How many words are there in the Greek language for love? I've heard of AGAPE love. What are the definitions of all the different words?
In the New Testament, there are two basic Greek nouns for love: αγαπη (agape) and φιλια (philia). Their Greek verb forms are αγαπαο (agapao) and φιλεω (phileo). There are also two additional Greek nouns for love: ερωs (erοs), and στοργη (storgε). We will now explore their meanings.
The Greek in the New Testament is Koine Greek, as opposed to classical or modern Greek. Koine Greek was the Greek of the first century A.D. It is the language the Holy Spirit chose to use to write the New Testament. Consequently, there are important changes in meaning between Classical Greek and the modern Greek used today.
Koine Greek Words — Agape & Agapao
The root meaning of both agape and agapao is love. It refers to a choice or a decision of the mind to love something or someone. It is used to describe God’s love. His love is the highest form of love. He loves selflessly and sacrificially (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 10:12). So, agape is used to describe this type of love. It is usually used for God”s love.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NASB)
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” This love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
This love involves choice or a decision of the mind. For example, Jesus commanded us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22.37). In its purest sense, this love does not require emotion, but it may eventually include a feeling of love. For no one can decide to create an internal emotion for God by a mere act of our will.
Finally, this love describes God’s love (1 John 4:7-8). He loves us with the highest form of love. His love is not fickle. It does not change. He loves because He has chosen to do so! Agape is the closest Greek word that describes divine love.
Koine Greek Words —Philia & Phileo
Both philia and phileo refer to friendship love, emotional love, or affection between two people (Matthew 10:37; John 11:3, 36). This love can vary up and down like the waves on a river because it may come and go and even disappear. This love is an emotion which we cannot control. It is not like agape and agapao which are choices of the will.
While Christians are commanded to love (agapao) in Matthew 22:37, we are surprised to learn in 1 Corinthians 16:22 that we are warned to love Christ with a phileo love.
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. 1 Corinthians 16:22 (NASB)
In John 21:15-17 we read that Jesus questioned Peter about his love. Jesus asked Peter two times if he loved (agapao) Him. The first two times Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) You.” Jesus was calling Peter to a higher form of love that is one of choice. Philia and phileo are inferior to agape and agapao.
Please note philia, phileo, agape, and agapao do not have the same meaning. If they did have the same meaning why did the Holy Spirit use both words in John 21:15-17? If they had the same meaning, then Holy Spirit could have used just one, but He did not do that because they had different meanings.
Note that the Greek word for friend is φιλos (philos).
Koine Greek Words — Eros
Eros does not appear in the New Testament. It a very strong, sexual, passionate craving. The word can have a negative or positive meaning. God designed it to occur in the context of marriage to attract and draw a husband and wife together (a fact often missed), and for procreation. It has a negative effect or meaning when sin occurs.
Contrary to modern re-definitions, this love is not a higher form of love. It is the passion that often motivates couples to marry. When it disappears, the couple thinks the relationship is in trouble. This Koine love is a lower form of love that has a potential to border on self-centeredness.
Koine Greek Words — Storge
Storge does not appear in the New Testament. It primarily refers to love between parents and children, between siblings, and a bond between husband and wife. It sometimes refers to love between people and their ruler and the love between a dog and his owner.
Agape is the most common word used in the New Testament. The greatest example of love is Jesus Christ who died for our sins. God shows His love by rescuing us from our sins if that is what we desire.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)
It is the word God uses to call us to love Him and others. He is calling us to give Him all of our love and also to give others our love.
Suggested Links:Does God love us with PHILEO love?
Searching For God