A brief discussion:
Words for Love in the Bible
How many times is the word love used in the Bible?
That’s a hard question to answer. A quick look at my Logos 8 shows me that “Love” occurs 551 times in the NIV. The common story is that the Old Testament is angry and vengeful, but the love is used 319 times in the NIV Old Testament. The English Standard Version also has over 500 mentions of love.
What’s love got to do with it?
However, answering any questions about love in the Bible is difficult without being overly reductionistic. That’s because love in the Bible can’t be summed up with just a single word… there are six different words that can be translated as love, and that doesn’t account for variants and compound words! The more literal translations of the Bible, such as the NASB, have more like 300 mentions of the word “love” because they often translate the Greek and Hebrew into more nuanced words than simply, “love.”
What are these other words?
Hebrew words for love
Hesed – lovingkindness. This is arguably the most significant word for love in the Bible. Translated as lovingkindness because no Greek or English word has a 1:1 equivalence. Fidelity, loyalty, patience, mercy, grace, forgiveness, covenantal faithfulness, and salvation (among others) are all concepts tied up with God’s lovingkindness. A deep dive into Hesed is out of the scope of a brief discussion on love!
Ahab – to love. No special significance.
Dod – romantic love. Used throughout Song of Solomon.
Greek words for love
Eros – sexual or romantic love. Probably the most well-known word for love, but it not used in the New Testament manuscripts. It may have been used in the Septuagint translations of the Old Testament.
Phileo – fraternal or friendly love. The love that you would show a brother or a friend who is closer than a brother. God loves the Son (John 5:20) and us (John 16:27) with phileo love.
Agape – self-sacrificial love. Of obvious importance in the New Testament. This word connotates a conscious action rather than an emotional feeling. Common in the New Testament but rare in other Greco-Roman works, it describes the love God has (1 John 4:8) and shows his Son (John 17:26) and Christians (John 14:21). It is also used in describing God’s love for the entire human race (Romans 5:8).
Storge – familial love.
There are endless applications from studying the words used for love in both the Old and New Testaments:
- The self-sacrificial love of Christ that made a way for us.
- The way we are loved as family, even though we were once enemies.
- The familial bond between Christians, no matter the differences we may fight over.
A meta-theme of love
One of the most powerful themes that exists throughout the Bible is the idea of God’s lovingkindness. God’s love cannot be separated from His covenantal faithfulness to us. Like Beautiful Eulogy says – being a Christian is not so much about believing IN God as it is believing God. Believing that He is who He says He is. Believing that He will do what He says He will do. Taking Him at His Word and acting accordingly. That is how we love God – we obey Him.
This does not mean a blind faith or devotion to God without thought. We have been given everything that we need to trust that God is who He says He is. Ratio Christi apologists and evangelists share compelling reasons for believing God at His Word. Historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons all point back to God’s lovingkindness.
Further reading: CS Lewis’ The Four Loves
CS Lewis’ classic book, The Four Loves, takes a deeper look into the four Greek words for love. Some of the concepts broached in that book/essay are further explored in the style of a classical Greek myth in, Till We Have Faces.