Q&A: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Question

I’m on a forum that's discussing the topic of love. Someone brought up that there are four different Greek words which mean love. They didn’t list or define them. Will you?

Answer

Thanks for your question. There are actually numerous words for “love” in Greek (i.e. agapao, eros, ludus, philia, philautia, pragma, and storge). However, normally only four are discussed in relation to biblical matters (agapao, eros, philia, and storge).

Agapao (verb) or agape (noun) is used to speak of God’s love (1 John 4:8). It is used well over one hundred times in the Greek New Testament. Agape is translated in numerous ways, for example, as "beloved," "love," or "love feasts." And it may describe an unconditional sacrificial love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). God gives his children this type of love, which they are to then emulate (John 13:25; Gal. 5:22). It is a love of choice and intention and not necessarily emotion. It serves with humility and is the highest kind of love and isn't motivated by superficial things such as appearance, etc.

Eros refers to romantic or sexual love. From this word we obtain the word “erotic.” This Greek word is not used in the New Testament, but is implied in such passages as 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (i.e. “burn with passion”).

Phileo refers to a friendship love and also fondness, affection, and delight. This word is sometimes translated as “friend” or “devoted in love.” The church of Philadelphia is named after this type of love (Rev. 1:11; 3:7). The city of Philadelphia was named by Eumenes II (221-159 BC) for the love of his brother Attalus II (159-138 BC) who would be his successor. A related Greek word is adelphos or "brother."

Storge refers to familial love such as that of a mother for her baby. This term is technically not used in the New Testament, but its opposite is found in Romans 1:31 – astorgous means “without natural affection” and a form is found in 2 Timothy 3:3 (astorgoi meaning “unloving”). In Romans 12:10 we discover the compound Greek word philostorgos made up of the Greek words philos and storge. It essentially means “to cherish one’s kindred.”

Several other Hebrew words help with our understanding of love terms as well. Ahab describes a close emotional bond (Gen. 25:28; 37:3, etc.). Hasad means "loving kindness" or "faithful love." It is a “loyal love” and describes God’s covenant love. Raham refers to a kind of devotional love that normally goes one way, such as from a caregiver to the recipient of this care. And Yada means “to know” or to have close intimacy with (Gen. 4:1; cf. Rom. 8:29). Dawad - David – is translated as “beloved.”

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).