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The Four Types of Love in Scripture and How to Experience Them Today

  • Dolores Smyth Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2020 17 Apr
The Four Types of Love in Scripture and How to Experience Them Today

From the moment we’re conceived, we need love in the form of care and attention, and we continue to need love to thrive from then on. In discussing love, the Bible cuts right to the chase by declaring that: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

In fact, Jesus summarized all of Scripture into two commands about love: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. “All the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus explained, “hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40).

God created the world and everything in it out of love, declaring His creations good—us included!—before blessing us and the rest of Creation (Genesis 1). Considering that God is love and we’re made in His image, it’s our responsibility to reflect God’s love in all of our interactions. The Bible tells us plainly that when we love one another, “God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

The New Testament, which was originally written in Greek, speaks of different kinds of love. The Greeks used four words to distinguish between different forms and intensities of love: agape, storge, phileo, and eros.

As Christians, we should familiarize ourselves with these four forms of love God meant for us to express in the different situations of our lives.

Let’s briefly explore each of these words for “love.”

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What Is <em>Agape&nbsp;</em>Love in Scripture?

What Is Agape Love in Scripture?

Agape love is the highest level of love referenced in the Bible. This form of love is everlasting and sacrificial, whether or not the giver receives the same level of love in return. In the original Greek translation of the Scriptural passage “God is love,” the word agape was specifically used to identify the type of love God embodies (1 John 4:8).

The word agape is poignantly described by Paul in his famous passage on love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

As Paul’s description makes clear, agape love is perfect love. God displayed this perfect love when He sent His only Son to be sacrificed as an atonement for our sins so that, through our belief in Jesus, we may have eternal life (John 3:16).

Likewise, Christ too showed agape love for His Father and for humanity in agreeing to live His life according to God’s will, despite the emotional and physical agony Jesus knew awaited Him.

Jesus instructed us to strive to also love one another in that perfect way. We know this because a conjugation of the word agape was used in the Greek translation of Jesus’s command to love one another as Christ Himself has loved us (John 13:35). Although loving each other with agape love may seem like an unreachable pinnacle given our human weaknesses, agape love is nonetheless a worthy goal that we should endeavor to ascend to in our lifelong words and actions.

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What Is <em>Storge</em> Love in Scripture?

What Is Storge Love in Scripture?

Storge love is used to describe familial love. This word describes the type of deep and caring bond that develops naturally between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings, as well as other people who you may consider to be family. This type of love can withstand many trials, is protective, and loyal.

While the word storge itself is not found in Scripture, its contrary form is: the word astorgous is used in the Greek translation of Scripture to mean “without natural affection,” as we can see in the King James Version (Romans 1:31 KJV). Paul warns that during the end-times, people will become so selfish that they will live without any sense of natural affection for their own family (2 Timothy 3:3 KJV).

Storge love is depicted in the Bible by the concern shown by Jairus for his sick daughter (Luke 8:40-56), and by the grieving shown by Martha and Mary for their brother Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Biblical figures who displayed the absence of storge love include Cain when he lured and murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-11), and Joseph’s jealous brothers who sold Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:18-36).

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What Is <em>Phileo&nbsp;</em>Love in Scripture?

What Is Phileo Love in Scripture?

You may be able to guess the type of love meant by phileo love if you know that the nickname of the city of Philadelphia is “the city of brotherly love.” The word phileo is expressly used in the Bible and refers to the warmth and affinity shared by close friends, almost as if those friends were actual siblings.

A memorable way to think of phileo love is to see it as storge love (the love between family) applied to non-family members (the love between friends). Interestingly, the Greek translation of the Biblical passage telling us to “be devoted to one another in love,” uses the Greek word philadelphia in instructing us to love our neighbors as if they were our brothers (Romans 12:10).

Phileo love is seen in Scripture in the passage about the raising of Lazarus. There, we’re told that Jesus wept at the sight of His friend Mary and others weeping over the death of Lazarus (John 11:33-35). At the site of Jesus crying, one witness in the passage pointed out the depth of Jesus’s love for Lazarus by using a derivative of the word phileo to exclaim, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36).

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What Is <em>Eros</em> Love in Scripture?

What Is Eros Love in Scripture?

Eros love refers to romantic or sexual love, and is the root of the English word erotic. Eros or sexual love in and of itself is not impure, but is a gift from God to married couples so that they may express their love with one another and continue the human race.

While the word eros doesn’t appear in Scripture, the Song of Solomon was written to commend the virtues of passionate (or eros) love shared between a husband and wife. The Song of Solomon begins with a bride’s profession of passionate love for her husband: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is more delightful than wine” (Song of Solomon 1: 1-2).

As the Song of Solomon makes clear, God intended for married couples to love each other emotionally as well as physically.

Notably, eros love is the only type of love that, if practiced without restraint, can become a sin. The Bible warns us that eros love without boundaries amounts to sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 5:19).

This is because eros love can tear apart relationships if it focuses solely on one’s personal gratification. In contrast, agape, storge, and phileo love seek to strengthen relationships by emphasizing kindness and sacrifice toward others.

Throughout the journey of our lives, we communicate love in different ways and with different levels of intensity depending on the person who is receiving our love. As Christians, love is at the heart of our beliefs.

Because of that, we should strive to show love in its highest form—agape love—as Jesus told us to do. After all, it’s through love that we allow God to abide in us (1 John 4:12). And it’s through love that we make ourselves known to the world as Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).

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Dolores Smyth writes about faith and family. Her work has appeared in numerous publications. You can follow her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.




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