Love - Trench's New Testament Synonyms


agapao (G25) Love
phileo (G5368)
Although no attempt has been made in our Authorized Version to discriminate between agapao and phileo, the frequently noteworthy difference between them should have been reproduced. Because this difference is nearly equivalent to the one between the Latin diligo (esteem) and amo (love), understanding the exact distinction between these Latin verbs will help us understand the difference between the two Greek verbs.
Cicero frequently opposed diligo and amo in an instructive manner. In a letter about his affection for another friend he said: "In order that you might know that he is not only esteemed [diligi] by me but also loved [amari]" From these and similar passages we might conclude that amare corresponds to philein (G5368) and is stronger than diligere, which corresponds to agapan. This is true, but it is not the whole truth. Ernesti correctly noted the different meanings of the Latin verbs: "To esteem[diligere] pertains more to judgment; to love [amare], however, extends to the innermost feeling of the soul." Cicero (in the passage first quoted) really was saying: "I do not esteemthe man merely, but I lovehim; there is something of the passionate warmth of affection in the feeling with which I regard him."

Although a friend may desire "to be loved" rather than "to be esteemed" by his friend, "being esteemed" is more than "being loved"; the agapasthai is more than the phileisthai. The first term expresses an intellectual attachment of choice and selection ("diligere" = "deligere" = "to choose"). Esteem may spring from a sense of obligation (as in the case of a benefactor) or a regard for worthy qualities in an object or person. The second term refers to a relation that is more emotional and that implies more passion, though it is not necessarily an unreasoning attachment.
There are two passages in Xenophon that illuminate the relation between agapao and phileo. These passages show how the notions of respect and reverence are always implied in agapan, though not in philein (though philein does not exclude them). In the second passage Xenophon stated: "The women were loving [ephiloun] him as one who cares; he was esteeming [egapa] them as beneficial." This helps to explain why people are commanded agapan ton Theon (G2316) and good men do; but people are never commanded philein ton Theon. The Father, however, does both in relation to his Son.
Unlike the Authorized Version, by using diligo (esteem) and amo (love), the Vulgate has preserved a distinction between agapao and phileo in almost all of the New Testament passages. It is especially unfortunate that the Authorized Version did not preserve the important and instructive distinction between agapao and phileo in John 21:15-17. In this passage Christ asked Peter three times: "Do you love Me?" Christ's first question, "Agapas me?," seems a cold way for him to address the penitent Peter, who was overflowing with love for his Lord, since it fails to express the warmth of Peter's affection toward him. Although any form of the question would have been painful (v. 17), the use of agapas was even more distressing. In his answers, Peter twice substituted philo se(v. 15)the more personal word for lovefor Christ's agapas. Christ's third formulation of the question, which uses phileis not agapas, shows that Peter has triumphed. But all of this subtle play of feeling disappears in a translation that either does not care or that is not able to reproduce the original variation of words.
Eros, eran, and erastes never occur in the New Testament, though eran and erastes occasionally occur in the Septuagint. Their absence, which is Love significant, is partially explained by the way that the world had corrupted their meanings. These words had become so associated with the idea of sensual passion and carried such an aura of unholiness about them that they were not used in Scripture. Rather than employing one of them, the writers of Scripture created the new word agape (G26), which occurs in the Septuagint and in the Apocrypha but not in any heathen writings.
But there may have been a more important reason to avoid using eros, which, like other words, could have received a new consecration despite the degradation of its past history. And, indeed, there were tendencies among Platonists to use eros to refer to the longing after unseen but eternal Beauty, whose faint vestiges appear everywhere. In this sense Philo called eros "heavenly love." Because eros expressed this yearning desire and longing after the unpossessed, it was unsuitable to express Christian love. Christian love is not merely a sense of need, emptiness, and poverty and a longing after fullness and an unattainable Beauty. Christian love is a love to God and to man that is the result of God's love shed abroad in the hearts of his people. Since the incarnation, mere longing and yearning (eros at its best) have given place to a love that not merely desires but that also possesses the one loved.

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