Issue: 4th quarter 2014

Agape Does Not Equal God’s Love

Written by STF Guest Writer

(Article by John Truitt)

For those of us who were taught that the Greek word agape (ἀγάπη) equals God’s kind of love, as opposed to the world’s kind of love, it may come as a shock to find out that is not true. Let me provide a couple of examples[1] to dispel this myth:

Luke 11:43 (ESV)

Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

2 Peter 2:15 (ESV)

Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing,

See also John 3:19, 12:43; 2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:15; and Revelation 12:11 for more examples. These examples make it clear that agape is something different than “God’s love”. So what is it?

The Greeks had a number of words to describe different kinds of love—much more than we have in English. Agape was their word for a “committed” kind of love. It means a willingness to do what it takes for whatever the target of agape is. So in the example from Luke 11, the Pharisees were committed to doing what was necessary to gain the best seats in the synagogues and to get lots of greetings in the marketplace. Both of which were a show of their importance in the society.

The Friberg Lexicon provides a very good definition:

ἀγαπάωlove, especially of love as based on evaluation and choice, a matter of will and action.[2]

It would be correct to use words such as devotion, concern, focus, etc., to describe agape, but the word commitment may best describe what it means. To agape someone or something means to be committed to that person or thing. It means to do what it takes to care for that person or achieve that thing. It involves the will more than it necessarily involves feelings. That’s not to say that it does not involve feelings. It certainly can. Balaam certainly had feelings for ill-gotten gain.

It is the most common word used of the kind of love God has for his people. God is committed to us—so much so that He gave His son to die for us. Jesus expressed this kind of love when he gave his life for us.

Like many words, agape can be good or bad. When good, it is characterized by a commitment to the wellbeing of others through beneficial action. Here are just a few examples: John 3:16, 1 John 3:18, 1 John 4:10-11, 2 Thessalonians 2:16, Ephesians 5:2, Romans 13:9.

Note that in each of the examples some beneficial thing (or action) is being given for the welfare of the other person. Note especially 1 John 3:18:

1 John 3:18 (ESV)

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Agape love can be thought of as a commitment, whether good or bad. As we read the large number of messages about love throughout the New Testament it is helpful to keep the idea of commitment in mind. When the Scripture commands us to “love one another” it is telling us to be committed through action to each other’s wellbeing.


[1] In each of the examples the underlying Greek word is agapao (ἀγαπάω) which is the verb form of agape which is the noun form of the word.

[2] Analytical Lexicon of the Green New Testament, Barbara Friberg, Timothy Friberg, Neva F. Miller (Baker Books, 2000.)

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