After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Take care of my lambs."
A second time Jesus said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Take care of my sheep."
A third time Jesus said, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" and so he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!" Jesus said to him, "Take care of my sheep." Good News Bible
WHY THREE QUESTIONS?
One explanation for the three questions is that Peter’s answers brought redemption to his three times of denial. But is there more going on here? Richard Trench, author of New Testament Synonyms, thinks so. He emphasizes that the two different meanings for the word love used in this passage are a reflection of the dynamics of the relationship between Peter and Jesus. In the first question, the Greek word for love is agapao. (As in, "Do you choose to love me?") When Simon answers, however, he uses the Greek word philo (As in "I love you personally and affectionately.")
CHOICE AND / OR AFFECTION?
In his second question Jesus again used agapao. According to Trench, the word used in the first two questions suggests judgment and deliberate choice; the word Peter used in his answers, and the one Jesus used in his final question speaks more of attachment and personal affection. Trench reasons that agapao on the lips of the Lord seems to Peter at this moment too cold a word, as though his Lord were keeping him at a distance, or at least not inviting him to draw near, as he passionately yearned to do. For this reason, Peter substitutes his own stronger “I love” (philo) in his answers. When Jesus questions a third time if Peter loves him, he uses Peter’s word, the word for love that describes personal attachment and affection.
Understanding the difference in the meaning of the two words brings a deeper dimension to the dialogue and, therefore, to the relationship between Jesus and Peter. And by inference, to other believers, who can be assured that their Lord values not only choice but passionate affection as well.