Hebrew and Greek terms for love used in the Bible (+what they teach you)

“Love” is a word we throw around quite casually these days, isn’t it?

But have you ever wondered how this four-letter word is depicted in the Holy Bible?

In the original languages of the Bible – Hebrew and Greek, there are not one, not two, but 6 different terms for love. Quite a revelation, right?

Each term offers a distinct facet of love, from divine love to brotherly affection, familial bonds, and romantic love.

In this article, we’ll explore these 4 types of love and uncover their biblical roots and significance.

Greek words for ‘love’

Greek doesn’t just settle for one blanket term — it gives us 4, each painting a different shade of affection:

  • Eros: Romantic love
  • Storge: Family love
  • Philia: Brotherly love
  • Agape: Divine love

Each term is a key, unlocking distinct dimensions of relationships as portrayed in Scripture.

1. Agape: Unconditional love

Let’s start with the big one, shall we?

Agape (pronounced A-gah-pay) is a Greek term that you’ve probably heard tossed around in conversations or sermons. It’s often used to describe a love that is divine, unconditional, and self-sacrificial.

Now, this isn’t your everyday kind of love. This is the love that has no strings attached, no “ifs” or “buts”, and certainly no expectations.

Agape love is divine love — unconditional, sacrificial, and pure.

It transcends human understanding and reflects God’s infinite affection for humanity.

Agape is perfectly exemplified in Jesus Christ’s life and sacrifice. This form of love calls Christians to love others selflessly, mirroring God’s love for us.

What’s most impressive, Agape is not based on our actions or worthiness but on God’s character as love itself (John 3:16).

Agape calls Christians to love others with the same selfless intensity, prioritizing their needs and well-being above our own. It challenges believers to extend grace and forgiveness, mirroring God’s unconditional love for us.

This form of love is not based on emotion or affection. Instead, it’s a deliberate choice to show kindness and compassion to others, regardless of their actions or our personal feelings towards them.

2. Philia: Brotherly love

Let me share a little story with you.

I have a brother, two years my senior.

Growing up, we were the typical siblings – always squabbling over toys, tattling on each other, you know the drill. But despite all that, there was an unspoken bond between us – a bond of Philia.

Philia, you ask?

Yes, Philia.

It’s another Greek term for love in the Bible, often described as fraternal or brotherly love. It has less to do with emotion and more to do with loyalty, companionship, and shared experiences.

Philia love represents the deep, platonic connections that manifest in genuine friendships. It’s characterized by a powerful emotional bond, mutual respect, and a shared journey through life’s ups and downs.

In the Christian context, philia love extends to the love believers have for one another, rooted in shared faith and mutual encouragement.

Jesus himself said that philia would be a distinguishing mark of his disciples:

“By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35).

This directive underscores the importance of community and support within the body of Christ.

The New Testament is rich with examples of philia love as it encourages believers to live in unity, bearing one another’s burdens and rejoicing together in fellowship.

3. Storge: Familial love

You know that old, worn-out couch in your family’s living room? The one everyone’s been trying to replace for years, but somehow, it still stays put.

It’s seen better days, sure, but it holds so many memories, doesn’t it?

That’s Storge.

Storge is a Greek term for love that signifies fondness born out of familiarity or dependency. It’s the kind of love that exists between parents and their children, or even between longtime spouses.

It’s comfortable, it’s dependable, and at times, it’s so ingrained in us that we forget its presence.

Now, let’s consider some instances of Storge from the Bible.

An intriguing compound form of this word, “philostorgos,” appears in Romans 12:10, instructing believers to be devoted to one another with brotherly affection akin to that of a loving family.

  • Romans 12:10 – Encourages a family-like devotion among Christians.
  • Genesis 6-9 – Depicts Noah’s protective love for his family amidst the flood.
  • John 11 – Showcases the deep familial love Martha and Mary had for Lazarus.

This type of love underscores the importance of Christian unity, illustrating how believers are bound not just by faith but also by a familial love that mirrors the affection found within biological families.

4. Eros: Romantic love

Finally, Eros love, named after the Greek god of love and passion, refers to romantic and physical attraction.

This love is characterized by a desire for intimacy and is celebrated within the boundaries of marriage in the Bible.

Scriptures like Proverbs 5:18–19 and 1 Corinthians 7:8–9 emphasize the importance of reserving eros for marital relationships, highlighting its role in fulfilling God’s design for love and intimacy.

This isn’t just about physical attraction, though. It’s also about emotional connection and intimacy.

It’s about wanting to know another person deeply and being known by them in return.

Scriptures such as Proverbs 5:18–19 and 1 Corinthians 7:8–9 highlight its importance within marriage, advocating for a celebration of this passionate love as a divine blessing.

Apostle Paul, addressing the Corinthian church’s context of rampant promiscuity, advises believers to honor marriage as the rightful place for eros, underscoring the principle of marital fidelity and the joy found within it.

In essence, Eros can be thrilling, intense, and at times, a little bit scary. But it’s also beautiful and life-affirming.

Hebrew words for ‘love’

In Hebrew, the language of love is beautifully succinct, focusing on two main words that encapsulate the depth and breadth of affection:

  • Ahava: Deep, enduring love
  • Chesed: Loving-kindness and loyalty

These two terms weave through the tapestry of Scripture, highlighting the essence of love from human connections to the divine.

1. Ahava: Deep love

Let’s take a detour from Greek and journey into Hebrew for a bit.

Ahava is the Hebrew term for love, and it carries a depth that might just surprise you.

Ahava is not just about feelings; it’s about actions. It’s about choosing to love, even when it’s hard. It’s about commitment and loyalty.

We can see it in the steadfastness of Ruth’s dedication to Naomi, her mother-in-law, where she famously declares:

“Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay” (Ruth 1:16).

In fact, the root word of Ahava, “ahav,” literally translates to “I give.” And isn’t that what love truly is?

A form of giving, of putting someone else’s needs before your own?

So if you ever find yourself standing by a loved one’s side, supporting them through thick and thin, remember – That’s Ahava right there.

And here’s something to ponder upon:

The word Ahava appears in the Old Testament around 250 times. Quite a testament to the importance of this profound form of love, don’t you think?

2. Chesed: Merciful love

Next up, “Chesed” – a term that transcends the simple notion of love and ventures into the realms of mercy, kindness, and faithfulness.

Chesed is love in action, the tangible expression of loyalty and grace that characterizes the covenant between God and His people.

This isn’t just any kind of kindness — Chesed is about loyalty that endures even when the other party doesn’t seem to deserve it.

It’s a love that keeps on giving, even when it’s hard.

In human terms, chesed is that unwavering friend or family member who sticks by you, no matter what.

It’s a call to action for us to embody this kind of relentless, covenantal kindness in our lives, reflecting God’s chesed in how we treat others.

In our lives, we all stumble, we all make mistakes. And yet, we are still loved. That’s the beauty of Chesed – it’s about loving others in their imperfections.

Final words: Reflecting on love

Delving into the Hebrew and Greek terms for love in the Bible has been quite a journey, hasn’t it?

We’ve explored 4 types of love in Greek and 2 types of love in Hebrew with their unique nuances.

These terms for love aren’t just words — they are lenses through which we can view our relationships. They challenge us to be more mindful, more intentional in expressing our affection for others.

Before we part ways, let’s consider a few more dimensions of love that, while not the focus of our discussion, play crucial roles in understanding love’s multifaceted nature:

  • Forgiveness and reconciliation: Integral to sustaining love, especially in the face of challenges.
  • Compassion and empathy: The bedrock of philia and chesed, fostering deeper connections.
  • Sacrifice and service: Echoes of agape, reflecting love’s true cost and its profound rewards.

Whether it’s the self-sacrificial agape or the loyal chesed, each term invites us into a deeper relationship with others and with the Divine.

Samuel Cho

Samuel Cho

I'm Samuel Cho from South Korea, where my passion for writing and Christ intertwines. Through my essays and articles, I aim to bridge the divine with the daily, drawing from Scripture and my own life's journey. My articles often explore how faith intersects with everyday life in an Asian context. With each piece, I invite readers on Biblescripture.net to reflect on the universal truths within our diverse experiences of faith.

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