We in the United States celebrate Valentine’s Day every February, which is more or less about the person you love. I got to thinking about the different Greek words for love used in the Christian Scriptures, but in this short article I cannot cover them all. We will partially cover two, which are used extensively, and talked about often. They are the noun agape, and the verb agapao. Agape has been translated many ways by many theologians. Here are some examples: love of God, love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation, love, brotherly love, affection, good will, benevolence, love feasts, beloved, love’s, loves, charity. I was once taught that agape always means “the love of God,” but as we will see, such is not the case.
E. W. Bullinger says: “…Agape denotes the love that springs from admiration and veneration, and chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it. Love in its fullest conceivable form.” I boiled down what he says to a: “super compassionate devotional Love.”
Agapao has also been translated many ways, for example: love of God, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing; of persons, to welcome, to entertain, to love, beloved, felt, a love for, love, loved, loves. Did the subtitle say, “many meanings? These are not all, but it shows that no one definition can always be linked to either word. As usual, the context in which the word is found helps to determine its meaning.
A few examples of other uses:
Romans 9:25 (NASB)1
As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved [agapao], ‘beloved [agapao].’” [see also Eph. 1:6; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; and more]
Colossians 1:13 (NASB)
For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved [agape] Son,
Ephesians 5:2 (NASB)
and walk in love [agape], just as Christ also loved [agapao] you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
1 John 2:15 (NASB)
Do not love [agapao] the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves [agapao] the world, the love [agape] of the Father is not in him.
1 John 4:10 (NASB)
In this is love [agape], not that we loved [agapao] God, but that He loved [agapao] us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Agape/agapao do not mean “the love of God,” as per the following verse:
Romans 5:5 (NASB)
and hope does not disappoint, because the love [agape] of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit [holy spirit ]who [which] was given to us.
If love there is the “love of God,” then it would have to read: …because the love of God of God. The same line, “love of God” [ἀγάπη τοῦ Θεοῦ] is also used in Luke 11:42; John 5:42; Romans 8:39; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 John 2:5, 3:17, 4:9, and 5:3; and Jude 1:21. I hardly think every one of those places should be translated: “love of God of God.” Agape, in all these references, means “love,” [a super compassionate devotional Love] and the context shows that God is the object of that love.
It would also be very hard to squeeze “the love of God” in these verses.
Luke 6:32 (NIV)2
“If you love [agapao] those who love [agapao] you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love [agapao] those who love [agapao] them.
Even “sinners” love those who love them, and it can be a super compassionate devotional Love. WHAT? How could sinners have the love of God? They cannot! One must have the flu before he can give it to someone else. Ditto for love. Agapao should never be translated “the love of God.” See this verse, which makes that very clear:
Luke 11:43 (NIV)
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love [agapao] the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
While I am thinking about it, agape is not “charity,” as it is translated in 1 Corinthians 13 in the King James Version, and as we today think of it.
1 Corinthians 13:3 (KJV)
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [agape], it profiteth me nothing.
Today, giving all our goods to feed the poor is charity, so when you run into those “King James only” folks, you have something to share with them.
What agape/agapao are:
In a prayer Jesus has [John 17:20–26] for those who will believe, it is the kind of love they are to have in them.
John 17:26 (NIV)
I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love [agape] you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Agape is the kind of love God poured into our hearts by the holy spirit.
Romans 5:5 (NIV)
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love [agape] into our hearts by the Holy Spirit [holy spirit], whom [which] he has given us.
Agapao is the kind of love we are to have for God.
Romans 8:28 (NASB)
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [agapao] God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Agape is the kind of love Christ has for us, from which we cannot be separated.
Romans 8:35 (NASB)
Who shall separate us from the love [agape] of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [read verses 36–38, for full understanding]
We cannot be separated from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:39 (NASB)
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love [agape] of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is something we are to have without hypocrisy.
Romans 12:9 (NASB)
Let love [agape] be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
It is something I am to owe you and you are to owe me.
Romans 13:8 (NASB)
Owe nothing to anyone except to love [agapao] one another; for he who loves [agapao] his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
It is something I am to do to you as I do it to myself.
Romans 13:9 (NASB)
For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love [agapao] your neighbor as yourself.” [see also: Gal. 5:14, where is says the same thing]
With agape I will not harm you.
Romans 13:10 (NIV)
Love [agape] does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love [agape] is the fulfillment of the law.
My actions, even in what I eat around you, must be done in agape.
Romans 14:15 (NIV)
If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love [agape]. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
Agapao is the kind of love we are to have for God, and which He has for us.
1 Corinthians 2:9 (NASB)
but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love [agapao] Him.” [see also Eph. 2:4 NASB, which reads: …His great love [agape] with which He loved [agapao] us]
Agape edifies those around us.
1 Corinthians 8:1 (NASB)
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love [agape] edifies.
Love[agape] is greater than faith and hope, which are very great in the Word of God.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NASB)
But now abide faith, hope, love [agape], these three; but the greatest of these is love [agape].
Love [agape] is something we are to pursue.
1 Corinthians 14:1a (NASB)
Pursue love [agape]…[see also 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22].
Love [agape] is how we are to do everything.
1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB)
Let all that you do be done in love [agape]. [see also 2 Pet. 1:7].
Love [agape] of Christ, holds us together, holds us fast.
2 Corinthians 5:14 (NASB)
For the love [agape] of Christ controls [sunecho-meaning: to hold together, to hold fast,] us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
Prove through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love [agape]:
2 Corinthians 8:8 (NASB)
I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love [agape] also.
Love [agape] is something you are to show the proof of openly to the churches.
2 Corinthians 8:24 (NASB)
Therefore openly before the churches show them the proof of your love [agape] and of our reason for boasting about you.
We are to live in peace; and the God of love [agape] and peace shall be with us.
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NASB)
Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love [agape] and peace shall be with you.
Faith works through love [agape].
Galatians 5:6 (NASB)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love [agape].
We are to serve one another in love [agape].
Galatians 5:13 (NASB)
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love [agape] serve one another. [see also Eph. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:8, which says something similar]
One of the fruit of the spirit is love [agape].
Galatians 5:22 (NASB)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love [agape], joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Love [agape] is what we are to have for the saints, all the saints.
Ephesians 1:15 (NASB)
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love [agape] for all the saints, [see also Col. 1:4]
Love [agape] is what we are to be rooted and grounded in:
Ephesians 3:17 (NASB)
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love [agape],
Love [agape] of Christ is something we are to come to know, recognize, perceive:
Ephesians 3:19 (NASB)
and to know[ginosko, meaning “to come to know, recognize, perceive”] the love [agape] of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
In love [agape] is how we are to speak the truth.
Ephesians 4:15 (NASB)
but speaking the truth in love [agape], we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ,
Love [agape] is how the Body of Christ is to build itself up.
Ephesians 4:16 (NASB)
from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love [agape].
Love [agapao] is how we are to love our wives, and it is how Christ loved the Church [us].
Ephesians 5:25 (NASB)
Husbands, love [agapao] your wives, just as Christ also loved [agapao] the church and gave Himself up for her; [see Eph. 5:28 says the same thing 3 times and all agapao, once in5:33; Col. 3:19]
Love [agapao] is how we are to love our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 6:24 (NASB)
Grace be with all those who love [agapao] our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible. [see 1 Pet. 1:8].
Love [agape] is something we are to abound in.
Philippians 1:9 (NASB)
And this I pray, that your love [agape] may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,
Love [agape] is how we are to preach Christ.
Philippians 1:15 and 16 (NASB)
15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love [agape], knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;
Christ’s love [agape] is how we are to be comforted.
Philippians 2:1 (NIV)
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love [agape], if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
Love [agape] is something we in the Body are to maintain.
Philippians 2:2 (NASB)
make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love [agape], united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Love [agape] is something we are to have our hearts knit together in.
Colossians 2:2 (NASB)
that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love [agape], and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself,
Love [agape] is something we are to put on, it is the perfect bond of unity.
Colossians 3:14 (NASB)
And beyond all these things put on love [agape], which is the perfect bond of unity.
Love [agape] is something we are to increase and abound in for one another.
1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NASB)
and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love [agape] for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you;
We are taught by God to love [agapao] one another with this kind of love.
1 Thessalonians 4:9 (NASB)
Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love [agapao] one another; [See 1 Pet. 1:22, 2:17; 1 John 3:11 and 23, 4:7 and 11, are very similar].
Love [agape] is something we are to put on as a breastplate.
1 Thessalonians 5:8 (NASB)
But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love [agape], and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.
You esteem them very highly in love [agape], those who labor among you, and have charge over you, and instruct you.
1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 13 (NASB)
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love [agape] because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
We are to give thanks to God for the brethren because the love [agape] we have towards one another grows greater.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NASB)
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love [agape] of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;
The goal of instruction is love [agape] from a pure heart (I [Bob] hope this instruction is giving you love [agape], as that is my goal).
1 Timothy 1:5 (NASB)
But the goal of our instruction is love [agape] from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Love [agape] is the kind of spirit we were given.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NASB)
For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love [agape] and discipline.
Love [agape] is something Paul said Timothy could follow, so we can follow also.
2 Timothy 3:10 (NASB)
But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love [agape], perseverance,
Older men are to be sound in love [agape].
Titus 2:2 (NASB)
Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love [agape], in perseverance.
We are to love [agapao] life.
1 Peter 3:10 (NASB)
For, “Let him who means to love [agapao] life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile.
Greet other believers with a kiss of love [agape].
1 Peter 5:14 (NASB)
Greet one another with a kiss of love [agape]. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.
Here is a hard one for many, do not love [agapao] the world, nor the things in the world, look at the consequences. This is where people elevate the world and its things above God, Jesus, the Body, and the Word. They, also get out of balance, many times, by loving things, and not people, and in doing so they use people and love things. This is never God’s way!
1 John 2:15 (NASB)
Do not love [agapao] the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves [agapao] the world, the love [agape] of the Father is not in him.
Agape is a great love, God has bestowed upon us.
1 John 3:1 (NASB)
See how great a love [agape] the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
It was by this love [agape] that Jesus laid down his life for us.
1 John 3:16 (NASB)
We know love [agape] by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Love [agapao] is shown by deed and truth, not words.
1 John 3:18 (NASB)
Little children, let us not love [agapao] with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
If we do not love [agapao], we do not know God who is love [agape].
1 John 4:8 (NASB)
The one who does not love [agapao] does not know God, for God is love [agape]. [Verse 16 goes with this well].
God loved [agapao] us so much that He gave His Son, to pay for our sins.
1 John 4:10 (NASB)
In this is love [agape], not that we loved [agapao] God, but that He loved [agapao] us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [see John 3:16, agapao].
I could have put this with love one another above, but we would miss this point, if we love [agapao] one another; God abides in us and His love [agape] is perfected in us! I think any believer would want that.
1 John 4:12 (NASB)
No one has beheld God at any time; if we love [agapao] one another, God abides in us, and His love [agape] is perfected in us. [Look at I John 4:16 and 17, it fits well with this].
Verse 12 teaches us that by loving [agapao] one another, God’s love [agape] is perfected in us. Perfect love [agape] casts out fear. [Cannot cover fear in this short article].
1 John 4:18 (NASB)
There is no fear in love [agape]; but perfect love [agape] casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love [agape].
This next verse is self-explanatory.
1 John 4:19 (NASB)
We love [agapao], because He [God] first loved [agapao] us.
If we do not love [agapao] our brothers, we do not really love [agapao] God!
1 John 4:20 (NASB)
If someone says, “I love [agapao] God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love [agapao] his brother whom he has seen, cannot love [agapao] God whom he has not seen. [Verse 21 goes with this],
What we have seen here is only the tip of the iceberg regarding agape and agapao. There are also other words translated love, as well as the adjective and adverb forms of agape, so in the future we have much more to study. It is an enormous subject, and one that needs much more work, but we cannot turn this article into a book, so I will wrap this up.
Remember Bullinger’s definition: “…Agape denotes the love that springs from admiration and veneration, and chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it. Love in its fullest conceivable form.” This is by far the best definition I have ever seen. Let us, for the sake of brevity call love [agape/agapao] a “super compassionate devotional Love.” Amen. Now let’s practice it.