LOVE: What the English Language Can’t Explain

Greek Words For Love

For many of us, the term LOVE is used in many ways.  The only way to really understand it’s meaning, is by hearing the context in which it’s used.  For example, if a husband told his wife, “I love you,” we would understand that differently than if a sister told her brother, “I love you.”  The English language offers one word (LOVE) with many meanings, and in communication, we decipher the true meaning in a particular context.

Well, not all languages are as complicated as English.  Greek offers four words for our relational LOVE and at least one for possessive LOVE.  This becomes very important when understanding Scripture and knowing what kind of love the Bible is referring to.  I would never consider myself a Greek scholar, but hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the word and it’s meaning.

1. Phileo

This is friendship love – the kind of love we have for a friend. This particular love is interesting because it’s the only love we actually choose. Generally speaking, love is a very natural thing, and in many cases, necessary to survive. While many of us have the desire and want to socialize and have friends, it’s still a choice to do so. In the Bible, we read about loving each other in unity and also the relational love between God and humanity (John 16:27). In this particular case, the follower of Christ finds friendship and relationship with the Father because we chose to follow.

2. Eros

While some will say there are exceptions, eros is normally used when referring to the passionate or sexual love between two people.  This is where the word erotic comes from.  Interestingly enough, this is the only word for love that doesn’t show up in scripture.  We can’t prove why, however, I would think we don’t see it because the Bible isn’t about this kind of love.  Yes, God intended us to be fruitful and multiply; however, the biblical story is between God and humanity.

3. Storge

Where eros is the love between a man and women and phileo is the love between friends, storge is the natural bond of love between family members.  This is the love between parents and their children, between siblings, and among social and racial groups (patriotism).  While this word doesn’t directly show up in the Bible, there is a compound version found in Romans 12:10.  It is a combination of philia and storge, giving a translation of “love one another with brotherly [and sisterly] affection,” or with a “strong natural affection.”

4. Agape

While eros, philia, and storge all have relational components, agape is much different.  It’s still a relational love; however, it’s affectionate and not attractive.  Agape is more concerned with unconditional giving than merited receiving.  Of course, this is the kind of love we experience with God, and it’s the kind of love God expects us to show each other – especially in terms of forgiveness.  We try, however, to love God with agape love with our obedience, our love for him in our worship, by accepting Christ, and by mirroring that love among one another.  A perfect example of this kind of love can be read in John 3:16, where John explains how the Father sent the Son to die for us to give us eternal life to all who except it.

Our language is so simple compared to other languages.  As a result, we need to be careful how we interpret words like LOVE so we embrace the correct meaning.  When reading Scripture, it’s important to note that agape LOVE is the end goal, while philia and storge fit into our personal relationships with one another and  eros is very important among healthy marriages, the Bible is most concerned about how God loves us with agape love.  Epithumia refers to our desire to pursue healthy or harmful passions – the former pushes us towards understanding agape better, while the latter blurs our vision altogether.