Agape and Phileo

Monday, Feb. 9

There are two Greek words used for love. The basic meaning of love is in both, i.e., that it is selfless and focused on the well being of another. Nevertheless, there is a distinct difference between the two words. Agape love is limited to the love God has for man and man’s love for God. It is a higher level of love and implies loving “at any cost,” even unto death. This is the word used in John 3:16. It’s interesting that pagan writers never use this word at all, no doubt because they have no deity that is characterized as love, while the Judeo-Christian God’s primary trait is love. [“God is love” (1 John 4:8).] Phileo love is broader in scope. It is mostly used for human relationships, but is also used between man and God. An example of this is when Jesus spoke with Peter after his resurrection. Three times He asked if Peter loved Him and three times Peter answered him in the affirmative. Jesus used agape for love while Peter used phileo—except that Jesus used phileo the third time. Since John uses these two terms more or less interchangeably throughout the book of John, we probably shouldn’t make too much of an issue of it in this passage (John 21:15-18). The real issue here is that Jesus is demonstrating His love for Peter in the presence of the other disciples. Peter had denied the Lord three times during Jesus’ trial and Jesus was showing that Peter was not abandoned or rejected and that He had a job to do. But my point here is that phileo can be used in relation to love for God. Phileo is also used in relation to inanimate objects, perceptions, or ideas. Philarguria (with the root word phileo) is the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10). So love is OK and money is OK, but the love of money is not OK. And I guess it’s OK to phileo your dog, just don’t agape him.. Other words for love with the root word phileo are philadelphia (brotherly love), philandros (love of a man, as a wife’s love for her husband), and philoteknos (maternal love for a child). By the way, the Hebrew of the O.T. makes the same two distinctions between these two kinds of love.

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