Tuesday, February 14, 2012

John 21:7 -- Why did Peter throw himself into the water..excited to see Jesus?


“… So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.….” John 21:7

In the 21st chapter of the book of John in the New Testament we find an account of how Jesus secretly manifested himself to his disciples on a beach after his resurrection. John 21 says that all night Peter and the disciples were out fishing in a boat, but they did not catch any fish. As the sun came up, an unknown man (Jesus) stood on the shore commenting that they had caught no fish. This man then instructed them to put the net down on the right side of the boat and as a result they caught so many fish they could not lift the net into the boat.

After this obvious miracle occurred, the disciple in the boat with Peter exclaimed "It is the Lord" recognizing this man on the beach as the risen Jesus. Upon hearing this, Peter immediately got up and dressed himself (because he was naked) and "threw" himself into the ocean.

Every explanation of this account I can find says Peter was so excited to go see the Lord that he didn't wait for the boat to be taken to shore. Instead, he threw himself in the water to quickly swim to see Jesus. This explanation never made good sense to me and it bothered me that the text said Peter "threw" himself in the water. For many years I felt it was taking a leap of interpretation to read into the text why Peter threw himself in the water. My experience was (when discussing scripture with others) when I assumed too much about what the text said,  I often found myself in the uncomfortable position of trying to explain how I could know what the text did not specifically spell out.

One day, when encountering this text again in one of my personal Bible study times I saw it in a different light. The previous evening I had been in a study of Genesis chapter 3 where Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. When God came by in the garden, they knew their guilt of sin and covered themselves (dressed) and hid from God due to their shame. When studying John 21 the next day I realized this account of Peter dressing himself and then throwing himself in the water was very much like Adam in Eve in the Garden.

As I studied this text more I realized Peter had just previously denied Jesus three times before his crucifixion and now Jesus had shown up right before him. It seems that out of his guilt and shame Peter covered his nakedness and tried to hide so Jesus would not see him.

I was very excited to see this aspect of the text and later tried to share it with others. Everyone I explained the possibility to thought it was interesting but could not possibly be a valid explanation. They would quickly change the subject at the unpleasant thought of discussing such crazy thoughts about this passage.

Wanting to help prove to myself that my new interpretation was either true or not, I thought that I might look at the pattern of themes in the Bible's 21:7 verses and see if they would help clarify what the verse at John 21:7 was really saying. I was astonished to find very clearly that the preponderance of 21:7 verses spoke of sin, not excitement or good. Even though I still don't find anyone who quite accepts my explanation today, I am basically confident that Peter was hiding from his shame and not eager to see Jesus.

This is one of my best examples of how the patterns reflected in Biblical numbering can help guide our interpretation of scripture. It shows another way the Bible helps interpret itself. Following is an explanation of how the patterns of like referenced verses can help us discern scripture better.

Like-referenced Verses

There are 4,532 different combinations of chapter- and verse-number references, which I refer to as “like-referenced-verse sets.” These are verses in different books that have the same chapter and verse number, such as the 28:14 verse set, in which there are, coincidentally, fourteen different verses. Due to the predictability of numbers with their themes, we can examine sets of like-referenced verses to get an understanding of the common theme that runs through them. This is not to imply that every verse in the set has the same theme, but every verse in the set does have themes relating somehow to the verse reference number, and by examining all of those in the set we can observe themes running through them. One of the most helpful examples of where these like-referenced verse sets have guided me is in examining John 21:7, where Peter throws himself into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore: “… So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.….”
            Every commentary I find seems to believe Peter was in such a hurry to see Jesus that he jumped into the water to swim to the Lord. But that’s not what the verse says. It says he threw himself into the water. When other people did not understand how I questioned the common interpretation I decided to look at like-referenced verses to see if there were clues to helping understand it. I was amazed as I began to see the strong evidence for the theme of 21:7 verses relating to the shame of sin.

Examples of Bible's 21:7 verses showing they follow a pattern of sinfulness

Num 21:7 So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD…
Job 21:7 "Why do the wicked still live, Continue on, also become very powerful?
1Chr 21:7 God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel.
Prov 21:7 The violence of the wicked will drag them away, Because they refuse to act with justice.
Deu 21:7 and they shall answer and say, 'Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it.
Lev 21:7 'They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband…
2Kin 21:7 Then he set the carved image of Asherah that he had made in the house (temple).
Eze 21:7 "..'Why do you groan?' you shall say, 'Because of the news that is coming; and every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble"
 
And in John 21:7 notice how the sin theme surfaces in the text...
 when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment (fig leaf) on and threw himself into the sea (tried to hide from the Lord)" (John 21:7 ).   
            The verses in this 21:7 set helped me confirm that Peter didn’t throw himself into the water because he was eager to see Jesus, but because he had just denied Jesus three times, and upon seeing Him, much like Adam and Eve in the garden, he put on a fig leaf (his outer garmet) “threw himself” into the water to hide from the Lord. This gives amazing meaning we can relate to regarding Peter’s action as we all can understand such shame and knowing Peter was afraid to see Jesus gives new understanding to the significance of the following passages where Jesus restores him—John 21:15 “...Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me...”. 

Analyzing verse sets does not interpret verses for you, but it gives valuable insight to better understand the messages in the Bible. When you need more information to help understand scripture, examine like referenced verses for themes that will guide you.

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