Greek Words for Love

As someone who studies Ancient Greek to understand its applications in the Bible, I have come to appreciate the unique intricacies of the language. For those unaware, the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, and there are grammaticisms within the language that aren’t exactly translatable into English. They provide valuable insights into the authorial intent of the Biblical writers [and therefore the Holy Spirit also], but these observations can only be seen through a studied reading of the original Greek in which they were written.

Love tiles on a bible

Coming across something previously unnoticed is exhilarating, and it’s safe to say that I love studying the New Testament in the original Koine Greek.

Notwithstanding, how exactly do I love it? I wouldn’t love it with the same passion as I might a wife (hopefully). I don’t love it like I do my parents, and I certainly don’t love it with the immovability as I do God. Precisely what type of love do I have for studying New Testament Greek then?

In all reality, I’m just using English lazily. We use the English word “love” to denote fondness for various people, places, things, and ideas, but we don’t really feel the same type of love for each of them. The type of love we’re feeling is implied by the object of our discussion. Ultimately, we’re expressing different lovelike feelings with the same English word.

However, the Greek language is different in this regard. It uses different words for different types of love. Let’s take a look at the primary Greek words for love.

Agape (ἀγάπη)

Agape is the ultimate type of love. It’s simply the highest manifestation of love that exists. It’s an unconditional, selfless love that’s even self-sacrificial if needed. This type of love is best represented by God’s own love for us. You share agape-love with God when you worship Him, and you also share it with others by acting charitably towards them with no expectations from them in return.

Agape is the most frequently used Greek word for love in the New Testament. Whenever a Biblical writer is discussing the topic of love, it’s usually referring to this kind. In 1John 4:16, God Himself is equated to be agape-love. Ultimately, this type of love exists because God exists; it flows from His nature.

Philia (φιλία)

Philia is a highly affectionate type of love. It’s freely given and freely taken away depending on how the person feels about the subject of their love. It can be lavished on objects, ideas, places, or people. This is the type of love that I have for Ancient Greek. 

Interpersonally, it goes beyond common courtesy and is shared between peers who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. It’s best represented by the Old Testament friendship between David and Jonathan, and you share philia-love with your best friends while together.

Philia is the second most frequently used Greek word for love in the New Testament. The Biblical writers used it as a prefix for many compound words in order to elevate its sense of affection. For example, when the Apostle Peter was ranking Christian attributes in 2Peter 1:5-7, he used a particular Greek word in verse seven that you might recognize. Philadelphia (φιλία + ἀδελφός) is translated as “brotherly affection” by the ESV. Importantly, evidenced by the end of the verse, philia-love is eclipsed by agape-love.

Eros (ἔρως)

Eros is a sensual type of love. We get our modern English term “erotic” from this word. Every romance novel utilizes eros-love between the main characters. This type of love is best represented by the passionate relationship between a husband and wife. You share eros-love in romantic relationships when you kiss.

Eros isn’t used in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean the subject of romantic love is unmentioned, but the Biblical writers were more concerned with combatting the immoral manifestations of eros-love than discussing its pleasures. For example, when husbands are instructed to “love” their wives in Ephesians 5:25, the verse uses agape instead of eros.

Storge (στοργή)

Storge is a familial type of love. It’s naturally formed through special bonds between people. It’s best represented by the deep connection that a parent has with their child or vice versa. Nevertheless, this type of love isn’t limited to family members only; it can extend to others also. Personally speaking, due to my service in the US Army, I share a unique version of storge-love with the people alongside me during our wartime deployment.

Storge is used sparingly in the New Testament. Among those uses, it’s found in 2Timothy 3:3 and translated as “natural affection” by the KJV. The Apostle Paul warns that the final days before Christ’s return to earth will be marked by people without natural affection.

Notable Words

There are two other words that merit consideration. They’re worthwhile for discussion because they could be misconstrued as real love by others. However, those with a Christian worldview will be able to understand how these aren’t genuine types of love.

Xenia (ξενία)

Xenia is cultural hospitality. On the surface, it seems like a loving thing to do for someone. However, this form of hospitality was obligatory in the Ancient Near East and motivated by an honor/shame dynamic. To not perform the duty of cultural hospitality would be a shameful mark on someone’s reputation. Therefore, xenia is performed for the sake of their own honor; the betterment of the other person is just a byproduct.

Forms of xenia are used sporadically throughout the New Testament as related to hospitality. However, as evidenced by Romans 12:13, the compound word philoxenia (φιλία + ξενία) is used to emphasize the loving difference between cultural hospitality and Christian hospitality.

Philautia (φιλαυτία)

Philautia is self-absorbtion. Notice how similar this word is to one of the previous words (philia). It’s evoking the same type of affectionate love but making oneself the object of the affection. Biblically speaking, there’s another name for it: selfishness. 

Philautia is used in the aforementioned 2Timothy 3:1-5 passage. Located in verse two, it’s translated as “lovers of self” by the NASB. In verse five, we are cautioned and counseled to avoid such people.

I hope this has helped you better understand the different kinds of love that are felt between people. No matter who you are, I want you to know that you are deeply loved. Hopefully, after reading this article, you now understand Who loves you and with which type of love.

May God bless you and give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Read More: “The Four Loves” by C.S. Lewis

Written By: Nicholas Lakin

Nick is an academic scholar, budding theologian, and thoughtful teacher of the Bible. He has a passion to see others grow in their knowledge of God for the purpose of glorifying Christ. He’s also a graduate of Liberty University and a former United States Army soldier.

His academic works range from commentaries and exegetical analyses to nuanced details regarding the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible. His future endeavors include Chaplaincy and founding a nonprofit organization that’s conducive to ecumenical orthodoxy across Protestantism.