In modern English, the word “love” conveys a range of emotions, but the classical Greeks were more precise. They had four words that all find themselves translated “love” in English: storgē, philíos, éros,and agápe.
- Storgē is still used in modern Greek, and it roughly fits our English word “affection,” especially the type of affection within families. It can also be used in a “put up with” type of way—and as most of us know, that is in fact the type of love many of us had for our siblings when growing up.
- Philíos is also still used in modern Greek in the form philía. In classical Greek, philíos was used for a general type of virtuous, dispassionate love—the type that inspires loyalty. Today, it is an equivalent of “friendship.”
- Éros,by contrast, was a passionate love. It is a stronger and deeper love than philía, the kind that exists in a healthy marriage or a very close friendship. Socrates had a famous debate about éros with his students, which was recorded in Plato’s Symposium. Plato refined the idea as not so much love of a person, but love of the beauty in a person. This is where we got the idea of a platonic relationship, which is a love relationship devoid of sexual overtones.
- The Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was completed several hundred years before the time of Jesus—used the verb agápao frequently to describe all sorts of love, from divine pity to erotic passion. And it was in that same work that the derivative noun agape, the fourth word for love, made its first appearance in Greek literature to describe the deepest kind of love. It appears quite regularly in the Song of Songs, that wonderful back-and-forth between lovers that is attributed to Solomon and described by many biblical scholars as evocative of the relationship between God and believers.
The New Testament writers went even further, using agape to describe the highest ideals of love, for instance in 1 Corinthians 13. The term agape appears around 250 times in the New Testament, including the famous statement by John the Beloved, Theos agápe estin, God is agape.
Written by Phillip Lynch (Daily Devotional App)