The “Agapao” and “Phileo” Kinds of Love in the New Testament, by Romeo Fulga

Exegetical Insight: The “Agapao” and “Phileo” Kinds of Love in the New TestamentbiblicalGreek Manuscript of 1st Corinthians 13

By Romeo Fulga

John 21:15-19: “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (ESV Translation). 

The Christian tradition has embellished the idea that that the word “agape” refers to an altruistic, unconditional superior kind of love that exclusively refers to God’s love toward humanity–a Christian kind of love, while the word “phileo” refers to a brotherly lesser kind of love. This is the traditional interpretation of the words above and by far the most popular one. Based on this assumption, many such interpretations have been promulgated in many sermons and various devotional writings. While nothing is wrong with this traditional designation per se, there is a problem to see it exclusively this way across the board. When we look closer at the Bible we find this interpretation inconclusive and unconvincing due to several considerations which I will outline below:

1. The language spoken by Jesus and the disciples is not Greek but Aramaic. Although Greek language has multiple words for love, such as “phileo” and “agapao,” the Aramaic does not. The Aramaic word for love was “ܚܘܒܐ” and it simply means love or strong affection. This Greek based kind of distinction cannot be made in the Aramaic language, for the passage above, since the dialogue between Jesus and Peter transpired in the Aramaic.

2. The popular idea that “agapao” always expresses the divine, unconditional, selfless, superior love whereas “phileo” expresses the human, inferior love is simply not correct. It is a Christian myth (one of many), a generalization that does not do justice to the semantic range of these two Greek words. The two words have been used interchangeably in the Gospel of John as well as in the New Testament. Here are just a few examples:

Mathew 5:46–Jesus says, “If you “agapao” those who “agapao” you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” You see, here the word “agapao” is used with reference to sinners in a profane way. Same is true in the parallel passage of Luke 6:32. The idea of unselfish unconditional love does not hold here.

Luke 11:43–The term “agapao” is used in reference to the supreme seats in the synagogue with no meaning of “unconditional.”

John 3:19–Here it is recorded that men “agapao’d” the darkness rather than the light. Can this be an unconditional love?

John 12:43–Men “agapao’d” the approval of men rather than the approval of God. This is clearly not unselfish.

2 Tim. 4:10–Demas “agapao’d” the present age (referring to the worldly ungodly values). This cannot be the traditionally godly love.

1 John 2:15–The apostle tells us that we should not “agapao” the world. Here it is again a profane/worldly kind of love.

2 Peter 2:15–Even Balaam and the false prophets “agapao” the wages of unrighteousness. Here the word “agapao” is used with reference to false prophets.

The same interchangeability is also true of the word “phileo” throughout the New Testament. A few examples will suffice:

John 5:20–The Father “phileo” the Son. Here the intra-Trinitarian love between the members of the trinity is described as “phileo.”

John 16:27–The Father “phileo” the disciples who “phileo” God. God’s love here is a “phileo” love in both directions.

1 Corinthians 16:22– Anyone who does not “phileo” Jesus is acursed!

Revelation 3:19–The risen Christ loves His disciples with a “phileo” love.

The two words are also used interchangeably together also. Here a few examples:

As I mentioned above, Luke 11:43 says that the Pharisees would “agapao” the chief seats in the synagogue, while Matthew 23:6 says that they “phileo” those places of honor; moreover, the Pharisees “phileo’d” to be seen praying on street corners (Matthew 6:5). Therefore both words have been used with reference to these seats of power.

God loves Jesus with both kinds of love. In John 3:35 and 15:9, says that the Father loves Him, the word used is the verb “agapao”. Yet John 5:20 speaks of the Father’s “phileo” love for the Son.

In John 11:5 we are told that Jesus “agapao’d” Lazarus, yet a few verses later in the same chapter (11:36) we are told that He “phileo’d” Lazarus.

In John 17:23, the Father loves the disciples with “agapao” love; but in John 16:27, Jesus tells the disciples that the Father loves them with “phileo” love.

In John 20:2 it is written that John is the disciple whom Jesus phileo’d, and just a few verses later, in 21:20 John calls himself the disciple whom Jesus agapao’d.

Therefore, the word “phileo” can be seen in contexts which “agapao” would be expected to occur if the traditional definitions are correct. However, the use of “phileo” in these contexts renders such traditional views as unlikely at least and erroneous at best.

3. Moreover, no reliable distinction can be drawn from the LXX usage of the two words either. For example, the love that Jacob had for Joseph is expressed with “agapao” in Gen. 37:3 and in the very next verse the word “phileo” has been used (Gen. 37:4). In 2 Samuel 13 when Amnon raped Tamar, both verbs were used in the same context. In Proverbs 8:17 both verbs were used again, for the same Hebrew word.

4. Apostle John frequently uses stylistic variations of his own in different occasions with reference to different pairs of words. We have seen the first pair being “agapao” and “phileo” in the passage above. Another pair he uses interchangeably in the same passage is the pair “bosko” and “poimano” (“feed” and “take care” of sheep). Moreover, another pair also is “arnia” and “probata” (“lambs” and “sheep”). Yet another pair used in the same pericope is “oida” and “ginosko” (both meaning “to know” in vs 17).

5. The climax of this story in our passage (John 21:15-19), doesn’t hinge on the word “agapao,” but rather, Peter’s healing and restoration are seen in the use of the verb “phileo.”

In conclusion the variegated uses of “agapao” and “phileo” in this passage, as throughout the New Testament and LXX, are for stylistic reasons and variety rather than having different semantic connotations or implied meanings. This is a rather common practice of the fourth evangelist. Jesus is repeating the question three times to show Peter the importance of ministry. If we say we love Jesus we should show that love practically in loving them as Jesus loved them. The repetition usually was used in the Bible in order to convey the importance (two times) and highest degree (three times) of something.

6. Additional notes: Some linguists have seen a distinction between the two Greek words “agapao” and “phileo.” However, many commentators, linguists and theologians have sharply criticized a “cemented (always true)” distinction between these two words. If such distinction exists it should be decided in individual passages, locally and not generalized over the entire Bible. It is true that “agapao” and “agape” have become signature words for divine love in Christianity, especially modern and contemporary Christianity. The word “agapao” was rarely used in the classical Greek, and that mostly with the meaning of “love” between a man and a woman. It was also rarely used with religions connotations. The word cognates of “agape” came to prominence in the Greek literature around fourth century B.C. Before that time “phileo” was the word of choice for the Greeks in both literature and everyday life. “Eros” was the “poetical” word used much in literature with that same meaning. It seems that “phileo” started to drop usage because it started to connote more and more the word “kiss.” Therefore, in this way, “agape” started to be used more and more for standard love in the classical period. However, it was the translators of the LXX who took the agape love to its glory and gave to it new and special connotations, especially in the religious arena. So much so that it was once thought that the LXX actually coined the word. “Agapao” in LXX was generally used (as “agapan”) for God and man alike, although the former seems to have had preference. It was via LXX that the agape love came on the stage of early Christianity, and was used by the NT authors generally in the same manner as the LXX. Most commentators and linguists currently agree that seeing too much distinction between “agapao” and “phileo” in the Bible leads to fallacious exegesis.

 

Evangelical NT Scholars You Should Know: Leon Morris

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By Thomas Schreiner, prof. of NT

Leon Lamb Morris (1914–2006) stood out in his generation as one of the great evangelical scholars. He wrote 50 books and traveled extensively, speaking all around the world. His book The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, which has sold more than 50,000 copies, was his signature achievement. He wrote often about the cross, and his more popular treatments were also well-received. Morris stubbornly attended to the biblical text and closely sifted what it said, showing that penal substitution and the satisfaction of God’s wrath could not be expunged from our theological vocabulary. His massive NICNT commentary on the Gospel of John should probably be mentioned second in terms of its influence and scholarship. The effect of his writings is staggering. He wrote two commentaries (Tyndale and NICNT) on the Thessalonian epistles, and they sold more than 250,000 copies. His Tyndale commentary on 1 Corinthians, which appeared in two editions, also sold more than 250,000 copies.

Continued

Love One Another and Herding Cats

love_one_another_1 John 4

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

These days, trying to help Christians think straight and to take the text of Scripture seriously is akin to herding cats.

As always, the above text, “love one another,” refers specifically to our fellow Christians, not to our unbelieving neighbors or to anyone else outside the Church.

This is the special commandment which Jesus gave to his disciples. It is the sign by which Jesus said others would know that we are HIS.

 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”–John 13

Yes, Jesus also taught us to love our neighbor  (The Second Great Commandment). As E. J. Carnell wrote, “The responsibility to love all human beings is repeatedly set forth with such solemnity in Scripture that an unloving Christian is a manifest contradiction in terms.” (What we today call an oxymoron.)

The_Good_Samaritan

But when Jesus and John said, “love one another,” they were referring to that unique fellowship we have with all those who believe in Him.

Devotion for Advent: The Word Became Flesh

word became flesh“. . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1

An excellent devotion for Advent, is Athanasius On The Incarnation.

C. S. Lewis wrote the Preface for this edition, advising us to not read another new book until we have read an old one. And if we have not time for both, to read the old.

I John 5:16, Sin Unto Death

Ichthys If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that1 John 5:16 NKJV

 

This passage is puzzling for many and, again, illustrates the importance of reading verses in context rather than isolating them from the whole which is a particular problem of the Christian habit of ‘proof-texting.’

Our first step, in the study of any of the epistles, should be to read the whole letter through.  As we do that in 1 John, we come to the key clue, which clarifies the context,“They went out from us…”(2:19). See introduction to 1 John 

 

The most plausible interpretation of this verse is that the “sin unto death” is like the apostasy of those who had been the brethren of these believers to whom John was writing, and who had followed new teaching that rejected the Incarnation.

“In that case, he [John] does not encourage prayer for the restoration of those who, like the teachers of 2. 18-23, had manifested the spirit of the Antichrist and shown where they properly belonged by quitting the fellowship [the Church] in which alone eternal life was to be found. With regard to such men John may have felt much as the writer of Hebrews did in another situation, that it was ‘impossible to renew them to repentance’; renunciation of the apostolic witness to Christ and His saving power was indeed a ‘sin unto death.’”—F. F. Bruce, Epistles…

“The person who consciously and deliberately chooses the way of death shall surely die. Sin that leads to death is deliberate refusal to believe in Jesus Christ, to follow God’s commands, and to love one’s brothers. It leads to death because it includes a deliberate refusal to believe in the One who alone can give life, Jesus Christ the Son of God. By contrast, sins that do not lead to death are those which are committed unwittingly and which do not involve rejection of God and his way of salvation.”—I. Howard Marshall NICNT

We can be distracted by such details and miss the important point: When we see a fellow Christian struggling with sin, it is urgent that we pray for him.

And we see the power of this as we read this verse in the context of Chapter 5: “. . . Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. . . .”

 

 

 

I John: “God Is Love” vis-a-vis Heresy

JesusThorns

“God is love”—A most familiar phrase in

1 John 4

Leon Morris, the noted New Testament scholar, asks, “How do we harmonize the assurance that ‘God is love’ with the assertion that ‘our God is a consuming fire’? Most of us never think about such problems, and in the end our idea of love is indistinguishable from that of the world around us.”  (Testaments of Love, emphasis added)

As we have noted in the two previous posts, in First John [as in all Scripture], context is an essential key to right understanding.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God thus loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

First, we see that “God is love” is not only an incomplete verse, and an incomplete sentence, but even an incomplete phrase.

First John presents a few key tests so that those to whom he is writing can be assured that theirs is the true faith in contrast to those who broke fellowship with them and claimed a new knowledge and spiritual superiority.

In the first post, we noted the test of affirming the Incarnation, which was denied by those with their new knowledge.  That is also affirmed here in verse 9, which parallels John 3:16—“For God thus loved the world…he sent his only begotten Son…”   And now, the test of obedience to Jesus’ command to them to “love one another” receives strong attention.  If we do not love our fellow Christians, we do not know God who first loved us.

John drives this point home, using “love” over 40 times in this little letter.  John’s first  use of “love” [But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him….(2:5)] gives us the test of obedience: keeping God’s word, keeping his commandments.  In his commentary, F. F. Bruce writes, “Love and obedience are inextricably interwoven because all the commandments of God are summed up in the law of love.”

[And where there is disobedience, love requires discipline.]

It is the same test and warning which Jesus gives to us in John chapter fourteen.

In our day, many false teachers use “God is love” as a mantra to encourage disobedience to God’s word, to his commands.  For decades “love” has been used to promote abortion and acceptance of unbiblical divorces and marriages in churches.  And, today, the branches from this seed include whole denominations that embrace and promote sodomy.

Unless those who still believe God’s word become salt and light in our day, there is no hope that God, the consuming fire, will lift his judgment on our dying culture.  We must reclaim the basics from the world’s distortions which we, many times, have blindly accepted.  We must get back to the Word.

“For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”—1Peter 4:17

***

Will we have the courage to draw a line, and to do it publicly, between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who have been infiltrated theologically and culturally? If we do not have the courage, we will cut the ground out from under the feet of our children, and we will destroy any hope of being the redeeming salt and light of our dying culture.

–Francis A. Schaeffer

The Great Evangelical Disaster