Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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JOHN - Chapter 21

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John 21

Supplemental Commentary:


3.  The Resurrection of Jesus  20-21 (continued)

Chapter 21 is quite generally regarded as an appendix to the Gospel.  Catholics who favor this view conclude that John wrote it later.  Some rationalists deny its Johannine authorship.  However, the explanations do not agree.  One may admit that the argument of the chapter is supplementary without being therefore obliged to give it a later date.  It is an appendix, in that it contains two thoughts not directly involved in the author's thesis: the primacy and the martyrdom of Peter, and the fate of John himself.  This proves neither a later date nor another hand than John's; and against this latter the internal evidence is strong.  The miracle, though pertinent to the general thesis, is here recorded as the occasion of the two further points just indicated as the author's present aim.

21, 1-14:  The Manifestation in Galilee.  This miracle is obviously distinct from that related in Luke 5, 1-11.    1.  After these things: the time is indefinite, as in 5, 1; 6, 1; 7, 1.  Sea of Tiberias: cf. 6, 1.  Only John uses this uncommon title for the Lake of Genesareth, or Sea of Galilee.    2.  Nathanael: probably Bartholomew (cf. 1, 45 ff), as accompanying these others, all of whom are Apostles.  Sons of Zebedee: not elsewhere so called by John, whence some consider this a gloss originally intended to identify the two others.    3.  The Apostles had repaired to Galilee, as instructed (Matt. 26, 32; 28, 7.10; Mark 14, 28; 16, 7), but this implies no permanent return to their trade of fishing.  At all events, the initiative came from Peter.  Night was considered the best time for fishing.    4.  Their failure to recognize Him was probably due to alteration in His appearance.  Cf. Mark 16, 12.    7.  Again Peter and John hold the center of the scene.  John recognized our Lord in the miracle; Peter's zeal made  him impatient of the slow-moving boat.  Tunic: in this case an outer garment or a tradesman's apron.  Stripped: he had laid aside this outer garment.    9.  The fire with the fish and bread laid upon it is another surprise.  10.  To satisfy all, more fish was needed.    11.  Peter again assumes the lead, the others assisting him.  In the miracle there is clearly some symbolism representing the relation between Christ and the Apostles in their work.  The unbroken net is the Church in its indefectibility; in the work of Christ, Peter is the leader; the great number of fish is the great success of their mission; in all, they can do nothing without Christ.    12.  The Greek text and some manuscripts of the Vulgate read, "none of his disciples dared ask him."    14.  Now a third time: cf. 20, 19.26.  This is the third time our Lord manifested Himself to the group; other appearances are not excluded.

21, 15-23:  The Primacy of Peter.  Cf. Matt. 16, 17 f.  The triple profession of love elicited from Peter recalls his three denials of Christ.  When predicting these denials our Lord had hinted at Peter's death; cf. 13, 37 f.  Now he foretells this death as martyrdom.  The primacy of Peter is abundantly confirmed in Acts.    15.  The meaning is: lovest thou me more than these do?  In the three interrogations, the terms for lovest thou and for feed my lambs vary both in Latin and in Greek.  Probably we should take them as synonyms, without substantial difference in meaning, or at most with a difference in degree of love.  Son of John is the "Bar-Jona" of Matt. 16, 17.  The special questions put to Peter indicate that what is said applies to him alone, i.e., the particular charge of being shepherd to Christ's flock.  The image of the flock as representing God's people is familiar from the Old Testament.  Cf. 10.

18-23:  The martyrdom of Peter, and the fate of John.  Recall in this connection the image of the good shepherd in 10: he must be willing to lay down his life for the sheep.    18.  Thou didst gird thyself: an image of freedom of action.  Stretch forth thy hands: generally understood of extending the hands for crucifixion.  Another will gird thee: reflecting the natural resistance to death.    19.  John, writing long after this utterance, can affirm that it described Peter's crucifixion.  Follow me: v.20 implies that our Lord had risen and moved away, thus calling Peter to follow Him in a physical sense.    20 f.  Again we see the intimate association of Peter and John.  The latter also had risen and was following.  And what of this man?  Peter had evidently understood the reference to his own martyrdom, and his interest in John led to this question about the latter's destiny.  Until I come, as in 14, 3, can mean Christ's coming for the individual soul in death.  What is it to thee: the only thing that should concern Peter is his correspondence to the summons, Follow me.    23.  There was a two-fold misunderstanding of our Lord's words.  (a) They thought He had said, "John will remain . . ."  (b) They took the words "till I come" to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.  The false rumor was based on these mistakes.  John denies it with some emphasis, and insists that Christ had affirmed nothing concerning his death.

21, 24-25:  Second Epilogue.  In 20, 30-31, there was some pertinence in the Evangelist's advertence to his thesis.  Having now added a supplementary event and a prediction about Peter and himself, he can bring his Gospel to a close.  Again the epilogue grows out of what has just been said.  Having placed himself in relation to Christ and to Peter, he identifies the disciple whom Jesus loved as the author of the Gospel.  There is neither any conflict between the two epilogues nor any reason for questioning the authenticity of the second.    24.  The author of this testimony to Christ's divinity is the disciple just referred to, whom we otherwise know to be John the Apostle.  And we know: the plural is variously explained.  John joins with himself the church at Ephesus; or these two verses were added by a group, probably the elders at Ephesus, who thus sanction the veracity of John's testimony.  But there are other possibilities.  We is not editorial.  The plural might refer, as in 1, 14 ff, to the others who were witnesses of Christ's life.  Or, it can include with the author the divine source of his inspiration (cf. he knows, in 19, 35).    25.  Many other things: as in the first epilogue.  The hyperbolic form of the statement is evident; it means that the author could continue to adduce other evidence for his thesis if necessary.

William L. Newton

Confraternity Bible:

The Manifestation in Galilee  1 After these things, Jesus manifested himself again at the sea of Tiberias.  Now he manifested himself in this way.  2 There were together Simon Peter and Thomas, called the Twin, and Nathanael, from Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."  They said to him, "We also are going with thee."  And they went out and got into the boat.  And that night they caught nothing.  4 But when day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  5 Then Jesus said to them, "Young men, have you any fish?"  They answered him, "No."  6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right of the boat and you will find them."  They cast therefore, and now they were unable to draw it up for the great number of fishes.  7 The disciple whom Jesus loved said therefore to Peter, "It is the Lord."  Simon Peter therefore, hearing that it was the Lord, girt his tunic about him, for he was stripped, and threw himself into the sea.  8 But the other disciples came with the boat (for they were not far from land, only about two hundred cubits off), dragging the net full of fishes.

9 When, therefore, they had landed, they saw a fire ready, and a fish laid upon it, and bread.  10 Jesus said to them, "Bring here some of the fishes that you caught just now."  11 Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net onto the land full of large fishes, one hundred and fifty-three in number.  And though there were so many, the net was not torn.  12 Jesus said to them, "Come and breakfast."  And none of those reclining dared ask him, "Who art thou?" knowing that it was the Lord.  13 And Jesus came and took the bread, and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.  14 This is now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he had risen from the dead.

The Primacy of Peter  15 When, therefore, they had breakfasted, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, dost thou love me more than these do?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee."  He said to him, "Feed my lambs."  16 He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee."  He said to him, "Feed my lambs."  17 A third time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?"  Peter was grieved because he said to him for the third time, "Dost thou love me?"  And he said to him, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee."  He said to him, "Feed my sheep.

18 "Amen, amen, I say to thee, when thou wast young thou didst gird thyself and walk where thou wouldst.  But when thou art old thou wilt stretch forth thy hands, and another will gird thee, and lead thee where thou wouldst not."  19 Now this he said to signify by what manner of death he should glorify God.  And having spoken thus, he said to him, "Follow me."

20 Turning round, Peter saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who, at the supper, had leaned back upon his breast and said, "Lord, who is it that will betray thee?"  21 Peter therefore, seeing him, said to Jesus, "Lord, and what of this man?"  22 Jesus said to him, "If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?  Do thou follow me."  23 This saying therefore went abroad among the brethren, that that disciple was not to die.  But Jesus had not said to him, "He is not to die"; but rather, "If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?"

Second Epilogue  24 This is the disciple who bears witness concerning these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his witness is true.  25 There are, however, many other things that Jesus did; but if every one of these should be written, not even the world itself, I think, could hold, the books that would have to be written.  Amen.