The Agape Fallacy

 Well, I heard it again this last weekend.  The speaker brought out his PowerPoint slides to explain that Greek language had four different words that we translate as “love”, and that one of these is the love God has for us and that we should have for each other.  Hogwash.

 If you are not familiar with “the four loves”, here is a quick summary of what you will often hear: 

Storge is familial love 

Eros is sexual or romantic love

Phileo is friendship love

Agape is godly love (usually defined as unconditional, giving, and volitional as opposed to emotive).   

The point of most of these talks is to convince us to love God and others with agape love, not the other kinds (it is usually contrasted most with phileo).

Again, hogwash.  It is all a fallacy. 

Agape and phileo have overlapping meanings, and the exact shade of meaning for “love” in any New Testament passage depends on the context of that passage, not which Greek word is behind the translation.

 If you believe that phileo is an inferior type of love, you will have a little trouble with the following verses:

  • John 5:20, For the Father loves (phileo) the Son…
  • John 16:27, For the Father himself loves (phileo) you, because ye have loved (phileo) me
  • Titus 2:24, wives are…to love (phileo) their husbands…
  • Titus 3:4, the kindness and love (phileo) of God our Saviour
  • II. Tim. 4:10, For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved (agape) this present world
  • II Samuel 13 describes Amnon’s lust for his half-sister, which led him to rape.  Verse 15 says afterwards, “he hated her more than he had loved her”, and the Greek translation of the Old Testament used agape to describe that “love”. 

More importantly the two Greek words seemed to be used interchangeably:

  • Rev. 3:9, and to know that I have loved (agape) thee.
  • Rev. 3:19, As many as I love (phileo), I rebuke and chasten…

 

  • John 11:5, Now Jesus loved (agape) Martha
  • John 20:2, the other disciple, whom Jesus loved (phileo)

 

  • John 3:35, The Father loves (agape) the Son
  • John 5:20, For the Father loves (phileo) the Son

 

Note, I am not arguing that phileo and agape are complete synonyms, that is, that they have the exact same meaning and nuance.  Rather, like the English words “soil” and “dirt”, their meanings overlap greatly, and can often be used synonymously.  The main point I am making is that it is illegitimate to base the meaning of “love” in a passage on the basis of which Greek word underlies the English word.  Their certainly are different kinds and types of love, but the context itself is the only key to meaning in this case.