Four Greek Words for Love
In English, we have only one word to express the idea of love and that is the word “love.” In the Greek language, however, there are four words of which the Second Testament (ST) uses three to express the richness of the word we often simply translate “love.” They are eros, storge, philia, and agape.
- The word eros is used mainly for the love between the sexes. It is physical love. The word “lover” in English has come to have a “slang” meaning. It normally is used in connection with a person who makes love with another person who is not their spouse. The Greek word eros came to take on a derogatory meaning in the Greek language and is not used by any author in the Second Testament according to William Barclay[ref]William Barclay, New Testament Words. The Westminster Press. 1974. 17-18[/ref].
- The word “storge” has to do with family affection. It can be used by a person in response to the love of his ruler, i.e., president, king, etc. Its regular use was to describe the love of a parent for a child and a child for a parent.[ref]William Barclay, New Testament Words. 18[/ref]
- The most common word for love in Greek is philia. It is defined as “looking” on someone with affectionate regard. This is the word for friendship. The word is broader than just affectionate regard. It can mean kiss and also involve physical lover. In the ST as other writings, the meaning is derived from the context. [ref]William Barclay, New Testament Words. 18[/ref]
- The most common word in the ST for love is agape and agapan. The word agape is not a classical Greek word. It was used in the Septuagint (LXX) fourteen (14) times for sexual love, and twice for love as opposed to hate. Sometimes agape or agapan is used interchangeably with philia to mean Christian love. The word agape has to do with the mind. It is not an emotion which rises in our hearts. It is a choice by which we commit to living. It is an action. There is no person who loves their enemies naturally. It is a choice to do so. The meaning of agape can be seen in the passage of Matthew 5.43-48. Jesus tells us we should love our enemies so that we can be like God. The action of love which is stated is that God is faithful to send his rain on the just and the unjust. It doesn’t matter what a man is like, God seeks nothing but his highest good. Thus, “agape” can be defined as “seeking the highest good for a man no matter what he has done or said against you”[ref]William Barclay, New Testament Words, 17-22[/ref].
Barclay lists the following as characteristics of Christian love, which could be understood as a part of the sphere of the love of God in which we should keep ourselves.[ref]William Barclay, New Testament Words, 27-28.[/ref]
- Love is sincere (Rom. 12.9), it has no ulterior
- Love is innocent (Rom. 13.10), it does not seek to injure.
- Love is generous (2 Cor. 8.24), it is love that gives and keeps on giving.
- Love is practical (Heb. 6.10), it is love that seeks action.
- Love is forbearing (Eph. 4.2), it is
- Love is forgiveness and restoration (2 Cor. 2.8), it can forgive and forget.
- Love controls liberty (Gal. 5.13), it will not harm another brother even if the action is not
- Love controls truth (Eph 4.15), it never speaks in order to hurt.
One can see that the concept of love is broad. If the love of God is that which will do the highest good for a person no matter what the person has done. If it is sincere, innocent, generous, practical, forbearing, forgiving and restoring, and it controls our behavior (liberty and truth) in regard to other brothers and sisters, one can get a clear picture of what the “sphere of God’s love” is.
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