The Four Loves Of Ancient Greece

Just so no one thinks I’m smarter than I actually am, I’m not good with Greek, especially when written with greek characters. Anytime you see something written in Greek, know that I had to pull that from the lexicon.

To begin I will point out that there are more than four words for love in ancient Greek (Koine Greek), and each word has varying suffixes that can be used with it. I’m going to be focusing on the words for love in a biblical context, so I’m sticking to the four mentioned below.

The words we’ll be focusing on today are storge(στοργή), eros(ἔρως), philia(φιλία), and agape(ἀγάπη). Let’s look at each word, what it means, and how to remember it.

WORDS

Eros: sounds like ‘air-ross (not arrows)

What is it?
Eros love could be defined as a passionate love. It is best coupled with physical expression, and could lean into ‘lust’ territory. i.e. You would have eros love for your spouse, but not your mother.(Hopefully)

To the best of my knowledge I don’t remember ‘eros‘ being used in the bible. I only list it here for context purposes.

How to remember?
Eros means love, and is also a Greek god of the same name. Eros is the Greek equivalent of the Roman Cupid. Also remember that eros is similar to the modern english erotic.

Storge: sounds like ‘store-yee’ (The ‘g’ makes a ‘y’ sound, as the Greek sandwich ‘gyro’ sounds like ‘yee-row’)

What is it?
Storge love is a familial type of love. This type of love is appropriate for your mother.

How to remember?
Storge looks similar to the english word ‘storage.’ If you have things in storage, then you have an abundance. In the same way, storge love is a type of abundant love, as a parent should have for their child.

Philia: sounds like ‘feel-e-ah’

What is it?
Philia love is a brotherly love. It has connotations of comradery, or kinship.

How to remember?
Philia is one of the easiest to remember, in my opinion. Firstly, philia is the opposite of phobia. To have a phobia of something means you are averse to it, to have philia means you are not.
i.e. Bibliophilia is the love of books. Bibliophobia is the hatred of books.

Secondly, think of the city Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia is derived from the Greek words philia(love) and adelphi(brothers). The city of brotherly love, quite literally, means brotherly love.

Agape: sounds like ‘a-gop-ee’ (imagine saying ‘a guppy’ with a heavy Italian accent)

What is it?
Agape love is best used as the love of God for man, and that man should have for God. It’s unending, unconditional, unwavering. It can also be used as the kind of love parents have for their children.

How to remember?
The word ‘agape’ looks like ‘a-gape.’ Think of the prefix ‘a’, often used to mean ‘absent’ or ‘without.’ e.g. asymmetrical is without symmetry, asymptomatic is without symptoms, an atheist is without theism. ‘Gape’ is also a word for ‘gap,’ ‘opening,’ ‘open space.’

You can look at ‘agape’ and think of it as “without” a “gape”, or unseparated. That is to say, a love that nothing can come between.

USAGE

As you can see there are many different words for ‘love’ in Greek, all with variable meanings depending on context. This is why I tell people that just reading the bible isn’t always enough if you really want to understand the message being delivered. There are times that you have to dig deeper if you want to have a better understanding of what you are reading. Sometimes you have to study the language used, sometimes you have to study history and/or culture. You may define a word as it is used in modern English, but that doesn’t mean that it translates directly into its biblical use.

love, in modern English, is defined as;
noun:
1. A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
3. Sexual passion or desire.

In English, love(noun) is one word with three definitions, whereas in the Greek it is many words with one definition. The word that you use greatly affects the context of your statement.

Saying ‘Agape ti mitera mou.’ and ‘Eros ti mitera mou.’ mean two very different things, but both can be translated as ‘I love my mother.’

I went to a week-long revival earlier this year, and my favourite speaker of the week gave a great example of the way different love words are used in scripture. We’ll be drawing from John 21:15-17. (I was also happy for him to point out that Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times, the same number of times that Peter had previously denied Jesus.) After the resurrection Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, and they had the following exchange. We’ll look at the modern English and Greek, then compare the two. The word love/agape is bold, the word love/phila is underlined. (The words used in the Greek have different suffixes, I’m keeping to ‘agape‘ and ‘philia‘ in the interest of simplicity.)

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

15 Ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς Σίμων Ἰωάννου ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων Λέγει αὐτῷ Ναί Κύριε σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε Λέγει αὐτῷ Βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου 16 Λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον Σίμων Ἰωάννου ἀγαπᾷς με Λέγει αὐτῷ Ναί Κύριε σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε Λέγει αὐτῷ Ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου 17 Λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον Σίμων Ἰωάννου φιλεῖς με Ἐλυπήθη ὁ Πέτρος ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον Φιλεῖς με Καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Κύριε πάντα σὺ οἶδας σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε Λέγει αὐτῷ ‹ὁ› Ἰησοῦς Βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου

In verse 15 Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with the unwavering love God has for man. Peter responds by saying that he loves Jesus like a brother. In verse 16 they have the same exchange. Finally, in verse 17 Jesus asks Peter if he loves him as a brother. Being saddened by this, Peter tells Jesus that he knows everything, including that he loved Jesus as a brother.

As you can see the love word used has different connotations. The English translation doesn’t convey the same meaning as the Greek, because the English has varying definitions. This applies to more words than just love. Try to remember, if you aren’t reading something in its original language, there is usually something lost in translation.

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