We believe that we understand what is meant by “love.” It is a small, four letter word in English. However, the Greek use of “love” is many and varied. In English we say, “I love my wife,” “I love my cat,” and, “I love peanut butter.” One would hope that you really mean something different in each of those examples! The Greek language separates “love” into different words to avoid this confusion. And it is instructive to us to see which word is being used in any given point in the Word of God.
There are four unique Greek words for love according to Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest. Of these four words, only three are used in the New Testament, those being the first three listed here, which we will call the “higher forms” of love.
Agape – “The attitude of God toward His Son, the human race generally, and to those that believe on His Son.” (W.E. Vine)
This what we call the “God kind of Love.” As Wuest points out, it is interesting to note that the early Greeks did not even use this form of the word love, that is “agape”. They used “agapan” and then only rarely, The form “agape” was coined by the New Testament writers to express the unique type of love that God has, a love that would die even for His enemies. Wuest, explaining how the New Testament writers derived this form of the word, says, “It (agape) conveyed the ideas of astonishment, wonder, admiration, and approbation when connected with the word ‘agamai’ which meant to wonder at, or admire.” Agape is used in: John 3:16, John 17:26 and John 14:21.
Phileo – “Represents more of a tender affection.” (W.E. Vine) “..a love that has its basis in pleasurableness, and the glow of the heart kindled…the perception that it is the object loved which affords one pleasure.” (Wuest) We would call this the love of a friend. Phileo is used in: Hebrews 13:1, John 5:20, John 20:2.
Storge – “To like or prefer one thing over another.” “A love that has its basis in one’s own nature.” (Wuest) We would use this to “love” peanut butter. We are really saying that we like peanut butter and prefer it over something else simply because of our inherent nature. Storge is only used in its negated sense in the New Testament. It is negated by the Greek letter “Alpha,” that is, “Astorge.” Astorge is translated in the KJV as “without natural affection,” in Romans 1:31 and II Timothy 3:3.
Eros – “Sexual attraction or passion.” The English word “erotic” is derived from this Greek word. This word is not used in the New Testament, yet it is what the world would usually have us believe “love” is! Actually it is a very low, physical form of love. It is important in the context of marriage and only then, but it is still subordinate to the higher forms of love.
This month, when so many are talking about love, let’s remember that it was God that first loved us (I John 4:19), and share his love with the world as ministers of reconciliation! (II Corinth. 5:17-21)