Words for Love in the New Testament - agapao versus phileo.
Many Bible critics like to play the Greek game and impress the unlearned with their supposed superior knowledge of "the original Greek". The phrase "the original Greek" must be intoned with a certain degree of pious solemnity to produce the desired effect.
Here is such a letter I received from a moderator at another Christian club on the internet.
" I do not believe that the KJV is ever truly misleading, BUT, we lost a very important matter when the KJV people translated both PHILEO and AGAPE to "love" in John 21:15-17
15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I AM ATTACHED TO thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs.
16 He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I AM ATTACHED TO thee. He says to him, Shepherd my sheep.
17 He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, ART THOU ATTACHED TO me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ART THOU ATTACHED TO me? and said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I AM ATTACHED TO thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep.
The Darby is clear here and yet retains the familiar cadence and feel of the KJV. That little difference, between the words that Jesus and Peter used for "love", is worth a great sermon, all by itself. (end of letter)
These "serious scholars" like to think they are privy to special insights and nuances the rest of us peons of the pews cannot fathom. They take great pains to let us know there are subtle meanings found only in "the original Greek" of which we garden variety Christians remain woefully ignorant until they exercise their priestcraft to open these hidden treasures on our behalf.
They tell us that such a case is found in the New Testament use of two distinct words for love - agape and phileo. You will constantly hear these scholarly types tell us that agape means God's unconditional love, while phileo means a friendship type of love.
Well, let's take a closer look at how God uses these two words and see if there is really something to what they say or not.
John 3:16 "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..." The verb used here is form of 'agape', so we are told it always means a God-type unconditional love. OK, but what do we then do with these verses using the same verb?
John 3:19 "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men LOVED darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Agapao
John 12:42-43 "they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they LOVED the praise of men more than the praise of God." Agapao
Luke 6:32 "for sinners LOVE those that LOVE them." Agapao
2 Timothy 4:10 "For Demas hath forsaken me, having LOVED this present world..." Agapao
2 Peter 2:15 "Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam to son of Bosor, who LOVED the wages of unrighteousness." Agapao
1 John 2:15 "If any man LOVE the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Agapao
It should be abundantly clear that the scholar who insists the word 'agape' means an unconditional, God-type love has no idea what he is talking about.
Well, what about phileo then? Does it always mean a friendship type of love and not the love of God?
John 16:27 "For the Father himself LOVETH you, because ye have LOVED me, and have believed that I came out from God." Phileo
Revelation 3:19 "As many as I LOVE, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent." Phileo
1 Corinthians 16:22 "If any man LOVE not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." Phileo
Well, then do these two words actually mean the same thing? Let's compare some Scriptures.
Matthew 23:6 "LOVE the uppermost rooms at feasts" Phileo
Luke 11:43 " ye LOVE the uppermost seats in the synagogues" Agapao
John 5:20 "the Father LOVETH the Son" Phileo
John 10:17 "therefore doth my Father LOVE me" Agapao
Titus 2:4 "women to be sober, to LOVE their husbands..." Phileo
Ephesians 5:28 "So ought men to LOVE their wives..." Agapao
Hebrews 13:1 "Let brotherly LOVE continue" Phileo
1 Peter 2:17 "LOVE the brotherhood" Agapao
If it be asked: "Then why did God use two different Greek words (agapao and phileo) to often mean the same thing?", then we answer that God used not just two but six different Hebrew words in the Old Testament to refer to love.
The various Hebrew words translated as love are # 157, 1730, 2836, 5690, 7355, and 7474. Number 157 ah-hehv is used in Deut. 4:37 "because the Lord LOVED thy fathers", and in 1 Kings 3:3 "and Solomon LOVED the Lord", but the same word is also translated as "friends" and "lovers".
The Hebrew word # 1730 dohd is used in Proverbs 7:18 "let us take our fill of LOVE" and in Song of Solomon 4:10 "How fair is thy LOVE", but the same word is also translated as "uncle" in Leviticus 10:4; 20:20, and 1 Samuel 10:14-16 "Saul said unto his UNCLE..."
The Hebrew word # 2836 ghah-shak is used in Deut. 7:7 "The Lord did not SET HIS LOVE upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people..." and in Isaiah 38:17 "but thou has IN LOVE to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption." But the same Hebrew word can also mean "filleted" as in Ezekiel 27:17 "the court should be FILLETED with silver."
The Hebrew word # 5690 gagah-veem is used in Ezekiel 33:31 "with their mouth they shew MUCH LOVE". Number # 7355 rah-gham is found in Psalm 18:1 "I will LOVE thee, O Lord", but it also means "to shew mercy", to pity" and "to have compassion". See Exodus 33:19 and Psalm 103:13. In like manner the Hebrew word # 7474 rag-yah is used in Song of Solomon 6:4 "Thou art beautiful, MY LOVE." Six completely different Hebrew words, yet each of them can be used to express the same idea in certain contexts - "love"; yet most of these same words can mean other things in different contexts.
Don't let the Greek scholars steal your Bible from you or make you think they have inside information that you do not have if you only read the English of the King James Holy Bible. The believing Bible reader will often have far more spiritual understanding than the educated scholar who thinks he can correct or improve upon the Holy Bible God has given us.
Regarding the passage in John 21 that is frequently the occasion of the scholar's assaults, Dr. Thomas Holland has these insightful words of encouragement.
Dr. Thomas Holland.
The question was asked: "When Jesus confronted Peter and thrice asked, 'Do you love me?' he used two different words in Greek, why wasn't this captured in the English translation?"
The passage is found in John 21:15-17 which reads as follows.
15: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16: He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17: He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
There are two different Greek words translated as love in this passage. One is agape and the other is phileo. According to the Greek text the first two times Jesus uses the word love He uses the Greek word agape. Both of these times Peter responds with phileo. On the third time, when Jesus speaks the word love, the word phileo is used by Christ. To this, Peter responds with phileo. Some suggest that the Greek word agape means a deeper love, while the Greek word phileo means friendship or affection.
The King James Bible is not alone in translating both words the same way. The standard Spanish translation is the Valera. What the KJV is to the English-speaking world, the Valera is to the Spanish- speaking world. Each time the Lord asks, "me amas?" to which Peter replies, "Si, Senor; tu sabes que te amo." In every case, the Spanish word for love is used, not two different words.
The standard French Bible is the Louis Segond. All three times the Lord uses the word, "m'aimes-tu," and Peter replies with "t'aime." It is the same French word for love.
The Italian Bible is the Giovanni Diodati. In the gospel according to Giovanni (John), the Italian word "amo" is used throughout the passage.
And, of course, Luther's German Bible uses the German word for love, which is, "lieber."
Even the NIV, NASV, NKJV, RV, ASV RSV, NRSV, ESV, TEV, and NEB translated both Greek words as love in this passage. So the KJV is not at all alone in its translation.
Most scholars teach the two different Greek words agape and phileo, mean two different things, or at the very least, two different types of love (such as, I love my wife and I love pizza). However, this does not bear itself out in the Greek New Testament. The simple fact is that these two words are used interchangeably, both meaning love. If phileo means friendship and not godly love, then why does Christ use it in Revelation 3:19? "As many as I love, I rebuke."
Both words mean love and are used interchangeably.
Finally, the real issues here was not the change of Greek words. Peter was not grieved because Christ had changed Greek words. He was grieved because he asked three times. It was not the change in words or tense that disturbed Peter. It was, "because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?" Does not this passage in John 21 prove the point that agape and phileo are interchangeable? Jesus asks, "lovest (agape) thou me" (vs. 15), "lovest (agape) thou me" (vs. 16), and "lovest (phileo) thou me" (vs. 17). When Christ asks this last time, the texts states, "He saith unto him THE THIRD TIME" (vs.17). This is true only if these two words are interchangeable. If they are not interchangeable and carry different meanings, the text is in error, for it was not the third time. If the two words carry the same meaning, the text would be correct as it stands in the Greek manuscripts. (end of Dr. Holland's comments)
The simple reason the Lord Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him was because Peter had denied the Lord three times. Christ was restoring His wayward servant to fellowship with Himself.
Notes from the Internet
Good teaching on agape/phileo and the King James Bible by pastor Richard Jordan
27 minute video.
The King James Bible is right, as always.
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