Archive for February 17th, 2011

Greek words for love

Phileō (φιλεω) was the general verb for “love.” It has a wide range of meanings, stretching from hospitality to affection to love, even “to kiss.” It is not necessarily a softened form of love, and is used of God’s love for his Son and our love for God. For example, “the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” (John 5:20). Paul warns the Corinthians, “If anyone does not love the Lord — a curse be on him” (1 Cor 16:22). Jesus loved Lazarus (John 11:3). [In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers]

Eros (ερως) was basically sexual love between a man and a woman. BDAG lists it’s gloss as, “to feel passionately about, have a longing for, feel fervently about.“ It does not occur in the New Testament.

Storge (στεργω) is more the idea of affection [and is used for a person’s affection like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family.] It does not occur in the New Testament except in compounds.

Agápe (αγαπη) was a colorless word without any great depth of meaning. [Agape is also used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one’s children, and the feelings for a spouse.] Perhaps it is because the word was so colorless that the New Testament writers chose it to express a specifically Christian kind of love, most importantly God’s love for his unlovely creation. All those great talks you have heard about αγαπη love being an undeserved love for the unlovely really has nothing to do with what the Greek word meant in the Koine. Rather, the word was infused with God’s love and so after the first century carried the biblical nuances of God’s love.

φιλεω phileō overlaps in meaning with αγαπη agápe so care needs to be exercised in assuming there are always specific differences in meaning between these two words. One of the famous passages is John 21:15-17 where the risen Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, switching the words for love (as well as other words that appear to be in parallel, e.g., “feed”).

The fact of the matter is that Leon Morris has proven that John likes to use synonyms, and variations do not necessarily have any meaning other than stylistic concerns. And the variations here make no sense if φιλεω is a watered down form of love (e.g., “like”). B.B. Warfield’s, The Terminology of Love in the NT (PTR 16, 1918, 1–45, 153–203) is the classic work on the meaning of these words.

Source: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=135020225952

William D. Mounce (PhD, Aberdeen University) lives as a writer in Spokane, Washington. He is the president of Biblical Training, a non-profit organization offering the finest in evangelical teaching to the world for free. See BillMounce.com for more information. Formerly he was the preaching pastor at a church in Spokane, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestselling New Testament Greek resources, Basics of Biblical Greek, and served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version translation of the Bible.

Note: [text] is not the writing of Mounce

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