John 21 is a good case in point for taking a fresh look at the text. Here are some things to ponder over against what you might have heard.
- Was Peter avoiding his mission by going fishing? Often this is preached. However, is that the case? There is no reprimand in the text. Jesus invited them to add their fish to his. And clearly Jesus and Peter had some unfinished work to do.
- Often changes in the Greek between two words for Love (agape, phileo) are made an integral part of the message. However, it is good Greek style, also typical of John to vary language with synonyms. F. F. Bruce notes that the words for “flock”, “tend” and “know” are also varied.
- On the question of whether John is written with the knowledge of the other gospels, or of their sources, compare the fishing here with that in Luke 5.
- Is there any meaning to 153 fish? Augustine and other church fathers developed fanciful symbolic meanings of the number. Another favorite idea was that ancient scholars thought that there were 153 species of fish (more or less), thus it become a story of the universal appeal of the Gospel. We prefer the view that 153 means “lots of” and it ring true to the fishermen we know who will count their catch and talk about it later. Two commentators (Milne, Witherington) suggest that it has to do with the abundance of the response to the gospel (these men were elsewhere told to be fishers of men), and that the nets not bursting suggests that the Lord can accommodate the number that will come.
- Why do we move from fish to sheep? the Shepherd theme for leadership goes back to Moses and David, and was a significant emphasis in John 10. David and Jn 10 speak of the good shepherd not running from danger, very pertinant to Peter, who had denied the Lord 3 times.
- Is this a second ending (see 20:30-31), an epilogue or a free tradition that was attached. There is no textual evidence that chapter 21 was separately circulated.
- Finally, one commentator suggests John serves as a manual for outreach and for leadership for the church. This chapter has some things to say about spiritual leadership. (Success comes at the Lord’s direction; Restoration of the minister precedes ministry; Don’t compare your calling to others; Love and Service are linked, etc)