Love — ἀγάπη agapē

Strong, J. (1996). The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

ἀγάπη agapē, ag-ah´-pay; from 25; love, i.e. affection or benevolence; spec. (plur.) a love-feast:— (feast of) charity ([-ably]), dear, love.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 292–293). New York: United Bible Societies.

ἀγαπάωa; ἀγάπηa, ης f: to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard—‘to love, to regard with affection, loving concern, love.’ἀγαπάωa: ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν, ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another’ Jn 13:34; γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει ‘for he will hate the one and love the other’ Lk 16:13; ὁ πατὴρ ἀγαπᾷ τὸν υἱόν ‘the Father loves the Son’ Jn 3:35; ὅτι αὐτὸς πρῶτος ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς ‘for he loved us first’ 1 Jn 4:19.

ἀγάπηa: ἡ ἀγάπη οὐδέποτε πίπτει ‘love does not fail’ 1 Cor 13:8; ἡ ἀγάπη τῷ πλησίον κακὸν οὐκ ἐργάζεται ‘a person who loves doesn’t do evil to his neighbor’ Ro 13:10.

Though some persons have tried to assign certain significant differences of meaning between ἀγαπάωa, ἀγάπηa and φιλέωa, φιλία (25.33), it does not seem possible to insist upon a contrast of meaning in any and all contexts. For example, the usage in Jn 21:15–17 seems to reflect simply a rhetorical alternation designed to avoid undue repetition. There is, however, one significant clue to possible meaningful differences in at least some contexts, namely, the fact that people are never commanded to love one another with φιλέω or φιλία, but only with ἀγαπάω and ἀγάπη. Though the meanings of these terms overlap considerably in many contexts, there are probably some significant differences in certain contexts; that is to say, φιλέω and φιλία are likely to focus upon love or affection based upon interpersonal association, while ἀγαπάω and ἀγάπη focus upon love and affection based on deep appreciation and high regard. On the basis of this type of distinction, one can understand some of the reasons for the use of ἀγαπάω and ἀγάπη in commands to Christians to love one another. It would, however, be quite wrong to assume that φιλέω and φιλία refer only to human love, while ἀγαπάω and ἀγάπη refer to divine love. Both sets of terms are used for the total range of loving relations between people, between people and God, and between God and Jesus Christ.

Lanier, D. (2003). Love. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1054–1055). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

LOVE Unselfish, loyal, and benevolent intention and commitment toward another. The concept of the love of God is deeply rooted in the Bible. The Hebrew term chesed refers to covenant love. Jehovah is the God who remembers and keeps His covenants in spite of the treachery of people. His faithfulness in keeping His promises proves His love for Israel and all humanity.

Another word, ahavah, can be used of human love towards oneself, another person of the opposite sex, or another person in general. It is used of God’s love towards Jeremiah in Jer. 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love [ahavah]; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness [chesed]” (NASB).

In NT times three words for love were used by the Greek-speaking world. The first is eros, referring to erotic or sexual love. This word is not used in the NT or in the Septuagint. It was commonly used in Greek literature of the time.

The word phileo (and its cognates) refers to tender affection, such as toward a friend or family member. It is very common in the NT and extrabiblical literature. It is used to express God the Father’s love for Jesus (John 5:20), God’s love for an individual believer (John 16:27), and of Jesus’ love for a disciple (John 20:2). The word phileo is never used for a person’s love toward God. In fact, the context of John 21:15–17 seems to suggest that Jesus desired a stronger love from Peter.

The word agapao (and its cognate agape) is rarely used in extrabiblical Greek. It was used by believers to denote the special unconditional love of God and is used interchangeably with phileo to designate God the Father’s love for Jesus (John 3:35), God the Father’s love for an individual believer (John 14:21), and of Christ’s love for a disciple (John 13:23).

Biblical love has God as its object, true motivator, and source. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and is not directed toward the world or the things of the world (the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life—1 John 2:15–16). The ultimate example of God’s love is the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another” (John 13:34 HCSB; cp. 15:12).

The definitive statement on love in Paul occurs in 1 Cor. 13. Rhetorical ability, preaching, knowledge, mountain-moving faith, charity towards the poor, or even martyrdom are nothing without agape.

First Corinthians 13:4–8a lists several characteristics of this love. First, it is long-suffering [makrothumia] (v. 4). This is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It refers to a quality that does not seek revenge but suffers wrong in order to act redemptively.

Second, love is kind (translated gracious, virtuous, useful, manageable, mild, pleasant, benevolent—the opposite of harsh, hard, sharp, or bitter).

Third, love is not envious (covetous), does not jealously desire what it does not possess.

Fourth, love does not promote itself; it is not puffed up (1 Cor. 8:1). Paul says in Phil. 2:3, “In humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (HCSB).

Fifth, love does not behave itself in an unbecoming fashion. Believers are to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

Sixth, love does not seek its own things. Paul once sent Timothy because “I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:20–21 HCSB).

Seventh, love is not easily provoked (irritated, exasperated, or made angry). When Jesus was hit, He did not retaliate but said, “If I have spoken wrongly, … give evidence about the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit Me?” (John 18:23 HCSB).

Eighth, love believes the best about people; it “thinketh no evil” (KJV), “does not keep a record of wrongs” (HCSB). In other words, love overlooks insult or wrong (Prov. 17:9; 19:11; cp. Eph. 5:11).

Next, love finds no joy in unrighteousness (wrongdoing, injustice) but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). Paul concludes that love bears all, believes all, hopes all, and endures all things. Love never fails. Solomon said, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it” (Song 8:7 KJV).

Paul uses the phrase “the bond of unity” in Col. 3:12–16. He admonishes the Colossians to put on hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. Above all these they are to put on love, which is the bond of maturity. The image is that of rods bound together, resulting in more strength.

To John, love is the test of authentic discipleship. The Jews centered their faith around the confession of the Shema: “Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4–5 HCSB) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18b; cp. Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Rom. 13:9; James 2:8). According to John, this was “an old command that you have had from the beginning” (1 John 2:7 HCSB). On the other hand, John was writing a new commandment to them (1 John 2:8–9). For John, love is not just a requirement for fellowship, but a test of salvation. “This is how God’s children—and the Devil’s children—are made evident. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10 HCSB).

If we have a genuine relationship with God, that relationship should be made manifest by walking in the truth. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers … we must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:14–19 HCSB).

On the negative side, John admonishes the believer not to “love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 HCSB).

Jesus taught that believers are to love even their enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). Although believers are permitted, even commanded, to hate evil (Ps. 97:10; Prov. 8:13), we are not to hate the sinner. To insist that in order to accept a person the Christian must accept sin is unscriptural. Rather we are to reprove the sinner.

David Lanier