Words in the Word – Agape and True Love?

Bible Bites Teeth

I’m currently putting together the bible study for tomorrow night, and I got a bit side-tracked in my study and thought I’d share the solution to a common Bible Myth:  The myth about the word Greek word for love; “agape”.

Now I remember when I was in junior high school and some Christian musician (who I don’t remember the name of) came to my high school and talked about something that I completely forget, but I never forgot how amazed at how smart he was with the Bible.  He told everyone that the Bible has 4 words for “love” – agape, phileo, eros and storge.  The story went that storge is “familial love”, eros is “sexual love”, phileo is “friendly love” and agape is “true love”.  The musician milked this word study (fallacy) for around 10 minutes and talked about how girls want phileo but guys only want eros, and encouraged everyone to seek what they truly wanted; agape.  He then told a story about a cute little puppy getting hit by a train (or something along those lines), everyone cried, and he closed with “if you want to hear more about finding the agape that you’re looking for, come to (insert church name) tonight and I’ll be giving a concert and I’ll be explaining it to everyone!”

Dog Train

The students all left; girls crying about the poor little puppy and the guys wondering how they could best maximize the female emotional trauma for their benefit…but not me.  Being the teenage geek that I was, I was daydreaming about how one day, when there was a vast network of interconnected computers, I may one day share this nugget of truth with a few people via that network on some sort of personal web log of my thoughts and ideas. Something like this:


(My first WordPress BBS web log, hosted on ARPANET, circa 1986 – source)

Okay.  That might not be totally true, but what is true is that I’ve heard that myth repeated probably a hundred times over the years.

It’s total bunk.

Only agape and phileo (and their cognates/derivatives – lovely, loving, etc.) appear in the New Testament; eros and storge are nowhere to be found in the NT (except for one related word: astorge, meaning “unloving”, in Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3).  1 Corinthians 16:22 & Titus 3:15 are the only times that phileo is used by Paul, which basically derails this “Bible myth”.  Consider these verses:

 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed…” – 1 Corinthians 16:22

“…Greet those who love us in the faith.” – Titus 3:15

Both of those verses use phileo, and they’re the only two usages of phileo in Paul’s writing.  I don’t think Paul’s suggesting that the Corinthians should only have some sort of 2nd tier “friendship love” for the Lord, do you?

Also, D.A. Carson has some interesting comments on this issue in his book Exegetical Fallacies.

I apologize if that bursts any balloons out there, but them’s the facts.



Until Next Time,

Lyndon ‘Loving the Beloved” Unger


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