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Mar 30 2010

Love – Agape and Phileo

The Greek language has several different words for “love.”  This may be confusing since we only have the one word – “love.”  The Greek language actually has several words that we translate to English as “love.”  The are numerous Greek words which are:




agapaō (G25) phileō (G5368)
agapē (G26) philanthrōpía (G5363)
philadelphía (G5360) philarguría (5365)
philádelphos (G5361) phílandros (G5362)
philóteknos (G5388)  

The above words are translated in our Bible as “love.”  For informational purposes, I have included the Strong’s number next to each transliterated Greek word in case anyone would like to look them up.  The most common words used in scripture and one that most of us are most familiar are agapaō, agapē and phileō .  We are most familiar with agapaō and phileō in the exchange between Jesus and Simon.

Agapaō is defined as To esteem, love, indicating a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something or someone.” (Complete Word Study Dictionary).

Phileō is defined as “To have to have affection for someone, to be fond of, to like, indicating feelings, warm affection.”   (Complete Word Study Dictionary)

These two Greek words are used in the following exchange between Jesus and Peter.

Jesus and Peter

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapaō) me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileō) you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapaō) me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileō) you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileō) me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileō) me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileō) you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17 (ESV)

This is a very important distinction.  Jesus is asking Peter if he had direction of the will, that is finding joy in Him.  It is a choice that is made.  It is a moral love and does not necessarily have to involve feelings of affection.  It is the word used when Christians are commanded to love our enemies.

  • But I say to you, Love (agapaō) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
    Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

God is not instructing us to have feelings of affection for our enemies like we would towards family or friends.  It is a moral or ethical love, a duty that God commands His children to observe.  He is commanding an outward expression, not an inward expression of feeling.   We can choose to love in this sense but we cannot make a choice to have an inward feeling.  Peter responded with  phileō which is the inward feeling of affection.

What I found to be extremely fascinating is the word that is used to command us to love our enemies is is also used to command us to love the Lord our God:

  • And he said to him, “You shall love (agapaō) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love (agapaō) your neighbor as yourself.
    Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)

God is not commanding us to have affection towards Him, though we do.  He is commanding us to obey Him by keeping His commandments; worshiping only Him.  Sadly, I did not find a command to us to love Him in the sense of agapē which denotes affection.  I admit this saddened me because of all His love towards us in all aspects of that word, He only asks that we love Him in the agapaō sense.  Despite that, His love for us entails both agapaō and agapē.

It is also used in this famous verse that we all know by heart:

  • “For God so loved (agapaō) the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

Agapaō is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice.  Contrast that with agapē which means “Love, affectionate regard, goodwill, benevolence. With reference to God’s love, it is God’s willful direction toward man. It involves God doing what He knows is best for man and not necessarily what man desires.” (Complete Word Study Dictionary).  This word is found 117 times in the New Testament.  This type of love is seen here:

  • Greater love (agapē) has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
    John 15:13 (ESV)

This word that denotes affection is also used by God to describe His love towards His own.

  • If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (agapē), just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love (agapē).
    John 15:10 (ESV)

It is also the love that we are to have for one another in Christ.

  • By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agapē) for one another.” John 13:35 (ESV)

It is a love that can grow cold:

  • And because lawlessness will be increased, the love (agapē) of many will grow cold.
    Matthew 24:12 (ESV)

The above are the main words for love that are used in scripture.  Below are the other words for love and their meaning.

Philanthrōpía is only used twice in scripture.  It means “human friendship, philanthropy, benevolence, kindness."  (Complete Word Study Dictionary).  It is translated into English as “kindness” or in the King James Version, as “love.”

  • The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.
    Acts 28:2 (ESV)
  • But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
    Titus 3:4 (ESV)

Philarguría is used only once and it means love of money.

  • For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
    1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Philadelphía is used to denote love of the brethren.

  • Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
    Romans 12:10 (ESV)

Philádelphos is used as “loving one’s brother, brotherly affectionate. In a wider sense it meant love of one’s fellow countrymen.” (Complete Word Study Dictionary)  It is used only once.

  • Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  1 Peter 3:8 (ESV)

Phílandros is used to denote loving one’s husband.

  • and so train the young women to love their husbands (phílandros) and children (philóteknos),  Titus 2:4 (ESV)

It is important that we understand the connotation of the word “love” when reading scripture.  In the English language, we tend to associate the word “love” with a feeling, a feeling of affection.  The feeling of affection can take on many different forms or levels such as love for one’s spouse, for one’s children or for our friends.  We need to understand the real meaning in scripture for we are not commanded to have a feeling of affection towards our enemies.  It is a moral commandment.

God’s love for us is of affection:

  • So we have come to know and to believe the love (agapē) that God has for us. God is love (agapē), and whoever abides in love (agapē) abides in God, and God abides in him.
    1 John 4:16 (ESV)


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  1. Margaret


    Great post!….. There is a lot of comfort in considering the original word meanings….. Understanding things as originally written adds depth to our understanding of all of scripture….. Another favorite is 1 Corinthians 13:13, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”….. Both times in this verse “love” is “agape” love….. In the King James, it is translated “charity”.


    1. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      I’ve been a big proponent of understanding not only the culture, but who is being spoken to (audience), and understanding the language used. We don’t have to speak Greek or Hebrew but it sure helps us understand if we take the time to do word studies. There’s so many resources available. I have a couple of bible programs on my computer that really helps me immensely and makes things so easy. This study that I took up really helped me a lot in understanding what exactly was being said. I’m so glad that I did this.

  2. PaulFan

    What great information! I wish I knew more about the original Greek. I believe a good understanding of Greek in regard to scripture study is invaluable and leads to a better understanding of God’s message to us. Thanks for putting this very informative post together!

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Paul,

      I also wish I knew more about the original Greek. I actually learned a LOT by doing this study.

      On a side note, it’s kind of unusual how I even came up with this topic. I saw the photo of those two little birdies that looked like they were kissing. I thought “OH WOW, how unbelievably cute.” I wanted to use it on my blog. It then came to me — the word “love.” And that’s how I ended up doing this post that took me a few hours to put together, learning a lot in the process. All because I saw a photo of two cute little birds.

  3. Glen

    But Jesus spoke Aramaic not Greek.

    1. Tishrei

      He would have spoken Greek since He lived in that area. Even so, when this scripture was written, it was written in Greek and those two words were chosen and they have distinct meaning.

      Sorry I missed your comment. I’ve been off my blog for some time.

  4. Meghan Rodo

    Thanks for this website- I learned alot about agape and phileo love! <3

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Meghan, thanks for stopping by. I did not really get it until I did this study. It really helped me to really understand the difference between the two. I’m glad it benefitted you as well.

  5. Bible Study

    So many people talk about this “agape” and other crap. God’s love is god’s love. Plain and simple, why make it complicated. If God loves us the bible tells us we love him because he first loved us. It also tells us that if we love God we will keep his commandments. Therefore if we keep not his commandments, we don’t love him. Agape and all others aside, love is the keeping of God’s commandments, period.

  6. Robert Allen

    Hello, I stumbled accross this blog while researching the word agapaō in Google. My wifes therapist/Church Sister said “To Love others you must first Love yourself”. My wife asked me what it means and I started looking at it. I realized I don’t really love myself. So Im going to go to therapy to help me to learn to Love myself so I can express the Love to Others so I can Love Jesus and God. I was wondering if Jesus could have been saying “do you love me because you love yourself (we should love the things God Loves). And Peter’s reply could have ment “I don’t love myself there fore I will love you because you are worthy of all my affection”. I noticed that Agapao uses the word Love in the diffenation where as Phileo does not actually use the word Love. Someone said to me to actually Love you must know Love.

  7. Gloria

    I was looking for a layman’s terminology to distinguish between agape and agapao. I appreciate your sharing this information. I was having difficulty in distinguishing between the two as I was studying from the Strong’s. As you stated, it is sad that we are not commanded to agape God, but I think I understand that in the sense that while in our sinful flesh it is not possible to fully (love) agape Him as He does us. By His grace and His love (agape) we are able to grow in that love and I believe that for those who are not complete in that love they will be perfected at the day of Jesus Christ, (Php 1:6). Because God IS God, He is immutable, fully, and completely faithful. Man is not. I remember the apostle Paul’s statement in Rom 7:15-18, “Rom 7:15 For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns].” AMP version

    I love God so deeply, yet my love is not yet perfected. I am a work in progress, striving towards the goal to make myself morally pure within the salvation so graciously afforded me and to become mature in Christ Jesus my Lord and Savior as Php 2:12-15 instructs me through the writings of the apostle Paul.

    Again, thank you for sharing and being faithful in your study of God’s Holy Scripture.

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