What Is Love in the Bible? - PairedLife - Relationships
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What Is Love in the Bible?

Ron is the founding pastor of a church in Harrisburg, PA. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary in Colorado.

Many people in our world today don’t really understand love. We say, “I love ice cream,” meaning that we enjoy it a great deal. But we may also say, “I love John,” and mean pretty much the same thing – that John pleases or benefits us. That semantic confusion makes it easy to slip into a concept of love in which our focus is more on what we expect to get than on what we can give.

Part of the confusion arises because in English we use the single word “love” to cover a wide range of feelings and behavior. On the other hand, the Greek language, in which the New Testament was originally written, recognizes that to truly understand what love is all about, we need to make distinctions between different kinds of love.

In biblical Greek there are four different words, with four different meanings, that are translated into English as “love.”

1. Storge (“stor-gay”) Natural Affection

Storge grows out of familiarity and attachment rather than out of admiration for another person’s qualities. It embodies the instinctive affection that animals have for their young, and that human parents have for their offspring even before that child displays any pleasing personality characteristics.

C. S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, calls it the humblest and least discriminating of the loves because it doesn’t depend on the individuals involved having anything in common. Just being around someone for a long enough period of time can give rise to the natural affection that storge represents. For example, a husband and wife who have been together so long they are starting to look like one another often have strong ties of affection.

Storge appears in the Bible in two verses, Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3. In both cases it is in its negative form, astorgos (the a- prefix signifies “not”), and is translated in the King James Version as “without natural affection.”

2. Phileo (“fi-lay-oh”) Friendship (Brotherly) Love

Phileo is an emotional love, based on strong bonds of friendship. It is the love we have for those with whom we share some important interest in common. The more we have in common, the greater the phileo bond between us. In other words, phileo is the love expressed between good friends, who love to share with one another their feelings, thoughts and attitudes about the things that really matter to them.

People who have a strong phileo bond between them share a level of intimacy that has nothing to do with the physical. That’s why “best friends” share secrets about themselves with one another that they would never reveal to anyone else. The Old Testament shows us a moving example of this type of love in the friendship between David and Jonathan.

Phileo, in one or another of its Greek forms, appears numerous times in the New Testament. One example is Romans 12:10, where it is translated as “brotherly love.”

That, by the way, is why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love. It's not because it is such a loving place (sports fans there once booed Santa Claus), but because its name is derived from phileo.

A strong element of friendship between husband and wife is a necessary component of a good marriage relationship.

3. Eros (“eh-ross”) Romantic (Erotic) Love

Eros is what most people have in mind when they think of romance and being “in love.” It involves very strong emotions, and desires to unite with and physically possess the beloved.

C. S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, draws a distinction between eros and sex. He says that unlike mere physical desire, “eros longs for the emotional connection with the other person.” Dr. Ed Wheat amplifies that point in his book, Love Life for Every Married Couple. According to Dr. Wheat, “Genuine falling in love is a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical response to the actual character and total being of another who embodies attributes long sought and admired.” Given those definitions, it is clear that the sexual gymnastics so commonly portrayed on television and in movies have little to do with true romantic love.

Although the word eros does not appear in the Bible, erotic love certainly does! See, for example, 2 Samuel 13:1 (the NIV translation says “Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar”) and the entire book of Song of Solomon.

Obviously, eros should be an important factor in any healthy marriage. But, contrary to what many in our society think, it is not the foundation of the marriage relationship.

VIDEO: Love in 1 Corinthians 13

4. Agape (“ah-gah-pay”) Unconditional, God-like Love

Agape is unconditional love which seeks the good of the loved one and demands nothing in return. Translated as “charity” in the King James Version of the Bible, it is the love God has for us, and that we are commanded to have for Him and for our neighbor. We could call it the God kind of love.

According to 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter” of the Bible, agape love is patient, kind, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, and not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs done to it, and thinks no evil of others. It always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

Christians are to deal with every person with whom they come into even casual contact on the basis of this unconditional agape love that comes only from God. This love causes us to seek more to bless and serve others than to be blessed by them (Philippians 2:1-4).

Love and Marriage

What kind of love makes a strong marriage?

In a real sense, storge, phileo, and eros, are feelings that happen to us, rather than actions that are under our control. Certainly we can do our best to set up an environment in which these loves can arise and flourish. For example, a husband and wife have a responsibility to work hard to cultivate friendship and romance in their relationship. Still, they cannot simply command those feelings to come. Like all other emotions, the strength of these emotional loves may ebb and flow with circumstances. They are particularly affected by the response (or lack of response) from the object of our love. For example, in an emotionally healthy individual, romantic love will not survive for very long once it becomes clear that the object of that love will never reciprocate the sentiment.

For that reason, the feeling loves cannot by themselves carry a marriage through all the ups and downs and pressures life will bring. Storge, phileo, and eros should always be important elements in a marriage, and any of them may the factor that gets the relationship going in the first place. Many people have gotten married after realizing how much natural affection or friendship they shared. And of course, the excitement of “we’re in love!” has sent many a couple to the altar.

But when the excitement wears off (as it inevitably will), and when financial stress or the pressures of raising rebellious children take their toll, feelings of love can be submerged in resentment, bitterness, or just plain indifference toward one another. Any marriage relationship that remains dependent on how the spouses feel about one another will sooner or later be in trouble. Feelings change.

But agape doesn’t change. 1 Corinthians 13:8 puts it succinctly: “Love never fails.” That’s because agape is not about how we feel, but about how we decide to act.

Agape Is a Strong Wall of Protection Surrounding the Other Loves

Unlike storge, phileo, and eros, agape is not based on feelings. Neither is it affected by how the other person responds. That’s why the Bible can realistically command us to love our enemies. This unconditional love depends only on the commitment, made and sustained through the power of the Holy Spirit, to consistently minister the love of God to another person.

That’s why I can love my wife even in the times when I don’t like her (it happens!). No matter how I am feeling about her at the moment, I can and must still make the decision that with the help of God I will treat her with kindness and consideration and concern for her wellbeing.

A marriage needs for storge, phileo, and eros to all be functioning with full force in order for that relationship to reach its full potential. But these loves, based on feelings and therefore subject to the impact events can have on our emotions, are vulnerable. It is agape that surrounds them like a high wall, and protects them from being destroyed by the pressures and stresses of changing circumstances.

1 Corinthians 13:13 gives a great summary of the preeminence of agape love:

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Ronald E Franklin

Comments

Luis G Asuncion from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines on November 26, 2019:

Thanks for this article. Although, I am reading Bible, however, not everyday. It reminds me, that I should read.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on June 18, 2019:

Thanks, Savio. I think you got it just right - the love we feel for our children helps us understand God's loves for us.

Savio Koman from Mumbai, India on June 17, 2019:

In that sense, Agape and Storge come close to each other.

I always wondered our love for our children is so unconditional that maybe that is how God sees us. Then again, if we sinners could love our children so much, then how much more the good Lord must love us? So, always guessed that Godly love could be one step above our love for our children... And somehow you corroborate that.

Thanks for this article, Ronald!!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 13, 2018:

Matthew, you are right that true agape can only come from God. In ourselves we don't have that capacity. But through Christ He gives us the ability and the privilege of passing on God's love to others.

Matthew Joseph from Nigeria on May 12, 2018:

I'm so glad I came across this article. I'm now able to see the different kinds of love enlisted in the Bible and how agape is the chiefest of them all.

Agape is really unconditional and it's only through GOD'S help that we can get to operate in agape love all the time.

Sometimes, people can really get us mad. But with agape, we can get to retain our sanity and be calm in the midst of it all. This kind of love is really needed in marriages.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 14, 2018:

Yes, Alaytia, it's in the tough times that God proves His faithfulness to us. He will provide!

ALAYTIA NELSON (10 YEARS OLD) on April 14, 2018:

WHEN YOU ARE GOING THROUGH SOME TOUGHT TIMES YOU LOSE FAITH IN GOD . YOU START TO QUESTION GOD .AND YOU NEED TO PUT ALL YOUR FAITH IN GODS HAND AND HE WILL PROVIDE.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 13, 2018:

Thanks, Brian. I like the way you put it - that agape doesn't turn on and off based on circumstances, but is a never-failing expression of the love of God.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on February 13, 2018:

Good explanation of the distinctions, Rev. Frainklin. With agape love, there is no off and no less—it's full-blast, non-stop. I think of spiritually healthy humans as being like transformers or solar panels, giving material expression to God's constant love. The question is ever what particular expression of agape is appropriate at this moment in this circumstance. Jesus illustrates the concept in the Good Samaritan story.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 23, 2017:

Thanks, Matty. I think that far too many couples view eros as the fundamental basis of their relationship, and when eros proves unable to maintain the relationship on its own, the relationship is in danger. But, as the Bible says, agape never fails!

Matty Navarro from New Jersey on May 22, 2017:

Wow! Amazing read. I agree with you that in marriage love must include all these types of love and all in a healthy way, that's what makes it enduring and happy.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 03, 2015:

Many thanks, Paula. I really appreciate that.

Suzie from Carson City on September 03, 2015:

Ron...A huge CONGRATULATIONS to you on your 2015 Hubbie Award! Good for you!!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on April 23, 2015:

You've very welcome Ron. Thanks for sharing.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 23, 2015:

Thanks much, Kristen. It's a very important topic for people to have clarity on.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on April 23, 2015:

Ron, this was another great hub from you. This was real interesting and insightful with the different types of loves used in the Bible. Voted up!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 10, 2015:

Many thanks to you, pstraubie48. And I very much agree that reflecting on God's love, to us and through us to others, is a wonderful way to begin the day.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 10, 2015:

Thanks, BigMarble. I'm glad you found it interesting and, I hope, helpful.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 10, 2015:

Thank you much, viryabo. I'm glad the article gave you a lift. God's blessings to you.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 10, 2015:

Chamia, I appreciate you taking the time to share your viewpoint. You are right that only God possesses agape love. It is only as we tap into His love that we can, in our halting and partial way, exhibit agape. But loving our spouse unconditionally should be our desire, intent, and commitment as God gives us the grace to do so. Remember that unconditional love does not mean a lack of standards or accountability. God both loves us unconditionally, and at the same time holds us accountable to His standards. The same should be true between husband and wife.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 10, 2015:

the verse from Corinthians is one that is close to my heart...one that I learned very early and carry with me...

Loving is a slippery slope at times, is it not?

Agape though...that moves us closer to Godliness...not perfect, but thankfully none of us are expected to be, but striving every day to love in that way.

Well said...taking time to reflect on this is a powerful way to begin my day.

Angels are once again winging their way to you ps

Gregory Jones from IL on February 12, 2015:

Nice hub, very interesting!

viryabo on December 21, 2014:

I am happy that this wonderful article is the first piece I read as soon as I woke up this morning, a few days to Christmas. Thank you for lifting my spirits. Blessings

Chamia on December 19, 2014:

Agape love is the ideal and p0ssessed ONLY by God. We, at best, may aspire to agape, but we kid ouvselres to believe that we love anyone without condition. In practice, we each do have stipulations as to who we will love and how we will treat whom we love. Each one of us has biases and we discriminate against people whom we deem to be unworthy of our love and kindness. True fact, we do not love every person that we meet, nor do we genuinely care about their well-being or even who they are.In marriage, the ideal again is agape, but it is not the reality. The condition that we put upon our spouses is that they behave! Common deal breakers of our professed agape toward our spouses include rape, infidelity, incest, DV, and other such acts committed by our spouses. While these may be isolated acts with extenuating circumstances that you could forgive in light of who your spouse is, but what if these or other moral failings began to characterize that person? What if that spouse is no longer the person that you married? I could only conjecture what would be your deal breaker, but I submit that the extent of your love, even for your spouse, does have implicit conditions! To have completely unconditional love may be noble, but it is neither practical nor honest with oneself. Really consider, what could my spouse do as a matter of lifestyle, that would ultimately drive me away from him/her? I believe that we each have a breaking point to where our love will fail, even if we are not aware of that point. I believe that none of us is so altruistic that we can pour of ouvselres into another person in perpetuity and not expect some satisfying reciprocation.It is no disgrace to have conditional love. Marriage itself is a form of conditional love under the condition that you love your spouse exclusively and above all others, you commit to the person who reciprocates that love and commitment. There are social, moral, and legal priviledges to the condition of being married to one other person. Agape unconditional love may be ideal, but it is not practical.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on December 02, 2014:

Thanks so much, colorfulone. And I'm glad I was able to bring back some Bible school memories for you!

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on December 01, 2014:

It has been many years since I attended Bible school and studied the different kinds of love. This is a great refresher course for me, that spoke to my inner man. Awesome teaching, and blessing you are, Ron!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 30, 2014:

Thank you, SagDiva. And you're so right about real love being necessary to all of us.

Kay Adams from Maryland on September 30, 2014:

Love is therapeutic & very necessary in life. Thank you for an awesome topic

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 12, 2014:

Thanks, techygran. I appreciate that.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 12, 2014:

Hi Ron

I too have heard a lot of sermons on this very topic but can not remember storge being mentioned. I also appreciate how you related all the forms of love to marriage. Voted up and sharing!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on September 08, 2014:

Hi, Barbara. Like you, I've seen many studies or presentations on biblical words for love that give little attention to storge. But it's an important aspect of love, and shouldn't be overlooked. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Barbara Badder from USA on September 08, 2014:

I've heard all of these terms used except storge. I've heard a lot of Bible studies on love and either have forgotten that term or never heard it. This is good coverage on an important subject.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2014:

Thanks, pstraubie48. And you are so right. Perhaps the greatest thing about God's love is that He knows us inside and out, and loves us anyway.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 03, 2014:

So well said...Ron

It is important to understand the difference between the types of love.

I do so know what you mean...you can love someone but still not like them at times.

We are so blessed to be loved by God, aren't we? Even with all of our imperfections.

Shared

Angels are on the way to you today....ps

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 08, 2013:

Thanks, mr-veg. I appreciate that.

mr-veg from Colorado United States on October 08, 2013:

Ronald you have beautifully defined love here !! Nice and sweet.. Good one Sir !!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 07, 2013:

Thanks, janshares. I'm glad you found this hub helpful. I'll be looking forward to reading that poem.

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on October 07, 2013:

I absolutely LOVE this hub. This is my kind of topic. Thank you for the very informative break down of the four types of love and origins. I like the analysis of how the different types of love work in a marriage and how agape is the foundation. I so concur. I have a poem about agape love, must post it someday. Thanks for the lesson, voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful, and shared!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 02, 2013:

Thanks, SwordofManticorE.

SwordofManticorE from Burlington on March 02, 2013:

This is a good hub

Susan Ream from Michigan on February 05, 2013:

Ron, I added your link to my hub What is the Highest Form of Love. :) Blessings Brother Ron!

Mekenzie

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 04, 2013:

Mekenzie, thanks so much for your encouragement. Of course I'd love to have you link your hub to this one. I look forward to reading it.

Susan Ream from Michigan on February 04, 2013:

Ron, this is beautifully and skillfully written. I also did a hub on the Biblical types of love and I would like to link it to yours.

I like how you explained 'feeling loves.' You said: "For that reason, the feeling loves cannot by themselves carry a marriage through all the ups and downs and pressures life will bring."

Agape love that comes from God is the love that reaches out to bless and it is not based on conditions or the loveliness of the object of ones love.

Thanks for the clarity of your writing. Awesome! Voted up +++

Mekenzie

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 04, 2013:

You're exactly right. Just as faith without works is dead, so is love. Thanks for reading.

Evans4life on February 04, 2013:

Love is an action word. It's not a feeling. You can't say you love some one and not show some sign with actions. God commended His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Nice hub!