The Loves Of God
The ancient Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, contains three distinct nouns for "love." They are agape, storge, and eros. Of those three ancient Geek nouns, only agape (ag-ah' pay) is in the New Testament so we need not be concerned about the other two.
» Some have attempted to force storge into the New Testament by means of the Greek noun astorgos (Rom 1:31 and 2Tim 3:3). However; astorgos doesn't mean love, it means the absence of natural affection; especially in regard to one's own children-- a situation that can easily eventuate in a psychological condition known as Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Examples of agape are located at 1John 4:8 and 1John 4:16 where it's said that God is love.
Agape has become a sort of sacred cow among Christians; and they typically quote the entire spectrum of it from 1Cor 13:1-7. But the entire spectrum of love tells us nothing of its particular nuances. In order to discern the colors of agape we have to seek out passages where love is a verb.
The two primary colors of agape are agapao (ag-ap-ah'-o) and phileo (fil eh'-o). A Strong's Concordance shows every verse in the New Testament where those verbs, and their conjugation, are used; which is very handy for helping us to understand the spectrum of love. However; the thing to note is that those two verbs are not interchangeable.
For example the colors red and blue, combined with other colors, make up the spectrum of sunlight. But if we want a red house, we have to use red paint. If we use blue paint our house won't come out red.
In like manner, agapao and phileo together make up the spectrum of New Testament love, but they are not interchangeable-- phileo typically speaks of affection, whereas agapao usually does not; if ever. For example:
• John 21:15 . . So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter: Simon; do you love me more than these?
» Some say that "these" refers to the other apostles, but I'm inclined to suspect that Jesus was referring to the sea, and the fish they had just eaten, and to the boat, and to the tackle, and to the fishing business. Certainly all of that was important to Peter seeing as how fishing was his life.
The Greek verb for "love" in that passage is agapao, which isn't necessarily an affectionate kind of love, rather, it's related to things like benevolence, preferences, loyalties, and priorities. For example:
• Matt 6:24 . . No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
• Luke 14:26 . . If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life --he cannot be my disciple.
The verb agapao is employed several times in the 13th, 14th, and 15th chapters of John's gospel relative to Jesus and his apostles, and relative to the apostles among themselves.
But then Jesus asked Peter:
• John 21:17 . . Simon, do you love me?
That time "love" is translated from the Greek verb phileo which is a very different kind of love than agapao.
Well, the thing is: agapao is more or less impersonal; whereas phileo is just the opposite. It's an affectionate, bonding kind of love felt among best friends, lovers, and kinfolk.
In other words: Peter wasn't asked what he thought of Jesus, rather, how he felt about him, viz: Jesus' question was: Peter; do you like me?
Of course Jesus already knew how Peter felt about him, but Jesus wasn't satisfied with knowing; he wanted Peter to come out with it, and he did.
• John 21:17 . . He said: Lord, you know all things; you know that I [like] you.
» I'd imagine that expressing his feelings for Jesus was difficult for a rugged blue collar guy like Peter. I worked as a professional welder for 40 years in shipyards and shops. Not many of the men I worked alongside were comfortable talking about their feelings for each other.
• John 3:16 . . For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The Greek word translated "loved" in John 3:16 is conjugated from the verb agapao, which tells me that God's love in that passage isn't especially divine because the very same Greek verb is used in Luke 6:32, which says:
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them."
Every "love" in that verse is derived from agapao. Well; the very fact that sinners are capable of agapao tells me that it would be a mistake to restrict its use solely to God and/or to assume that agapao always, and in every instance, speaks of divine attributes.
FAQ: Why does Titus 2:4-5 require phileo love from wives while Eph 5:25-33 require agapao love from husbands?
A: Phileo is typically related to one's affections, whereas agapao is typically related to one's actions.
For example in the Ephesians passage, a husband's love for his wife is expressed by taking her under his wing, viz: by providence, i.e. by protecting and providing for her.
The love expected from a wife is quite a bit different. Hers is more about feelings than providence. For example:
"Your desire shall be for your husband" (Gen 3:16)
That passage appears to me the very first prohibition against adultery. If so; then phileo's use in Titus 2:4-5 is telling wives to be faithful and chaste, viz: not to share their affections with other men; which has the benefit of ensuring that all her children will be the offspring of the man she's married to.
FAQ: Is it possible that the verbs are different in those two passages because they were written by two different people?
A: Ephesians was written by a man named Paul (Eph 1:1) and Titus was written by a man named Paul (Titus 1:1)
Now, it's possible those were two different men with the same name; but not likely they would be writing for two different Gods.
• 1Thess 2:13 . . And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is: the word of God
• 2Tim 3:16 . . All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
» One of the very first things I learned as ongoing student of the Bible is that if the grammar of the Holy Bible is inspired; then it must be inspired for a purpose. For example:
• 1John 5:13 . . I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The "have" verb is that passage is present tense rather than future, indicating that believers have eternal life right now-- no delay and no waiting period. Same below:
• John 5:24 . . I assure you, those who heed my message, and trust in God who sent me, have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from Death into Life.
Unless the Bible's words mean something; its language and grammar serve no useful purpose.
When love lacks modifiers and/or verbs, it means very little in particular. For example: my love for a man with a cardboard sign alongside the road is different than my love for the girl I married. My love for the man is sympathy for a stranger, whereas the love I have for my wife of forty-one years is affection for someone special.
Those two differences are exemplified by John 3:16 and John 16:27 where it's on display that God's love for the world is agapao, which is merely sympathetic, whereas His love for Jesus' followers is expressed by phileo, which speaks of fondness and affection-- two emotions that form strong bonds and attachments.
There are times when Heaven's love is conditional; for example:
"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love." (John 15:10)
The Greek noun translated "love" in that passage is agape, which is a nondescript noun. In other words; agape alone doesn't tell me whether the love in view is affectionate or non affectionate, i.e. phileo or agapao. For example John 3:16 which says:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
The love in that passage is conjugated from the Greek verb agapao, which informs me that God experiences pity for the world without necessarily liking the world. This is somewhat similar to the sympathy that many of us experience for a desperate stranger with a cardboard sign that says "Lost job due to Covid 19"
And then there's this:
"Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him" (Mark 10:21)
The Greek word translated "love" in that passage is conjugated from phileo, which basically speaks of affection, fondness, acceptance, and bonding. (cf. 1Sam 18:1)
Here's an hypothetical situation that breaks John 3:16 down to something practical.
Evangelist: Did you know that the Bible says God loves you?
Audience: God likes me?
Evangelist: Sorry, my bad. I should've been specific. I was asking if you were aware that God pities you.
Audience: Pities me?! What's to pity?
Evangelist: You are on the road to a future that's so disagreeable Jesus said you'd be better off dismembering a hand or gouging out an eye than to end up there.
» God pities the world's deplorable spiritual condition and offers a remedy for it (Luke 2:8-14) but that shouldn't be construed to mean that He likes the world. In point of fact, God regrets its creation. (Gen 6:6)
I love my own child in a way that I do not love other people's. So it is with the Father.
There is a love that He extends to everyone; and there is a love He reserves for those around Him. For example:
● John 3:16-17 . . For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.
And then there is the love that God feels for those around Him; for example:
● John 16:27 . .The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.
The Geek verb for "loves you" and "loved me" is derived from phileo which is a family kind of love felt among kin folk that exceeds benevolence because it fosters attachments. Phileo is tender, devoted, and sentimental; always consisting of fondness, loyalty, and affection.
● 1John 3:1 . . How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
In other words phileo goes beyond hospitality: it's an affectionate level of love that speaks of bonding and acceptance, whereas agapao usually does not.