. If you think I am searching, then there is much more to God and to the world than you think.

  42. Thank you Ian for sharing.. Visit me anytime on my own channel.. You can look me up.. I am working on a video now, don’t have much time, I going away..

    So you know this.. I was alone my whole life, I had no one to help me, everything was taken away from me to a point that I was stripped down to nothing, I was very lost and I have suffered greatly for more than 40 years of my life, which I will be sharing a video as I depict the story of my life in how Jesus rescued me..

    My life is worth nothing, without Jesus in it.. Atheism gives absolutely no hope, you would be surprise that it took 5 hours of me getting beaten up by an Atheist, who tried to get me to deny God, which I stood up to him and said, that I will never deny God, because He is my creator. I didn’t know Who Jesus was then, but, it was Jesus who saved me in May 1992, I have given my life to Him, when He showed me Who He really is.. Jesus is the Lord of my life!!

    I will still pray for you, in hopes you someday find out Who Jesus really is.. Once you let Jesus into your heart, you will never be the same again.. You would experience the greatest joy in your life.. Oh, and believe me you, it’s true.. I am sorry that you were the one that is being told a lie.. Jesus is the only one that can give you eternal life.. You don’t have to wait til you die.. You can have it now. You can’t enter heaven without Jesus..

    For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16

    Now, I will give you a challenge.. Without me debating with you.. You take the time and watch this playlist that I put together, that I share with Muslims and Atheists..

    WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE>>>>http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=FAA45E16614E5D26

    You want to challenge the very things of God, then challenge all those that God has touched the lives of muslims, missionaries, movies about a man who was angry, hateful and abusive who was about to kill his wife.. These are all based on true stories..

    Enjoy.. May God be with you!!

    In Christ always, Nilda :)

  43. Ian

    “Atheism gives absolutely no hope”

    Oh well, sorry you can’t get to the point of real sharing Nilda, of finding out whether I have hope, and if so on what. I’m sorry you can’t get past the point of telling me what I believe.

    I’m afraid I’ve met so many people who’s only response to something they don’t understand is to hammer at it with an ugly, hand-over-the-ears evangelism. “Jesus is the answer, Jesus is the answer, Jesus is the answer”, never stopping to find out what the question is.

    You don’t even know what I believe, but you know I’m wrong. That’s truly sad.

    I’m sorry for your hurt. I’m glad in your faith you found solace, an escape from domestic abuse, and a way to rebuild your self-esteem and to find your purpose.

    I won’t be joining you on your channel. Unfortunately, I really can’t take that level of arrogance for long. You seemed almost human a couple of comments back, but I think we’ve lost you back into the parroting of clichés again.

  44. God bless you Ian, Jesus is the true answer to life.. May someday you find out..

    Take care.

  45. Pingback: Numbers | Irreducible Complexity

  46. Jen

    I am interested in the commentary on this passage, I am a Christian youth worker who works for a church and am preparing a talk on Peter’s denial of Jesus and Jesus’ response. I really enjoy looking for the layers of meaning, but also realising that the Holy Spirit can bring to light particular lessons from passages that we need at certain times. I have been praying God would show me what message he would like to give to the young people I will be speaking to tomorrow about this passage. I like to read, research and hear others’ opinions and allow God to speak through them and show me what to share. Sorry if you aren’t a Christian and that sounds a little ‘airy fairy’ or vague, put simply I am following the comments on here and interested in asking questions of the passage. I hate to make a ‘sit on the fence’ kind of comment, but I think this passage highlights all the things people have contributed. I found Robert’s interpretation refreshing, because i haven’t heard it before. I do think, without going all new agey and psychological, that loving yourself is part of realising that God loves you. If you can accept that someone loves you in spite of flaws you can learn to love yourself and accept yourself and I think this definitely makes you more tolerant of others and more able to accept and love them. I think what I would take away from this passage though, is that yes, to a certain degree, Jesus is speaking into Peter’s situation and calling him back into the fold and commissioning him for ministry, but this passage and what he calls Peter (the everyman ) to is to be someone who seeks to love those who don’t know God and those who do and to earnestly try, without pride to really love them and be a positive influence, despite the fact that we might fail. It may be a lesson in perseverance, Jesus endured agony and separation from God at the cross. Are we willing to do the same for the sake of others?

  47. Ian

    Thanks for the comment, Jen. Through the vast majority of Christian history, the bible has been understood as operating on three levels.

    1. the story – what it actually says
    2. how the story is a metaphor or an allegory for deeper things
    3. how the story illustrates moral or ethical principles, again by analogy.

    Christians have always understood that the contents of the bible itself are only level 1, and that additional inspiration is needed to get 2 or 3. So I think there are tons of things at levels 2 and 3 you can read into this passage – I picked it because lots of things have been said. The comments have added more than I wasn’t aware of. The meaning around perseverance you want to bring out with your kids is another.

    It’s a fascinating process.

    The only thing that you can’t do with 2&3 is say what the passage ‘really means’, and losing the fact that there is one correct meaning is difficult for some Christians who have been taught that somebody (the pastor, or maybe the youth leader, maybe ;) ) is always right. Depending on the ages of your group, it might be cool to do a session on that: get them to suggest a meaning, and talk about the way that, ultimately, only they can understand what it means to them, as they seek to do something with it…

  48. Hi
    I am from India and belong to the Indian Orthodox Church. Our state language is Malayalam and this passage is read in Malayalam in our Church.

    In Malayalam Jesus asks Do you love me more than these and uses the word Sneham meaning love/ agape.

    Peter answers “Enikku ninnodu priyam undu’ He uses the word Priyam which means affection/ liking/partiality etc.

    We are given to understand that Jesus asked Peter this question privately for 2 reasons
    1. To confirm to Peter that he is forgiven for rejecting Jesus thrice. Peter is not rejected by Jesus, but commissioned to feed his lambs, sheep and ewes- our reading says all these 3 groups.
    2. To show him that Priyam/ affection is not sufficient to carry out the mission. Only a great self sacrificing love can. Affection would cause one to run away when times are difficult.

    Jesus knows everything, including the end awaiting Peter.

    Thanks
    Susan

  49. Ian

    Susan,

    Thanks so much for commenting, and welcome to the blog. I enjoyed clicking through and reading some of your blog.

    Very interesting that the Malayam translations is able to illustrate the change in ‘love’ that the greek has, but the English doesn’t. Thanks for your two interpretations.

    I’m not sure I understood your #2 – in what way did Jesus show him that Priyam isn’t sufficient? In the end Jesus drops down to Peter’s verb, doesn’t he?

    Sorry it took me so long to respond, for some reason the blog hasn’t been sending me notifications.

  50. Well, Jesus being alpha and omega knew what was ahead for Peter. He descended to Peter’s level to lift him up to His own. Perhaps.

  51. Ian

    Okay. So you’re basing that on stuff that isn’t in this passage, right? I was asking about your assertion that the passage shows that Priyam isn’t sufficient, where the forms of the verbs seems to suggest the opposite (i.e. Jesus eventually settles on Priyam, which Peter has maintained all along).

    I don’t mind your suggestion at all, by the way, no snarkiness is intended. No passage stands alone. I just want to be clear what you are saying about this particular passage.

  52. Ken

    How would a first century Jew understand it?

    1. Israel had many shepherds – Ezekiel 34:1-2
    2. But the shepherds over Israel were bad – Vrs 3-7
    3. God promised He would be the shepherd of His sheep – Vrs 11-24
    4. He promised He would setup one shepherd over His sheep, namely the Messiah – Vs 23 “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”
    5. In John 10:11 we see Jesus is the good shepherd.
    If we compare Ezekiel 34 to John 10 we can see how God in the fullness of time set over Israel (The Church) one shepherd who would rule over them in justice and mercy and cause them to eat the good of the land. We can also see from Ezekiel the job of the shepherd was to rule, guide and govern. Jesus just before His departure to Heaven commands Peter to feed His sheep. Knowing there is only one shepherd now it was to Peter whom He also gave the keys of the kingdom to be that one shepherd until His return. It is my belief the traditional Catholic interpretation is correct here.

  53. radar

    The Lambs that Christ was referring to are the Apostles.. John the Baptist said “behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the World”. God had His Lamb (Christ) for a sin offering. Jesus has His Lambs (martyrs) for the establishing of the Church. The Sheep that Christ was referring to, is the Jews, and then the Gentiles. I can elaborate more if anyone is interested.

    j

  54. Ian

    Thanks J,

    So lamb is a term of sacrifice (i.e. a sin offering), and Jesus is the Lamb because of his death for sin, and the apostles are lambs because of their traditional martyrdom, is that right? And sheep are like lambs, but without the sacrificial aspect. Right?

    So what is the significance of swapping between the two at the corresponding bits in the passage? Is there a meaning there, or is it just talking about both lambs and sheep separately? Is Jesus establishing some hierarchy here? Why does he distinguish?

  55. radar

    Luke 10:3 Christ said that He was sending His “Disciples” as lambs into the wolves. Next Also see Matthew 20:22 23. The disciples would drink of the same cup that Christ did. Next Continue to read the full chapter of John 21, this is where Christ told Peter how he was to be offered up. Next All of the apostles were martyed for there faith..

  56. Ian

    Okay you’ve said the same thing again but not answered (or maybe understood) my question. Saying the same thing over and over with increasing number of bible passages doesn’t mean you are making a point. I understand what you are saying, are you willing to have a follow up discussion, or does debate end for you at being patronizing?

  57. radar

    Ian.. I came to this site to give out the information that the Lord has shared with me., I came about this information throw prayer and much study. I am not here to bash or be bashed. If I can ,I will do my best to answer your question (questions). I am not at all trying to say that Christ was setting up an hierarchy. This is where Peter was placed in charge of the apostles. Later in the book of Acts you will discover Peters roll in leadership. Christ was labeled a Lamb, and rightfully so. Christ was offered up for a sin sacrifice as was the lambs in the Old Testament.. The Apostles on the other hand was not a sin sacrifice, but a bodily sacrifice for the establishing of the Church., this was their cup. Our cup is to crucify the body daily.. I am not here to debate,, but open for discussion. I have discussed this topic with many Pastors, and they do concur with me. Y

  58. Ian

    Sorry Radar, I think you missed the point of my question.

    It seems like you are suggesting that, in this passage, Jesus is distinguishing between two groups of his followers: those who will become martyrs (the lambs) and those who will not (the sheep). If that is the allusion behind the metaphor (and I’m happy to entertain your views on it, the point of this post was to ask what people think), then the question is why? Why does the author of John’s gospel want to make that distinction here, at the calling of Peter? What purpose does it serve? What should we know about Peter’s calling specifically that he chooses now of all times to distinguish martyrs from non-martyrs? Do you get why that is a different, and more significant question?

    I’m accepting your interpretation (seems as valid as many others suggested here) but I’m asking you to go further and ask yourself the why question, not more what.

    It is a clever connection, to interpret the ovine language as being related to metaphors of the paschal lamb, but it doesn’t address what the purpose of making that connection is.

    For example. If I make a speech “and we should all light a fire above our lives, inextinguishable, carried from one phase of our life to another, symbolising that all our endevors are at the service of the light.” You might very cleverly spot that I’ve used the metaphor of the olympic flame there, and a reference to the fact that the olympics move from city to city. But as clever as spotting the allusion is, it would be foolish to think that the purpose of my speech was to talk about the olympic games.

    I value your opinion and your contribution. I think you’re just mistaking my questions for my not understanding or accepting what you’re saying. Which isn’t the case.

    Does that make sense?

  59. radar

    Ian.
    what I am trying to convey is that this scripture has been misinterpreted far to long. And I am trying to shed light onto the correct interpretation, that is why I am here. One more time. The Lambs are the immediate followers of Christ. (Apostles) Peter, James, John, and all of the other original Disciples. The first set of Sheep are the Jews., the second set of Sheep are the Gentiles. When Christ charged Peter with the feeding (caring) of the Lambs He was placing Peter in a position of servitude, not as a ruler.,

  60. Ian

    Fair enough. Thanks for the input.

  61. Elizabeth

    While going through a family struggle, I prayed to God for an answer. I opened my Bible and came to this scripture. I interpret this scripture to mean, that Jesus is saying Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me? Then trust me, trust me, trust me. When you are down in the valley and do not see a flicker in the darkness, Feed my sheep and trust me. The purpose for God to use humans is for each other. To get us through the turmoil and confusion that sin causes. In the end, it is about love for God and love for people. Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. It may not be pretty, it may be painful, but with the Holy Spirit it can be accomplished. Feed my sheep means love Jesus and love people and tell them the truth about the Good News of Jesus!

  62. Ian

    Thanks Elizabeth. Most of your comment seemed to be about helping others practically, which I think is great.

    But then “tell them the truth about the Good News of Jesus!” struck me as odd. I wonder if you just slipped into that form of words at the end, or whether that is really what you think people at their lowest ebb will respond to?

    Do you think most people, in their darkest and most desperate times, would appreciate someone coming along and telling them the Good News of Jesus?

    In my experience it is a beguiling myth that the “Good News” will encourage people. As a result, many Christians then get discouraged when they try to tell people and are met with, at best ambivalence, and often hostility. Don’t you think?

  63. Elizabeth

    Ian,
    Thanks for responding. Well, I believe in people’s darkest hour that people need more than themselves, others, medications, and other things to get them through all of the trials of this life. I truly believe when someone hears the Good News of Jesus and what he has done for them, and if they accept his gift of salvation, then the Holy Spirit comes and abides in them. Now, I do not claim to know everything, and there will be those who will question what I say, but from experience, knowing that the Holy Spirit abides in me helps me through this life. Now my brain is how I think, I believe that my soul is who makes me who I am. I don’t know how to explain it with just simple words. Nothing in me is good, I have bad thoughts that my mind generates. Jesus knows this, that is why he had to come and save us from sin and death. If we trust him as our Lord and Savior he will send his Holy Spirit. What I love the most of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Self-control, Kindness, Gentleness, Goodness, and Faithfulness. That is what I want. The Good News is for all; people at the tip of South America, China, Africa, Saudi Arabia, America, Iceland. God is one and he is God of all creation. I am only human, with human emotions, but if I was met with hostility after telling someone of Jesus, I would hope I would walk away and pray for them and myself. God is in control know matter what I do. I just know he is sovereign, true, omnipresent, righteous, good, and just. Our brains want to doubt such perfection just like Peter did when he denied Jesus. Peter saw what Jesus did and still denied him! Jesus knew our struggles, but he still loves us. How would you feel if someone treated you like this? Jesus says, Feed my Sheep, the sheep that I love. Do you love me? Care for my sheep. Love my sheep. Be compassionate to my sheep. Be forgiving to my sheep. Be my hands and feet. Feed my sheep, Jesus loves Peter and loves his sheep and the sheep should love Jesus.

  64. Ian

    @Elizabeth, thanks for responding. I wasn’t trying to be funny about your faith. It was more that the implication seemed to be that at the time of greatest need, you would want to ‘feed’ them by preaching.

    If someone in a desperate situation were like you, and already accepted the gospel, why would you need to “tell them the truth about the Good News of Jesus!”? That seems an odd phrase to use. I could understand if you’d said “remind them of Gods love and presence with them”.

    So I assumed you meant “tell them the truth about the Good News of Jesus!” in the way that phrase is normally used: to mean telling someone the gospel and inviting them to accept it.

    That struck me as potentially very counter-productive. Even if you think i t would help them hugely to accept, you must recognize that “telling them the truth about the gospel” doesn’t very often go well (how often do you do it – how often do you get a positive reaction?), so does it match with your desire to help them in their need?

    You might think it does. I only responded because the two parts of your response seemed out of step to me, and I wondered if “tell them the truth about the Good News of Jesus!” was a bit more of just a cliche phrase for you, and in this context it meant something more like “I’d tell them I’ll pray for them, and gently offer to pray with them, if they wanted.” – something less preachy.

    Do you see what I’m asking? Sorry if I’m being really obscure!

  65. Elizabeth

    Ian,
    I can see we are on two intellectual planes. You are on the higher. Maybe. Honestly, when I came along this blog, I put in Feed My Sheep in google, because of the previous comment I made. I am going through something now with my family. I prayed and I was led to this scripture, you will see after that about Feed my Sheep, it goes on to say they will reach out their hands and lead you where you do not want to go. Reading this, it pointed out to me that I don’t want to do what I am being led to do, but God is saying to me Feed my Sheep, if you love me, feed my sheep no matter what the cost. Even if that means putting my life on hold to help someone else. I am not trying to be or sound like anything. I am just another person looking for answers to life’s problems. I say the truth of the gospel simply because I grew up in Mississippi in a christian family. If you are not a Christian then there is something wrong with you. I wanted it to be real and not something just to say. It seems that everyone was a Christian if they went to church on Sunday. There came a time when I asked myself what is the truth? Am I really a Christian? Do I really believe or do I just say this to go along with the majority. I have searched for the truth. Intellectually, historically, by prophecy, and the truth that I feel in my heart I believe that the Gospel is truth. So I emphasize the truth because to me it is. It’s not fairytale or just American, it’s human need. To me being a Christian is 24/7 not just on Sundays. Does that answer your question?

  66. Ian

    Drat, I hoped I wouldn’t put you off. And I hoped I wouldn’t come across the way I obviously have. Pleeeease don’t read my questions as being negative about what you’re saying. I am really only trying to get to the bottom of what you’re actually saying.

    I don’t think there’s any higher or lower intellectual planes, to be honest. And if there were I don’t think I’m on some higher plane. In fact, you could say the opposite, since clearly I’m struggling to make myself understood here!

    Anyway, sorry if I sounded like I was asking something in a negative way. Thanks very much for commenting, and I hope the place you didn’t want to go, turns out to be green pastures.

  67. Elizabeth

    No problem. Sometimes I can assume things myself and I have to sit back and look at my own ideas and thoughts to make sure they are aligned correctly with rationale. Anyway, I enjoyed conversing with you. Thank you for the good wishes. God Bless You! – Cristin

  68. Richard

    What an interesting experience. I was simply looking up the Scripture for the sheep conversation then I was here, reading this blog, admiring Ian’s appeal to gather viewpoints with no arrogance or ridicule for those that might be less learned. Then I followed parts of the blog, becoming sadder toward the end as Ian lost his nerve and control while responding to two women, Nilda4Jesus and Elizabeth. I will leave appreciating Ian’s intellectualism and these two women’s heart. But Ian, you did not do what you said. You applied your intellectual keenness in order to deal with the women and you also ridiculed them, in a fashion, for their beliefs and desire that you would share in the inheritance they believe they have. Young man, you were unnerved by the sincere care and concern for you these women had, so you went against your promise and intellectually stabbed at them and left them feeling awkward. Each of us is human and each of us are entitled to our own world-view and none of us can say that he is superior in what he believes. You do not get the right to be in judgment that these ladies believe right or wrong because you are an atheist. Your denial of God does not equate with you being omniscient. Now I know you will pardon me for not practicing good hermeneutics because you are kind and a scholar who already has attended, and will continue to attend, to those “musts” for understanding the Bible. History, culture, and much more unlock understandings. However sometimes it is nice to step away and just consider some excerpts at face value. In a moment you can relish your appreciation and love for the school of higher criticism, but for now let’s have a fresh start at your invitation, knowing you will not fall into the need to ridicule or be arrogant. You see, I think the ladies were showing you amazing love and they were doing what Jesus asked. However, he did not tell us to beat our head against the wall and sadly, they have some bruises. I hope they read the verses I will toss out for all to consider, free of the baggage of lofty scholarship. In a nut shell, Jesus made it clear that the Gospel, whatever it is, is easy enough for even an idjit to understand or else God excludes them from the hope of salvation which, of course, is not God-like. OK, here are some “out of context” passages of Scripture for you to wrangle into submission.
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    <<>>
    <<>>
    So in conclusion, I think you have a fine mind and a heart of a scholar. I was surprised you were unnerved. I, too, confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He rescued me and I am ever in loving debt to him. And yes, I am convinced the Paraclete is nudging you to a point where he will open your mind. THEN you will see the points the women were making, but not before. Keep up the good work. Remember the idjit thought I mentioned. “Whosoever will may come” defeats any need for the school of higher criticism.
    I wish you well….
    Richard

  69. Richard

    Here are the Scriptures again:
    Luke 24:44-5 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 2 Timothy 3:7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
    Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 2 Corinthians 4:12 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, —- the women WERE feeding sheep.

  70. Ian

    Richard, Thanks for commenting. I think your quotes got eaten by wordpress, for some reason (I assume that’s what the angled brackets were)

    Nilda definitely annoyed me. though not because of what she concluded, but because of her attitude that she was right and everyone else wrong. Including you, by implication, if you don’t agree with her ‘obvious’ conclusion. I removed some of Nilda’s later and more nasty comments, which she also continued by email. If that is demonstrating love, then you’ve a very wierd notion of love.

    And I think you misunderstood my conversation with Elizabeth (which is my fault, since she did too), since I was genuinely trying to figure out if she really meant what she seemed to be saying. Which I was trying to figure out because it sounded so out of place with the rest of her comment. There was no intent to attack or ridicule her or her beliefs at all. But obviously I couldn’t figure out how to ask her to clarify her beliefs, or express why I needed that clarification, without tripping her or your defence mechanism. I’ll have to figure out how to ask those questions without believers figuring I’m attacking them somehow. Its a hair-trigger I’m not used to.

    And as for a different range of bible verses – well okay, but perhaps you’d actually like to respond to the question in the post.

    Look, many discussions about faith basically come down to people trying to claim authority or power over the other. If you’ve had these discussions enough you notice that*. Someone will say ‘you need to do this’, or ‘your knowledge is all well and good, but if you understood like I do then you’d see the truth’, or ‘I see how you’re struggling, let me give you some help’. It is all a power-game. It is no different if you look at discussions between Christians with different theology.

    A typical tactic is to suggest that your views are a superset of the others. “I can see what you’re saying, but I can go beyond it”. Another is to suggest the other person is caught up on minutiae and missing the big picture. Another is that the good points of the other person are irrelevant details compared to the central point. These are all tactics that are nothing to do with content: people of all views use them. They’re just ways to be self-righteous while pretending to be engaged in the discussion.

    I did it in this post quite deliberately to ape the way that a particular believer did it subconsciously on a previous post. And if you read the comments there you’ll see plenty of believers who didn’t get the satire, and others who did. In those comments you’ll see me do the same thing at length to those who didn’t get it. It is fun to do, and rather easy, and I suspect lots of folks do it unknowingly. They use the feeling of superiority as a defence mechanism to avoid really engaging, so they can frame the conversation as an educational exchange (“I’m trying to help you understand the truth”), rather than a discussion. I’m certainly guilty of doing that.

    And, I’m afraid, that’s what your comment read as. See how many authority-claiming, power-differential phrases you can spot in what you wrote. I don’t know how you were feeling when you wrote it, but it reads like a disapproving uncle teaching know-it-all little Johnny about the real way the world works.

    * – see what I did there?

  71. Elizabeth

    Hi. I just wanted to make a comment on what Richard said. Thank you. You know I sure don’t claim to be a scholar, all I claim is a hunger for truth. I sometimes believe the heart knows the truth more than the brain. The brain consist of knowledge that we learn and the heart and spirit is where truth lies. Our brains can lie to us all day. We are more than our brains. We are more than what human science tells us. The truth is out there. John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    The same was in the beginning with God.
    all things were made by him;and without him was not any thing made that was made.
    In him was life; and the darkness comprehended it not.

  72. Ian

    Thanks for popping back in, Elizabeth.

    Richard doesn’t seem to have come back. But I’ve been thinking about the conversation I had with you. And how it came across. And the fact that I couldn’t seem to ask a simple question in the right way.

    I take responsibility for that, totally.

    But I wonder how could I ask about it? How do I ask what you mean by something without seeming like I a) don’t understand more generally, or b) I’m attacking your belief.

    I’d genuinely like to know. I’m not saying that to make a point, or as a veiled criticism. I’d really like to know.

    I don’t even know if this question makes sense, but if it does, and you feel like decreasing the net misunderstanding in the world, you can help me out!

  73. Elizabeth

    Ian,
    Okay, I think what you are asking me is why I would add the truth about Jesus Christ to my response. I say the truth because I think people accept it to easily or that they say they are a Christian to just say it. I say truth of Jesus Christ to emphasize that everything and anything is connected to him. Really, no matter what anyone is going through, whatever their faith, it is all connected to God’s (Jesus) purpose. I live because Christ died for me. I love because God loves me. I survive because of him. I cannot rely on myself, or others to bring me peace. I have found peace and joy in him when I let go of myself and my own reasoning. Have you ever trusted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? Do you believe it is possible that someone like God could love someone like you and I? Are you searching for goodness, holiness, forgiveness, and love? Is it possible that the Bible could be true? Do you think? Do you believe in life after this one? Do you want to hold unto unbelief and sin? If I did not answer your question. Ask me again.

  74. Elizabeth

    Ian,
    I just read your story. I should have before now, but at least I finally did. So I see you’re an atheist. Well, life is crazy isn’t it? What can I say? It’s like standing in the middle of a wheat field and not knowing where to go. All I can say is silence. My viewpoints you will not listen to, like I can not listen to yours. I am trying to compare them to something. It’s like playing tug-of-war without anyone winning. Someone will win in the end. When you put your logic before anything else it comes up short or it keeps going round and round and round. There has to be perfection. There has to be goodness. There has to be absolute truth. Would you ever believe in a miracle? What if it was witnessed by many? Would you then believe in the supernatural? Life is supernatural. Don’t be a concrete block and block out what I have to say because I am a Christian. You just may. You will. Wait for the supernatural. Don’t block out goodness. I am searching for the right word. Nothing scientific, nothing a scholar would give you. Wait.

  75. Ian

    Elizabeth, thanks so much for responding.

    I say truth of Jesus Christ to emphasize that everything and anything is connected to him.

    Does that, in your experience, work? If you are with someone in a difficult situation, and you’re called to be there, to love them and help them. And you tell them the gospel. How does it go?

    Again, I hope I’m asking in a non-offensive way. The reason I ask, is because that seems like it would be counter-productive to me: it seems like many people I know would react badly to that, and I wouldn’t be able to give them the love and care I intended. Which is why that stood out in your comment. But that is just how it seems to me. So I wondered if “tell them the truth about the Good News of Jesus!” to you meant something slightly more subtle than it seems to mean to me.

    Right you asked me some questions, but I’m a bit nervous of answering them, because I don’t want this to suddenly come across as me being all arrogant again. So please take these answers as being just my matter of fact answers to your questions. Don’t read any negativity into what is above the line, based on the fact that we are going to disagree on these answers, okay? :)

    And you’re free to challenge any of this, of course, but I also am not answering the questions because I particularly want the conversation to go off in this direction. Just because you’re welcome to ask, and I’m happy to answer.

    Have you ever trusted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?

    Yes. I invited Jesus into my life as my personal Lord and Saviour at 16. I believed in him with all my heart for the best part of a decade. In which time I saw prayers answered, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and felt his presence regularly.

    Do you believe it is possible that someone like God could love someone like you and I?

    I don’t believe there is a God. Or rather, I think God is a human construction. To that extent, yes, god can love someone like you and I.

    Are you searching for goodness, holiness, forgiveness, and love?

    No. Not in the sense I think you mean that, anyway. I am, of course, in favour of goodness, forgiveness and love. But have no shortage of either in my life. Holiness I think is also a religious construct, so it doesn’t motivate me at all.

    Is it possible that the Bible could be true? Do you think?

    No. I think it is impossible.

    Do you believe in life after this one?

    No, I believe our state after death is very much the same as our state before our life began.

    Do you want to hold unto unbelief and sin?

    I don’t think of myself as an unbeliever. At least not particularly about God. That question sounds as odd to me as if you’d asked if I want to hold onto unbelief about Santa Claus (I hope that comparison isn’t offensive to you, I’m just trying to express how it is to me). I think that finding the truth about God was a positive experience, not a lack of something, or a step back to my pre-converted state. I don’t hold onto sin. I think it is not a very sensible concept, given my view of God. I do think there are moral rights and wrongs, however, and we can talk about why that is. But to be as close to your question as I can: I do not hold on to moral wrongs or evil: I try to confront them, particularly in myself.

  76. Ian

    Ah! comments that cross in flight! :)

    So I see you’re an atheist. Well, life is crazy isn’t it?

    Yes, yes it is :)

    My viewpoints you will not listen to, like I can not listen to yours.

    We can listen to one another, I think. I will listen to you. We’ll both filter what each other has to say through what we believe, of course, but it doesn’t make communication impossible.

    My tendency to be ‘rough’ in discussions, however, isn’t helpful. As we’ve seen. But I run this blog because I am interested. Deeply interested.

    Would you ever believe in a miracle? What if it was witnessed by many? Would you then believe in the supernatural?

    Yes, there are definitely possible situations that could make me change my mind. As I changed my mind before.

    I’ve written a couple of posts on the supernatural here, and how things that are claimed to be supernatural actually work. If something supernatural happened that didn’t work in that kind of way, I would *definitely* be interested, yes.

    The lack of a supernatural was why I had to (very begrudgingly) stop being a Christian. Because I couldn’t match Christian claims of a supernatural with the absolute lack of actual supernatural phenomena when I went and looked. And I did go and look, for a long time. Honestly.

    Life is supernatural. Don’t be a concrete block and block out what I have to say because I am a Christian. You just may. You will. Wait for the supernatural. Don’t block out goodness. I am searching for the right word. Nothing scientific, nothing a scholar would give you. Wait.

    Well, regardless of what I believe, this is beautifully put. Thanks. Hopefully I have a while yet in my life. I am very happy to wait. And I will not stop looking.

    Thanks again for the responses. I’m sorry if you now think I am bad mannered and have horns. But I’m starting to really enjoy the conversation :)

  77. Elizabeth

    These scriptures came to my mind.

    1 John 4:1
    Dear Friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
    God wants us to the test the spirits and we do this by the Bible.

    Genesis 1:27
    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.
    We must think like God in a sense. I compare God to loving humankind like a parent loves his children. It is an unconditional love. God disciplines like parents discipline, not to be cruel, but to make us better. I also think about if we could see God, we would automatically love him, because he is God. I believe there has so be some gap in there so we can truly love him. Just like I want someone to love me for me, not for what I can give or do for them. I don’t want anyone to love me because I forced them to or because they have to.

    Romans1:20
    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that man are without excuse.

    Hebrew11:1
    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
    Here is a link to something important, please read.

    http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/Prophecies-Jesus.htm

  78. Ian

    You still didn’t answer my question!

    I’m also not sure what you are trying to say with the bible quotes. I can think of lots of bible verses too. I love Hebrews 11, too, my favourite passage on faith (the whole chapter, with its weaving of the old testament stories). I might also quote Job 38:2-15 at me too, it is a passage that has certainly occurred to me on more than one occasion.

    But it is usually clearer to just say what we mean. I’ve read the whole bible several times, I’ve learned chunks of it, I loved it so much I learned the original languages to read it in, and I studied it in faith every day for more than a decade. I’m not saying all that to boast, only to say that it is very unlikely I am where I am because of ignorance of the bible, or failure to understand its message. So can you put Elizabeth back on the line please? ;)

  79. Elizabeth

    I am simply saying what is in my heart.
    Do you like where you are now?
    I said those scriptures because I thought of them and they mean something to me.
    What about the supernatural?
    What if chariots of fire were to come down right now?
    What would that mean to you? Proof?
    Would it be supernatural or hallucination?
    Revelation 16:4
    They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs and they go out to the Kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.
    I have had 5 experiences in my life that I could not scientifically explain.
    Two of these times there was a witness.
    You know, there has to be a time where you have to let go of the wheel, because you are not driving it.
    It is a very scary thought, but it is what needs to happen.
    Trust in Jesus, the perfect lamb.
    What a beautiful display of love.
    Do you believe that can exist?

  80. Ian

    Do you like where you are now?

    Yes. I also liked being a Christian. But I think I like where I am now better. There are things that aren’t as simply comforting, but seeing the truth is better than being cocooned in a beautiful story, I think.

    What about the supernatural?

    I don’t think there is a supernatural. I think what is called the supernatural is a set of perfectly natural phenomena. Is that what you mean?

    What if chariots of fire were to come down right now?
    What would that mean to you?

    It would mean I am wrong. Very wrong.

    Would it be supernatural or hallucination?

    It would be easy to tell the difference, wouldn’t it? If I was running a high temperature, sweating semi-conscious in bed and I was the only person who saw it – it would be safe to assume a hallucination. If it was also seen by lots of people, then I couldn’t believe it was a hallucination. I don’t dismiss the supernatural out of hand because I’m some how predisposed to. I came to the conclusion there was none after looking.

    You know, there has to be a time where you have to let go of the wheel, because you are not driving it.

    I agree. But whatever my faults, thinking I’m in control is not one of them.

    Trust in Jesus, the perfect lamb.

    I have, in every way I could. I then came to know God in a fundamentally deeper way too. A way I couldn’t have imagined when I was lost in the Christian story. A way that revealed the true beauty and true nature of God.

    Do you believe that can exist?

    What? Love? Yes, very much so. Or Jesus? Well I think Jesus did exist, yes, but not a lot of the stories in the bible about him are true. Or God? No, I think God does not exist, except as a human construction. Not quite sure what you’re asking.

    But do you really think the only way we can talk is if you evangelize to me? We can’t talk about your original statement? Why is that? Am I not allowed to know about your thoughts except on the basis of you trying to get me to change my views on God? That’s fine. I’m happy to talk about anything. But I didn’t intend for this to be suddenly about the state of my faith. Again, its not a problem if that’s what you want. I just mean it wasn’t what I was asking.

  81. Elizabeth

    So where do you gain your knowledge? Science? Self-awareness? Are you saying there is nothing bigger than yourself? Do you have depression? I ask in a very sympathetic way. Maybe I am getting way off topic here, but it just seems this conversation is heading in this direction. If you prefer I stop intruding into personal questions I will. I just don’t get where you are coming from. So you must be into evolution and the big bang theory. Right?
    What are referring to as my original statement?

  82. Ian

    More really fascinating questions.

    So where do you gain your knowledge? Science? Self-awareness?

    Both, and from other people, from reading, from just going and looking, from experiencing and from reflecting. All contribute.

    Are you saying there is nothing bigger than yourself?

    No. There are plenty of things bigger than me.

    Do you have depression? I ask in a very sympathetic way.

    Thank you for the sympathy, but no. I’ve never had any mental health issue I’ve been aware of, and certainly have never displayed the symptoms of depression or being diagnosed with anything.

    If you prefer I stop intruding into personal questions I will.

    I don’t mind at all. I’m not desperate to confide something, or stringing you along for some big confession. I’d be happy to talk about something else if you’d rather. But if you want to prod my unbelief, that’s fine too :)

    I just don’t get where you are coming from.

    No, I got that impression too! :) Do you know many people who used to be born again Christians but are now atheists? Does your church admit people like me exist? I know some churches claim that anyone who no longer believes could never have truly believed in the first place. Which is a convenient fiction. But does lead to silly situations where they choose to just treat us like anyone else who has never come to Christ and not listen to a word we’re actually saying.

    Best I can explain, is how I said it above. I gave my life to Jesus. I was filled by the Holy Spirit. I prayed, studied the bible, lead worship at my church and engaged in ministry. I was blessed, I spoke in tongues, my soul was lifted in worship, I preached, I shared the gospel, I longed for friends and family to come to Christ (and in fact several did, and still believe). For over ten years, this was my life. As I learned more about God, I came to know him better. And I came to see that the things people said and wrote about him revealed as much about the hopes and fears of the writer as about any independent being. As I came to see more clearly, I came to know God, and how God works. I saw how faith operates, and how it spreads and perpetuates. I searched for the supernatural, and discovered how it works. I dove deeply into scripture and found what it actually says. This was not a five minute process, it took me nearly ten years. Over that time I came to see that it was not man who is created in God’s image, but God is created and given life by human beings. This opened up a whole beautiful new world that I couldn’t have imagined before, a world not based on false hope, on stories, on lies.

    Of course, you’re not going to believe any of this. There are plenty of reasons to discount what I’m saying: I can supply some, if you can’t :)

    But still, that’s where I’m coming from.

    So you must be into evolution and the big bang theory. Right?

    That depends what you mean by ‘being into’. I am interested in both topics, yes. And many more besides. Some of the topics I’m interested in are scientific. But many aren’t. I’m interested in history, I’m interested in art and design, I’m into music, I play chess, I write short stories, I enjoy technology. I am deeply concerned for social justice, for freedom and democracy. I’m ‘into’ a bunch of things.

    But I think you’re asking, do I somehow look to science for ultimate meaning. Is that right? If that is what you’re asking, then no I don’t.

    What are referring to as my original statement?

    My original question was to ask whether you meant that you would preach the gospel to someone in need. So do you say “look, you’re having this hard time, I need to tell you about your sin, and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus to bring you salvation”. Or whether you meant something else by ‘sharing the good news’ with the person you’re helping. Something more like offering to pray for them, or expressing how Jesus helps you in your difficulty. If you look back to all my responses to you, that’s all I’ve been asking.

    And I’m not asking because I’m trying to lay a trap and go “ah-ha – see you’re wrong”. I’m just asking because I’m interested.

  83. Ian

    … gah, long, sorry!

  84. Elizabeth

    So basically what you are saying is that you and all individuals are their own God?

  85. Ian

    So basically what you are saying is that you and all individuals are their own God?

    No, that’s definitely not what I’m saying. .. and thanks for phrasing it as a question not an accusation!

    God is not an individual person. I’m not God, neither are you or anyone else.

    God is created by and given life by communities. No person in that community is God, but what God does in the world he does through that community*. This is why it is so important to tell people the good news, to share scripture, and to make disciples. Because it is by bringing people into contact with that community that they discover who God is and what he’s like.

    We don’t expect a person in a remote nation who’s never heard of Jesus to suddenly know about him. (I’m aware some people have claimed this as a miracle, and there are similar miracles claimed in Islam and other religions, we can go into them if you like, but I’ll assume for now that — even if true — this is not very common). So we take seriously the great commission: we have to go and share the gospel and tell people of Jesus’s salvation for them, to invite them to experience God for themselves, and to make them disciples: members in the body of all believers.

    * I agree it is more complex than this, so if this is a stumbling block, we can unpack it, and talk more about the supernatural, but I wanted to be as brief as possible here.

  86. Elizabeth

    Call me stupid, but I just don’t get it.
    If you were to see a spirit, ghost, or something that you saw with your eyes that you could not scientifically explain, would you believe in the spiritual realm?
    Would that shake up your beliefs as you know it?
    I know you do not believe in the supernatural, but I have personally experienced it.

  87. Ian

    Call me stupid, but I just don’t get it.

    You don’t get what?

    If you were to see a spirit, ghost, or something that you saw with your eyes that you could not scientifically explain, would you believe in the spiritual realm?

    There’s a lot I can’t ‘scientifically explain’ – that is just a declaration of ignorance – it doesn’t automatically mean it is supernatural. But yes, if there was evidence of the supernatural, I’d change my opinion. It wouldn’t have to be experience either, I’d be happy to make that judgement on the basis of all kinds of evidence. Certainly personal experience would be evidence, but it isn’t required.

    As I’ve said before, it is the conspicuous lack of such evidence that made me change my mind in the first place from believing in the supernatural. I went and looked, and it turned out the evidence was really really weak.

    I know you do not believe in the supernatural, but I have personally experienced it.

    Good for you. I have also experienced things that appeared supernatural. But part of my journey is to learn how these things work.

    Do you believe in Fairies? Or do you believe in Genies? How about Aliens living among us? Because I’ve had conversations with people who claim to have witnessed all three (not the same person!). I’ve had conversations with Children who are absolutely, completely convinced they saw Santa. Would you believe them?

    I’m not assuming any of them don’t exist. But I’ve not experienced any of them, and I’ve yet to see anyone with any evidence for them. Evidence put forward is often a well known feature of human psychology (i.e. easily replicable in test conditions), a claim that disappears when investigated, or a knowing deceit. So what am I to do, based on that? When I’ve looked into supernatural claims, what sounded like grand evidence has always got thinner and thinner until it disappears. What should I conclude?

    So that’s why I think it is far more likely you’re either lying, mistaken, or deluded than that ghosts really exist. But I’m very open to evidence to the contrary. But claiming something is really cheap. Anyone can claim stuff. Imagine you were investigating someone’s claims to have met fairies and danced with them. How would you tell if they were making it up?

  88. Elizabeth

    Okay, so I get what you are saying. Well, I have no evidence in what I experienced, but it makes ME believe that there is something we cannot see out there. I totally understand where you are coming from. The Santa idea, well anyone can dress up in a Santa outfit.
    What about the idea of T.V.s, phones, computers, you, I think you are in Europe and I am in America and we are having a conversation. Ask people 1000 years ago and they would have no idea that these things were possible and they would think it was crazy.
    What I am getting at is that there is more out there than we know.
    To me, the Bible makes sense.
    Because I believe love is the essence of God.
    That is why he has made some things a mystery.
    But look what he has given us.
    All of the things that are visible.
    So many glorious things we take for granted everyday.
    Oh it’s just that usual sunrise everyday.
    Oh there are the 1000′s of different species of animals.
    Oh there is that brilliant sky with the full beautiful moon, with glistening stars.
    Oh there is that yummy food and sweet drink.
    Oh there is that beautiful, green grass sitting on the majestic mountains.
    I could go on and on and on. God has displayed in full force the supernatural. I personally stand in awe of the masterpiece. As I know you probably do as well.
    I just tend to believe in life after death, I have seen some proof, only I can attest too. I believe there is the creator God who was the God of the Jews, and I believe Jesus is God in flesh that was prophesied by the Jews. To me, it all comes together. I know you will not believe me, you don’t know me for that matter, but I do hope, well I don’t know what to hope for you.
    I am afraid you will have a clever response to this. How about Yada Yada Yada.

  89. Ian

    What I am getting at is that there is more out there than we know.

    I agree, 100%. But I think we have to be careful. There are genuine mysteries, and they can be wonderful, but we should not pretend that things we understand are really mysterious, just because we would enjoy them more that way.

    I personally stand in awe of the masterpiece. As I know you probably do as well.

    Amen. I do. And beautifully expressed too. Thanks.

    I know you will not believe me,

    I believe what you are saying. I just believe that I know why, and I think you don’t really know why you believe what you do. But that’s okay! We knew way back that we disagreed, so its not a surprise to discover that!

    I’m not asking you to change your mind. I know you will not believe me either, but that’s totally fine by me. I was just responding to your questions and am glad you figured me out a bit better.

    I also know a bit more about you (but not the thing I kept asking ;) ) The whole point of this post on the blog was to find out what people make of this passage: to find out more about people, whether I agree with their views on God and the supernatural or not.

    well I don’t know what to hope for you.

    Sure you do. You can hope that the supernatural will break in on my far-too-neatly-thought-out world and leave my skepticism in tatters. You can hope I’ll “wait”, as you said I should.

    I am afraid you will have a clever response to this.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as me trying to have a clever response. That’s never been my goal. Thanks for the conversation!

  90. Elizabeth

    Well, I will simply say dido. Until our paths meet again, take care.

  91. Patrick Tor

    The underlining key word in this passage is “feed”. Jesus usually said what he meant and meant what he said. He was saying to Peter, be a good shepherd who does everything to ensure his sheep are fed and safe – feed my people as I fed them with bread and fish. Feed them with the word of God. Feed them with “the bread which I shall give, which is my flesh for the life of the world”. How much are church leaders making the effort to feed the hungry today? that is the question.

  92. Ian

    Thanks Patrick.

    You seemed to swap back into literal mode on the last line there. Can I follow up: do you think Jesus is talking more literal here (i.e. “provide for needs”) or mainly metaphorically (i.e. “give them good teaching”). And do you think the church has an obligation now to provide for the needs of those without, as well as to provide good teaching?

  93. His girl

    Hi Ian,
    Hope you are well. I’m more interested in how you are, than “what you are.” It sounds like you are well adjusted, happy person. In my humble opinion, labels are just labels after all… It is my understanding that the truth about who or what someone is in their heart/mind/soul being, can’t be known until manifested(revealed) by words and/or actions/behaviors…. Hence the old expression “actions speak louder than words”. At any rate, I’ve decided to share something with you, knowing that you may dismiss, reject, etc…or perhaps even contemplate. :) I’m not talking about religion, because I don’t attend church, although I do read and believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired word of God. I’ve come to know Jesus as the Messiah and Lord/Savior. A loving friendship with him that is SPIRITUAL and real, is possible. Since God is Spirit, we are able to fellowship with him spirit to spirit. Which is true spiritual communion. I can’t prove it in the physical realm, nor can I disprove it. He opened my spiritual eyes one day, and I beheld Jesus’ Beautiful Glorious light/spirit (I not only saw him, but I felt his spirit flowing into mine.) His warm light was pure, radiant, and was living. He truly gives us of His life giving spirit! I was overwhelmed, awestruck and speech less! I remember thinking “Oh wow”! He flooded me with the sensation of feeling complete, whole, and fully satisfied/fulfilled, by his spirit. I later learned that this is the true meaning of the word Shalom. He is our shalom! I understood that he is indeed our salvation. This profound, loving and beautiful encounter with the Glorified Jesus Christ, is undeniable for me, and I know that the spiritual realm is the real deal. :) I’m forever thankful for God revealing himself to me, and I hope you will believe me. If not, I understand, and appreciate you allowing me to share…..He loves and treasures You/Us more than words can express…….. He will never stop…..Never….xo

  94. Ian

    Thanks HG. You might want to read through my about page, and particularly the post linked at the bottom.

    I have had the same experience as you. Coming to know and love Jesus as Messiah and Saviour, and feeling the profound spritual effects of that love in all areas of my life. I could sense the unseen world permeating every molecule of the visible world, and came to understand how it was more real, more profound, and more important than I could have possibly imagined.

    My story, however, didn’t stop there. My journey to where I am now involved a further revelation, a deeper understanding of Jesus, a more complete attainment of spirituality, and a more profound realisation of God.

    I hope that, just as you’ve experienced the wonder of the first epiphany, you’ll also come to the second. In time, for now enjoy what you have, and experience it fully. And thanks for stopping by on this blog.

  95. According to Pope Benedict in his Book ‘The Apostles’
    The reason for the difference in asking twice of Peter agapas-me and the third time he asked of Peter ‘Fileis me?’ because Peter only answered ‘filo se’ is thus;
    The Lord asked agapas-me (a total and unconditional love), Peter was aware of his betrayal of Jesus three times. Peter was honest that he could only say ”filo se’ , he knew the weakness of his love.. Fileo means a loving tender friendship. Peter acknowledges his poor human love different to ‘agapao’. So Jesus shows Peter His unconditional love (agapao) for him in what he says next(in asking the third time), he asks Peter “Fileis me?” Jesus has put Himself on the level of Peter and this gives hope to the disciple for his mission ahead, Jesus understands the weakness of human love, but is saying I love you unconditionally and I am entrusting this mission to you. Jesus’ unconditional love is like a burning fuel in the heart of Peter and he goes out in confidence to do what Jesus asked.
    (I have used some of my own words to summaries the analysis from the book)

  96. Ian

    Thanks James. Does Pope Benedict say anything about the language the conversation would have happened in? Does he suggest that the conversation happened in Greek, for those nuances of the greek words to be viable?

  97. Hi Ian, no he does not. He just uses the Greek.

  98. Ian

    Thanks James, I appreciate the original comment and the follow-up.

  99. It’s a pleasure. I was reading the section of his book on Peter and was dissapointed not to find this distinction (at least not easily discernable to me) in my New Jerusalem Bible. So I googled about and found the same Greek texts that use these distinctions in evidence and of course they are since antiquity.
    Best regards
    James

  100. Elizabeth

    Hello Ian,
    I hope this finds you well. Well, it has almost been a year since I first posted on your blog. I found it because I was searching for answers to my pain that I was going through and new that it would continue. No quick fixes for my problem. I can say my interpretation has deepened. I believe this is for Peter as well as those that love the Lord who would rely on his word to get them through difficult times. Sometimes life throws you twist and turns without quick fix answers. I believe this passage is to encourage Peter and others who would follow the Bible, though there might be hard times, I still love you, and know this. Even if you feel like giving up, Jesus reminded Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep. It’s not all about you Peter, follower of Christ, feed my sheep. Though you may go through hell and I know what you are going to be going through, I am with you, I love you, still feed my sheep. Three times reminding. I have to be reminded continuously of this, so I may not give in and give up even though I am hurting. Not necessarily because of me, but because of the “sheep” that need to be cared for that are not purposely causing the hurt. It’s about God’s plan. It’s all about love, unconditional love. It’s all about encouragement. Thanks, Ian

  101. Ian

    Elizabeth, lovely to hear from you again. Thanks for the follow-up on this passage, and the specific meaning it has for you. It is good to be reminded I think, that passages can have very specific personal meanings as well as universal meanings, and can give solace as well as instruction.

    I’m very sorry to hear that things were so tough for you (and still are). If there’s some help or moral support a sympathetic stranger can give, then say. Even heathen samaritans can sometimes be useful, if the priests prefer to walk by.

  102. Steve

    This has been an enlightening read. Thanks Ian for facilitating this discussion. I have a thought . . . I wonder if the Savior was helping Peter to understand what “faith” really is. To have faith isn’t just professing our love for Jesus Christ. It isn’t to sit in a congregation on Sunday and shout “AMEN” when we are taught to keep the Sabbath day Holy, only to walk out of the church, crack open a beer and sit on the couch watching football the rest of the day. To have faith isn’t to insist that we are saved because we have ” accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior”, only to pass by someone on the side of the road changing a flat tire in the rain. To have faith isn’t to teach our children the importance of learning to be like the Savior, only to curse at the referee when he makes a bad call. I think the Savior was helping Peter to understand that “faith without works is dead”. Not that he would be somehow “earning” exaltation by doing a bunch of good things. Rather, the Savior was pointing out that if Peter made an honest self assessment and saw that his actions were not consistently demonstrating his love for the Savior, that maybe he would need to recommit himself to being what he insisted he was. There seems to be a fine line when we talk about the idea of Chirst’s amazing grace and action based faith in the same sentence. We certainly cannot earn the gift of salvation. That gift is free. However, I think we really have to ask ourselves if we have accepted Christ as our Savior, when our actions don’t demonstrate that. Christ said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Our keeping the commandments is a demonstration of our love. He seems to suggest that if we don’t keep His commandments (the action part of faith), we may need to question, as He questioned Peter, whether we truly love Him. Because we are fallible, it is certainly a trajectory thing. We’re never going to be perfect. But if our overall trajectory, given all of our highs and all of our lows, is going in the right direction (toward Jesus Christ) I think we are, in some small way, showing the Savior that we love Him, and ultimately demonstrating our acceptance of Him. I’m sure these thoughts are a little incomplete . . . but that’s a pretty faithful narrative of what’s in my heart after reading this post.

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