bibleWe began this series this morning (part 1).  Based upon one of the comments (from  Rob Barkman at August 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm), before we consider the different alternatives ways we might try to obey Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us, it seems a little discussion of the Greek language is needed.

Why this discussion of Greek? When we love someone, isn’t worth considering what kind of love we are talking about? The Greeks thought so. Perhaps that is why so much of the New Testament was written in Greek.

Let’s illustrate the point. In a sermon he gave decades ago, The Secret of Service, J. Vernon McGee described the events in John 21. These occur after Jesus’ resurrection, when Jesus restored Peter.  John 21 records how Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times.  Part of McGee’s explanation of the events required a bit of instruction in Greek.

Words for Love

      There are three words in the Greek language that are translated into the English by the one word love. Perhaps, my friend, you are not aware of the fact that the English language is a beggar for words. We have the one word love, and that is about all. Hollywood today would give a million dollars for another word. The best they have done is sex, and that is pretty low. But Greek is a language that is versatile; it is flexible. They have several words for this thing called love.

      The first word we will look at is the word eros. In the use of this word the Greeks degraded the meaning of love by personifying it. The fact of the matter is they made ‘Eros’ a god and put together in combination the names Aphrodite and Eros. Today we know these names better as Venus and Cupid. The latter are the Roman names, but they are the same, as the Greeks are the ones who started this idea with Aphrodite and Eros. Eros is a word of sensuality, and we do believe that the Hollywood word sex, which has really been put into high gear today, would best express what the Greeks had in mind. But this word eros is never used in the Word of God.

      There is another Greek word, phileo, and it means ‘friendship.’ It has to do with the affection and the emotion in a human relationship at its very best usage. We get our word philanthropic from it, and Philadelphia comes from it – Philadelphia, the ‘city of brotherly love.’ And that is a word that is used in Scripture.

      The third Greek word for love is agapao – it is a word of dignity, the highest and noblest word and, in connection with this verse, there is always the note of worth; that either the lover or the beloved is ‘worthy’ of love. I am sure this is a Bible word, for we see it used in John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.’ Again, Paul said, ‘Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ John said, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ These are instances where this word appears, and it is the word Christ used twice with Simon Peter. (from here)

Because the difference between phileo and agape is directly relevant to John 21, McGee takes the time to define the difference in The Secret of Service.  Ashamed, repentant and not so boastful anymore, when Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him using the word “agape,” Peter replied using the word “phileo.”

Similarly, SIH’s Think On These Things: Ephesians 5:25 at Settled In Heaven, highlights the importance of agape love by pointing out the alternative words that might have been used in this verse.

Ephesians 5:25 New King James Version (NKJV)

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

There are actually four words in the Greek language that are translated into the English by the one word love. However, this passage uses the word “agape.”

1. eros – the physical, intimate, sensual type of love, not used in the Bible
2. storge – the natural affection of family members, not used in the Bible
3. phileo – love of the brethren, it is affection to family, friends, acquaintances or even activities, used in the Bible
4. agape – the deepest, greatest form of love, it is sacrificial and unconditional, used in the Bible

(from here)

Still curious about those Greek words? What does the Bible say about Love? and Four Kinds of Love provide sources focused on the terms themselves.




  1. Thanks Tom for the resources to study McGee’s interpretation of the passage. I have heard that passage explained before (including the different words for love that are used) in differing ways. This is a good opportunity for me to study this out again and refresh my memory about this text.

    I do believe, it is obvious to us all, that at that point in time Peter did not hold the type of love for the Lord that he should have. This explains his denial of Christ and some of his other actions. That is perhaps why the Lord does “downgrade” the word for love in the passage.

    I guess the most important point to get is that we all should have the greatest type of love for our Lord…. it is a love that makes us willingly to sacrifice ANYTHING for HIm that may be required of us. I am sure this passage holds many other truths for us that can be seen with further study.

    Again your posting and question is much appreciated and gets us all thinking about a very important issue for any Christian.
    Lord bless.


    1. I am pleased you found what McGee had to say useful.

      I fear one of issues most of us face is getting pass the point where we trust God enough to love Him as we should, with agape love. We find it extremely difficult to make number 1 anyone besides our self. And yet that is the example Jesus set for us. And strangely we are suppose to regard his example as easy to follow. I look forward to the day when it is.

      May our Lord bless you and yours with such peace.


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