In the bible, there are three different types of love. The first is called agape, which means unconditional love. This is the type of love that God has for us and we should have for others. The second is called phileo, which means brotherly love. This is the type of love you have for your friends and family. Finally, there’s eros, which means romantic love. This is the type of love that you feel when you are in a relationship with someone else.
Whereas in English we have one word to express all kinds of love, in Greek there are four different words for love. Let’s take a quick look at those words. We’ll combine two of them with related meanings into one category, differentiating three distinct kinds of love. Then we’ll affirm three significant life truths that arise from our understanding of the different kinds of love.
As we all know, love is a complicated subject. But what do the bible and other religious writings say about it?
The bible has three different types of love: Agape, Eros, and Philia.
Agape is selfless and unconditional love that we can only fully experience with God. It’s the kind of love that makes us take action to help others—whether or not they deserve it. This is the type of love that Jesus showed his disciples when he washed their feet before the Last Supper, and when he sacrificed himself for humanity on Calvary Hill.
Eros is passionate love between two people who share a physical attraction or interest in each other, but who are not necessarily going to be together forever (like a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship). This is the kind of romantic love that most people think of when they think about romance in the media today.
phileo is friendship-based love that exists between two people who have known each other for some time, but aren’t necessarily romantically involved with each other (like between close friends).
3 KINDS OF LOVE (SESSION 8 – 1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-13)
3 KINDS OF LOVE
1. Eros refers to physical or sexual love.
The word eros was commonly used in the Greek-speaking world of New Testament times. The word itself is not found in the pages of the New Testament. The concept of physical love, however—expressed in the context of marriage—is found and affirmed in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 7:5; Heb. 13:4).
2. Philos means warm affection or friendship.
Philos was commonly used with reference to friendships or family relationships. For example, it was used in Matthew 10:37 to indicate love for father and mother or son and daughter. Philos was the word used of Jesus’ love for His friend Lazarus (John 11:3,36) and His love for His disciple (John 20:2).
A related word, storgē, means “family devotion.” Storgē is not a common word in the New Testament. In Romans 12:10, it is compounded with philos (philostorgoi) and can be translated “devoted” (NASB) or “brotherly affection” (ESV).
3. Agapē is the sacrificial, unconditional love of God.
In the New Testament, agapē is the highest form of love. But outside of the New Testament, the word was rarely used. Prior to New Testament times, agapē did not carry any special significance as a higher kind of love. Thus, it’s the New Testament understanding of the unique nature of God’s love—not the word’s usage in the Greek-speaking world of the first century—that gives the word agapē its special meaning.
Agapē is the word that describes God’s love in John 3:16, “God loved the world in this way …” (CSB). We are commanded to love God (Matt. 22:37) and love one another (John 13:34) with agapē love. Agapē is the word for love used in 1 Corinthians 13.
3 LIFE TRUTHS
1. To say that agape love is the highest form of love is not to say other kinds of love are insignificant or trivial.
God created sexual love (eros) to be expressed in marriage between husbands and wives. He also created us to be connected to friends (philos)—to live in community. We are not trivializing these other kinds of love by saying agapē is the highest form of love. We want to affirm romantic love and friendship love as significant and meaningful.
2. All genuine love comes from God because God is love.
A biblical definition of love must start with God. Whether that love is romantic—between husband and wife—or the bond between friends, love that is genuine comes from God because “God is love” (1 John 4:16). If God is love, then we love others best by loving Him most.
3. Followers of Christ are to be known by the way they love.
Jesus commanded His followers: “Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, CSB). The word Jesus used for love is the verb form of agapē. The pattern of our love is “as I have loved you.” In other words, we are to be known by our self-giving, sacrificial, unconditional love for one another. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, describes what such love looks like, practically speaking.
We’ve talked about the three types of love in the Bible: eros, phileo, and agape.
Eros is the desire for union with another person. Phileo is a kind of friendly affection for another person. And agape is a love that does not expect anything in return.