John 21


Jesus shows himself to the disciples at the sea of

Tiberias, 1-5.

The miraculous draught of fishes, 6-11.

He dines with his disciples, 12-14.

Questions Peter concerning his love to him, and gives him

commission to feed his sheep, 15-17.

Foretells the manner of Peter's death, 18, 19.

Peter inquires concerning John, and receives an answer that was

afterwards misunderstood, 20-23.

John's concluding testimony concerning the authenticity of his

Gospel, and the end for which it was written, 24, 25.


Verse 1. Jesus showed himself again] After that our Lord had

appeared several times to the women, and to the apostles at

Jerusalem, and at the tomb, he bade them go into Galilee, giving

them the promise of meeting them there: Mt 28:7; Mr 16:7. This

promise we find he fulfilled in the way John relates here. This

was the seventh appearance of our Lord after the resurrection.

Matthew, Mt 28:16, has but just mentioned it: of it the rest of

the evangelists say nothing, and this is the reason why John gives

it so particularly.

Verse 3. Peter saith-I go a fishing.] Previously to the

crucifixion of our Lord, the temporal necessities of himself and

his disciples appear to have been supplied by the charity of

individuals: Lu 8:3. As it is probable that the scandal of the

cross had now shut up this source of support, the disciples, not

fully knowing how they were to be employed, purposed to return to

their former occupation of fishing, in order to gain a livelihood;

and therefore the seven, mentioned Joh 21:2, embarked on the sea

of Tiberias, otherwise called the sea of Galilee.

That night they caught nothing.] God had so ordered it, that they

might be the more struck with the miracle which he afterwards


Verse 4. Knew not that it was Jesus.] Probably because it was

either not light enough, or he was at too great a distance, or he

had assumed another form, as in Mr 16:12; otherwise his person

was so remarkable that all his disciples readily knew him when he

was at hand: see Joh 21:12.

Verse 5. Children] παιδια, a term of familiarity and

affectionate kindness: it is the vocative case plural of παιδιον,

which is the diminutive of παις, and literally signifies little

children, or beloved children. How the margin has made sirs

out of it I cannot conceive.

Any meat] προσφαγιον from προς, besides, and φαγω, I

eat; any thing that is eaten with bread, or such like solid

substances, to make the deglutition the more easy: here it

evidently means any kind of fish; and our Lord seems to have

appeared at first in the character of a person who wished to

purchase a part of what they had caught: See Clarke on Joh 6:9.

Verse 6. And ye shall find.] The AEthiopic, three copies of the

Itala, and St. Cyril, add, They said therefore unto him, we have

laboured all the night and caught nothing, nevertheless at thy

command we will let down the net. This is borrowed from Lu 5:5.

For the multitude of fishes.] This was intended as an emblem of

the immense number of souls which should be converted to God by

their ministry; according to the promise of Christ, Mt 4:19.

Verse 7. His fisher's coat] Or, his upper coat. επενδυτην,

from επι, upon, and ενδυω, I clothe; something analagous to

what we term a great coat or surtout.

He was naked] He was only in his vest. γυμνος, naked, is

often used to signify the absence of this upper garment only. In

1Sa 19:24, when Saul had put off his

ιματια, upper garments, he is said to have been γυμνος,

naked; and David, when girded only with a linen ephod, is said to

have been uncovered, in 2Sa 6:14, 20. To which may be added what

we read in the Sept. Job 22:6,

Thou hast taken away the covering of the naked; αμφιασινγυμνων,

the plaid or blanket in which they wrapped themselves, and besides

which they had none other. In this sense it is that Virgil says,

Geor. i. 299: Nudus ara, sere nudus, i.e. strip off your upper

garments, and work till you sweat. See more examples in Bp.


Cast himself into the sea.] It is likely that they were in very

shallow water; and, as they were only two hundred cubits from the

land, (about one hundred and thirty-two English yards,) it is

possible that Peter only stepped into the water that he might

assist them to draw the boat to land, which was now heavily laden.

It is not likely that he went into the water in order to swim

ashore; had he intended this, it is not to be supposed that he

would have put his great coat on, which must have been an

essential hinderance to him in getting to shore.

Verse 8. Dragging the net] It is probable that this was that

species of fishing in which the net was stretched from the shore

out into the sea; the persons who were in the boat, and who shot

the net, fetched a compass, and bringing in a hawser, which was

attached to the other end of the net, those who were on shore

helped them to drag it in. As the net was sunk with weights to the

bottom, and the top floated on the water by corks, or pieces of

light wood, all the fish that happened to come within the

compass of the net were of course dragged to shore. The sovereign

power of Christ had in this case miraculously collected the fish

to that part where he ordered the disciples to cast the net.

Verse 9. They saw a fire, &c.] This appears to have been a new

miracle. It could not have been a fire which the disciples had

there, for it is remarked as something new; besides, they had

caught no fish, Joh 21:5, and here was a small fish upon the

coals, and a loaf of bread provided to eat with it. The whole

appears to have been miraculously prepared by Christ.

Verse 12. Come and dine.] δευτεαριστησατε. Though this is the

literal translation of the word, yet it must be observed that it

was not dinner time, being as yet early in the morning, Joh 21:4;

but Kypke has largely shown that the original word is used by

Homer, Xenophon, and Plutarch, to signify breakfast, or any

early meal, as well as what we term dinner. It might perhaps

appear singular, otherwise it would be as agreeable to the use of

the Greek word, to have translated it, come and breakfast.

Durst ask him] Ever since the confession of Thomas, a proper awe

of the Deity of Christ had possessed their minds.

Verse 13. And giveth them] Eating likewise with them, as Luke

expressly says: Lu 24:43.

Verse 14. This is now the third time] That is, this was the

third time he appeared unto the apostles, when all or most of

them were together. He appeared to ten of them, Joh 20:19; again

to eleven of them, Joh 20:26; and at this time to

seven of them, Joh 21:2. But, when the other evangelists are

collated, we shall find that this was the seventh time in which he

had manifested himself after he arose from the dead. 1st. He

appeared to Mary of Magdala, Mr 16:9; Joh 20:15, 16. 2ndly, To

the holy women who came from the tomb. Mt 28:9. 3dly, To the two

disciples who went to Emmaus, Lu 24:13, &c. 4thly, To St. Peter

alone, Lu 24:34. 5thly, To the

ten, in the absence of Thomas, Joh 20:19. 6thly, Eight days

after to the eleven, Thomas being present; Joh 20:26. 7thly, To

the seven, mentioned in Joh 21:2; which was between the

eighth and fortieth day after his resurrection. Besides these

seven appearances, he showed himself, 8thly, To the disciples on

a certain mountain in Galilee, Mt 28:16. If the appearance

mentioned by St. Paul, 1Co 15:6, to upwards of 500 brethren at

once-if this be not the same with his appearance on a mountain in

Galilee, it must be considered the ninth. According to the same

apostle, he was seen of James, 1Co 15:7, which may have been the

tenth appearance. And, after this, to all the apostles, when, at

Bethany, he ascended to heaven in their presence. See

Mr 16:19, 20; Lu 24:50-53; Ac 1:3-12; 1Co 15:7. This

appears to have been the eleventh time in which he distinctly

manifested himself after his resurrection. But there might have

been many other manifestations, which the evangelists have not

thought proper to enumerate, as not being connected with any thing

of singular weight or importance.

Verse 15. Simon lovest thou me] Peter had thrice denied his

Lord, and now Christ gives him an opportunity in some measure to

repair his fault by a triple confession.

More than these?] This was a kind of reproach to Peter: he had

professed a more affectionate attachment to Christ than the rest;

he had been more forward in making professions of friendship and

love than any of the others; and no one (Judas excepted) had

treated his Lord so basely. As he had before intimated that his

attachment to his Master was more than that of the rest, our Lord

now puts the question to him, Dost thou love me more than these?

To which Peter made the most modest reply-Thou knowest I love

thee, but no longer dwells on the strength of his love, nor

compares himself with even the meanest of his brethren. He had

before cast the very unkind reflection on his brethren, Though all

be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended,

Mt 26:33. But he had now learned, by dreadful experience, that

he who trusteth his own heart is a fool; and that a man's

sufficiency for good is of the Lord alone.

The words, more than these, Bishop Pearce thinks refer to the

provisions they were eating, or to their secular employments;

for says he, "It does not seem probable that Jesus should put a

question to Peter which he could not possibly answer; because he

could only know his own degree of love for Jesus, not that of the

other disciples." But it appears to me that our Lord refers to the

profession made by Peter, which I have quoted above.

It is remarkable that in these three questions our Lord uses the

verb αγαπαω, which signifies to love affectionately, ardently,

supremely, perfectly-See Clarke on Mt 21:37; and that

Peter always replies, using the verb φιλεω, which signifies to love,

to like, to regard, to feel friendship for another. As if our

Lord had said, "Peter, dost thou love me ardently and supremely?" To

which he answers, "Lord, I feel an affection for thee-I do esteem

thee-but dare, at present, say no more."

There is another remarkable change of terms in this place. In

Joh 21:15, 17, our Lord uses the verb

βοσκδω, to feed, and in Joh 21:16 he uses the word

ποιμαινω, which signifies to tend a flock, not only to feed,

but to take care of, guide, govern, defend, &c., by which he seems

to intimate that it is not sufficient merely to offer the bread of

life to the congregation of the Lord, but he must take care that

the sheep be properly collected, attended to, regulated, guided,

&c.; and it appears that Peter perfectly comprehended our Lord's

meaning, and saw that it was a direction given not only to him,

and to the rest of the disciples, but to all their successors in

the Christian ministry; for himself says, 1Jo 5:2:

Feed the flock of God (ποιμανατετοποιμνιοντουθεου) which is

among you, taking the oversight (επισκοπουντες, acting as

superintendents and guardians,) not by constraint, but

willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Every

spiritual shepherd of Christ has a flock, composed of LAMBS-young

converts, and SHEEP-experienced Christians, to feed, guide,

regulate, and govern. To be properly qualified for this, his

wisdom and holiness should always exceed those of his flock. Who

is sufficient for these things? The man who lives in God, and God

in him.

To the answer of Christ, in Joh 21:16, the later

Syriac adds, If thou lovest me and esteemest me, feed my sheep.

Verse 17. Peter was grieved] Fearing, says St. Chrysostom, lest

Christ saw something in his heart which he saw not himself, and

which might lead to another fall; and that Christ was about to

tell him of it, as he had before predicted his denial.

Verse 18. Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands] Wetstein observes

that it was a custom at Rome to put the necks of those who were to

be crucified into a yoke, and to stretch out their hands and

fasten them to the end of it; and having thus led them through the

city they were carried out to be crucified. See his note on this

place. Thus then Peter was girded, chained, and carried whither he

would not-not that he was unwilling to die for Christ; but he was

a man-he did not love death; but he loved his life less than he

loved his God.

Verse 19. Should glorify God.] Ancient writers state that, about

thirty-four years after this, Peter was crucified; and that he

deemed it so glorious a thing to die for Christ that he begged to

be crucified with his head downwards, not considering himself

worthy to die in the same posture in which his Lord did. So

Eusebius, Prudentius, Chrysostom, and Augustin. See Calmet.

Follow me.] Whether our Lord meant by these words that Peter was

to walk with him a little way for a private interview, or whether

he meant that he was to imitate his example, or be conformed to

him in the manner of his death, is very uncertain.

Verse 22. If I will that he tarry till I come] There are several

opinions concerning this: the following are the principal. 1. Some

have concluded from these words that John should never die. Many

eminent men, ancients and moderns, have been and are of this

opinion. 2. Others thought that our Lord intimated that John

should live till Christ came to judge and destroy Jerusalem. On

this opinion it is observed that Peter, who was the oldest of the

apostles, died in the year 67, which, says Calmet, was six years

before the destruction of Jerusalem; and that John survived the

ruin of that city about thirty years, he being the only one of the

twelve who was alive when the above desolation took place. 3. St.

Augustin, Bede, and others, understood the passage thus: If I

will that he remain till I come and take him away by a natural

death, what is that to thee? follow thou me to thy crucifixion. On

this it may be observed, that all antiquity agrees that John, if

he did die, was the only disciple who was taken away by a natural

death. 4. Others imagine that our Lord was only now taking Peter

aside to speak something to him in private, and that Peter,

seeing John following, wished to know whether he should come along

with them; and that our Lord's answer stated that John should

remain in that place till Christ and Peter returned to him; and to

this meaning of the passage many eminent critics incline. For

neatly eighteen hundred years, the greatest men in the world have

been puzzled with this passage. It mould appear intolerable in me

to attempt to decide, where so many eminent doctors have

disagreed, and do still disagree. I rather lean to the fourth

opinion. See the conclusion of the Preface to this Gospel.

Verse 24. This is the disciple] It is, I think, very likely that

these two verses were added by some of the believers at that time,

as a testimony to the truth of the preceding narration; and I

allow, with Bishop Pearce and others, that it is possible that

John may mean himself when he says WE know, &c., yet, I think that

it is very unlikely. It is certain that this Gospel loses no part

of its authority in admitting the suffrage of the Church of God:

it rather strengthens the important truths which are delivered in

it; and in the mouths of so many witnesses the sacred matters

which concern the peace and salvation of the world, are still more

abundantly established. See the last note on the preceding

chapter. See Clarke on Joh 21:25.

We know] Instead of οιδαμεν, we know, some have written οιδα

μεν, I know indeed; but this is mere conjecture, and is worthy of

no regard. It is likely that these verses were added by those to

whom John gave his work in charge.

Verse 25. Many other things] Before his disciples, is added by

two MSS. The Scholia in several MSS. intimate that this verse is

an addition; but it is found in every ancient version, and in

Origen, Cyril, and Chrysostom.

Could not contain, &c.] Origen's signification of the word

χωρειν is to admit of, or receive favourably. As if he had said,

the miracles of Christ are so many, and so astonishing, that if

the whole were to be detailed, the world would not receive the

account with proper faith; but enough is recorded that men may

believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that in believing they

may have life through his name: Joh 20:31.

We have already seen that this apostle often uses the term world

to designate the Jewish people only; and if it have this sense

here, which is possible, it will at once vindicate the above

exposition of the word χωρειν. As if he had said, Were I to detail

all the signs and miracles which Jesus did among his disciples,

and in the private families where he sojourned, the Jewish people

themselves would not receive nor credit these accounts; but enough

is written to prove that this Christ was the promised Messiah.

Bishop Pearce has a very judicious note here, of which what

follows is an abstract, with a few additions.

Even the world itself, &c. This is a very strong eastern

expression, to represent the number of miracles which Jesus

wrought. But, however strong and strange this expression may seem

to us of the western world, we find sacred and other authors using

hyperboles of the like kind and signification. In Nu 13:33, the

spies who returned from the search of the land of Canaan say that

they saw giants there of such a prodigious size that they were in

their own sight as grasshoppers. In Da 4:11, mention is made of a

tree, whereof the height reached unto the heaven; and the sight

thereof unto the end of all the earth. And the author of

Ecclesiasticus, in 47:15, speaking of Solomon's wisdom, says, Thy

soul covered the whole earth, and thou filledst it with parables:

so here, by one degree more of hyperbole, it is said that the

world would not contain all the books which should be written

concerning Jesus's miracles, if the particular account of every

one of them were given. In Josephus, Antiq. lib. xix. c. 20, God

is mentioned as promising to Jacob that he would give the land of

Canaan to him and his seed; and then it is added, οιπληρουσι

πασανοσηνηλιοςορακαιγηνκαιθαλασσαν. They shall fill all,

whatsoever the sun illuminates, whether earth or sea. Philo in his

tract De Ebriet, T. i. p. 362, 10, is observed to speak after the

same manner, ουδεγαρτωνδωρεωνικανοςουδειςχωρησαιτοαφθονον

πληθοςισωςδαυδοκοσμος. Neither is any one able to contain

the vast abundance of gifts; nor is the world capable of it. And

in his tract De Posterit. Caini, T. i. p. 253, l. 38, he says,

speaking of the fulness of God, ουδεγαρειςειπλουτον


θαλαττηςησυμπασαγη. And should he will to draw out his

fulness, the whole compass of sea and land could not contain it."

Homer, who, if not born in Asia Minor, had undoubtedly lived

there, has sometimes followed the hyperbolic manner of speaking

which prevailed so much in the east, as in Iliad, b. xx. he makes

AEneas say to Achilles:-








Iliad, xx. v. 244-250.

But wherefore should we longer waste the time

In idle prate, while battle roars around?

Reproach is cheap. With ease we might discharge

Gibes at each other, till a ship that asks

A hundred oars should sink beneath the load.

The tongue of man is voluble, hath words

For every theme, nor wants wide field and long;

And, as he speaks, so shall he hear again.


Few instances of any thing like these have been found in the

western world; and yet it has been observed that Cicero, in Philip

ii. 44, uses a similar form: Praesertim cum illi eam gloriam

consecuti sunt, quae vix coelo capi posse videatur-"especially

when they pursued that glory which heaven itself seems scarcely

sufficient to contain." And Livy also, in vii. 25, Hae vires

populi Romani, quas vix terrarum capit orbis-"these energies of

the Roman people, which the terraqueous globe can scarcely


We may define hyperbole thus: it is a figure of speech where

more seems to be said than is intended; and it is well known that

the Asiatic nations abound in these. In De 1:28, cities with

high walls round about them are said to be walled up to heaven.

Now, what is the meaning of this hyperbole? Why, that the cities

had very high walls: then, is the hyperbole a truth? Yes, for we

should attach no other idea to these expressions than the authors

intended to convey by them. Now, the author of this expression

never designed to intimate that the cities had walls which reached

to heaven; nor did one of his countrymen understand it in this

sense-they affixed no other idea to it, (for the words, in common

use, conveyed no other,) than that these cities had very high

walls. When John, therefore, wrote, the world itself could not

contain the books, &c., what would every Jew understand by it!

Why, that if every thing which Christ had done and said were to

be written, the books would be more in number than had ever been

written concerning any one person or subject: i.e. there would be

an immense number of books. And so there would be; for it is not

possible that the ten thousandth part of the words and actions of

such a life as our Lord's was could be contained in the compass of

one or all of these Gospels.

There is a hyperbole very like this, taken from the Jewish

writers, and inserted by BASNAGE, Hist. des Juifs, liv. iii. c. 1,

s. 9. "Jochanan succeeded Simeon-he attained the age of Moses-he

employed forty years in commerce, and in pleading before the

Sanhedrin. He composed such a great number of precepts and

lessons, that if the heavens were paper, and all the trees of the

forest so many pens, and all the children of men so many scribes,

they would not suffice to write all his lessons!" Now, what

meaning did the author of this hyperbole intend to convey? Why,

that Jochanan had given more lessons than all his contemporaries

or predecessors. Nor does any Jew in the universe understand the

words in any other sense. It is worthy of remark that this

Jochanan lived in the time of St. John; for he was in Jerusalem

when it was besieged by Vespasian. See Basnage, as above.

There is another quoted by the same author, ibid. c. v. s. 7,

where, speaking of Eliezar, one of the presidents of the

Sanhedrin, it is said: "Although the firmament were vellum, and

the waters of the ocean were chanced into ink, it would not be

sufficient to describe all the knowledge of Eliezar; for he made

not less than three hundred constitutions concerning the manner of

cultivating cucumbers." Now, what did the rabbin mean by this

hyperbole? Why, no more than that Eliezar was the greatest

naturalist in his time; and had written and spoken more on that

subject and others than any of his contemporaries. This Eliezar

flourished about seventy-three years after Christ. It is farther

worthy of remark that this man also is stated to have lived in the

time of St. John. John is supposed to have died A. D. 99.

Hyperboles of this kind, common to the east and to the west, to

the north and to the south, may be found every where; and no soul

is puzzled with them but the critics. The above examples, I trust,

are sufficient to vindicate and explain the words in the text. It

is scarcely necessary to add that the common French expression,

tout le monde, which literally means the whole world, is used in

a million of instances to signify the people present at one

meeting, or the majority of them, and often the members of one

particular family. And yet no man who understands the language

ever imagines that any besides the congregation in the one case,

or the family in the other, is intended.

Amen.] This word is omitted by ABCD, several others; Syriac, all

the Arabic, and both the Persic; the Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic,

Armenian, Syriac Hieros., Vulgate, and all the Itala but


The word amen, which has passed unaltered into almost all

the languages of the world in which the sacred writings are

extant, is pure Hebrew; and signifies to be steady, constant,

firm, established, or confirmed. It is used as a particle of

affirmation and adjuration. When a person was sworn to the truth

of any fact, the oath was recited to him, and he bound himself by

simply saying, amen, amen. See an instance of this,

Nu 5:22. In De 27:15-26, it is to be understood in the same

sense; the persons who use it binding themselves, under the curse

there pronounced, should they do any of the things there

prohibited. It is often used as a particle of affirmation,

approbation, and consent, examples of which frequently occur in

the Old Testament. When any person commenced a discourse or

testimony with this word, it was considered in the light of an

oath; as if he had said, I pledge my truth, my honour, and my

life to the certainty of what I now state.

Our Lord begins many of his discourses with this word, either

singly, Amen, I say unto you; or doubled, Amen, amen, I say unto

you; which we translate verily: as Christ uses it, we may ever

understand it as expressing an absolute and incontrovertible

truth. Instances of the use of the single term frequently occur:

see Mt 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; 8:10; 10:15, 23, 42, &c., &c.; but

it is remarkable that it is doubled by St. John, see

Joh 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53;

Joh 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38;

Joh 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18; and is never found iterated by any

of the other evangelists. Some have supposed that the word is

contracted, and contains the initials of Adonai

Malec Neeman, my Lord the faithful King; to whom the person who

uses it is always understood to make his appeal. Christ is himself

called the Amen, οαμην, Re 1:18; 3:14; because of the eternity

of his nature and the unchangeableness of his truth. In later

ages, it was placed at the end of all the books in the New

Testament, except the Acts, the Epistle of James, and the third

Epistle of John, merely as the transcriber's attestation to their

truth; and, perhaps, it is sometimes to be understood as vouching

to the fidelity of his own transcript.

The subscriptions to this Gospel, as well as to the preceding

Gospels, are various in the different versions and manuscripts.

The following are those which appear most worthy of being noticed.

"The most holy Gospel of the preaching of John the evangelist,

which he spake and proclaimed in the Greek language at Ephesus, is

finished."-SYRIAC in Bib. Polyglott.

"With the assistance of the supreme God, the Gospel of St. John

the son of Zebedee, the beloved of the Lord, and the preacher of

eternal life, is completed. And it is the conclusion of the four

most holy and vivifying Gospels, by the blessing of God.

Amen."-ARABIC in Bib. Polyglott.

"The four glorious Gospels, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,

are completed."-PERSIC in Bib. Polyglott.

Other subscriptions are as follow:-

"The end of the holy Gospel of John-delivered thirty

years-thirty-two years after the ascension of Christ-in the Isle

of Patmos-in the Greek tongue at Ephesus-under the reign of

Domitian-written by John when he was an exile in Patmos-under the

Emperor Trajan-and delivered in Ephesus by Gaius the host of the

apostles. John, having returned from his exile in Patmos, composed

his Gospel, being 100 years of age and lived to the age of


In an AEthiopic MS. in the royal library in Paris, at the

conclusion of this evangelist are these words:-"Now the sum of all

the clauses of the four Gospels is 9700.-By the grace of the Lord,

here are ended the four Gospels. The sections of the four Gospels

are 217. The clauses of the holy Gospel, even from its beginning

to its end, namely, the writing of St. John, are completed."

It may be just necessary to inform the reader that the most

ancient MSS. have scarcely any subscription at all, and that there

is no dependence to be placed on any thing of this kind found in

the others; most of the transcribers making conclusions according

to their different fancies. See the concluding note of the

preceding chapter; and see the preface to this Gospel, where other

subjects relative to it are discussed.

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