There are four Greek words for love that are important for Bible students to understand. Most times, the Greek words for love used in the Bible are simply translated "love" but in the Greek text they mean different things. When this happens, unfortunately the true deeper meaning of the word is lost in the weak translation.
The four Greek words for love are agape, phileo, eros and storge. Three of them appear in the Bible. If we are going to deeply understand the Bible and the biblical world, it is important that we understand what these words mean and how they differ and where they are used in the Bible.
Agapeo: Unconditional love; the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation
Phileo: Love between friends
Eros: The sense of being in love; romantic love
Storge: Love of family; Parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. In a very close family, agape is felt as well.
Let's take a closer look at each of the four different types of love.
The Greek word that refers to the love of God, one of the kinds of love we are to have for people, is agape. Agape is the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12, 16). The big key to understanding agape is to realize that it can be known from the action it prompts. In fact, we sometimes speak of the "action model" of agape love.
People today are accustomed to thinking of love as a feeling, but that is not necessarily the case with agape love. Agape is love because of what it does, not because of how it feels. God so "loved the world " (agape) that He gave His only son (John 3:16). It did not feel good to God to do that, but it was the loving thing to do.
Christ so loved (agape) that he gave his life. He did not want to die, but he loved, so he did what God required. A mother who loves a sick baby will stay up all night long caring for it, which is not something she wants to do, but is a true act of agape love.
The point is that agape love is not simply an impulse generated from feelings. Rather, agape love is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice. This is why God can command us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Exod. 23:1-5). He is not commanding us to "have a good feeling" for our enemies, but to act in a loving way toward them. Agape love is related to obedience and commitment, and not necessarily feeling and emotion. "Loving" someone is to obey God one's behalf, seeking his or her long-term blessing and profit.
The way to know that we love (agape) God is that we keep His commandments. Jesus said, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me..." (John 14:21a). There are Christians who say they love God, but their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God. These people mistake their feeling of affection for God for true agape love. Jesus made this clear: "He who does not love me will not obey my teaching…" (John 14:24a).
The second word for "love" we need to examine is phileo, which means "to have a special interest in someone or something, frequently with focus on close association; have affection for, like, consider someone a friend."
It would probably be helpful if phileo were never translated "love" in the New Testament, because it refers to a strong liking or a strong friendship. Of course, we see how phileo gets translated "love," because in modern culture we say we "love" things that we strongly like: "I love ice cream," "I love my car," "I love the way your hair looks," etc. The word phileo implies a strong emotional connection, and thus is used of the "love," or deep friendship, between friends.
You can agape your enemies, but you cannot phileo them. The difference between agape and phileo becomes very clear in John 21:15, but unfortunately it is obscured in almost all English translations.
After being raised from the dead, Jesus met Peter. Here is the short version of what they said to each other:
Jesus: Simon…do you love (agape) me more than these [fish?].
Peter: Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you…love (agape) me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (phileo) me?
Peter: [Grieved] "Lord…you know that I love (phileo) you."
In this example, you can clearly see how using the simple word "love" has obscured the true deeper meaning of their conversation.
Why did Jesus use agape and Peter use phileo? Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him with the love of God, a love that may require sacrifice. After all, Jesus had just gone through horrendous torture for Peter's sake (and ours), something he did not want to do but did anyway because of his agape love.
In contrast, Peter avoided possible torture by denying Jesus. Jesus twice asked Peter, "Do you agape me? That is, are you willing to do things for my sake that you do not want to do?
Peter, on the other hand, still felt the sting of having denied Jesus, and was hopeful that their friendship was intact. In his mind, he may have been wondering if Jesus held Peter's denial against him. Would he still treat Peter as a close associate and companion? Peter was not sure where he stood with Jesus, so he was trying to let Jesus know that he was still a true friend, and had phileo love for Jesus.
The third time Jesus spoke to Peter, he came to Peter's level and asked if Peter were indeed a true friend (phileo), which grieved Peter. Nevertheless, it was important, because Jesus knew what Peter did not know, that Jesus would ascend into heaven leaving Peter and the other disciples to carry out his work on earth, which would require that they all be his good friends and do his will even when it meant hardship.
The Greek word for romantic, sexual love or passionate love is eros; and we get English words such as "erotic." When eros was used as a proper noun, it referred to the Greek god of love. The Greek word eros does not appear in the biblical text, so we will not spend time on it in this article, but it has had such an impact on English and our view of sexual love that it is important to mention.
Eros love is the type of love celebrated by the USA holiday known as Valentine's Day. Eros love is a very important component between a man and a woman that leads to a holy union of marriage, subsequent procreation and the formation of deep long lasting bonds of strength and trust.
The fourth Greek word we need to understand is storge, which is the love and affection that naturally occurs between parents and children, can exist between siblings, and exists between husbands and wives in a good marriage. It occurs in Romans 12:10 in the word, philostorgos, which is a compound word made up of philos (the noun form of phileo) and storge.
Romans 12:10 is a very important verse, directing us to be very loving and kind to each other. Romans 12:10 (Expanded translation) "As to your brotherly love, let there be deep friendship and family-affection toward one another."
If one is going to have a wonderful Godly life, obedient to the voice of God and have rich fellowship with other Christians and those who are close to God, he or she will need to exercise all kinds of love.
We sincerely hope you have enjoyed learning about the four types of love and the Greek words that represent them in this free bible study article.
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