Why did Jesus ask Peter three times, "Do you love me?"

Quick answer:

Jesus asked Peter if he loves him three times for two reasons. First, because he wants to emphasize the importance of loving his Lord as a prerequisite for his ministry. And second, because Jesus wants to remind Peter of how he denied his Lord three times after he was arrested.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This particular incident in the New Testament is recounted in John 21:15–17. The recently risen Jesus is having breakfast with his disciples and asks Peter three times if he loves him.

Each time after Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus commands him to feed his sheep, a reference to Peter's envisaged role as head of Christ's church on earth. That Jesus asks this question not once but three times is an indication of how much importance the Lord attaches to Peter's ministry.

One should also bear in mind that when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he uses the Greek word agape, meaning unconditional love. Whereas when Peter responds by saying, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you,” he uses the Greek word phileo, which is the kind of love you'd have for a brother or a friend, certainly not the kind of love to which Jesus is referring.

In asking the question three times, and using the word agape, Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he can only truly be the leader of his church, that he will only be able to tend his flock, if he loves his Lord unconditionally.

An additional reason for Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves him could be that the Lord wishes to remind Peter of the time when he denied him. Not long after Jesus was arrested, Peter denied that he knew him three times.

It's all the more important, then, that Jesus can trust Peter to carry on his work when he's not there, hence his repeating of the question and the follow-up command to feed his sheep.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Jesus mean by asking Peter three times "Do you love me?"And why does Jesus call him formally?

The conversation you are talking about is recounted in The Gospel of John, Chapter 21.

The reason that Jesus asks Simon Peter this question three times is because Peter had betrayed him three times before Jesus was crucified.  (Mark 14)  By asking him the question three times, Jesus is both reminding Peter of what he had done and, perhaps, giving him a symbolic chance to affirm his love as many times as he had denied it.

Why formally, with the name of his father?  I think this is to underline how seriously he means the question and, with it, the instruction to "feed my sheep."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on