Different Kinds of Love

Easily the most important word in the New Testament is ‘Love’. English has only the one word for Love, which causes no end of confusion, but Greek has several to keep things straight.

Probably the best known is AGAPĒ (“ah-GAH-pay”). Sometimes this is referred to as “God’s Love”, but in John 3 we read “For people AGAPĒ-loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil” so AGAPĒ isn’t necessarily for Good. Rather, AGAPĒ is “Love where the well-being of the beloved is primary.” When a mother works two jobs so her child can go to college – that’s AGAPĒ. Or when someone risks their life for a cause greater than themselves – that’s AGAPĒ. I John asserts “God is AGAPĒ-Love”, Paul in I Corinthians 13 asserts that “AGAPĒ-love is patient, kind…”, and Jesus commands us to AGAPĒ-love God and neighbor.

Another Greek word for Love in the New Testament is PHILIA (“fill-EE-ah”): ‘affection’, ‘friendship’. It also means ‘kiss’. Interestingly, Paul in I Cor. 16:22 says “Whoever does not PHILIA-love the Lord, let him be accursed.” Hmm…

Another word for Love is ERŌS (“AIR-ohs”), which means so much more than it has come to mean in English. For the Greeks it encompassed the drive to [pro]create. So of course ERŌS included the whole process of having children. But they would also say that Vincent van Gogh was gripped by ERŌS to create paintings, and Einstein was gripped by ERŌS to create new physics. Plato called it a ‘divine’ or ‘godly madness’ (THEIA MANIA (“THIGH-ah mah-NEE-ah”) – ‘THEIA’ being the adjective form of THEOS = ‘god/God’). Indeed, the greatest act of creation ever is, well, Creation! Early Christian authors wrote about God’s ERŌS when He created our unfathomably infinite and beautiful Cosmos.

(And Greek has yet other words for Love.)

These different kinds of love aren’t mutually exclusive, of course – they work together. For example, two people are drawn to each other by mutual affection and a desire to create a family (however they choose to define that) – PHILIA and ERŌS at work. And then over time AGAPĒ comes into play when members of the family put the well-being of the others ahead of their own.

One could say that these different kinds of Love are like different musical themes which combine in infinite variation – like the riot of themes and melodies that weave together in a Bach fugue – to create the never ending Love Fugue of Heaven and Earth.