Tag Archives: exegetical fallacies

“Inconceivable” Fallacies in Biblical Interpretation


You may have heard sermons that distinguish between the three types of love: eros, for physical, sensual love; phileo, for friendly or brotherly love; and agape, for divine, unconditional love. As a young Christian, I learned the idea that agape is really special and better than the other kinds of love. To think otherwise would have been “inconceivable.”

A classic case in sermons where this sometimes becomes a big deal is in John 21:15-17. Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. The first two times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus with agape love, but both times, Peter answers that he loves with phileo love. As the sermon unfolds, you hear that Peter is being a bit of a smuck by only responding with phileo love towards Jesus instead of the spiritually superior agape. So the third time, Jesus lowers the bar and simply asks if Peter will love Him with phileo love, whereby Peter still responds with phileo love. A variety of applications are usually given here, one being that in his divine agape love, Jesus graciously condescends towards us by acknowledging our inability to love God back unconditionally, or some other such idea.

Well, I am embarrassed to say it, but I must confess it. I have used this teaching myself with other people without thinking much about it. However, the problem is that the illustration here is well-meaning but most probably unwarranted. It is a common example where sometimes fallacies in Biblical interpretation, such as “word studies,” can lead people astray.

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